I remember loving train journeys as a child. In those days, my dad was serving in the Indian Army and I remember quite a few of my journeys being in a first class coupe where we had all the privacy we wanted and I would prop myself near the window seat and watch the trees and fields whizzing past us. Trips to Kerala were made often, as it was my dad’s hometown and I loved watching the different shades of green…I used to imagine God as a giant artist with an enormous painting palette. And I thought some of the shades of green had splashed off his palette and landed on Kerala.
Well, I still love taking train rides through Kerala as those natural shades have not faded. Of course, the development closer to the big cities of Trivandrum, Kochi, etc. has altered the landscape considerably but when you travel through the length of the state that covers more than 1050 kilometers by railroad, there are enough landscapes and farmlands that you are bound to pass. The varying shades of green on large strips of paddy fields, the lush greenery against a background of serene rivers and backwaters, the few hutments along the river banks and little village children splashing in the river on a hot sunny day, the distant cluster of hills forming the Western Ghats are all picture postcard scenes to remember for us city folks who long to be surrounded by nature.
I remember the stops at the different stations. The food that you get along the train routes in Kerala is lip smacking and the railways have improved over the years in providing hygienically prepared and packaged food. There are various combinations during different meal times and the snacks keep coming in throughout the day. You wouldn’t see so many vendors if you are boxed into the air conditioned compartments but there is always an option of stepping out on to the platform.
Breakfast options include upma, idli vada, banana fritters, appam and motta (egg) curry, dosa and chutney, kerala porotta and egg curry and bread omelet. Lunch would certainly include a choice of biryanis- egg, vegetarian and chicken, or sometimes even vegetarian meals that consist of tiny little packets of Kerala curries and gravies served along with rice and pickle. Dinner options are Porotta and Egg Curry/Chicken Curry and Biryani. The continuous stream of snacks you could buy are banana fritters called pazham pori, and vadas which are made of rice, spices and lentils shaped into a donut or flat cutlet and fried.
As children we were always hungry on train journeys and between reading comic books, listening to a walkman and descending down from our berths to the smell of something tasty passing by, there was never a dull moment. There were not too many video games or phones in those days and we had to entertain ourselves in whatever other way possible. Even today, stations like Kozhikode (Calicut) are famous for the chicken and mutton biryanis because they are primarily towns inhabited by the Muslim community who make the best biryanis ever!!!! Some people even collect the special fruit flavored kerala halwa( a sweet) although I never took a fancy to the stuff.
I reminisce those childhood days so much more now because the severe summers, hot and sultry weather along with cheaper fares or better affordability, forces us to travel only in the air conditioned compartments where we remain boxed up and you cant really make out much through the double glass windows. One has to actually step out to buy things as not too many outside vendors are allowed in. I cant have my son put his hand out of the window anymore and pick his favorite comic book from a passing book vendor like I used to. The games on the mobile keep him so busy that there is little room left to read or look outside and savor the scenic beauty. But as I sit by the window, the scenes outside are still the same. The window glass dulls the colors outside but I still remember them. It’s just that our priorities and choices have changed over the years.