Lessons From The Little Blue Train

The Article below also appeared in The Hindu in the Open Page on May 10th:

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/looking-back-at-a-little-blue-train/article8576823.ece#comments

My mother ran downhill through a steep slope in order to catch her little blue train to get to school, where she taught, everyday. We lived in a small place nestled in the Nilgiri Hills, where everybody knew everybody else and even though we might not have been invited to Tea at the train driver’s house,  he obviously knew my mother. He would see her pelting down the hill, practically skating on the little seeds dropped from the Eucalyptus trees above, as he maneuvered the train around the mountainside. He would wave a friendly hand to her telling her to slow down indicating that he would wait for her to board. What is a minute here and a minute there was his philosophy, and one that entirely suited the place and times.

lovedale

The Nilgiri Mountain Railways was not competing with the Rajdhani Express or the electric trains of Mumbai. The little steam engine was a joy, and intended to show people that true joy in living came from hard work with a dose of huffing while going uphill and a friendly toot and speed moderation while going downhill. The journey, it steamed, was the most important thing. Chug past the lakes and mountains, cling to the cliffs, take deep breaths of the nippy air and keep moving while you can.

Nilgiri_Mountain_Railway

From Wikipedia: Picture Credit: By Nsmohan – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37242880

When people ask me about the banes of urban living, I rank not knowing the train driver quite high up on the list of grievances. I have to run up 50 stairs like an asthmatic calf to get to the platform.  So many times, just by virtue of being stuck behind a set of folks who refuse to budge on the escalator, I have missed the train. More often, I charge into the train just in time to have the doors close behind me and then stand there panting and mooing for breath.

When one considers how often I have flown past steps and hopped past debris and skidded into the train, I suppose it is only fair. A matter of tempting fate long enough. One day last week, a quick look at the watch (set to two minutes past the actual time), and another look at the car clock (set to three minutes past the actual time) revealed that I have a 30% percent chance of making it to the train if it was on time and a 43% percent chance if it was a minute late. Give me a chance at something like that and I mysteriously transform into a demonized matador bull:  I will lower my head and point head train-ward and charge like a demon with horns. However I was not feeling sufficiently bull-like that day, more like The Reluctant Dragon.

reluctant_dragon

The Reluctant Dragon is a marvelous children’s book written by Kenneth Graham. In the book, the villagers are keen to slay the Dragon assuming all dragons are vicious. The Dragon, however, wants no fighting or flame spewing. He simply wants to rest his back against a rock, think and write poetry.

The train doors above me opened and I looked upwards while running. I forgot about the raised platform around the 57th step. It was then that I took a toss. Now, when I say ‘Toss’ in that flippant manner, it does not truly capture how much an ass it makes one look.  Well, there really is no comparison with the animal kingdom, I mean have you seen deer trip or donkeys slip on the mud? That is set aside for the two-footed I believe.  The point is that the step hurled me and I fell spectacularly. My bag flew one way, my legs the other, while my knees scraped along trying to keep the bag and legs together. I lay there trying to resist a bizarre urge to laugh out loud, though I could feel the stinging pain in my scraped knees. I did chuckle to myself though – I must have looked like a prized fool sprawled there first thing in the morning when folks have important things to do and places to be. One cyclist evidently late for her own train, said, “You okay?” and I said “Yes”. She gave me the Thumbs Up and cycled off.

As I stared at the departing train to see if I could detect a smirk from anyone on the train, I need not have worried. The shiny silver train streaked off glinting against the morning sun as efficient and indifferent as ever. I did not know which was worse, the physical pain from the bruises or the indifference of the departing train. Just as quickly as laughter had come, I found much to my embarrassment, that tears stung my eyes.

No one knows whether the kind train driver who waved to my mother is still alive today, but I miss the likes of him in today’s world.

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6 thoughts on “Lessons From The Little Blue Train”

  1. Did you know that once M Aunty, N Aunty and my mom were happily chatting away and moving at snail’s pace to the train, totally unaware that the poor station master was frantically waving to get them to hurry? Do you remember walking on the tracks all the way to Ooty and that long tunnel?

    Sigh! It’s time now to face those 50 steps for my ride back home 😦

    1. Oh my goodness! But it is entirely possible. What wonderful times they were Anu!
      I remember walking to Ooty and to Ketti station along those tracks. There is one thing though, when you are walking on the tracks, you subconsciously step on every wooden plank even if you can walk at a different pace by the side. The next day is when the wooden-plank-step-pain hits at the sole of the feet, and boy is it time to soak your feet in the hot water obtained from the brick-laid fireplace?

      1. I remember those fire places very well! The slope to the station, the slope next to the 67 steps and the little hill behind Prep School were my favorite haunts especially in the holidays when we had the whole school to ourselves!

    2. We are privileged to have grown up there. That much I realized then and even more acutely now 🙂 Sometimes, all I need is a whiff of that heady Eucalytpus smell to magically head back to Lovedale! Can’t wait to see the dear place again.

  2. Oh man hope you a re okay! I truly enjoyed reading this post, love how your weave the post from disjointed but somehow relevant experiences from all over ;–)

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