Sunday, March 15, 2009

Nostalgia and train journeys part II

A lot has changed and now train journeys are also a preferred mode of transport at work, what with high cost and all..

One of my favorite co-passengers is a colleague of mine as we travelled often from Kolkata to Bhubaneshwar, or Kolkata to Vizag and back  by train.  He would be surprised at my choice of taking  the upper berth. We would chat about work, work on our laptop, discuss strategies and then decide to call it a day. In fact he would treat me a bit like a princess(i don't have a problem with that), as we used to get constant supply of tea and attention from the attendant right from lunch to dinner(in case it was a slightly longer journey)! These used to be so much more productive and restful than the plane rides for these short distances with equal number of time spent to and from the airports..

My most recent train trip was  to Mumbai. We travelled by the 1st class and had an A/c Coupe for two for ourselves. I must say that this was much needed as it gave us so much time to just un wind and be ourselves. Thankfully the phones didn't ring and there were no fires at work(what with it being Friday night and Saturday the whole day perhaps) The privacy adds to the romance of trains. I watched a beautiful movie, "The English Patient" and was really happy with the "me" time.

Oh yeah, add to that the familiar "chai coffee" sounds, the sights have changed as some of the fields seem to be missing and now seem barren and dry, the ghat sections now have bungalows dotting them..its no longer the same..

The best part is having family members coming to pick you up. Whats a journey without some old fashioned love and hugs on the station!Trust my family to do matter when you land or arrive :-)

This train journey was memorable..and timeless. A part of me didn't want it to end..but i know we had reached our destination and we were here for another journey to begin....

Nostalgia and Train journeys..part I

Long distance train journeys  always meant end of exams and the start of long vacations. For us it meant going to Chennai or Kerala/Mangalore on holidays. Mostly it used to be Chennai as my grandparents lived there. 

The sights and sounds of the platforms at every stop, the Chaiyya-Coffee sounds, each station known for its own famous eats like Batata wadas from Karjat, Chikki from Lonavla, Aampapad from Renigunta/Guntakal, Coffee at was all just too good.. 

The packed lunches my mom made was super. While one may wonder why it tastes so good in a train or a picnic--were we more hungry ? or was it just the anticipation of something good! The jury is still out on that one..memories of  idlis soaked with molagapodi, The Puliyodarai, the Chapatti and Potato Masala, and my other favorite Pulao, would make me want to take a train journey again.

We used to also get in vegetables(boiled potatoes, Tomatoes, Cucumbers etc) for slicing and quickly making Veggie sandwiches. My mom brought Hot water in a flask, instant coffee and Milk powder(Have u ever tried eating milk powder and getting it stuck on the upper palate of the mouth ? BLISS) My moms coffee rocked and she was always prepared! I love the way she made every experience a kind of an extravagant indulgence for us..No wonder my dad hates travelling without her. 

As kids my brother and I loved the Mail trains which used to mean two nights in the trains, we loved trains that got delayed which meant more time in the train. We loved to stand by the door with our mom and enjoy the breeze hitting our faces. The sights of Fireflies and the undisturbed night sky where the stars shone like we could never see in the city. The paddy fields, the sunflowers, the children running and waving at passing trains, we used to wave back like old friends..

My favorite place was the upper berth. and most of the the fellow passengers used to marvel at the way i used to climb up quite deftly. I loved to lounge in with  comics and have my Mom supply all the food up to me :-) My brother on the other hand was a night hawk and stayed up all night watching train stations.

Making friends in the train was another fun thing to do..sharing lunches and conversation was so much interesting..and nope we did not fear not know about the biscuit bandits then(some group of thieves who offered drug laced biscuits to unsuspecting passengers and robbed them of their valuables. Shame) Which also brings to mind this interesting term in Tamil/Malayalam RAIL SNEHAM, which means friends we make in trains whom we don't necessarily keep in touch..but it lasts till the journey ends..Have often  wondered how come have NEVER met any of the fellow passengers again or recognised them if i did..

One thrill was watching the UP train go by as we were the DOWN train and vice see them in the next track and mock thinking, hey they are going back home or some such random thought..well our vacation was only beginning, so we could  !

The other thrill was at times getting down with DAD at some bigger junction(with the longer time stop) and watch the Engine Change. Don't ask why but it just seemed so fascinating.. Even watching the train wind through and see its engine from the door was such a joy! My brother used to know when it changed from Electric to Diesel and back ..

I remember as kids going to the ICF coach factory in Perumbur and loved the way the wagons were fact we saw a glimpse of one of the LUXURY coaches of the palace on wheels, which i promised myself i would travel by one day.....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Will the humble Cloth Bag please stand up...

In south Indian weddings one usually has a little giveaway bag also called "Muhurtam Pai" which contains a number of auspicious things like coconuts, betel leaves/nuts, Kumkumum and so on and these are given after the Wedding ceremony is completed.  In the old days these used to be given away in YELLOW and REd bags signifying Manjal/Kumkumum or Turmeric/Crimson which are auspicious for any wedding.

These bags are usually given at South Indian stores like Saree shops, Coffee Shops(who can forget the very typical LEO Coffee Bags) with the names of the shops. As these bags are re-used by so many of us while shopping for vegetables and the like, its an obvious reusable/recycleable item

Our wedding contractor said that since its OLD FASHIONED, we only have plastic bags that can be arranged. And the Jute bags were bloody expensive. While one can debate if that was the cost price or we were being deterred as he would rather have us going for the "very popular" Plastic bag, Thought i must try and source it from Chennai. The place where we claim to have NOT lost the love for tradition and all things OLD.

I went to Parry's Corner(basis some recommendations), the area near Olympic Card shop full of shops that wholesale Wedding/puja/Upanayanam type bags. All kinds of bags in plastic and thermocole like material, some crap material called NETLON even but NO cloth Bags!! The shop keepers tell me wistfully no one will have cloth bags in these stores and most people sourced only plastic and the ilk for auspicious functions. 

I finally found two stores(bless them) that actually made them in Cloth one was a very nondescript shop A. Anantha Krishna Chetty & Son(N.S.C. Bose Road) and another was S. N. Rao and Sons(Bunder street) who actually made cloth Bags and could deliver it in time for the wedding.

Had also tried sourcing it from one of our well known handloom kurta/home furnishing shops. While they said it would be INR 12 per piece(they made them out of Cut pieces) and needed a week to hand it over. It would be too late. But i would like to recomend that option in case one has enough time.

Then there is Cotton World(CWC), wherein you add INR 10 with your bill, and Cotton world adds inr 20 and your shopping gets packed in a cloth bag, the proceeds of which go to Child Relief & You(CRY). You can also buy them at INR 30 per piece.

Other sources I tried and failed was Co-optex! and the huge handloom exhibition that's on in EGMORE near CO-OPTEX. can you believe it, No cloth bags!

So what happened to the humble cloth Bag ? I still remember my grand moms and my mom using old curtains to remake Bags for shopping, cushions/pillow covers, as all households at some time or the other had a Merritt Singer Sewing machine. Why I still remember  bags made of my old School uniform skirts(with the sides upturned to get the non faded side) and we had Bags! 

I think I can safely say that, am a Fan of the humble cloth bag and glad it takes its rightful  place during a VERY important event in my life on 23rd March!