Monday, December 22, 2008


I have had to travel extensively on the massive network of the Indian Railways. Indeed every summer vacation in my school days meant a long haul for my family across the width of India. The soothing rocking of the train was a companion for at least 36 hours. That was if the train reached Calcutta on schedule which it never did. We'd pass numerous signal houses adjacent to the tracks: a couple of them on either side of each of the stations (tiny as well as major) that lay in between. Most of them were insignificant places for our high-and-mighty "express" train which didn't have no time to stop. Even the town of Bharuch where I spent my childhood in did not warrant more than a two minute stop before our train, the only train from our parts to Calcutta, the Ahmedabad-Howrah express rushed on to bigger and more important places.

The smaller stations all had even tinier signal houses where the only signal I had ever seen was green as our train rushed past gathering up her skirts. I often thought that no trains would ever stop there because there never seemed to be anybody on the platforms. And in some places, even the signal houses did not deserve a crew of their own. The station-master would stand on the platform itself, a lonely figure with the green signal in his hands as the train rushed by. It was around these stations that the signal houses lay decrepit, overgrown with weeds and the word "ABANDONED" scrawled across them in paint to avoid the possibility of any mischief mongers guiding the train on their own signals. The exact spelling of abandoned was apparently a challenge for many of these doom-sayer painters, and it would range from "OBANDENED" to "EBANDOND".

Come to think of it, there is no scarier word in the English language than abandoned. The word is pervaded with more futility and despair than any other. Abandoned children, abandoned dreams, abandoned efforts: pair it with anything to suck the life-force out of it. These abandoned cabins all must have a story to tell, very sad ones at that. Of how prosperity gradually turned her back to the town that they once upon a time announced the arrival of or worse still briefly flirted with them before leaving them skeletons of her unkept promises.

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