My mum sometimes jokes that my generation – my sister and me – sadly broke the three generation run my family has had serving the Indian railways. First, my great grandfather who served in the then, British-run railway as a station master in present-day Bangladesh, my grandfather who worked across both the British India and Indian railways, and my mother who also worked her entire career in the Indian railway medical services.
My dad spent pretty much sixty years living in Railway houses (or quarters as they were called), moving across various parts of West Bengal and Bihar with my grand father and then we all lived in one of the famous Railway ‘colonies’.
Think my Dadu (grandpa) would have been amused if I told him we can’t seem to string two sentences together in a business meeting without using the word ‘platform’…because when he said ‘building a platform’, he meant it in simpler and more literal terms! (He was a key member of the team that built the Kharagpur train station platform – still one of the longest in the world).
Our holidays were always punctuated with a train journey at either end. I can still feel the excitement over ordering the egg curry on the 1-up and 2-down train we would take to and from Calcutta, and the excitement as the train pulled into Howrah station, as I was about to be spoilt rotten by my grandma, grandpa and Mama (uncle) over the holidays. But it was always the train journey and the pulling into Howrah that marked the start of that yearly gastronomic adventure. The tiffin carriers with mutton curry, puris, and snacks we carried onto the train (in case, heaven forbid we ran out of food!), and then all the snacks and meals on the train and even more importantly, all the wonderful food from the platforms! The puri bhajis, the omlette sandwiches, the cutlets, the bhajiyyas….
Maybe three generations of being in and around trains and railway platforms will do that to you, but even now, I get these Pavlovian hunger pangs every time I get on a train for a halfway long journey. Maybe I should see someone about that!