So, the new session has started, the son has joined a new school, the baby is napping on my lap, and summer vacation is around the corner. How exciting? When we were young, this was the time when Baba use to book the train tickets for our month-long annual trip to Siliguri. Journey always meant trains, and the anticipated train journey use to make April hard to pass.
Our parents use to accumulate all their work-leaves so that we can travel to their native place, and spend time with the extended family. During nights in April, me and my sister use to lie down next to Baba and count down the days of journey and make long list—orange or elaichi crème biscuits, cake, chana chur, Koolkit with ice, air-filled pillows, chicken & roti for dinner. Maa always use to pack in some rice, as she’s never too fond of ruti.
Maa also use to carry a Kujo (an earthen pot) to keep the water cool throughout the journey. This was long before Bisleri and Neer days; people use to get down in the station to fill their bottles with tap water. “The ice would melt but the Kujo will keep the water cool” she used to argue. Baba’s “it’s too big for journey” retort and our embarrassment standing no chance in front of her. I remember, once when our train was running 18-hours late that Kujo came to rescue. The train was stranded in the middle of some barren land, with no station nearby, and my mother started offering water to those who had none. Our effort of carrying a kujo over the years finally paid off that day. Incidentally, she never carried a Kujo again, and we never asked her why.
I also have indelible food memories of train trips— what we ate, what we packed, what all we bought. Jainagarer Mua, orange and black lozenges, shosha (cucumber) with beat nun, jhaal muri, and how the taste of tea changes as you near Bengal— passing through, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar. Those smell of frying samosas wafting from the pantry and— naa, pet kharab hobe, from my mother.
Our train trips also inevitable featured some fights with the sibling. Who will sit next to the window? Where will we sleep at night? Will I get the middle birth? The fights would inevitably be accompanied by a phase of sulking, followed by long conversation and antakshari.
Though, summers were mostly about bonding with the cousins, grandparents, and relatives. The most exciting part was the train journey, and stories they brought. Like, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of the train passing over a bridge “this is Farakka Barrage, we are passing over Ganga”— Maa would say. “Throw in a coin and take her blessings”.
No matter how rough the ride there were plenty of stories we carried in our bags from our train journeys. Stories that remained etched in my mind.
That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?
At the end of the day, all that matters is love and memories!