SOULTales - Character Strengths, Stories & Vocabulary

Monday, May 31, 2010

Vacations ...the end is near...part 2!

(So if you did not catch the previous post, do check it out as this is the sequel!)

Going on a vacation was not defined the way it is nowadays. My dad being a business man, taking off was a rarity. He kept travelling, so all he (probably!) wanted to do was pack us all off so that my mum would get some respite!.
Packing us off meant that we headed either to Bombay ( yes i'd rather say that, as I have visited Bombay but never seen Mumbai!!), where his sister and youngest brother lived along with my grandparents. Or to Hyderabad where his other brother lived. But the crucial factor was where my grandparents were positioned at that time...they were the quintessential parents, moving from one offsprings house to another, depending on where their services were needed, but predominantly using their elder son's place(my dad's) in Chennai as their base camp.

Travelling always excited me, it still does, and it probably goes back to those magical days.

Train was the obvious mode of travel. So all the preperations for the journey would start a week in advance. All kinds of things would be packed, like nothing can be got in Bombay and every thing has to be taken from Madras!
Coffee powder, pooja items, like kumkum, turmeric, sandal, loads of vadam (dried Popodam for frying).
Food...glorious food. Pulikaichal would be made, a tangy spicy concoction made with tamarind paste, with a delicate seasoning of peanuts and curry leaves. This would be mixed with rice and stuffed into the lower most container of a "tiffin carrier" (ahhh, the multilayered stainless steel convenience, that has been replaced by tupperware and plastic!).
Idlis (steamed rice/lentil cakes) undoubtedly would be packed in humungous quantities. No chutney, as that would perish in no time, but 'gun powder', a mixture of dry roasted lentils and red chillies, mixed with oil for the adults, and sugar for the kids!
No food was bought at the stations as they were considerd too unhygenic, and any food from the platform other than coffee or tea, was frowned upon by the elders.
Not that it stopped my father from buying chilli bajjis, or vadais from a passing vendor, which was surreptitiously shared by the adults while we children scratched our heads at the hypocrisy!!
...Surprisingly, we never questioned them, such were the children of yore, unlike now, who pull us up like medieval judges if we do any action that is contrary to what we have spoken!
Somehow our baggage would be monumental. Food, clothes and gifts squeezed into many, many bags and that meant reaching the station early so that we could find adequate space to fit them all in. Inspite of that we would have bags all around us and would find ourselves sitting on something, and being scolded for crushing it!

The train would leave the platform with a gentle hoot and a tug, and the butterflies in my stomach would explode into million warm feelings. Excitment, happiness, curiosity, sheer delight and anticipation, would see us running from one window to another, not wanting to miss the scene on the platform ( we travelled only by 2nd class sleeper back then).
Craning our necks to see the stalls rush by, waving to every stranger on the platform, just so that they dont miss the fact that we were going...away...on holiday!!
Literally my mother would let herself loose, all the worries and responsibilities, daily chores and hassles to be left behind. Just looking forward to 36 hours of eating sleeping, and watching the world go by. Bliss, I'm sure, for a much harassed mother of 3!
We never gave a thought to clean/unclean toilets, or the soot that covered us from the spuming engines. Mum did her job from time to time, handing over food, distributing goodies, that we had not even noticed being packed.
Playing cards, watching the scenary, chatting with the co passengers,time stood still...yet chugged its way ahead!
To see the train as it took the bend, seeing the bogies snaking its way like a gigantic multi segmented beast on the track was a thrill. This would surely be followed by a mini tussle with the sibling as she too craned and pushed to see what the other was seeing!
We happily talked to strangers, no fear here. I remember many trips that I have travelled on a complete strangers lap, just because that was the only way to get to a window seat. No paranoia, no apprehensions, just some friendly camaraderie as the grown ups shared food, general views and embarassing family details!!

Travel to Bombay: the landscape rushes by, telephone poles zoom past. Miniscule farmers toil away in far off fields of rice.
Plain lands give way to mountains, creaking and groaning the engines pull us through and into the caverns.
We strain to see the tunnels approach, and as we whooooosh into them, the defeaning roar frightens us. Each time...every time. We close our eyes and ears. Then when daylight bursts in through our closed palms, we run back to the windows to catch a glimpse of the sheer walls on one side and the deep valley on the other.
Then again closing our eyes and ears as we thunder through another tunnel.
I can still feel it in me!!

36 hours later as the train chugs into it's destination, Bombay Victoria Terminus, we are grimy, soot laden, tired and...hungry! Can't wait to get into the taxi, and reach home where grandparents waited with equal anticipation, love and most importantly loads of hot food!

The adults have still to check and count the luggage, bargain with the coolie and taxi wallah, load the car and the kids. Yet there is relief at having reached with no untoward incident, safe and secure.

Mostly my parents would accompany us, stay for a week and then push off back, while we children stayed back to enjoy the holidays with grandparents.

What we did during those days is another story isnt it?

You can wait for the sequel to this too...!!


  1. Well written Sowms! Great reading! I too went back to those good old days.....of train and car travel.....thanx for sharing and getting me to walk down memory lane again! Hey, you forgot the travelling by train through peak summer.....with HOOOOOT air blowing through the compartment......through the hottest parts of India sometimes with no AC compartments....wiping our faces with wet towels that turned black in no time with all that soot and grime deposited on our faces....the fights for the berths to curl up in with a book or play a quiet game...and then the library on the train which we used to live in all the time! and the smells from the pantry car that used to draw us ever so often through the vestibules, where we stopped to balance ourselves and have a peek outside!....oh the thrills of long train journeys!!

  2. great one, sowmya! loved it.. and it brought back so many memories.... esp of the pulikacchal and thayir saadam.. yummy! i made such trips twice a year too... either to delhi or to you say, depending on where my grandparents were! and most of all, it brings back to me how innocent and unworried we were, not bothered about talking to strangers.....i even remember us being stranded at wadi station for over 12 hours and my mom allowing me to go off into the town with an uncle travelling with us, so that we could get some fresh food! i cant imagine letting samhith go off with anyone like that! god! how i wish things were simpler! and now i sound so old.....

  3. aha thanks Anu
    i forgot the thayir sadam...i left my piece incomplete without it
    thanks a ton for yr thoughts
    yu too PD...

  4. Wow, that's nostalgia, dreaming of a life that seems so simple now, which perhaps had its own twists and turns of complications then- and yet, all was forgotten with the magic of a train journey across the country! and the best part was really befriending strangers... something I shy away from now, with age catching up!! Thanks, it was a treat to read this and visualize our Summer vacations!