After a childhood of travelling to the posting place of a civil-services-parent, during each vacation, from Pune, a history of travelling to and from college away from home in my late teens, and then later on , travelling with a small child, I completely identify with many stories selected for this anthology.
Stories selected here, are from submissions from all over the world, and not just India, and it is interesting to read a non Indian's perspective on many things that we take for granted. Train travel in India is clearly not about mechanical wonders, speeds, and timings, but more about people who continue their inclusive home lifestyles right into the train.
There are stories of long distance strains, mountain railways, about-to-be-extinct-metre-gauge trains, and even short distance iconic trains like the Pune Mumbai Deccan Queen. The unfolding of regional panoramas as the trains chug across the Indo Gangetic, or peninsular landscape, the observable change in foods and cooking styles, predominance of teas/coffees as a beverage of the masses, the color, the habit, and attitudes of co passengers, all make for a wonderful read. The selection and arrangement of the stories is excellent, and one always looks forward to the next story .
There are a few inspired poems, mostly by those from outside India, who are clearly smitten by the romance of the railways, stories of entire families, routinely travelling long distances with large baggage, visiting the head of the household at his posting, episodes of kids getting down at stations to get things and then barely jumping on to the train as it chugs away from the platform, random disobedient fearless small kids who wander on platforms while their tired mother sleeps with another infant, and how these kids are taken under one's wing and disciplined, by rank outsiders , something that will happen only in India. Unknown concerned parents worrying about a young girl travelling back alone to college, and likely to miss her classes. And a story , about the unwilling-to-go all-knowledgeable co passenger, who insists on forcing solutions on you, which never work, and who ends up being firmly told off.
Clearly, one cannot enumerate the stories here. It is not the purpose of this book review.
But as someone, who travelled in the late 50's from Pune to Arrah(in Bihar) in a compartment with only 8 berths, and a central free area where you could even play langdi, then traveled every year, in the sixties , in college, from Pune to Mumbai, lugging a sitar in an unreserved ladies compartment, and since then has braved the Mumbai Suburban Central Railway , sometimes lugging chutney stones and homemade brooms, being assisted by the co passengers , and sometimes, travelling with small children who were embarrassed with my handling of the massive pushy crowds, I totally identify with the many stories in this book.
I congratulate Anupama Sharma on zeroing in on this topic. her selection of stories, and for an extremely delightful read !
Go get this book.