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Railcar, baskets and babies

The metre gauge railcar connecting Shimoga and Talguppa might not be heritage but it does a good job in slowing down the scenery and highlighting contrasts between urban and rural life

PHOTO: ANAND SANKAR

WHEEZING ITS WAY FORWARD The railcar connecting Shimoga and Talguppa is a lifeline for many villages

It was a foggy morning at Shimoga Railway Station. I was on my way to a long weekend of camping and water sports at Honnemaradu (backwaters of the Linganamakki Reservoir). Though cramped after spending the night in a berth way too short for my height, the weekend ahead was enough to soothe my sore muscles. But first I had to find the train to Talguppa, the town nearest to Honnemaradu.

"Take the train, it is the best and the easiest way to get there," I was advised beforehand. Well, now I was on the platform waiting for the train. After a few minutes of impatient foot-tapping, I had to ask where the train was; it was 5.45 a.m. and the train leaves at 6.30 a.m.

"Other platform, saar," said the only railwayman I found at that hour.

"Tickets?"

"Conductor on train, saar, or ticket counter hogi."

The fear of getting caught without a ticket made me opt for the latter course of action.

"One ticket for the Talguppa train, please."

"Train???" Went the clerk at the counter and laughed before giving me the ticket (Rs. 19) and my one-buck change.

I trudged to the next platform and searched for the train. A railway constable on his beat stopped me. "Station gate aa kade ide ree."

"Illa, Talguppa train, ille baratta?"

Sound advice

Again laughter. "Walk to the end of the platform, the train will be there. And take a seat immediately or you have to stand all the way." I would thank that man even today for his sound advice.

In the dim light I saw a small tempo-sized object at the end of the platform and it was on rails. Upon getting closer I realised that it was a railcar. I left the detailed inspection for later and searched for the door. A voice shouted from inside the carriage, "Illi window seat ide, jaldi."

I stepped inside to find wicker baskets lining the dark aisle. As proof of my Bangaloreness, I flicked on my handy pen-torch to find the train almost three-quarters full of sleeping villagers and the remaining 25 per cent occupied by wicker baskets. Just when I was wondering whether the seats were all wicker, a basket made way for me and said: "Koothkolli, Bengalura? You should have taken the bus."

"What?"

"The train takes four hours. The bus reaches in half the time."

For kindergarten kids

Early sunlight was now filtering in and revealed the carriage's innards. Clearly this contraption was from before railway compartments as we know it were designed. No loo, no fans, no fancy windows, and the seats were meant for kindergarten kids, not adults.

It was departure time and still no sign of forward movement. Then someone suggested the driver must be asleep. Thankfully he turned up just then and started to rev the engine up. Still no sign of movement. He was warming the engine, came the message. (The engine by the way is a modified lorry engine.)

Seven a.m. The first whistle sounds and there is a sudden rush to board. To add to the locals, eight bleary-eyed Bangaloreans squeeze in and then high-five each other. "We made it."

Then a jerk and a grinding noise. Had the carriage given up on all the humanity in it? No, forward motion. The thing actually moves. A quick spurt of acceleration and we reach a stately 25 kmph. The distance to go: 86.

The outskirts of Shimoga wind by and we suddenly grind to a halt. Seeing the look on face my all-knowing neighbour says: "They don't have money, so the conductor has to get down at every railway gate and man the gate till we pass." If you are into time-pass, count the number of gates. There are enough to keep you occupied.

It was soon time for rolling countryside and some trivia on the railcar. "Saar, earlier the Konkan Railway people used to run the big train. But after the rail line from Bhatkal became broad gauge, they stopped it. Now people use the bus but only this train connects many villages. It runs only for them." That explained the wicker baskets.

Surprisingly every village along the way had a decent station. Leftovers from the big train era perhaps. Not surprisingly, everyone seemed to be everyone else's chikkappa or doddappa. And fittingly, babies seem to be public property here. Every one of them was detached from his or her mother's hip and passed around the carriage to be admired. Soon I found myself cradling a tiny tot in my arms who was intently looking out of the window.

Typical Bangaloreans

It was 10.30 a.m. and we reached Sagar, the last stop before Talguppa. Typically, all the eight Bangaloreans disembarked in a huff (irritated with all the stop-and-go) to catch a bus with one of them muttering: "I told you guys to take a bus."

My neighbour puzzled: "Where are they going? The bus stand is some distance away. The train reaches Talguppa in another 20 minutes."

I had to try hard to suppress a smile.

"Don't worry, they are going to convert this line to broad gauge soon," he added.

ANAND SANKAR

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