It’s summer. This is when so many of us use the holiday season to criss-cross the country back to visiting our favorite (and not-so-favorite) relatives. The oft-repeated saying at the airline terminals across the country nowadays is that the queues have started resembling ‘railway stations’. For those of us of an earlier vintage, we know exactly what that means. Growing up distinctly middle class in a Socialist era with one airline meant that I took my first flight at the age of 10. By that age, I had already journeyed thousands of kilometers across the length and breadth of the country carried by the railways. There was the annual summer 40-hour dash across Central India from Pune to West Bengal, a whole tour of Southern India undertaken mostly by train and a few train rides on the magically named Deccan Queen and the ordinarily named Deccan Express. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than sticking my face against the window grill trying to catch sight of the locomotive, as the snaking train approached a bridge over a mighty river. And there is no shortage of mighty rivers in the country.
The mightiest river in the country is undoubtedly the Ganga. By the time, it reaches the town of Allahabad, it is a swollen body of water, prayer and myth. The journey to West Bengal was always undertaken on the ‘Howrah Mail (via Allahabad)’. The train number was never important. Allahabad was an extremely important pit stop on the second night. As the train thundered over the iron bridge, you could hear tiny metallic sounds as people threw coins from the train windows as an offering to the river, also a goddess. For me, as a young, excited, train-loving kid, it was also the time to look forward to dinner. It would be hunger, the experience of eating something other than home-cooked food, and it could be that the taste of chicken curry and rice served at Allahabad railway station stands out in memory: An annual food experience from 30 years ago still imprinted in memory.