THE romance associated with trains is dateless. Humayun Kabir’s enduring and endearing ode to trains perhaps sums the timelessness of their charm and allure.
Recently, I was to travel from New Delhi to Chandigarh on the Shatabdi Express. Equipped with a book, I looked forward to the possibility of sitting quietly, immersed in a book, with spectacular green fields witnessing the train go by, only to be distracted by the occasional flock of peacocks, carelessly perched on trees. But providence had different plans.
Once the train started, two unrelated infants started throwing tantrums. This is tolerable, perhaps even cute. This was followed by the clanking of crockery as tea was served, and later when the trays were collected.
I finally reclined and started reading. Soon enough, the gentleman sitting next to me began talking on his phone. Thrice he said: Han Shatabdi mein hun, sunai nahin de raha. Great, I thought! My happiness was, however, shortlived. ‘Let me call you from the Internet,’ he said. Out came a dongle and a portable charger. His office was set. This was followed by a 45-minute conversation on how 600 T-shirts were to be exported to Korea.
The aforesaid children now had finished tea. Perhaps fuelled by sugar, they started howling again. Out came two more smartphones. As their parents looked on contently, the infants watched animated videos on the phones. Twinkle twinkle little stars… I had to hear it precisely 208 times. They finally got tired and went to sleep. Finally, I thought!
I had just read a page, a young girl and her friend sitting behind me began another phone call. After about 15 minutes, I could hear her say, ‘No, you hang up’, for another 15 minutes. One of them finally hung up.
I had almost given up on reading when there was peace. I started again, occasionally looking out of the window. Twenty minutes had barely passed, when a middle-aged gentleman took out his phone and started watching videos. All sorts of voices could be heard, from melancholic old numbers to Punjabi songs. This culminated in a speech that can only be described as provocative. Content with the knowledge that he had gained, he put his phone back and there was momentary silence.
I still had an hour of reading! I started reading again. I, of course, did not realise that another 600 shirts had to be shipped, this time to Colombo.
I put the book aside.
Technology has its many uses: knowledge is accessible, world has come closer, and travel is quicker. It has, however, robbed the charm of travel. I remember the very same journey, not many years ago, was one of great pondering, sightseeing and reflection.
This certainly is one area which technology has made less enjoyable. In some countries like Japan, there are silent cabins. Phones are not allowed. We are assured that trains are set to get faster. Perhaps technology is now catching up in other ways!
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