|Chaiya Chaiya moment|
In 1998 ‘Dil Se’ movie, directed by the legendry Mani Ratnam was released. The song ‘Chaiya Chaiya’ was an instant hit as it stirred the imagination of the masses and classes. The song was picturised on Malaika Arora and Shah Rukh Khan dancing atop a goods train and the scintillating music was composed by the upcoming star A R Rahman. The train passes through tunnels, green meadows and the mountains as the dancers clad in vibrant colours danced with gay abandon oblivious to the danger such an act could result in. This would arguably be one of the most beautifully picturised songs in hindi cinema. This one song capitulated a little known model Malaika Arora into big league. Her delectable waist and her dancing rhythm would have made her quite a star. However she became Malaika Arora Khan the same year after marrying Arbaaz Khan, brother of Salmaan Khan and could only come back to limelight several years later in husband’s produced Dabang with another wonderfully choreographed song ‘Munni badnaam hui….’.
It’s a pity that Indian Railway could not make the song ‘chaiya chaiya’ into their advertisement as most of the action is atop the moving train- totally illegal and dangerous! But this roof riding aspect on Indian trains is part of an unwritten script in rural India which repeats itself day after day. I experienced it first hand during an unforgettable journey.
As my school friend Anjani and I boarded the train for Siliguri from the Charbagh Lucknow station in that summer of 1981, little did we know that this journey which was on paper for 28 hours would actually take 52 hours ! In the scorching heat of 44 deg C as we boarded the 3 tier sleeper (2nd class), we headed for cooler climes of Darjeeling . I hardly knew the people we were staying with and to top it all, I had a guest with me. Our hosts were related to my mom’s friend and during that particular summer quite a few guests of theirs were gathering at their house. I knew all these guests very well but not the hosts. The invitation seemed very genuine and without using too much brains regarding the inconvenience which we may cause to our hosts, we had booked our tickets and were on our way to the views of Kanchenjunga in June 1981.
At the station Anjani’s dad informed me that he had fever and I was to look after him and ensure that his diet was as per specification and medicines were taken on time. He was a strongly built cop with UP Police and was a concerned father. Train left Lucknow on time but came to standstill just a couple of hours later in some remote countryside. We were told that our steam engine had collapsed and new one will be brought from somewhere. So, we decided to go for a walk in the fields and must have walked a km away when the engine whistled, blowed out the steam and train started moving. It was our sprint of a lifetime as we huffed and puffed and reached the train only to be told that engine was just being tested and train was not going anywhere. The net result was that Anjani’s fever disappeared and we just killed time till the time engine was replaced. It is another matter that Anjani started burning in a couple of hours as the train moved towards Eastern part of India.
Gorakhpur is considered to be the badland of Eastern UP. This was our last major station before the train moved into Bihar. The train was already 3-4 hours late when we reached here. I had told Anjani that I will get off and get some dinner. This became unnecessary as 2 police constables came looking for us carrying 2 thalis of station food. The perks of being police officers son were visible. They also carried a thermometer and a few medicines. Anjani’s temperature was checked and the constables waited till he finished food. A few doses of medicines were given to him and the constables went off to give report about Anjani’s health to their seniors who would further report the latest health bulletin to his dad. All this worked as Anjani remained fever free from next day onwards.
Chaiya Chaiya moment came in Bihar. In the morning as we got out of train for breakfast we noticed hundreds sitting atop the train. There seemed to be more people sitting on top of the train than inside. No one was remotely as sexy as Malaika but later at one of the villages we saw a full marriage party boarding the train and then climbing on to the top . All were ticket-less and all fearless. Amongst the all male marriage party was the newlywed bride with red sari and her face well hidden behind a veil. Her journey to a new life had started.
|A common sight on Indian trains|
Somewhere along the way the train got diesel engine instead of steam. The villagers sitting on top of the train knew all the tricks. There was not one village where train did not stop and none of them were the scheduled stops. They knew how to operate the vaccum system which would activate the ‘brake’ and the train would stop. After every few minutes there would be a loud roar from above and when I asked a co-passenger why were they making this sound I was told that they must be feeling hot. In the evening I learnt firsthand why this periodic noise would erupt.
One of the co-passenger said that he was hot and sweaty so seeing the hand pump on the platform he stripped to his undies and had a nice long bath. I couldn’t resist the temptation so soon I was also doing the same. Anjani didn’t want to take a chance with his fever so he stayed inside and rested but made fun of me for doing this shameless act. He said if he had a camera he would have clicked this scene and shown it to my parents, my girlfriend and the class teacher! I decided not to tell him that I did have a camera.
|Accessible bathing means at Indian Railway stations|
My Chaiya Chaiya moment
At a station, when I asked one of the villagers how it felt to be sitting up, he gave me his hand and pulled me up. He asked me to experience this till next stop. I agreed. It was around 6 PM and sun was not so hot. But the train was burning hot. They would try to get water and throw it around so it would get cooler. I had to sit on my haunches otherwise my backside would have got burnt. The train took off and I felt that I would be blown away by the wind. I had to take off my specs and put them securely in my pocket. There were small handles on the sides which one had to hold onto. There were water filling covered holes to cling on to. The air was still hot and it seemed to pierce the skin. As a tunnel or an overhead wire approached , a team of spotters would give a shout and everyone would shout and bent down till the danger passed. In the tunnel it would get pitch dark and you could almost feel the roof scraping against your body. You could smell the dampness of the structure before suddenly the bright daylight blinded you as you got out of the tunnel. This happened twice in 10 minutes while I was up there. This was too nerve wrecking. Luckily a village came and vacuum breaks were activated. I was happy to be down in the compartment. Anjani told me that I looked like a total wreck. My body was full of soot and dust and the hair was standing. I had to wait till next platform to take a bath under a hand pump.
The journey had many more incidents including a flash strike by the driver of our train at Raxaul, Bihar. I really don’t remember the reason but while waiting helplessly I realised that Anjani had disappeared. I went looking for him and in one of the rooms noticed that there were many people gathered and quite a bit of commotion. As I eased inside the room to check what had happened, I could not believe it when I saw a meeting taking place and Anjani being an active member of that meeting. The strike was called off and my dear friend had a role to play as many people came to shake his hand and thank him including the driver. When asked how he managed this, his reply was simple- “I have a cop’s blood in my veins !”
Chaiya Chaiya and 'Dil Se' happened 17 years after my adventure on top of the train. I have been to many amusement parks around the world and have been through thousands of roller coaster rides, but the thrill of those 10 minutes atop a running train remains unsurpassed.