Indian Railways is the largest single-entity employer in India, and the eight largest in the world. This is a fascinating fun fact for those not familiar with the length and breadth of the railway tracks in the country. For those of us who have actually spent most of our summer vacations travelling across that length and breadth it would probably be evidentiary–and we would probably react with a knowing ‘Obviously!’
Every Indian, no matter what the economic status, is sure to have travelled by Indian Railways at some point of time in their life (and for those who have not, trust me, you’re missing out on something). For most of us who grew up in the pre-low-cost airline phase, Indian Railways is a huge part of our childhood memories. And the first experience of real life outside the confines of our homes. Travelling with strangers, discovering new cultures, and being exposed to people from different economic background were all valuable lessons that travelling on trains taught us. The famous train scene from the movie Swades is profoundly powerful – and Shah Rukh Khan’s reaction probably quite close to what most of us felt when we were delivered our first lesson in humility.
For me too, the train has played a huge role in my childhood. It used to be our preferred mode of transport for long distances. One of my earliest and most cherished memories of a train journey is from a trip to Bangalore. There is another one from when I travelled alone for the first time. Yet another memory pops up of the time we travelled to Jaipur by train. There were various factors that could either make or break the journey. The company of books or interesting passengers (read kids my age or college-going students I could chat with) would be something I would look forward to.
Needless to say when I picked up Deepak Sapra’s ‘The Boy Who Loved Trains’ it was with much expectations. I was looking forward to going on another memorable, albeit vicarious, journey thought the protagonist, Jeet Arora.
Instead, what I got was so much more than just one train journey. The Boy Who Loved Trains is not an outsider’s recollection of their love for trains and train journeys. It is an insightful peek into what makes the Indian Railways the transport lifeline of the country.
Told from an insider’s perspective (Sapra is a former Indian Railways officer), this is a travel memoir spanning more than a decade. Jeet may not be your usual protagonist working in a glitzy MNC environment, but his life seems similar, nevertheless. His office may be a moving train, a different one each time, but the life lessons, work pressures, and romantic escapades are exactly what someone in the corporate world would experience-making his life and struggles just as relatable to someone who works the conventional nine-to-five job.
More than just Jeet’s story, the presentation is also unique, giving it the feel of a personal journal. The first-person account added to this experience. For most of the book, I felt as if the protagonist was sitting next to me and sharing those stories in person.
The protagonist’s daring audacity to defy the norm is, at both, shocking and endearing. This leads to some unexpected and some amusing situations, and makes the book a hugely entertaining read filled with hilarious anecdotes. While the humour keeps you amused, the insights into the Indian Railways offer a deeper understanding and appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes- before or after the train has been flagged off from the station.
There are some thought-provoking elements too, like Lokhi’s story and the protagonist’s wise recommendations based on his interaction with her. I won’t share more so that you may explore it for yourself.
After reading a few pages, I had begun to expect more such hilarious anecdotes but just like an AME’s life isn’t easy, neither is this book. Less than 100 pages into the book, the smiles are replaced with an unsettling sense of reality-tragedy strikes, and this leaves the reader experiencing far more than just one shade of emotion, much like undertaking a long train journey.
I love how the narrative is not just anecdotal but also includes the protagonist’s thoughts and reactions. Sapra has taken care to reveal the stories as well as delve deeper into their consequences and the subsequent reactions of the protagonist. And it is this aspect of the story-telling that lends it more depth than just a one-way conversation.
There were a few minor flaws here and there which I chose to overlook, as they didn’t affect my reading experience.
My biggest takeaway from the book is something seemingly obvious and yet often forgotten-you are but just a tiny drop in the ocean. But a drop that makes a gigantic difference and would surely be missed if it were not there.
Reading this book was much akin to a trip down memory lane – it brought alive many of my own memories – and took me on a journey that truly meant more than the destination.
Do you enjoy train journeys? What’s your favourite book on travel and journeys? Do share your thoughts via the comment box below.
Grab your copy of The Boy Who Loved Trains, published by Readomania from Amazon.