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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont
Travel is at the top of the list for those who love to explore places and those who live to create memories. For anyone who has migrated to the West from South Asia, the experience of travel is vastly different from living in 90s India.
Travel in the US tends to be more organized. Privately-owned civilian airlines give passengers a premium flight experience, and even the railways offer a relaxed environment for travel. A stellar national highway system connects all of America making it a preferred mode of travel for many.
Shekhar, who returned to Kolkata from California due to the COVID-19 pandemic, remembers a time when traveling in India was far more fun and a lot more difficult.
While the 40-year-old techie agrees that travel in India has evolved in leaps and bounds over the last few years, he cannot help but be nostalgic for his youth when he traveled to his aunt’s home in Delhi during the mid-1990s.
“For starters, air travel was never the choice,” says Shekhar, whose younger sister Sunita now lives in Mumbai. It was extremely expensive and not something a middle-class Indian father could afford for his wife and two children. “So, traveling to my aunt in Delhi always meant getting on to the Rajdhani Express from Howrah.”
“We used to live pretty far from the Howrah Railway Station and would be up in the wee hours of the morning gearing up for a long ride in a yellow taxi to reach the station,” recalls Shekhar.
There were no long queues and body scans back then. Shekhar recollects a quiet charm and a laid-back vibe even in the bustle of the huge railway station… and piping hot samosas!
Even though his father was a middle-class government official in Kolkata’s Dalhousie, traveling in the Rajdhani was a luxury he loved to share with his kids.
“Back then,” explains Shekhar, “getting a first-class compartment was a huge deal. It was almost like having your own private space. And the meals were served with fine cutlery, unlike what you would get in a sleeper class compartment.”
Getting basic tickets for the journey was fun too. “There were no e-reservations or printers back then. Me and baba would go months in advance to the station, stand in a serpentine queue, and manually fill out a form for the tickets at an overcrowded reservation window. In retrospect, it was fun! Gave us an amazing father-son bonding time.”
It’s been years since Shekhar has taken a train. He cannot remember the last time he was at a railway station. With flights becoming cheaper and more convenient, riding a train has become a thing of the distant past for him.
Puja, who migrated to the US from Mumbai misses the methodical madness that was travel in India. “Everything is organized here,” she quips, “too organized sometimes.”
“I remember traveling to places like Lonavla and Matheran as a youngster with my parents, and being able to board the Mumbai local was in itself an adventure.”
Her family would arrive early at Thane station to get into position to push themselves into the compartment. While boarding an empty coach from VT (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) was always an option, getting there from Thane was never an easy task,” Puja remembers, though she is glad, some constants back home never change.
Both Shekhar and Puja agree that travel is far more sterile today. Though travel is simpler and destinations more varied, that sense of adventure is sorely missing. Gone are the days when collecting train tickets as souvenirs was a cool thing to do, or waiting for a studio to develop a film reel of photos after a trip was something to look forward to. Shekhar and Puja say as kids, travel had a soul of its own, but fast forward a few years and continents, it has lost the excitement and trepidation that they felt as youngsters in 1990s India.
Umang Sharma is a media professional, avid reader, and film buff. His interests lie in making the world a better place through the power of the written word.