The Madras Mail

It’s not Chennai. It’s Madras. When I hear the word "Chennai" I am blank, there is nothing to relate to. But "Madras" is the name of

  • A city . . . the city I loved, and still love.
  • The city I love for its hot weather.
  • The city where Manju akka next door would feed me bread after peeling out the brown outer layer when I was 3.
  • The city where I would wait for Jithu in the evening with my three-wheeled cycle at the KK Nagar CPWD quarters ground, so that we can have a "cycle-race"(when I was 4).
  • The city where Murugan anna (autodriver) would allow us to dip our fingers in the funnel while he is filling his fuel tank so that we can feel the jill when the petrol evaporates.
  • The city where a long forgotten stranger took care of us when our school bus met with an accident.
  • The city where I took a bus from Chromepet to Sanitorium with one 50 paise coin and one 25 paise coin in my trouser pockets.
  • The city where she did not allow me to try out her automatic pencil box (which has buttons for opening, closing etc), telling me that already 10 people have pressed the button today and that overusage might destroy it.
  • The city I loved walking back home from school skipping the school bus as I was busy playing Volleyball or Chess. And later when my achchan found it, he wouldn't believe that this 13 year old would walk 5-6Kms chewing boomer and accused me of coming back home in N's cycle for some weird reason!
  • The city where the smell of perfume from some manufacturing unit in MEPZ (Madras Export Processing Zone) used to fill Durga Nagar and Kamakshi Nagar.
  • The city where I have friends who are in touch after I left it for the last 9 years!

I had been in Madras for 11 years. That’s half my life. I grew up in Madras, until middle school.
All these 11 years there, we used to have a sacred yearly ritual- going home, Kerala. Most of the years it used to happen just once, in April.
Achchan used to book the tickets a month earlier. That’s because April is holiday season and trains are normally packed and moreover my achchan belongs to the nationalized bank employee’s clan who normally have the habit of doing things with total perfection. Mostly it was the Mangalore Mail\Madras Mail.
I have a strong relationship with this train. Not only that we used to take this train from Madras to Pattambi (my native place); when I was in college I used to take this train from Mangalore to Pattambi. This train which goes from Madras to Mangalore and back, my father once told me was one of the first trains of Southern Railway. It was numbered 1 (Madras to Mangalore) and 2(Mangalore to Madras). Of course they are now numbered 2601 and 2602. This train was then very important for the people of Kerala for a number of reasons, some of them could be

  • The mail used to come in the parcel van of this train.
  • This was the train the unemployed youth of Kerala took to go to Madras, to hunt for a job.
  • There was no Konkan rail, so the unemployed youth of Kerala who wanted to go to Bombay, had to take this train first and then later take connection trains.
  • There were no airports for the unemployed youth of Kerala to go to gulf other than the nearest Madras!

Thus it was a dear train for Kerala. It is dearer to me, as it signified naati puva - GOING HOME.
I used to be very enthusiastic about going to our native. Ammu was not born until I was 9 and my only cousins were in Kochi. Also there were other important people in Kerala who I love and would love to meet - my achchamma (paternal grandmother, no more), my amma's achchamma (who is to hit century in a few years), my cousins, their parents, my amma's cousins, achchan's siblings, their families . . . the list is endless. Thus being very eager to be there, I used to push amma to start packing the suitcases 2 days earlier. I used to love these packing sessions. Once packed and ready on the D day amma will make dinner and achchan would pack it in banana leaves by evening. Achchan made it sure that we were at Madras Central atleast one hour earlier. We used to take an auto to the Tambaram-Sanitorium station. From there we would take the electric train to Central.
I love those electric trains. Their sound, their smell, the low floors, the dark yellow color, the crowd and the pull. But I used to get bored sitting in the train. I would ask "achcha, ini yethre stationa?" (How many more stations?). I used to be amazed, as he would tell me the stations in the correct order. He would have told me that order a 100 times, but I don't remember them. I don't want to remember them either, if I did, there is no element of surprise and I won’t be able to ask him that question again. Once we are there in the station where the Madras Central is nearby (I don’t remember the name now), we have to take a subway to central with hawkers all around. I think there is nothing you won’t get in these "shops". In 2003 when I went to Madras for 2 days, I saw a guy selling FM radios for Rs100 and another selling shorts for Rs20 (of course they come with their semme Quality sir).
This walk through the subway carrying the luggage is a truly perspiring one. Once we are out of the subway, we will be welcomed by another set of hawkers on the road side. I would see the majestic red building with arches wondering if British men could have taken this building as well in one of their ships.
Once I enter the huge entrance I will be busy checking out what people are doing. I have my own ecstasy in seeing people running around with their luggage, under the huge ceilings, as they are late for their trains. I am never late right, achchan.
Since the train starts from the Central, it’s never late. The trains take a reverse into the Central and gently hit a pair of stoppers. Then starts the galata. People running around with luggage, babies crying, hawkers shouting, porters pushing carts of luggage.
I was normally successful in getting the "window seat". But I am not supposed to touch the window grills as they are supposedly not clean. Amma is obsessed with cleanliness. Ammamma is even more obsessed. Ammamma cleans the kitchen floor with a wet cloth a hundred times a day. I am not exaggerating. She actually does it, even if she is not keeping good health. Thus this genetic element of insane urge for cleanliness has come down to me. I shed a significant part of this quality when I entered my college, gradually, the major chunk of this skin shedding happening in second year. Still about 10% of this quality is still in me.

Thus I used to look into the darkness outside, the stars, the moon, the lights from settlements along the rail. When it is time for lunch, I will go with achchan to wash hands and then its amma’s turn. I love the smell of papadam(Paapad or appalam in other languages) packed in banana leaves. Due to the perspiration of the other stuff in the food pack, the papadam would have gone wet, but the smell, there is nothing more delicious than that! After all taste is mostly dependent on smell.

We often have similar malayalee families with whom we share our cabin. I once remember getting very friendly with a family, exchanging sweets, playing games with their kid, etc.

Then its time to sleep, I liked sleeping in upper berths, but no more. And I used to sleep well. The only occasion when I din’t get a proper sleep in train before I joined college was when we travelled in AC. I was sleeping in the upper-berth. I felt terribly cold then. Usually the next morning will he the finest morning of the year for me. The lush green fields of Kerala, the sunrise, the ode clad houses along the rails, the coconut, the rubber, hygienic people, some least used roads along the rail in the Palakad district. I loved fixing my eye on the parallel tracks. This gives a illusion that the rail is moving with us. Once we reach Shornour Junction it is signal that Pattambi is 15 minutes away. We used to get ready to get down by taking our luggage to the door. This is not because to achchan’s urge to do things in the bank way, but because Pattambi is considered a insignificant station for the Madras Mail and the train stops here only for a fraction of a minute.

From the Pattambi railway station it is just a 5 minutes walk to Leela Nivas. Amma will start pestering achchan to take an auto home, although she knows very well that we will have to walk it.


Anonymous said...


felinedev said...

though i spent only 8 yrs in chennai, it feel like its home,then madras,i cant even imagine...