Monday, October 19, 2009

Rail Gaadi Chuk Chuk Chuk Chuk

I love train travel. There's a certain... earthiness, for lack of a better word, to it that no other mode of transport can capture (only driving comes close). I remember my trips to Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai with friends, standing at the door as the world rushed past, my head stretched outwards and tongue lolling out like a happy dog.

There's the comfortable rumble of the train beneath one, the always-interesting mix of people and personalities to observe, the excitement and wonder of every station one stops at. The smells, the sounds, the whole damn experience is a lot of fun. In India, that is.

Recently, I took a train to Canberra. While the views of the landscape were beautiful, the train ride itself was a little disappointing because
  1. Like trains in 'developed' countries tend to be, it was all closed in. No windows that could be opened to catch a whiff of the lovely morning smell, no open doors to hang merrily off, not even access to the outside world through the lavatory (as is so readily and efficiently provided by Indian Railways)
  2. The stations were small, sanitised (for lack of a better word) and terribly boring
  3. I slept for about half the journey
But this post isn't about the train ride. It's about what came before that.

1200: I book my tickets. The train is scheduled to depart at 0658 on Saturday morning. Easy, I tell myself. I'll have no trouble waking up and getting to this train. 7am is as civilised a time as it gets. Plus the station is only about 8 minutes' walk from my house.

1900: I head out for a night of the usual drunkenness and wild debauchery sedate tea parties and walks by the moonlit shore.


0130: I return home dead tired but wide, wide awake. I potter around cleaning up the house (Seriously. And yes, I am absolutely sober.)

0200: I play a mixed playlist of Elvis and Sinatra. Humming along, I go through my basic workout regimen in an effort to burn energy and make myself feel sleepy.

0300: I fall asleep on the sofa watching an episode of Boston Legal (one of my favourite shows ever - but more on that later. In life I mean; not in this post.)

0600: Somewhere, in the vast wilderness of my subconscious mind, a little beeping sound is heard. It is promptly silenced - my subconscious doesn't inform me whether this was achieved by sheer force of mind or a violent movement of my hand.

0631: J calls me, and a brief conversation ensues

J: "Hey"
Me: "Bluggh?"
J: "We're just passing by your house on the way to the station."
Me: "Huh?"
J: "It's me, J. Are you at the station already? Or shall we wait downstairs for you?"

Suddenly, I'm wide awake. My eyes snap open. I glance at the clock and leap off my sofa. I have 27 minutes to make the train, and am struck by three immediate realisations
  1. I have, as usual, put the alarm on snooze when it made a futile attempt to wake me
  2. I haven't packed, having earlier scheduled that activity for 0615-0625 hrs
  3. I am reeking of sweat and alcohol
You, dear reader, will appreciate that this was not a time for eloquence. If anything was to be said, it didn't call for Cicero/King/Kamaraj levels of oratory.

With remarkable clarity of thought and economy of vocabulary, I say: #$%^

0632: Rush, rush, rush. I brush my teeth fast but carefully (If there are any children reading this blog - and if there are, I apologize for any scarring I may have inadvertently caused - know this: never compromise on dental hygiene), almost taking my enamel off.

I rush into the shower, scrub vigorously (how the hell did wine get in my hair?) and bound out. Shake myself like a dog, towel hard until my skin begins to smoke. No time to shave, can't afford any further morning activities. Just a quick comb of my unruly wet hair.

0638: Mild panic. I rummage through the clothes thrown about on my bed, applying the two time-honoured bachelors'-code criteria
  1. Does it have any visible stains?
  2. Does it smell weird? If so, is said smell too strong to be masked by copious quantities of deo?
This helps whittle down the selection to 3 shirts and one pair of trousers. I cram them into the nearest bag I find. I also pack my laptop, 'cause I'll have to put in a few hours of work over the weekend.

I spray myself liberally with deo (sorry, ozone layer) and dump the can in the bag. Zip up, zip out.

0643: Cutting it close, very very close. I realise I've rushed out barefoot, and step back in to wear my shoes. Pop a mint into my mouth, and rush back out.

0646: The lift, infuriatingly, stops on three floors on the way down to pick up an assortment of people who all look like they are nursing hangovers and have just been thrown out of their respective partners' homes.

0649: I dash out of my building, laptop bag in one hand and a tote bag in the other.

0650: I call J as I jog towards the station, letting him know I'm on my way and telling him not to worry. To my chagrin, he doesn't sound particularly worried at the thought of my missing the train. This is what happens when you tell too many jokes, I admonish myself while trying to prevent the strap of the laptop case slipping off my shoulders and onto the path of an oncoming taxi that appears to have no intention of slowing down. I realise I am also in the path of said taxi and skittle across the road like a frightened horse.

0652: I reach the station, but realise I've never taken an intercity train and so have no idea if the platform is anywhere near the suburban train platforms I'm used to. Another quick conference with J, and with the aid of some helpful signage, I have line of sight of the trains. But there's still the small matter of getting through the gate.

0654:I don't have an electronic ticket. And the manual gate is blocked by an old lady who I'm sure I would find lovely and endearing at any other point in life except this one. She chats with the railway official about mince pies (what is it with Australians and pies?) while making her way slowly through the gate. I don't want to be impatient or pushy, so I choose not to hustle her aside or tap my feet in an aggravated manner but just see this through. It also gives me time to catch my breath.

0655:I shoot a beseeching look at the railway official and gasp the words, "Canberra. Train. Now. Five. Thanks." The last because he lets me through another gate and I'm on the final leg. As I pass the station clock, I notice it shows 06:55:53. Another quick call to J to identify the coach.

0656:I'm tired and panting but relieved as I sink into my seat. Run a quick mental checklist, and realised I haven't packed any toiletries. In a moment of deep philosphical understanding about life and the big cosmic picture, I say, "Screw it," and settle in as the train eases its way off the platform.

Now, I'm not a guy used to doing 200m sprints early in the morning. But I'm damn proud (and surprised) I made this train packed and clean. I have a history of close calls, most notably a couple of occasions where I have had to run after the departing train and haul myself onto it as it picked up steam. It's always good fun, gives one a great adrenalin rush and helps one starts the journey on a positive note (Ha ha! I made it! I'm the king of the world!).

Unless one doesn't make it, of course. But that's a whole other story altogether.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The good turtle soup, not merely the mock

Of late, I've been listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra. I've had a number of his songs for a while now, but until recently had listened to only a few popular favourites (Strangers in the Night, At Long Last Love, My Way...)

Recently, I decided to expand my Sinatra collection and collect a few more songs. And listen to all of them.

And boy, are they good.

I've been listening to nothing but Sinatra for the last three days (the only exception being the delightful Dean Martin rendition of You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You) and am now firmly a fan. There's something about his voice... it holds me in the same way only a few other voices have held me in the past (Mukesh and Kishore come to mind).

Be it the sad, lovelorn songs, the swinging party pieces or the love ballads, the soaring voice and caressing lyrics envelop me completely every time. I find myself tapping my feet, snapping my fingers or doing a solo slow dance as I listen. Much to the bemusement of my colleagues, of course.

Here are my favourites to date, in alphabetical order:

At Long Last LoveListen
Forget DomaniListen
Fly Me To The MoonListen
Love And MarriageListen
Luck Be A LadyListen
My Kind of TownListen
One For My BabyListen
Saturday Night (is the Loneliest Night)
Strangers in the NightListen
The Girl From IpanemaListen
The Way You Look TonightListen
You Make Me Feel So YoungListen

Apologies for the external links - I'm too lazy to create streaming audio.