KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
Arun and Neena, the senior members of Anil’s immediate family, and the couple who were about to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary had decided to travel from Patna to Delhi by train. It’s an overnight journey and they had never minded sleeping on the trains, they have done it all their lives, no need to change things now. Besides, they get a great concession as seniors, and that tips the balance in favor of train travel.
Their train was due into the New Delhi station around 8:00am so Ajay told us the night before that he would be leaving to pick them up at 7:00am. Though it was early, I volunteered to join him for the ride, as I have a long history of keeping him company on car trips when I’ve visited India in the past. He’s always seemed to appreciate it, and I like to be out of the confines of the house a little, especially when the car keeps me from the dust and crowded streets I dislike when walking.
It was a Sunday morning and the air was relatively unpolluted due to the current restrictions on vehicles. The rule was that one was only allowed to drive a car depending on the last digit on the licence plate. It alternated between odd and even numbers, and fortunately, the number worked in Ajay’s favour so that he was allowed to drive that day.
Even given the fact that it was a Sunday, and only half the vehicles were allowed on the roads that morning, we were both pleasantly surprised at how empty the streets and major highways into the centre of the city, were. Ajay lives on the western edge of the Indira Gandhi airport, and it’s necessary to go around three sides of the airport to get onto Sadar Patel Marg, and on into the heart of the city.
We arrived at the station in 45 minutes, neither of us could believe how quickly we’d driven through a route that can easily take double that time, depending on the time of day and the traffic. Ajay pulled into the parking lot on the back side of the station, and my eyes were immediately drawn to a painting of a line of colourful elephants. They were so cute, but almost as quickly, I could see that drivers were using the wall as a public toilet, and a long stain had formed, flowing away from a trash pile next to the wall and out across the pavement.
Will India ever get a handle on the problem with public urination? Will India ever get a handle on the choking pollution that is blanketing the skies? I’ve been visiting India for the past 45 years, and I’ve been hoping for a breakthrough for both of these problems. There have been so many improvements, but some things seem to remain intractable.
Despite the initial repulsion to the stain on the roadway, I turned my camera to the little row of elephants, because of my love for the beasts. And nowhere else can you see so many of these wonderful animals, that you can in India. Thailand probably comes in a close second, that’s for sure. That’s probably part of the reason why I’ve visited those two countries more times than any other.
Anyway, back to the arrival of the train. Ajay parked the car while I was taking the photos and they we walked to the platform to meet the train. As we walked towards the entrance, I notice that some new buildings had been erected, and they had been painted bright colours. The rising sun was being reflected in the glass in the windows and it spoke of other possible improvements at the platforms inside. Five years earlier, we were departing from a different station on our way to visit Jaipur, and had been surprised to see modern escalators installed to take passengers up and over the series of tracks that ran through the station.
I can’t describe my disappointment when we entered the New Delhi station, probably the busiest station in the sprawling capital to find that it was like walking back in time. Apart from the installation of a few stainless-steel benches, the platform didn’t look much different that it did 45 years ago when we arrived after being married in Patna, Anil’s home town.
As it turned out, the train was almost a half hour late, and that only prolonged the time we had to stand in the chill while others trains came and left the station. Most of the cars were in a rather sorry state, and I was reminded of my decision to never ride on an overnight train in India again. Short day-trips on a ‘chair-car’ train might still be a possibility, but no sleeper cars.
At last we could see the engine of the Rajdhani Express train from Patna in the distance, and to my surprise, all the sleeper cars on the train were brightly painted with motifs from classical Indian art. It certainly added a much-needed boost to the appearance to the train cars, and after Arun and Neeta alighted, I asked them to pose by one of the paintings. At first, they were rather surprised, I don’t think it had registered with them, perhaps it was dark when they boarded the train the previous evening.
It was a wonderful reunion, I hadn’t Neena since 2017 when our son surprised us by bringing all three of Anil’s siblings, and their spouses to Canada for Anil’s 70th birthday. We had seen Arun a few month’s earlier when we had cut our trip to Croatia short after we’d learning of the untimely death our Anil’s younger brother, Ajay’s wife Neeta. Because of losing a dear family member so recently, our meeting at the train station was more than a little bittersweet.