The Legendary GT Express

​I’m a big train buff and during the mid 1980s, there was one train name that I heard frequently and the name still mystifies me – the GT Express, an acronym for the majestically named Grand Trunk Express. 

(GT Express, caputred in 1986)

Every time Shanti Chikkamma, as we fondly called my Grandmother’s younger sister, visited her daughter Geeta married to a gentleman in Bhopal, GT Exptess is the train she chose to travel. Skipping the directly connecting then biweekly Kerala Karnataka Express between Bangalore and Bhopal, for reasons I have forgotten, she always traveled to erstwhile Madras, now renamed as Chennai, and cruised in GT Express from it’s origin city to Bhopal.

(GT Express, in recent times)

Today as I read the history of GT Express, what strikes me most is its initial run – when introduced in 1929, the train ran between Peshawar, now in Pakistan, and Mangalore, a port city in Karnataka, India via Chennai. The journey took 104 hours in total, probably making it the longest train route in then British India. After a year, the route was cut short to run between Lahore and Mettupalyam, the gateway to the Southern hill station Ooty and later to its present day run between Chennai and New Delhi.

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I want be a child, all over again!

Life in the early 1980s was nothing fancy, it had no glitter whatsoever, but every minute was loaded with excitement. There were dear friends, of whom I don’t have a clue anymore. There are places still standing tall that I long to go back, and embrace. 

I miss being dozed off in Granny’s comforting snuggle. I yearn for the evenings when I use to sit on Grandpa’s lap and learn Samskruta slokas. I crave the sweet aroma of incense sticks being lit while watching Ramayana. 

I want go back in time, plead Mom to boil and sauté the freshly picked Sorghum seeds with spices; and devour them to my heart’s content. I desire to get hands on my Dad’s National Geography and Reader’s Digest collection and read every single page. I want to go back, sit on the wooden benches and learn English alphabets from Sundaramma Madam. 

I’m eager to get hands on my daily dose of 20 paise pocket money from Dwarika ChikAppa and buy my favourite piece of coconut burfee from Khadar’s store. All over again, I want to miss that one particular tender coconut which almost wiped my head off. 

Every night, I want be scared of Owl’s hoot. Once again, I want to save my sister Rashmi from being supposedly kidnapped. In these rainy season, I want to curl up, turn into a 2nd standard kid, and run for cover holding a school bag over my head. 

If given a chance, I want to be a 7 year old Bharadwaj that everyone loved, and never want to grow up. But alas, childhood comes only once, and that’s the fact of life.

Payback’s a bitch!

This morning as I got ready to go for office, my mother asked if I was all set to have breakfast and I replied with an enthusiastic yes. As she handed out my favourite jackfruit seed with potato combination sambar* and Ragi mudde^, the mood swing kicked in, I lost interest in meal and I declined the plate. With a very worried face, my mother beseeched me to eat. I refused, grabbed few slices of cucumber and got up.

I got out of the house with an empty stomach, a heavy heart, a restless head and I started my bike. Right at that moment, I was one grumpy old bugger.

In next 10 minutes, my bike was roaring and I was about to race up the Allalasandra railway over bridge in Bengaluru. As I got closer to the access ramp, further on to me a Toyota Etios was following a leisurely driven tractor with an over loaded trailer. With intent to overtake the slow-moving vehicles, I throttled hard and zipped ahead. As I was getting closer to the car, suddenly I saw a blinker switching on; the Etios slowly crawled out, moved on to my lane and got ready to overtake the tractor.

I was about 30 feet behind the car and I was getting closer, faster.

With a stiff limb, I pulled the brakes hard and right away I heard the sharp screech of my bike wheels grabbing the asphalt. The sudden fall in speed made my rear wheel to drag right and as I started to lose balance, I released the brakes and thumped them back again to correct the lug. But this time I lost balance, my bike started to wobble and once more, I grabbed the brakes.

The wobbling got worse, and a chill ran down my spine.

The Etios was still crawling in front and now I was right behind the car, unstable and shaking badly. In the following microsecond, I mentally prepared for the finale – either to rear-end the car or go down with my bike, both of which could conclude in terrible consequences.

As I frantically struggled to control the motorbike at such close proximity to the Etios, I flashed my headlights and thankfully that grabbed the driver’s attention. In the next second as I was about to crash into the car, the driver accelerated hard and rushed ahead. This gave me precious space to sit tight, control my bike and slowdown. As I steadied my bike, I opened my LS2 visor, screamed the most offensive expletives at my own self, and rode ahead in one piece.

I should have listened to my mother, had my breakfast and I should have kept a steady head. And yes, I should drive easy, and safe. Truly, payback’s a bitch!

***

*Sambar – A lentil-based vegetable stew.

^Ragi Mudde – Ragi millet flour cooked and made in to soft balls, a staple food in many parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh states in India.

My Yugadi, with Dad’s Thrashing!

Today – Friday, April 8, 2016

Today as we celebrate Yugadi which marks the beginning of a New Year and also the onset of rains, people across cities and villages in Karnataka indulge in bouts of gambling as part of the festivities. Played in memory of Pandavas losing their kingdom to Kauravas in a deceitful game from the Mahabharata days, traditionally the farmers gambled to determine if the New Year would bring them luck, or not. Huddled in groups under a shady tree, or beneath a pandal – a temporary shelter purposely erected for the deed – on Yugadi people gamble openly. The police mostly overlook these bouts and allow the public to enjoy the wager for a day or two, before raiding and dispersing the spirited past due congregations.

On a day when cops keep low-profile and publicly allow the outlawed games, my memories take me back to a day in my life when I was just a 9 year old youngster, a time when even a fifty paisa pocket money was enough to modestly treat your couple of friends. After all, it was the magical 1980s!

It was a Yugadi day, I was decked in a new pair of shorts and half-shirt, my school was closed and most importantly, Dwarika ChikAppa – my Dad’s youngest brother had offered me a generous one Rupee pocket money to enjoy the festivities.  He wanted me to buy something to eat, may be a hard boiled candy and a big portion of coconut burfee, a sweet confectionery. Clutching the coin, as I ran eagerly towards the general store, something grabbed my attention. Sathyanarayana, my relative in his early 30s was in argument with a bunch of teenagers.  Out of childish curiosity, I went to check out the hullabaloo and soon realized that it was an argument over a Head or Tail bet gone sour.

coin

The group soon settled their dispute and started over with a bet of 20 paisa for each round. For a 9 year old kid, the game of Head or Tail was an unusual curiosity. Every time a coin was tossed in the air, the hum it created was hypnotizing. The clanking of metal, the cries of winning and the growl of loss were delightful.

Looking up, Sathyanarayana asked if I had any money and I wobbled my head in agreement. Next, he invited me to bet and without thinking twice, I sat down and got ready for my life’s first gambling bout. I was thrilled. The coin was tossed, and before I could call out my first bet, a hand grabbed my shirt collar and hauled me out of the group. With startling eyes, I looked up and realized that it was my Dad who had caught me by the neckline, and in an unforgivable act of gambling.

What unfolded next was witnessed by the entire street in a ghastly hush, and on that day, no one was brave enough to stop my Dad from giving me the beating that I will never forget in my life. That one unfortunate Yugadi day in the 1980s, my Dad was enraged and equally, he was hurt.

By the time he had dragged me back in to the house, I had pledged in my heart never to gamble in my life, ever again. And to this day, I have never bet with money and even today, the only cards game I can understand is the Solitaire on my computer.

The love at first note!

This reminiscence is way back from the mid 1980s and it will remain forever fresh in my heart.

I guess the location was somewhere between Arsikere and Kadur. Outside it was hot, horrid and as far as our eyes could gaze, we were surrounded with desiccated wilderness. I was sitting on my Dad’s lap in the front seat and the heat from the Matador engine was unbearable. We were travelling to Shivamogga for my ChikAppa’s marriage and the van was packed with my parents, the groom, aunts, uncles and our luggage.

Beating the torrid monotony, a Kannada song starts to play over the van’s cassette deck and out of the blue, I feel elated. The tune was lovely, the orchestration is simple and yet, mellifluous. The interludes are grand, the lyrics divine and most importantly, the female vocals are blissful. Without my knowledge, I start to hum along and by-heart the lyrics, because, my mind suddenly realizes that I’m listening to something so incredible that soon I will be falling in love with it, forever!

Devara Aata Ballavaraaru from Avala Hejje, a 1981 Kannada release, is the song that made me fall eternally in love with the melodious voice of S. Janaki, and the melodies in general.

[ChikAppa = Dad’s younger brother]