September 05, 2005

Combine them

At Mangalore station, a bride heading for her nuptials looks decidedly woozy. Suddenly she gets up from the bench she is on and, with her mother in tow, rushes to the edge of the platform and throws up onto the track. She's bent over for a long time, her gold ornaments dangling as she retches. The mother strokes her back gently, whispers soothingly in her ear.

I want to be flippant and say, the guy can't be that bad, now can he? Luckily, I restrain myself.


This sign above a steel padlocked door: "Toilet for physically disabled." Right next to it, this stern sign: "Clean habit makes clean station."

This sign next to a sink on a pedestal: "Drinking water tap for physically disabled." Right next to it, this stern sign: "Water is precious. Please do not waste water."

What is this, some conspiracy to drop not-very-subtle hints to the physically disabled?


Kasaragod station has a massive hoarding for Malabar Gold ("Beauty Meets Quality"). It features the fetching Sania Mirza, decked out in gold and, separately, holding a case with some gold ornaments. This latter also features one of those moustachioed overweight double-chinned Malayalam film Lotharios -- no offence meant, but really, who finds these guys handsome? Kerala produces fine looking men (check the photograph here, for example), so why are their film stars these pudgy guys with seven chins and a moustache large enough to hide mongooses in?

Anyway, up on this hoarding his face leering over Sania's shoulder is enough to turn you off Malabar Gold altogether. Not quite an advertising triumph, this one.


I love watching kids waving at the train, and in my waking moments, I try to wave back. If they catch me doing it, they invariably brak into huge smiles and wave even harder, which is an odd thrill. Several times, we pass women holding kids and waving those little arms for them. Like their mothers must have done with them.


Everything on the railway is inventoried: sheds, platforms, equipment, everything. Even, get this, curves in the track. Every single curve, however gentle, begins with a small yellow sign on the side saying something like: "CURVE #19. L: 50.7. R: 1750. SE: 40. D: 2. KM 775". (So don't be thinking of stealing any curves now, y'hear?)

What does it all mean, anyone know? (Someone who's reading this will remember that we've discussed this in person once).


Man comes through selling large white cotton towels, a big bunch of them, held up from one end under his chin.

Unless they were veshtis.

I look out, and striding along on the parallel track, middle of nowhere with no houses to be seen, is a tall young girl in an orange and red salwar kameez.


Why does nearly every station have a little sign between the tracks beyond the end of the platform, reading "Fouling Mark"? Who is this Mark and why does he keep fouling and why does the Indian Railways need to let us know?

Why does Charvattur station have a long low building with five doors, all padlocked with clearly rusty locks, labelled respectively "Relay Room", "Battery Room", "OFC Room", "Equipment Room", "Generator Room"?


In Kerala, there's a small truth: it's hard to find a truly rural stretch. Or put it this way, at least along the train route, you see houses and buildings almost all the time. Rarely a long span of just fields or trees.

And as a consequence, the stations come rapidly too. In quick succession, we pass Chandera, Trikarpur, Payyanur, Elimala (written Eshimala in Hindi, with the potphodya "sh" -- ask a Marathi-speaking friend), Payangadi ("Those who intend to go to Ezhimala Naval Academy may alight here"), Kannapuram, Pappinisseri, Valapattanam, Kannur (how did the British manage to spell this "Cannanore"?). All within about 45 minutes.


Nileshwar station has a "Vegetarian Tea Stall" I looked and looked, but found no "Non-vegetarian Tea Stall." Pity. I like my tea with some chicken floating in it.

Charvattur station has a "Fruits and VLR Tea Stall." I looked and looked, but couldn't see any fruits at said stall. Nor any VLR, even though I have no idea what a VLR may be.

Payyanur station has a "Combined Fruit and Tea Stall." I looked and looked, but couldn't find a stall where they would not combine my fruits and tea.


Sometimes I wonder why I like travelling. Then I remember. This stuff is why.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see you describing your journey through the northern Kerala. My parents are from that part.

Let me also write some of those station names as pronounced in Malayalam: Cheruvathur, Trikaripur, Ezhimala, Pazhayangadi. 'zh' is an extra letter in Malayalam.

Dilip, sure you got the right link over there?!

Anonymous said...

VLR=Vegeterian Light Refreshement
Very nice travel log...

kuffir said...

'who finds these guys handsome?'
i don't think handsomeness is the quality the audiences look for in their heroes down south. i am not a malayalee but i've come to like suresh gopi(apart from mammooty and mohanlal of course) and others not because they spell handsome in the ,say, john abraham way- which is a very narrow, stunted kind of iterpretation in my view. you really have to watch them on the screen to realize their true 'quality'. you'd also realize most 'handsome' hindi stars don't bring half as much sincerity and hard work to the job as these guys do. i say this from almost as much linguistic and geographical distance from kerala as you do.

km said...

Dilip, since I am trying to expand my railgeekiness, here's what I found:

A fouling mark is "Normally a mark on the road to tell the driver when their tram is clear of a set of points. E.G. when a driver has to shunt - he will make sure his tram is at the fouling point so he knows his tram is clear of the points." (found on Railpage Australia Forum)

That's simple, right? Right??

zap said...

will let you go on the mustachioed south indian heroes bit, as on beauty, since Nileshwaram brings back some pleasant memories.

Btw Kuffir.. John Abraham is part malayalee.

kuffir said...

zap: that escaped my mind in the rush of chagrin i felt when i read the uncalled for remark in a perfectly smooth and interesting travel narrative. takes me back ages to the viciously uncharitable-to-the-south devyani chaubal era.

Anonymous said...

Yes, he remembers the conversation.

Anonymous said...

I didn't enjoy reading this one as much as some of your other pieces. The last line made up for it though.

Anonymous said...

Dilip, now that you disrespect my idols of mallu cinema, I have to step in. OK, these guys may have seven chins and big moustaches, but most of them can act. And, they put up a good performance once in a while, as compared to the hunks elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

the actor with sania .. his name is mohanlal .. he has got the bharat award .. and recently acted in a sanskrit play which was critically acclaimed .. he has been there for 25 years .. and acted in an entire range of films ..

thats why people like him ..

and the teastall .. in kerala a teastall/"chayakada" is a place where you not only get tea .. but also snacks to go along with it ..

Unknown said...

I need to add a HAPPY NEWS as an annexure to the comment appeared in this blog on November 30, 2005.

The road bridge at "Puthiya Puzhakkara" will be inaugurated by the State PWD minister Mr. M. Vijaya Kumar, tomorrow (01.02.2011)