Railways are the lifeline of India. Millions of Indians depend on it for their transport requirements due to its access and cost effectiveness. For anybody to see India and experience its diversity, a long trip through rail is mandatory. Even the emergence of low cost aviation or of posh buses has not made a dent in the loyal costumer base of railways. Any movie or book by an outsider about India compulsorily includes the involvement of trains. Take Slumdog Millionaire or The Myth for example. Every journey through rail is a soulful experience. When I was given a chance to review this anthology of 'train stories' based in India- Railonama, the first thing that I did was recollecting all the good, bad and the ugly trips that I took in trains. So many experiences I had, so diverse people I met, so different places I saw, I felt I could fill a book with all that details. And I am pretty sure, so would be the case of many others.
Railonama, as I told in the last paragraph, is a collection of Indian train stories contributed by people throughout the world. The person who created this book is Anupama Sharma, who has also contributed an inspiring story- A Slice of Apple, about the joy of sharing. The book contains forty five stories, (some among them are poems), contributed by writers from different strata and different generations, focusing on multiple aspects of railway travel in India. Though all the pieces are worthy of reading, I would just mention a few that were appealing to me. The book opens with the story Courage is Everything, in which Dr K C Jindal recounts how he treated an unconscious boy in train when he was a medical student- his first patient. Ken Haigh from Canada had to suffer an overbearing stranger on his journey from Bhutan to Kolkatta in the immensely funny account My Boon Companion. Dr Roshan, whose blog Goodyears I follow regularly has contributed a cute story about two kids who causes their families to acquaint with each other by bartering sweets in train.
Kshitij Bisen encounters a life changing moment on his train journey when he discovers that being homosexual is a normal way of living. Esprit de Corps is the story by Ajay Mankotia in which he recounts his experience of his mother missing the train when she got down on platform to buy food. Life on the Edge by Ganesh is about the thrill that a train journey gives when travelling at the door of a speeding train. The Castaway by Vibha Batra is shocking and hard hitting on its last sentence. Elsewhere by Anindita Deo is about an intuitive person whom the writer meets on a journey. This story builds a great atmosphere by its narration. Sumedha Sengupta's story A Very Special Passanger happens in pre-independent Indian when the author, then four, saw Mahatma Gandhi riding a train. Sheela Jaywant tries to make us wise about the perils of transporting canines in trains in a very entertaining way and succeeds. Travelling through Kerala is a wonderful poem by the German Frank Joussen in which he claims though Kerala's nature is beautiful, the true beauty manifests in its people.
The range that these stories present is vast, and that I feel makes Railonama a must read. It covers the good, the bad and the ugly of Indian Railways making it a roller coaster ride of emotions. After reading Railonama, I am sure my journeys by train will never be the same again.