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Travelogues

Waiting at Feroke Railway Station


Radha Nair is a freelance journalist based in Pune who enjoys travelling as much as she enjoys the depth and intensity of images that words can create.

Travel by train has always held a lot of excitement for me. Equally, soaking in the atmosphere of an almost forgotten tiny station, holds another kind of delight.

I had been sitting on a hard bench for an hour on the Feroke station railway platform. It had been raining heavily. Now it was drizzling. Rain water sloped down the tin sheet awning, and fell in liquid ropes, to the uneven ground. It collected into small pools, or dribbled into the cracks, which had been widened by blades of grass springing up in gleeful green. The platform was quite empty except for a stray dog, which came up to me wagging its tail, and settled down close by, looking up at me hopefully with huge mournful eyes.

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The faint light cast by the few lamps on the platform, set widely apart on tall wrought iron poles, spread slippery, silver shine, on the rain washed rail tracks. In the shadows a man, leant against the closed doors of the waiting room. In the hush, I heard the coarse scratch of a match, and turned to see in its brief flame a face, time worn and etched with the experience of living. He cupped the flame against a gust of wet wind. Soon only an orange dot glowed in the darkness.

 

Through the curtain of rain, I looked at the shimmering lamp light from the opposite platform. Some people scrambled down from that platform and ran across the lines just before the train arrived.
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Just behind me, the station master's room blazed with light. He was busy answering the wireless. He buttoned and unbuttoned his black coat in impatience. The train from Ernakulam to Mangalore was late. Just then the phone rang. He grabbed it. He called outí Velayudah !.

Soon Velayudan, emerged from the gloom, gathered up the thick cotton sheet which he had spread on a bench, and drew it close round his shoulders. He knotted his turban tightly around his bald head. He took the green signal lamp and walked to the dark end of the platform. As he swung along, the light from the lamp cast a greenish blur on the rough stones of the station walls.

A metal rod was struck with such force that it set my teeth on edge. The beggars who slept behind the fenced side of the arched entrance leading to the platform, mumbled in their sleep, and turned sides. This had been their sanctuary for years. They had nowhere else to go. Their companions were the trains that passed through. The sharp whistle, the hiss of steam, the surge of passengers, and the way the ground shook when the iron horse thundered past....this was the music of their lives.

Through the curtain of rain, I looked at the shimmering lamp light from the opposite platform. Some people scrambled down from that platform and ran across the lines just before the train arrived, to clamber up again to safety onto the platform where I sat. These people always loved this little nocturnal flirtation with danger. Whatever else there was on hand, could wait. But this wild dash over the rail track, just minutes before a train arrived, held an adrenalin rush.

One single clang reverberated across the silent platform. I could make out nothing in the dark. Then a faint whistle floated through the air. A beam of light cut through the sooty night. The shuddering sounds of the approaching train made me look more carefully. Soon at the far end I could see the engine, followed by the curve of compartments behind it, as it took the sharp bend. Faster and faster it came, until it swept in, most dramatically into the station and past me, in one earth shaking, blurred rush of sound and movement.


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