It has been well over 20 years since I have been a passenger on the Indian Railways (since my college days). Ever since we moved back to India, my children have always wanted to ride on the trains in India. Trains and planes inherently fascinate children, but my family (especially my wife) loves to ride the public bus, train and auto rickshaws! So after much debate it was decided that we are going to spend our Christmas and New Year vacation in Goa. The preferred mode of transportation was going to be the Indian Railways – Gandhidham express! Trivia on Indian Raiways – ‘Indian Railways has more than 64,015 kilometres (39,777 mi) of track and 6,909 stations. It has the world’s fourth largest railway network after that of the United States, Russia and China. The railways traverse the length and breadth of the country and carry over 20 million passengers and 2 million tons of freight daily.It is one of the world’s largest commercial or utility employers, with more than 1.6 million employees!
I love the excitement of kids before they embark on any vacation! I am reminded of my summer holidays when I was a kid, waiting to go to my grand parents coffee estates in Coorg. So we got all the packing completed and had an extra bag for all the ‘digital vacation companions’ i.e. two PSP’s , 1 Nintendo DS, laptop, ipad, ipod and all associated software, cartridges, etc. When we used to go to go on vacation to coorg as a child, I used to take good pieces of rubber tubing to make the best ‘slingshot’ (wooden catapault)! The best vacations I remember was going on a motorcycle from Bangalore to Coorg on my dads motorcycle – I used to sit in front just over the gas tank, mom on the back and the suitcase tied to a temporary carrier. And the reliable motorcycle was the CZ collaboration 1966 model Ideal Jawa (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ideal_Jawa)!
Fast forward 2010, we left on Saturday evening from the Bangalore City Railway station to leave for Goa on the 9:50 PM, Gandhidham express from Bangalore to Londa (small train station at the Karnataka/Goa border). We go dropped off at the entrance of the train station by a reliable car service and driver who I have now known over 10 years – Murugan a.ka. Shotgun Murugan! We had to hire two porters to carry our bags, since the luggage we had could not be hauled on any motorcycle! So what has changed from early 1972 to 2011 – I think we have accumulated too much junk! So we were three families traveling together on the train (11 in total)! Since we had booked our tickets separately it was obviously a challenge to get all of them together in one coach, but that was the least of our challenge. Now we got on the train and it was a two tier sleeper AC coach, with curtains separating the berths. The train left Bangalore city railway station on time, and made periodic stops at various stations along the way. I remember it was around 1AM in the morning when it made a stop at Arsikere junction and more people got on the train and they were hustling with the ticket collector to get seats together and a heated argument pursued (I still don’t understand why people have to argue about everything)! Now since all the kids travelling in our group were from North America, the air conditioning and general air quality, jumpstarted their allergies! Which has now persisted for over 48 hours! Besides fighting the allergies (coughing/sneezing), they had to exercise bladder and bowel control, since they refused to use the bathrooms on the train. So I guess coming to India has taught the kids how to exercise the bladder and bowel (Phase 1)!
We go off at Londa station around 9AM the next morning after more than 11 hours on a train. I did not sleep during the entire train ride, but that has nothing to do with the train…. I just cannot sleep in vehicles!
We then got in a Tata Winger (minivan) to take us to the beach house at Varca beach (south Goa). This was another two and half other ride through a bit of the western ghats. We felt we were on a safari and the constant shaking and bumps, signaled the next phase of sickness we had transitioned from allergies to ‘motion sickness’ a.ka. throwing up (Phase 2). We endured the ride and finally made it to the house we were staying in Goa, very nice place (will write about the house experience after my stay since, this is just day 2 – too premature). So I thought the best way to get over the travel and the jet+road lag, was to get to the Arabian sea as soon as possible.
So we got a jeep ‘Maruti – gypsy’, with a turning radius of 25 degrees and made a dash to the nearest shack on the beach. I did what dads are good at, ordered a cold beer and told the kids to enjoy the water. It was really beautiful weather yesterday at Varca beach. Kids enjoyed the water and since they were starving, they ordered the most ‘American’ dish on the menu a.k.a. ‘grilled cheese’ sandwich! At 2:30 AM this morning, my youngest son was ‘throwing up’ and we had now moved to phase 3 of our vacation a.k.a. ‘Food Poisoning’. So we had to rush to the pharmacist this morning to get a mild dose of antibiotics to fight any infection!
I am not trying to explain in gory detail my vacation over the past two days. But I am just thinking aloud, with respect to the immune system and sustainability of our communities. At the same time when I left from Bangalore there where hundreds of other local families on the same train on the train from Bangalore to Gujarat, a 3 day trip on the train. They probably endured the train ride and also are back on track with their daily routines. So what is that about ‘NRI’ kids? Has their up bringing ‘softened’ their immune system? Is there a conflict between the western-eastern diets? Children used to pizza/spaghetti are not able to cope with Goan xacutti and prawn balchao? But how come kids who are brought up on a Goan diet, can probably eat in any part of the world and not get ‘diarrohea’ or ‘food poisoning’? When I was talking to the maid at ‘bed & breakfast’ we were staying at in Goa, something struck me… I think the immune system is not built by conditioning to food or diets, but by our overall ‘environment’ and ‘mental strength’ has a big role to play in our overall immune system development. I think the average Indian is constantly in a mode of ‘survival’, everyday has a new challenge and the overall ‘being’ is under constant challenged. Therefore, everyday the body and mind is under a state of ‘alertness’, which prepares the child to adapt to any external ‘foreign body’ or threat to the body or mind! We have now moved to Phase 4 of the vacation… ‘Confinement’ – a.k.a ‘stay at home and chill’!