07:55 – Left home for Chennai Central
08:30 – Reached Chennai Central. Train on time; friend with tickets not!
09:00 – Coromandel Express starts its journey on the dot. Onward to the City of Joy
~ 10 AM – First signs of Andhra Pradesh – lotsa Telugu banners and hoardings. Fantastic language, very sweet; nice to speak and to listen to, but extremely hard to read. Each character is a round.
Thankful that we are booked into an AC coach; it is quite hot outside
They are fools who read in trains! Journeys like this are to be enjoyed peeping through the window, unless of course there is a more compelling reason, like there is someone worth looking at in the train! (thankfully, there aren’t any)
~ 11 AM – Train passes over bridge in Nayudupeta; long bridge, barren land below. Which river failed them, I wonder. At not a great distance is a chain of hills. No vegetation there either. How can anyone live in these parts? Just the right recipe to breed naxalites.
11:15 – Just across the road is SV Arts & Science College; everything in Southern Andhra is named SV
11:20 – Wow, we cross a coconut farm – no, it’s not just a farm if there are 1 lakh trees, right? Surely some landed person; maybe a minister? A rare beautiful sight amidst the merciless sun and arid landscape.
11:30 – Do these people have a word equivalent for ‘cloud’ in their local language? How would they visualise something they would never have seen? We cross what should have been rice fields once upon a time, one can see easily. But no rice now. No rains. No doubt farmers are dying / committing suicide. No use blaming the government. What can a Naidu or a Reddy do?
In the distance however, one can spot tractors ploughing the fields. HOPE is the Indian’s capital!
11:45 – Some big town. Lots of houses, tall buildings, cars etc. Seems wealthy. There is a big cineplex – Krishna Kaveri Kalyani… More buildings… it is Nellore – the rice bowl.
At last some water body, is it the Krishna? Wow, so beautiful, we could get down and start writing poems sitting on its banks!
12:15 – Hunger pangs; even the best of mom’s idlis can’t last for more than 5 hours
12:25 – Ah, my deliverer!
12:30 – The food is quite … awful
13:05 – Another big bridge, and this hasn’t seen water in a long long time.
Fantastic road to the left, reminiscent of our celebrated East Coast Road.
14:15 – Just crossed Chirala – memories of childhood pal Kiran Kumar Sharma came rushing to the mind. The endless hours of cricket, cycling, video games, wrestling… What’s he doing now? Reminds me I should care to know more about old friends.
14:40 – Machavaram, a place to behold. Coconut and banana trees vie for attention, to say nothing about acres of fertile lush grass.
14:57 – Tenali, home of Vikatakavi Ramakrishna. Not some inconsequential village one would have imagined. Quite a decent junction, and in the midst of a very fertile belt.
15:20 – Some huge river in the distance. Arise, for the mighty Krishna!
15:25 – Five minutes on, still on the bridge. Krishna is endless.
15:27 – Vijayawada, a blessed city… the river, what to say! A temple on the banks, boats, good God, what a life!!!
(A local informs us that so much water isn’t the way it always is. The rains in Maharashtra have caused this joy… I salute India’s diversity)
17:58 – Nidadavolu
18:20 – Approaching Rajahmundry. Crossed the Godavari river this time. Similar emotions to the Krishna. Chennai immediately needs a river. Rajahmundry is hometown to my colleague Prasanna. So rang him up. Took me a long time to convince him that I was indeed there. “So what’s your town famous for?” “Cashews.” “Okeh, I’ll buy you some.”
18:40 – Out of Rajahmundry. Cashews too expensive that you can buy them only if you are a rajah! Still, got a small packet for our man.
Getting dark. Curtains down.
~ 20:00 – The inevitable political discussions start. Others in the same coupe are headed to Calcutta (or Kolkota), but we learn that they aren’t hard-headed communists.
My friend gets bombed from all sides for suggesting that Indian states need the office of the Governor. He is speechless to the various facets of the case – waste of money, lack of respect, a reminder of the days of the Raj etc
Over dinner, the topic deviates to Communism. With much doubts and some fear, I ask “So why is West Bengal embracing Communism?” That unassuming question leads us close to one Kolkota-bound gentleman. He suggests that the Congress in his state are a bunch of bullies, whereas the Left are much more dignified. He is an entrepreneur – yeah you heard that right.
I get lots of insights into the life of this left-siding entrepreneur. In his own way, this man who manufactures garments for children and sells it in distant Chennai, has a well thought-out business plan. That he outsources most of his work in order to prevent union problems. That he employs people from different states so that it will take them quite some time to conspire against him.
He suggests that Calcutta is India’s most dignified city (I was always told that it was the dirtiest). So I remark that I’ll pay a visit to the old city and experience its charm. The result: he whips out his business card. Long train journeys can be extremely interesting, especially if you can strike a conversation with a person like Mr. Rajendra Gupta.
21:25 – Mr. Gupta wishes me success – more a blessing, I should say. I venture into a sleep.
(To be continued…)
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