I don’t like journeys by air..

I like to take the window seat only because looking at the clouds and aimless introspection seems much better than the view elsewhere inside the cabin. Everyone seems so bored, and I don’t blame them. These days, flights which do not serve food or do not provide entertainment can be the boring-est. Flights which do can be the saving grace of the aviation sector in our country. A few years back, they used to serve toffees and cotton which saved people like me from the pain in the ears during and after landing. But now, I have to bear it unless I get some toffees from home (but I always end up forgetting, and underestimating the landing after-effects). I love reading books, but I would always prefer watching a movie over reading a book in-flight. Unless of course, it’s a book like one of the ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ series The sad part is, during a 2-hour flight, you can’t finish a movie as exciting as Chennai Express, or as emotional as the Fault in our Stars. A flight should be in air for atleast 3 hours, so I can complete the movie. Sigh. The only movie I have been able to complete has been ‘Limitless’. I was hesitating to press the button, even though it has Bradley Cooper in it. But when Papa said that it’s a brilliant movie, I just pressed the button, without much ado. (If he says that a movie is good, it HAS to be good.) I suddenly felt as if I belonged to a different world when Papa told me that he and Mum had watched Chennai Express. (Was I the only one who was left?!) With Chennai Express, I was wary as to what people would be thinking, the way I was laughing. But I realised that I could barely be heard because everyone had their earmuffs on, and they hardly cared. I was glad. I could laugh in peace, AND watch Deepika on screen (Calling her pretty is an understatement), even though Shahrukh Khan and the South Indian Mushtandaas made me laugh much much more. (I was impressed..SRK delivered the promise he made in a tea advertisement, of displaying his heroine’s name before his own in the Credits of a movie.) The Fault in Our Stars was so different. I loved their chemistry, it was so perfect. I realised I had tears in my eyes, halfway through the movie, when I was supposed to finally get up and leave the cabin. I hope to complete it someday. Ditto for Chennai Express.

The long and short of it is that journeys by air can be fun-filled ONLY with some entertainment. Otherwise, they are plain. Boring. You can’t even have a proper conversation with someone because it can take effort to do that in a pressurised cabin. I think I am really lucky to have the ability to doze off..just like that. That saves me from extremely boring moments. But what about train journeys? Most people I know would agree that train journeys are MUCH more fun. Shobha Narayan vouches for it. After all, she dedicated a complete series to her experiences in travelling by trains. Ruskin Bond glorified the stereotypical railway platform in his very famous story ‘The Woman on Platform 8’. Paul Theroux has authored ‘The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia’. Barring cleanliness and delay issues, it’s all fun. The view outside can be breathtaking at times. At times not. Train journeys give us a reality check, which air journeys cannot.

When we are in air, we are literally on cloud nine. We lose track of the ground reality. No pun intended. I also got a reality check a couple of days back. It was in stark contradistinction to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan that we swear by these days. As always, I had the window seat to myself. And the outside view this time was not painted by the foliage of the coconut trees. It was only slightly less repulsive than filth. The railway tracks were strewn with used and thrown Frooti bottles and plastic straws. The whole scene was ironical because the platform had been kept extremely clean. In order to clean the platforms, the dirt had been swept on to the tracks. The wave of helplessness inside of me came back. I wished I could just go on the tracks and start manually picking up those bottles. But I was on board a train that was bound for a dirtier destination. We are far from achieving the mandate of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan if this vicious circle continues to be in existence. Every department, every ministry has been linked to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, and it does not make sense if we keep one limb dysfunctional to keep another functioning. What is the point of building world-class airports if the washrooms cannot be kept clean? What is the point of running a Duronto or a Rajdhani if bugs still bug us at midnight, during sleep? Why should a Duronto/Rajdhani/Shatabdi run like a passenger train? Why are we always so wary of going to the lavatory in the trains, or of consuming the food provided in the train? Why should children be sweeping the trains, when adults can and must be employed for the same task? These are small things that unite strangers travelling together in trains, because they seem to agree with each other on these things. For all the imagery that the picturesque countryside outside of a train can evoke, cockroaches and bugs inside the train can be seen partying on the morsels of unintentionally dropped food. Can we ignore the details, only to see the bigger picture? Ignoring small things would probably mean giving way to more rats than those already plaguing the railways. No pun intended, again. And railways is just ONE component of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

The common man cannot afford a luxury trip, and most common men and women cannot always afford journeys by air, because the prices are almost always exorbitant. Every train need not be a Palace on Wheels, but the railways should become a ray of hope in the country, so that people choose the railways not because of compulsion, but because it caters to their needs. Air travel will almost always be expensive, as compared to rail journeys. Yes, the airlines charge money for all the facilities that they provide (or not provide). But having said that, I realise that my reasons for a dislike towards air journeys maybe a rather illogical one. Or maybe it is something that I share with most people who travel by air. But I know that my reasons for disliking rail journeys are again very common, and logical.

Yes, I don’t like journeys by air, but I am no longer excited to travel in trains either.

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