Friday, October 29, 2010

The train lover's diary - 1

A few random scribbles on my love of trains. It has always been a childhood fantasy (well, even now I would love to) to be a train driver (a.k.a. a train engineer or loco pilot), sit in its cabin and at least pull the horn. :-)

How many of you are intrigued by numbers on the locomotives like WDM-5, WAP-2, WAG-4, WDS-2 etc and their associated sheds like Erode, Golden Rock, Itarsi, Guntakal, Krishnarajapuram, Gooty, Kazipet, Ratlam etc, or love the 'Thomas the tank engine' episodes that used to come on one of the kiddo channels? Well, I do.

Trains forever!
Train journeys always fascinate me for the reason that it becomes an experience when on one. Well I have to say, punning the original Keats' quote, "A thing of joy is a 'train' forever". A train is a symphony with the engine being the conductor and the coaches, the musicians. Travelling in Indian trains does need a significant level of patience because of their slower speeds, crowds, lower degree of cleanliness and the 'adjust maadi' (please adjust) culture of its travellers. That doesn't take away anything off the experience though.

The sound of an engine horn, loud and true, is my most thrilling sound, and one that can shake the ghosts off you. Different sounds for different types of engines, the diesels, the electrics and the steam ones (now sadly deceased, but I have a few recollections of those) and the long and short whistles! Two weeks back, returning from Kanniyakumari on road and late into the night and near Virudhunagar, I was jolted from the monotonous hum of the car at a constant speed by a loud horn at my back to see a train speeding at around 90 kmph on a stretch where the tracks are parallel to the highway. We raced each other for a couple of kilometres before parting. Met the same train after crossing Virudhunagar for a couple of kilometres before we headed our ways.

I love the steamies/diesels for their grumble which is the engine's heartbeat. The electrics sound a tad muted because of the distributed nature of its powerful motors. The rumble and cranking of the engine (the "krug krug krug krug" sound on a Diesel) as it slowly unleashes its 4000+ horses on the tracks as it pulls its coaches, is an engineer's delight. There is a characteristic smell in the smoke of the diesels that can be nosed only in the first few coaches depending on wind draft. Most don't like that acrid smell though. There is the rhythmic ballad of wheels and track joints and the distinct sound when the train moves to another track via a switch. The quick whizzzz of an electric as it glides in and out of a station at an impressive pace, Ethereal!!!

Trains in passing!
Watching a train go by, is wonderful, just like watching the clouds float. How many times when going somewhere, when stopped at a railway level crossing, you get down and watch the "beast of a beauty" roar past you with its signature horn blaring, shaking the ground underneath? It is with a child-like delight that I see an engine appear around a bend or at a distance and then swoosh past with the last coach receding slowly into the two parallel lines of tracks until you see the train as a speck. A similar feeling, when an engine saunters into a station slowly with the squeal of its brakes as it brings the symphony to a halt.

It is a shock moment, when you are in a train, with the windows open and on an adjacent track, out of the blue, another train whizzes past with its horn at full blast. The effect is higher when you have your train moving fast as well. No better example than this to illustrate the Doppler Effect in Physics. And the eerie feeling in a night train, you get up, find the train stopped at some unknown place, peep out of the coach to see where you are, in the dull faded light of the platforms or in the middle of nowhere. The sound of the "Tea, Kaapi, Chaayè" sound of the vendors at platforms, the places with odd names that you pass by, and the scenery outside makes the trip fun. In my younger days, I was fascinated by the telegraph poles that run parallel to the track, where the wires sag in the middle between the poles and it gives a feeling of the wire travelling along with you.

And for the adventurous, how thrilling it is, to keep the compartment door open, peep out "safely" by holding the support rails, and having a blast of air on your face and to see a snaking train do its maneuvere on curvy tracks.

(To be continued at leisure ...)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Nalladhor Veenai Seidhae - நல்லதோர் வீணைசெய்தே

This is an attempt at translating another of Bharathiyar's evocative poems, Nalladhor Veenai Seidhae. It has been sitting under translation for a long time and I managed to close it today. Bharathi is pained at his weakness (a projection of the country at that time) and begs God (Shiva-Shakthi) for strength of body and soul, character, belief, enlightenment.

The original ...
நல்லதோர் வீணைசெய்தே-அதை
நலங்கெடப் புழுதியில் எறிவதுண்டோ?
சுடர்மிகும் அறிவுடன் படைத்துவிட்டாய்,
வல்லமை தாராயோ,இந்த
மாநிலம் பயனுற வாழ்வதற்கே?
சொல்லடி சிவசக்தி!-நிலச்
சுமையென வாழ்ந்திடப் புரிகுவையோ?
விசையுறு பந்தினைப்போல்-உள்ளம்
வேண்டிய படிசெலும் உடல்கேட்டேன்
நசையறு மனங்கேட்டேன்-நித்தம்
நவமெனச் சுடர்தரும் உயிர்கேட்டேன்
தசையினைத் தீ சுடினும்-சிவ
சக்தியை பாடும்நல் அகங்கேட்டேன்,
அசைவறு மதிகேட்டேன் இவை
அருள்வதில் உனக்கெதுந் தடையுலதோ?

And the translation ...
Crafted a Veena, exquisite
Cast away to rot, would I?
Tell me, ye ShivaShakthi,
Having molded me, radiant and wise;
Endow strength, wouldn't you?
For this hallowed earth to prosper;
Ye ShivaShakthi, Realize, do you?
Being encumbered, living off the land;
Like a ball propelled - I beseech,
A body, to follow the heart's quest;
A mind shorn of desire, I ask;
Anew each day, for a soul shining, I pray;
On flames that singe, regardless
A spirit to extol ShivaShakthi, I implore;
Unwavering intellect, I bid;
Hampered to bless these, Are you?

Here is a link to a rendering by Rajkumar Bharathi, the grandson of Bharathi, in a different raaga than the other renditions.

Another moving rendition of the same poem from the movie Bharathi by Mano and Ilaiyaraaja. It plays in the background during his funeral.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Unworded - The ruler of Madurai

A view of the West Gopuram in the distance, Amman Sannidhi is closer
and the Potraamaraikkulam (The Golden Lotus pond) in the foreground
Visited during the Navarathri festival of 2010