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Travel: Mumbai trio explores stories in unreserved train compartments

Three Mumbai friends explore stories that sit with unreserved compartments by travelling the Indian Railways’ network

The part of the train that carries maximum passengers is possibly the least visited by those who can afford not to. These compartments thus remain beyond the experience of the middle class, who, if not for any compulsion, would never travel unreserved.

Samarth Mahajan, Rajat Bhargava and Omkar Divekar, the team that travelled unreserved
Samarth Mahajan, Rajat Bhargava and Omkar Divekar, the team that travelled unreserved

It is this distance and curiosity about a life that is so close and yet sealed that led three young filmmaker friends, Samarth Mahajan, Rajat Bhargava and Omkar Divekar to embark on a journey to travel the farthest ends of the Indian railway route without reservation.

Okha station in GujaratOkha station in Gujarat

In the journey that lasted from March 9 to 25, spanning around 25,000 kms, they discovered train gossip, cultural insights and fresh views about life in the country.

Passengers entertain with some music
Passengers entertain with some music

The idea was born through their interactions as filmmakers. “Omkar, Rajat and I met over different projects at Camera And Shorts (their company), which included journeys undertaken to highlight lesser known facets of cultural diversity in India. The intention behind our ten-train sojourn, which touched all the extreme points of the Indian Railways network, was to explore the class of travel, which carries almost 95% of its passengers,” Mahajan says.

Inside an unreserved compartment
Inside an unreserved compartment

Love and language
They touched the tip of Tamil Nadu and travelled to Kashmir and eastern most parts of Assam. In most parts of their travel, they managed with Hindi. It was only after they entered Tamil Nadu that they had to employ English. And not just language, a hot topic in the changing culture is the changing outlook to love as one moves.

Rajat Bhargava and Omkar Divekarat Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Pic/Datta Kumbhar
Rajat Bhargava and Omkar Divekarat Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. Pic/Datta Kumbhar

“Different regions had immensely different outlooks towards basic aspects of culture. Love was the most visible one of them,” Mahajan says.

Katra railway station in Jammu and Kashmir
Katra railway station in Jammu and Kashmir

A group of Srinagar University students confided to them that it is now a common practice to gift mobiles in girls to create a sense of commitment. And while travelling from Delhi to Katra, J&K, a young woman told them how traditions are holding back relationships, as love is a still a taboo in her family. But in Assam, the stories turned around as people were open about discussing their love stories on the Brahmaputra Mail.

“We do not want to spread uninformed rumours but a certain wrong number phenomenon surfaced while talking consecutively to four different men from Assam and West Bengal. A wrong number love story begins when one gets a call from an unidentified number, a conversation begins and it ends on a romantic note,” Mahajan says.

Maharashtra experience
On their way from Mumbai Central to Okha, the team crossed Maharashtra during the night and talked mostly to Gujaratis. On their way back from Trivandrum to Lokmanya Tilak Terminus on Nethravati Express they spoke to a number of Mumbaikars and Maharashtrians. “While crossing the tunnel-ridden and largely untainted landscape on the Konkan Railways stretch, we met two young women travelling together to Mumbai from Chiplun. Both were juggling between full-time work and part-time BCom degrees to sponsor their education. One of them said that this was no big deal and made me wonder if being close to a city full of opportunities and fantasies had an impact on their thinking,” Mahajan says.

Tweet travel
To see how people react to their journey, Omkar Divekar started live-tweeting their experiences. “I started tweeting the experience of the journey from my perspective but never anticipated such a huge response within a couple of days. When I realised that a lot of people were hooked onto our journey and were encouraging me to keep posting more updates, it sort of became a pleasurable responsibility for me to oblige,” he recalls.

Booking the journey
Mahajan says that they want to turn their experience into a book. “We are also looking at how we can take the theme of meeting people while they are on the go for more projects. These are like transition phases where people seem to take rest from their normal lives as they are in between two places, he observes.

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