Friday, January 4, 2008

Get up the goose!

"Yaendhukka da, pasangala!.
Get up the goose!
Get up the goose!
Madras vandhaaaaach!!"

My brother and I would clamber out of the upper berth and look sleepily out of the train window at the inky black night outside.
"Where, pa?" we'd ask him.
"Another hour", he'd announce cheerfully.

Appa is never last minute. He wouldn't let us be last minute either. Everything had to be prepared for, hours and sometimes days beforehand. If you were travelling, you had to call the station the previous night to make sure it was still standing. If your train left at 6, he'd shoo you off to the station at 3. You'd also need to call the station at 20 minute intervals all day to make sure the train was on time. And if you had to get off a train, you needed to be all packed and near the door at least an hour before your stop. Even if it was the last one. The perfect father for a head-in-the-clouds son like.. err my brother.

So, within minutes of getting up the goose (nobody except Appa knew what that meant), our bedrolls and suitcases would be packed and ready. Amma would be up and combing her hair out. Other passengers would stir grumpily in their sleep as Appa turned on lights and opened windows. My brother and I would be squashed up by the window under a towel. The soporific whirring of the train fans would make us drift in and out of sleep, as the sky slowly lightened outside.

The closer we got to Madras, the slower the train would crawl. Tired perhaps, after the 18 hour run from Trivandrum.

Our immediate surroundings would undergo several miraculous transformations overnight. For one, there was no "Chaaya chaayeyyyy" anymore - just "Kaapi kaapeeeeyum". Station names in the comforting Malayalam jalebi-script now looked noodly and recti-linear, written in Tamil. The passengers who chatted non-stop in Malayalam until Coimbatore, would now speak in heavily accented Tamil. We were nearing Madiraashi after all :

"Ende berthle neriya bet-becks irundhadhakkum. Urakkame varalai " (Lots of bedbugs in my berth. Just couldnt sleep.)

But most strangely, a peculiar scent would waft in through the windows of the compartment. As the train crawled slowly on, it would intensify from a mildly unpleasant odour into an all-enveloping, mind numbing stench. "Ahhh.." my father would sigh in pleasure, inhaling deeply. For if there is one true sign that heralds the arrival of Chennai, it is the magnificently overpowering sulphurous pong of the Basin Bridge station. A heady mixture of rotten eggs, chemicals, sewage, fish, sea and ripe guava.

"Madras waasne", my mother, the Bangalore girl would say, and smile affectionately at Appa.
"Aama, illai? Gubbbbu. Ackack. Na-na", he'd say to us, forgetting that his children were now capable of coherent articulate sentences.
"Hngello, hngello, hngow aagre you?" "Fngine Thngank you.", my brother and I would chant, holding our noses.

Appa's sundakkai-vendakkai "Tamil dictation" lessons had not really prepared us for real world Tamil. We could read the script haltingly, but couldnt make any sense out of anything we read.
"Ka-zhi-ip-pi-da-im", we'd chant, stringing the Tamil letters together painstakingly, from the signs we read.
"Pa, pa, what does it mean?" we'd ask him excitedly.
"It means... kakkoosu", Appa would say, with a wink to our shocked mother.
"Cheeeeeeeeeee" we'd scream in chorus, and read the next sign.
"Pae-ch-in Pi-ri-t-j" (Basin Bridge) "Pa, see, see, spelling mistake." we'd say excitedly.
"No." My father would reply. "Appadi thaan ezhuthanum." (thats how you write it), and proceed to explain how the difference between "pa" and "ba", "sa" and "cha" in written Tamil is contextual.
"But whyyyyyyy?" we'd persist.
"Becaaaaaa....use", and after a dramatic pause: " day, Appushastry and Kuppushastry went to Kalahasthri. There they met a kuppai thotti mesthri...."
The peals of laughter that followed would put an end to any further exploraitons into the matter.

Madras Central would loom up at us through the deep indigo of early dawn. But as the old Tamil saying goes: "Before you see the elephant, you can hear its bells". The odours of Madras Central would waft into the compartment about 42 seconds before the train pulled in. Karuvade (dried fish) in gunny sacks all along the platform were the culprits this time. Smelling karuvade for the first time is like exactly like being smacked hard on the face by Hemalatha Miss for hashing an exam. It's that physical.

After the initial shock, my brother and I would look around Central Station in wonder. It was the biggest station we had ever seen. The tracks actually stopped inside station and trains parked there overnight. The roof soared high, high above us. Big posters loomed up everywhere. Announcements in a strange Tamil that that nobody spoke in real life, would pipe up from nowhere.
"... onpathu mani pathinainthu nimidathirkku purappattu chellum..."
"Wha...? Pa, pa, what's she saying?"
"She is saying, nee romba asadu, naan unna udanna vandhu odhaikkaporaen" (She's saying youre very naughty and I am instantly coming to beat you up)"

Straight ahead, G chittappa would be waiting for us near Higginbothams, smiling his G chittappa smile. We'd run across the platform, jumping over sleeping passengers, side-stepping trolleys, gunny sacks, surly porters and paper-sellers and latch ourselves onto him. After an hour's journey through the big, beautiful, sweltering city of Madras, with the widest roads I'd ever seen, we'd be in Thatha's house...

...where Pati's fragrant rasam, an army of cousins, A. chitti's godrej almirah full of Archie comics, and a whole month of fun awaited us.


rads said...

I am first? *shocked!

Dude, that was one heck of a post. Nostalgic, funny and it very well could've been my story. Only difference being the descriptive is what we returned to after every summer in Andhra.

Basin Bridge was one craphole, can't believe they'd actually make us wait forever there coz of some signal problems.

In any case, as always wonderfully done. :)

Mark IV said...

not fair... you should try the domestic junction near the beach... that truly smells like team spirit... a team of unbathed undeodarized unhygenic lepers that is!

Poojitha said...

well...madras central stil is just the same wit a few additions... the wunderfool fountains, d karvadus, d gunny bags, d planet yumm, irrelevant ads in d tv, d karuvadus, internet cafe..repainted central clock tower.. higginbothams shifted..d karuvadus... ooh ooh..d inescapable axe effect of d cooum flowing nearby...

chennai still woos ppl all d same.. lol.. again..guess its d "cooum" effect!!!

Naveen said...

" Appushastry and Kuppushastry went to Kalahasthri. There they met a kuppai thotti mesthri "

very very funny macha :o)

looks like the childhood days are pretty much the same all over..except for the destinations - for me it was chikkamma's house in hyderabad!! we always travelled in 'coupes'..had our privacy and we used to have a hell of a time!

Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

Man, that brought back some memories. Including the getting up early. Switch Madras Central for VT, Tamil for Hindi, Basin Bridge for Kalyan, and for me it could be all our train arrivals into Bombay. Great post as usual.

Prats said...

Fantastic!!! This just brought back memories of our trips to Medraas...and the Basin bridge..vaasinai...
But you've done a great job, blending, nostalgia and awe....
loved this...
And yeah...all our Maamas and peripas would wait near Higginbothaams too... :)

maxdavinci said...

wow! friggin nostalgic...

kalakitte po...

Rithish said...

You did it again buddy!!! That was wonderful!!! Nostalgic with humor peeping through the pockets... :o)

Someday... when you do decide to write professionally, you are going to have a long queue of people waiting for your autograph...

(someone say Amen!!)

rads said...

Amen! :)

Rambodoc said...

A similar smell greets you when you reach Mumbai by train. Hell, it greets you even when you are flying 5 miles above it!
Each city is common in its Indianness, but unique in its
olfactory latent period and threshold.
In other words, we all stink, each in his unique way.
Good post, dude!

I love Lucy said...

Very articulate I say!
You almost described my train journey to Madras with my parents vis-a-vis the smell and the sights!
I verrrryyy much enjoyed the read :-)

small squirrel said...

lovely, lovely story. glad to see you are a master of many writing styles. well done! it also brought me back a couple years to my first long train ride in India... I did mumbai to goa, then later goa back to bangalooru. amazing trip!

well, this nostalgia is just in time for your requested "ode to india" on my blog. go have a lookie-lou. it's senti.

themartianscientist said...

The part about getting early enough to clean the railway station seems very very familiar!appushastri and kuppushastri were also R thatha's characters along with Jagubugu jakubbu!you are making me want to go back home tonite:(:)

Usha said...

Now we know where you got those funny bones from. Lovely post.

moody crab said...

Awesome post!!! It brought back a lot of memories. Love your brand of humour. :)

Anonymous said...

Howdh-ree! Egg-jactly hinga aagthitth-naav Madras hog bekandhra.

Nimag aagthittho illvo, numg last bit of the experience before clapping eyes on welcoming party would be having to fight off the porters.

"Vudu-ppa, aaL varraanga, ille potti-ye vidu-nnu sollreno illyo. ada-vidapporiya illaya!!"

Anoushka Taraporewala said...

Hell its all agreed that train rides are the same all over India, then. Having said that, it does not retract from the scintillating writing of biker dude, does it, folks?

Your blog reminded me of the times I was dragged from Bombay to Surat to meet MY grandparents. The Flying Ranee it was, always. And sometimes, if the folks were feeling richly, the Airconditioned Express (subtle name, wot)

And one more thing. The pong at Mahim Causeway must be akin to Paysin Bridge. I remember coming back to Mumbai once and sticking my head out of the cab to SMELL it. Chee, we Mumbaikars, I tell you!!!

Abhipraya said...

that was simply superb I say. The Madras vaasanai, trying to read Tamizh and not understand a word everything oreee nostalgic only. Two years of traveling back and forth from Bangalore to Madras went through all of what you said only I didn't have any G chittappa waiting for me. Just the surly auto drivers who tried to charge me 60 from Central to Egmore and always got shouted at in asal madras paashai.

And my mom is like exactly like your dad. We even get to movies full one hour hourly. This despite having done advance booking :)

Priyanka said...

Blast of nostalgia ... while being so damned funny!! niice! :)

The Darkling Thrush said...

can't think of much to say.
only one :) will suffice.

wonderful read.

James Mylaporean said...

Brings back nostalgic memories of arriving at Central Station after long journeys,with coal dust from the steam engines which the breeze had blown into your eyes as you pressed your face into the windows to look out eagerly :-)

Bikerdude said...

All: Thanks muchly for your lovely comments!!

rads: Yes madras without basin bridge vasne is like paruppu illaadha kalyanam :P

mark iv: Beach station? heheh too much!

poojitha: aatha, apdiye, konjam karuvattu koimb vechi kudaen? nalla thuntu poraen, oottukku :)

naveen: since there were exactly two trains from tvm-mds those days even toilet seat was a major luxury - so no coupe for us unless we were VERY lucky. Nice those things used to be, no?

BPSK: Yes and substitute train for spacecraft, air for methane, and hair for tentacles and we could well be on mars. Actually the methane in Kalyan/Mahim and basin Bridge doesnt need substituting! :)

prats: Yeah Poor higginbothams' main function was to be a waiting kisok rather than a bookstand.

max, ritish, rads: Thyanks bosses. Full autograph and all I say what is this :)

rambodoc: Lets all put on our stinking caps and ponder over this delicate matter.

ILL: thanks I say :)

Smallsquirrel: Oho verynice post ma, verynice it is. What is this going away business and all. I insist you stay here and open dose and sweet vade (u know what that is) shop on gandhi bazar main road.

martianscientist: I'll come there instead, what say? Or will you reply like R Thatha: "Rommmmmba modai!!"

usha, moodycrab: Thanks much! Yep defly get half from appa and half from my very crazy maternal grandmom :)

10yrslate: Eega suspensu thadiyak aagal kanri. Neev yaav oor antha correct aagi helbidi beg-bega. Hubli kannad howdh, Bomman Tamil howdh, Down Under English Howdh. Inn yen bittideerri? Yaavdu orizinallu?

anoushka: Nice to see a familiar comment from apri dikri :) Finally, bombayites and madrasis have something in common! Apart from Sion and matunga that is.

abhipraya: chennai auto drivers arent surly. they will energetically and cheerfully swindle you of cash. Lovely fellows they are. "Daasthi kekkala. Oru 1500 kudunga podhum."

priyanka: darlkintrhush: Tumba tyanksu.

james mylaporean: Thanks for the comment! Strangely, I've only travelled in a steam engine once (in the Nilgiris), though I think the whistle and chuff-chuff of a steam engine is infinitely more romantic than those of its contemporary cousins.

RustyNeurons said...

Aah... the memories flooding back :)
I remember when I would travel from M'lore to Chennai, the arrival of basin bridge would make me depressed!!

kavitha said...

wow..sounds a lot like my appa :)

am guessing its get up 'lazy goose' and not just 'the goose'..pliss cross check :)

Harishhh said...


Autograpp beku saaar! he he! Awesome as usual! I have run out of adjectives to praise you! Soooper!!

plush said...

:)...godrej full of archie comics...n train journeys...*sigh*..those were the days!

usha said...

ah, the gud old No.20 Madras Mail!
it reminded me a lot of my summer vac trips in that train.. tvm-madras.. from the excitement in boarding that train on a hopelessly humid afternoon to the pleasures in reaching madras early in the morning, looking forward to having fun with cousins n folks..
thankyous for d post! real nostalgic, and beautifully written.

Bikerdude said...

rusty: Amma depreshwari, yelladik depress aa? Wolle jade-ara baleyalli sikkakondidiya :) Just kidding!!! I see your point. For me the Madras Gabbu was a sign that it was holiday time so I didnt mind. But then if youre returning to work and had to contend with that smell..

kavitha: I suspect it had something to do with the adhvaita philosophy and the 4th dimension. Mere mortals like us are not meant to understand it :P

harishh: aiyo tumba tyanks kanri :)

plus: oh man that godrej was the best thing since sliced bread I tell you. And my chitti was an excellent librarian so the books were always in tip top condition. I used to dream of it all the way from trivandrum.

usha: Hey! You used to do it too? I think half my childhood was spent either on teh Madras mail or on the Island Express to Bangalore :)

RustyNeurons said...

I think I must be one of those few people who giggled while being called names like 'Amma depreshwari'!!! :)
Brains for renta? Swalpa dina nange beku..

Anonymous said...

Saahebra! Yaav oor numd orizinall annoodh irli.

Modhal aa Appushastry haad full-aagi bardh kaLis-ri!

Nun hudugoorige adhann heLbekagythi-yaakandr yavaagloo "Hangyaak"-anth keLoodha roodi aagythi avarige!

Priya said...

:-) replace Trivandrum with Trichy and Central with Egmore, and this is my story every single summer vacation for 15 yrs! Loved it! :-)

Anonymous said...

Haha.. Superrrr.. I could almost feel myself chugging along into Madras Central station. You managed to get every little detail into it..

Sav said...

There was this friend, full-to madras boy, who got so homesick after a week-long field trip that he said he would kiss the madras ground as soon as he stepped out of the train. The Central platform would have had the honour if he hadn't forgotten in the euphoria of being enveloped by familiar smells.

Bikerdude said...

rusty: Brain illa, adre sagni-maralu bekadre kodthene, thumba ide thaleyalli :)

10yrslate: Not fair. Nimgu nu ond hosa hesaru ittidene: Mystery Mylarappa antha :) For full shankar jaikishan lyrics, please refer nekshtu poshtu.

priya, rekha: Thanks!

sav: Ok that is little the too much only! Thank god the dude didnt miss basin bridge so much :)

A.S. said...

Beautifully nostalgic... kinda evokes the innocence of childhood.
Whew-- finally finished reading the whole of your blog!

Anonymous said...

my first time here and this post had me in splits :D are ALL dads like this?

Prajeesh said...

Brilliant, my chennai central experience are very similar.

captainjohann said...

great post and inherent humour in normal surroundings

Nabila said...

Hey Bikerdude,

That whole rushing to train station bit you mention? I know exactly what you mean, my mother did it all the time when we went vacationing. Nostalgic, like most others claim.

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Mohna Priyanka said...

Haha. Love this.