Sunday, 27 December 2009


What could be the towns like beyond the railway platforms? You and me must have thought about it umpteen number of times as we travelled by train and passed by the big and small stations, known or unknown. “But seldom we take time off to venture into those unknown places that are otherwise just names of the railway stations in the timetable,” says senior journalist Bishwanath Ghosh who has penned an interesting book on his travels to the small towns that are dotted along the vast railway network in India

Titled Chai Chai: Travels In Places Where You Stop But Never Get Off, the book offers glimpses of those towns and people there, who, according to Ghosh, have long been inured by the whistle of the train. “Once as I was travelling from my hometown in Kanpur to my workplace in Chennai, I alighted at the Itarsi railway junction in Madhya Pradesh. It was then that I wondered how millions of passengers had killed probably billions of hours at such railway junctions while taking the connecting train to their destinations. Yet they have been clueless about the town where they are waiting for the train,” Ghosh says.

To write the book, Ghosh travelled to the featured towns in the year 2007. “During these visits the most that I could note down was few names,” he says. “So when I used to write for this book at night, after the day's travel, I depended on recollections. I relived my time on the roads, checking the shops, talking to people, watching the buildings and life in general,” he adds. How much of his 'journalist self' do we see in the book, I ask. “I am a journalist true, and I agree that there's a thin line between journalism and writing a book. But for this book I was an observer first. This book is not about my opinions,” Ghosh explains. “And while writing it, I took certain liberties which otherwise as a journalist I cannot”.

According to Ghosh, and I couldn't agree more, the sound of the railway stations across India is that of the tea sellers, hawking in their shrill voice to attract the attention of the thirsty travellers. “Be it Mughal Sarai, Jhansi, Itarsi, Guntakal, Jolarpettai, Arakkonam or Shoranur --- that's one sound that every train passenger can relate to. The book got it's name from that hawking sound,” the author affirms.

As Ghosh crisscrossed India, he came across interesting sights and sounds. “I found Mughal Sarai to be the very colourful,” the author reminisces. “It's a big junction station between Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. And the Bhojpuri culture is dominant there. One would hardly hear any Hindi. I was charmed by the Bhojpuri language and the colourful dresses they wear,” he elaborates.

I ask him about his realisation after the travels and while writing the book. “The big cities in India have become like have become like colonies of the great globalised empire,” Ghosh replies. “The smaller towns are thankfully still rooted to real India that's not concerned with the pizza or the colas,” he says. “In smaller towns one can go back in time and know how our ancestors lived, something that we miss in the crowd of malls and highrises”.

Interestingly, the book doesn't have any photograph of the places Ghosh visited. When asked, the author explains: “I think, photographs kill the story. It's the collection of written words that should convey the picture to the reader, who in turn will add some of his own imaginations to it”.

An avid blogger, Ghosh feels that “blogging helps to develop a writing style that is different from what typically a journalist would write”. And it was blogging that encouraged him to write a book, he informs.

Ghosh is writing a book on Chennai next, which will be followed by another book on train travel. “It's going to be different as I want to write about fellow train passengers,” Ghosh informs before we part.