Contemporary artist Niladri Paul shares with us the nostalgia railways evoke in him –
As a child, I saw rail journeys as an announcement of an impending carnival or holidays with family, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbours. And, therefore, these were as much awaited as the holidays themselves. Sometimes, even more. The most interesting part of any train journey was the changing landscape and the arrival of various hawkers. I would insist on buying from each one. It was sheer joy.
Also, climbing up and down the train berths gave me a big high. I loved watching over everyone from the top seat. And then, we looked forward to the station halts as each offered a variety of food. Aloo Puri of the Kharagpur station was too good to be missed.
Though not as many, I do take train journeys even now, just to revoke the nostalgia. Especially when travelling to Varanasi. I have a spiritual connect with the sacred city and feel that when going to a place as special as this, the journey must be undertaken in a correct fashion, rather than just landing there.
As an artist, travelling by train is a charm in itself. People make for a veritable landscape, even those inside the compartment. One gets to see and meet so many kinds of people, with different eccentricities, habits and countenances. I carry my sketch book with me at all times. It is so entertaining that one loses the sense of time altogether.
My one most memorable train journey was in 1981, when I travelled alone to Varanasi. A Scouts and Guides group was also travelling in the same compartment. I was amazed by the way they performed theatre, sang songs, made caricatures, had mimicking sessions, held prayers and chatted incessantly. It was difficult to stay aloof. So, I joined them and enjoyed the rest of the journey thoroughly. This experience was completely different from all the journeys that I had undertaken before. The most important lesson learnt on this trip was the importance of sharing and discipline.
Romance is always a big possibility on a train journey, whether one is travelling alone or with a partner. This romance is completely different and cannot be compared to any other, as one shares the intimacy of the same roof, changing landscape, endless free time, food and discovering each other.
As for my dream journey, I would like to travel to Kochi by train. I have never been to Kochi before and the destination has been on my list for some time. It being a long journey, I can imagine myself rediscovering a whole lot of my childhood and youth through it. Mere thought brings a smile on my face.
Niladri Paul is one of the very few artists who have succeeded in evolving a style of painting that bridges the gap between figurative and abstract art