“Teen chicken cutlet, ek cheese toast ani ek coffee” said my friend to the pantry attendant as we resumed talking about our respective college lives. There were hardly five more people in the dining car, as the Deccan Queen ripped Kamshet station. It was yet another visit where we would travel to Lonavala, just to be in the Deccan Queen’s dining car savouring some delicious chicken cutlets on the way back to Pune.
My association with the Queen goes back to my childhood. I have some hazy memories of travelling by the morning service to Mumbai. Over the years, train journeys became lesser and lesser, and Datta gained popularity for its vadapav. Road journeys became much more faster, and hence, preferred. All these fun train trips were replaced by boring car journeys. You could race all you want to, on the Expressway, but wait till you reach Thane creek. The local trains would zoom past you on a parallel track, and you would instantly blurt out “Train ni gelo asto!” as the traffic ahead of you moved slower than a snail.
Around five years back, I came in contact with an Internet group called the IRFCA. These were people who called themselves ‘railfans’. My connection with the Indian Railways had been rekindled. Cycling to the railway station and standing on the bridge adjoining Jehangir Hospital, watching trains come and go, became a regular thing. Any opportunity to go to Mumbai and I would sit down and calculate the time-distance matrix that Mumbai has, with respect to the Deccan Queen’s arrival at CST at 10:25 in the AM. Of course these trips never materialised, and my father still preferred going by road.
Sometime between my board exams and my entrance exams, I had a chance to take a quick trip to Lonavala. A phone call to a couple of friends, and fifteen minutes later, we were looking at a plan of a quick breakfast on the Deccan Queen, alight at Lonavala, and take the local service back to Pune. A month later, I found myself standing on Platform one, while hordes of people celebrated something special.
1 June, 2013. This special something was the Deccan Queen’s birthday. The Pravasi Sanghs, the railfans, the Indian Railways authorities and common people, all came together to celebrate this occasion. Cakes were cut, the Engine hauling the train was decorated like a bride and there was press coverage. I made a short film, spoke to people, and interviewed one of them, who happened to be a daily traveller on the train. He spoke passionately about the train. There were several such people who treated the train like family. Several friendships were made on the train, most of them lifelong. Be it the Mumbai floods of 2006, or the Badlapur violence on the train, they all stuck together through thick and thin. It was on this day that I realised that apart from all the food and the new dining car, it is the people who make the train special too. With all the positive vibes on the first day of June, I went home a happy person.
This is the second year on the trot, that I have been unable to be a part of the birthday celebrations of the Queen. Third time lucky, maybe? Wishing you a very Happy Birthday again, Deccan Queen. We all hope you lead a long life. :)