Women of the Venad, Train number 16301
If there’s one thing we Malayalis love, it’s our train journeys. The unexpected ones. The everyday ones. The Kanhangad to Kasargod ones. We have our trains. The Vanchinad. The Parashuram. The Shuttle.
And then there is the Venad. This train, they say, is named after a royal family which once ruled over Thiruvananthapuram.
The Venad leaves Shoranur in the afternoon and reaches Thiruvananthapuram by night, travelling a good 300-odd kilometers. At Shoranur, the ladies compartment is nearly empty. But, as the hours pass by, so do the stations and this compartment starts to get fuller. More women get in. Their sizes, dialects and demeanour differ. Some have little children with them. Some sleep. Some fan themselves with their Vanita or their Grihalakshmi magazines.
Sometimes there is incessant chatter. Sometimes there are loud guffaws. Sometimes there are heated arguments.
Every now and then, someone starts a conversation about a TV show, which then moves on to Idea Star Singer and inevitably leads to Ranjini Haridas.
The evening brings in vendors. The ones who scream chaayaa, kaapii and sell you the Railways’ own special (read watery) version of tea and coffee. The ones who sell you biscuits and cashewnuts. The ones who hurriedly dump strange-looking books on your lap and come back later hoping you would buy them.
By the time the Venad gets to Ernakulam, the ladies compartment is more than full. On the platforms one can see seasoned travellers who strategically position themselves and manage to get on before the train even halts.
And then there are women who live in Thiruvananthapuram but probably work in Piravom. Once they are settled in, they read for a while. Within minutes, one sees them pulling out vegetables from their bags, they start peeling some garlic and stringing some beans. For, as soon as they get home, they need to get dinner started. Probably even need to prepare for the next day’s breakfast as the Venad leaves Thiruvananthapuram early in the morning.
Though this compartment gets cramped at times as most women head back home after a long day’s work, there is still a strong sense of community. Sometimes one sees the women ganging up on some guy who gets on to the ladies compartment. Their expressions after managing to successfully shoo him away are priceless.
If you ever get a chance to travel by the Venad, jump at the opportunity. For dull moments are rare on this train. Especially with the women of the Venad, train number 16301.
The writer used the travel by the Venad every once in a while when she was in college. This piece is a compilation of all those little things she observed during those various trips.
Originally published at kochipost.com on June 3, 2013.