Coffee, on the rocks

The yearly trip to Bangalore was an absolute must during my childhood. The vacation, however, would begin much before we reached the city…

The best way to travel from Mumbai to Bangalore is by Udyan Express, which pulls into Bangalore with the rising sun.


Sipping hot kaapi

The excitement would begin in the morning – the morning we left, that is. Udyan left Mumbai CST station (then called VT) at 7.50 a.m. I remember my whole family – amma (mom), appa (dad), anna (bro), tata (grandpa), ajji (grandma), and me – would rush to the station – my dad preferred the taxi. But my grandma would insist we go by the local train. Despite all the madness, I don’t think we ever missed the train.

The first leg of the journey is between Mumbai and Poona. To me and my bro that meant one thing – tunnels! We used to have a great time howling into the blackness, much to my mom’s chagrin. My grandma once tried to channel our energies by asking us to count the number of tunnels between Bombay and Poona – according to my bro there were 24. I disagreed, there were 23. The howling continued.

The most exciting thing about Poona was the engine change. All outbound trains from Mumbai change their engines from Electrical to Diesel at Poona and vice versa since only the Bombay-Poona leg is electrified. I would get scared because as the new engine was attached, the train would move slightly in the opposite direction. And I really really didn’t want to go back to Bombay so soon!

After Poona, the journey would be pretty monotonous… that is until the train stopped at a station. Anna and I would get down at each and every stop. Doing nothing actually. It just felt macho, I guess. My mom would really get worried when the train stopped at a signal for a really long time. Then, me and anna would get off the train right down to the ground. Did you know how high a train really is? That you have to climb down 4 steps to get to the ground!? Okay, I know you know. But did you know that when you were 10? It was absolutely fascinating (horrific, if you asked my mother). We never missed a chance to get off the train at such signals. And ya also go up to our window and wave to amma! 🙂

By the time Gulbarga arrived the light would be fading. And that was the end of the day’s mischief. It would be pitch dark outside after that. The next station, Raichur, I didn’t like too much. That’s where the unreserved passengers would come in. They were dirty and they had kids that cried a LOT. They sat in the gangway blocking the way to the toilet and wash-basin. And the ladies wore heavy earrings (too heavy for my taste) and the most disgusting nose rings I had ever seen. They would walk in at Raichur and always had a pleading look in their eyes – could we please get a place to sit? Of course they couldn’t. I was 10 and had developed a keen sense of justice. No one could sit on our seat. We paid for it. My grandpa would share my disapproval. My dad however was always friendly to them (too friendly, according to me). Even if he did refuse them a seat he would do so in the gentlest manner possible. My grandpa and I would wrinkle our nose. But we were too polite to protest in front of these people, even if they were unreserved.*


Udyan has a very funny route. It starts from Mumbai, crosses into Andhra. Then, into Karnataka it goes but only for some time. Then back into Andhra before finally plunging into Karnataka. This time heading straight to Bangalore. When you sleep you see the black soil of Maharashtra. When you open your eyes at 6.00 in the morning you see red soil. That’s when you know you are in Karnataka. The sun begins to rise to your left. Its orange rays enhancing the soil’s colour even further. By the time you wash your face and sip the first “proper” filter coffee (we South Indians are v. v. bitchy about our kaapi), the landscape dramatically changes on either side.


Parallel running hills appear on either side of the train. On the left, the hills are silhouetted by the rising sun. Between these hills and the train lies a broad green belt which is dominated by Nilgiri trees, banana trees, and coconut trees. Turn your head to the right and you see a sharp contrast – rocky hillocks, the same colour as the soil, rise dramatically over a barren land. By the time you finish with the coffee the train has already sped by.


In the meantime the stories would begin… My usually busy-with-office-work dad would get into what anna and I called the “Bengaluru Mode”. People around him would become Guru – Yen guru coffee kuditya?, he would ask me (which roughly translated into the Mumbaiyya tapori language means Kyaa baap coffee piyega kya?) He would retell stories of his childhood – which school he went to, and how the transition to English medium school meant a dip in his performance, how he won dozens of debate competition. Sun, coffee, the rocks, and dad’s stories – the vacation had truly begun.

* When I grew up I found out that these people were tribal of that area. After reading Everybody Loves a Good Drought my resentment melted. While I perfectly understand that getting into a reserved compartment is illegal, it’s stupid to despise them.


2 thoughts on “Coffee, on the rocks

  1. Wonderful! Dripping with nostalgia! Inspires me to write about childhood, those yearly vacations and my favourite mode of transport – trains! Really, lovely flow to the piece – liked it a lot. Maybe because of my personal biases. Yeah I experienced the B’bay – B’lore railtrip through 2 different routes – Udyan while going, and Chalukya while returning, so that’s yet another reason for me loving this piece. Now wait let me read the other entries, while you read my blog.

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