A train is a geography laboratory in interesting ways. Explore!“Heh-heh-heh”



“Er, um … Chandrashekhar.”

“Myself Sethumadhavaselvanarayanan.”


“Heh-heh-heh. From where you are from?”


“Is it?”

“It is.”



“Bangalore proppper, is it?”

“It is.”

“Myself from Thirupparaiththurai. You must be knowing?”

“I am! As it happens, my grandparents used to live in the next village, Jeeyapuram.”

“OH! Eeees iiiit?”

“It is.”

And thus go conversations on trains. A train, like every place, is a fantastic geography laboratory for me.

People from different places, sharing a common place which is moving through other places, going to a seemingly common destination, but once there going their own ways to further destinations … During that limited time in the train, many places come together. Temporarily. Interactions occur. We are all the richer in experience for these.

Places are as much a part of our identity as anything else that contributes to who we are. You can take Chandra out of Bangalore, but never Bangalore out of Chandra. To put it more broadly, you can take a person out of a place, but not the place out of the person.

Stereotypes are part of our baggage. “Oh, he is typical Dilli-wallah!” Or, “Madrasi!” – this, though, is fraught with a LOT more complexity than our northern brethren seem to understand or acknowledge. But that’s another story.

“What you are doing sir?”

“I am a teacher.”

“Is it?”

“It is.”

“Oh, I see.”


“Where you are teaching?”

“Srivilliputtur Parasuraman School.”

“Srivilliputtur Parasuraman School … okayyyy … where it comes?”

“It doesn’t come anywhere. It stays wherever it is.”


“Oh! Ha ha ha… very funny!”

“Heh heh heh… I like to tease people with that. Sorry. It is on Roja Hoo Road.”

That teasing is a geographical thing as well. So much mischief can be wrought (if wrought is the word I want) in translation! We think in our native language, but speak in English – that is provided we actually KNOW our native language! English is weirder than mad a March hatter who has had a coconut fall on his head. Or her head. The logic of translation is a world unto itself. So, it is easier to figure out ‘from where from’ an Indian is by the way s/he speaks English.

Keralite hotelier in Chennai offered me a ‘discound’ for my stay in a room where the telephone had a piece of paper stuck on it listing various numbers etc. and “Lockal” – as it is quite correctly pronounced in Manglish (Malayalam + English).  Bengali shop-keeper deciding I am a foreigner (which, to him, I AM, I suppose), telling me a certain fabric of kurta is “bhery good, bhery good.” And so on.

Inspirational stuff.

Us southern Indians, especially of the Tamizh (I do not approve of the word ‘Tamil’) persuasion are very peculiar. A myriad idiosyncracies that we ourselves laugh at – online, offline, underline, everywhere. I am now on this kick of translating idioms / phrases from Tamizh to Tanglish (yes, Tamizh + English). If you are not from that Tamizh culture (itself tied to a geographic region), you will not find it the least bit amusing. However, I am not knowing yourgoodself. So, if supposing you are Tamizh-speaker means, look at these exompills:

  • What Ours Is There? All God Is There! (abbreviated to “WOIT? AGIT!”) – surrender to the Divine dispensation. This must be accompanied by appropriate heavenward gestures of hands and eyes.
  • Rain means rain! (“It is raining very heavily.”)

Meanwhile back on the clickety-clacker …

If my interlocutor  were also from Bangalore, he would say, “Bangalore, is it? Where in Bangalore?” Once we identify a common geography at a broad level, we tend to ‘zoom in.’ It is very fascinating how geography connects us in these situations.

“I am from Jayanagar.”

“Oh, I also. Which block?”


“I am from 4th block, near Complex.”

From there, it may go to more geographies, and common friends and acquaintances.

Further from this, we end up treating each other to coffee or tea (which in the case of our railways should be called “hot water with brown grit in it” as the butler Edmund Blackadder tells Mrs. Miggins in the BBC comedy series “Blackadder III”).

Fairly often, this twosome grows rapidly into a small group, but usually no more than five or six people. The exact same details are elicited, though the actual answers may vary and thus, the specific questions.

Just a train ride from Bangalore to Chennai takes us through Karnataka, Andhra, Karnataka again, and then Tamizh Nadu (no, I don’t care for Tamil Nadu either; this is not an official document, so hush!). Depending on the make-up of the crowd, and their own geographic origins which also influence their thoughts, our little group may discuss the state of the state’s politics as we pass through each. And, invariably, such discussions always get contextualized in the state of the national politics.

Location, scale – geography basics.

So, next time you travel, try to take a train. You may well find your journey made more interesting by the geographies of your co-passengers.  Notice all the elements of geography (yes, that also includes language) that make for an interesting experience among strangers.

If, after all that, you still say “Geography is boring!”, you will never enjoy life!

(A version of this post was published in Deccan Herald Student Edition, 29 July 2013, page 1.)


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