As a lover of train journeys and as an avid reader of travel memoirs; there is one quote that has always stuck with me. “It is almost axiomatic that the worst trains take you through magical places,” said Paul Theroux, the famed writer of the bestselling book; The Great Railway Bazaar. This is, in no way a snide comment on the Indian Railways; but alternatively, an ode to the intriguing train journeys in India. Whether it’s the diverse cuisine that we get to savour, the unfamiliar words of a language that we get to hear, the people we meet and befriend from various cultures and the constantly changing landscapes that we get to enjoy as we traverse from state to the other. The train binds everyone on a single journey; even when the destinations differ.
It has so many stories that exist in one space and time. And we feel that the one person who tells them the best is this window seat traveller. Shanu Babar, a cinematographer and a train travelling enthusiast is fuelling our wanderlust to travel through trains through his Instagram handle; the ‘Window Seat Project’.
26-year-old Shanu finds his solace in trains and sees stories in all kinds of visuals. “A plethora of these are available in train”, he says. For him, train journeys are an opportunity to meet a variety of people and be involved in their lives and their journeys. The train for him is a platform to combine two of his passions: travelling and shooting. So, when the rest of his college friends were making degree films for their dissertation project, Shanu embarked on a train journey from Pune to Kanyakumari and documented the whole experience by asking people, ‘what kind of India do you see through a window seat? The Instagram account started with his own pictures and stories but eventually became crowd-sourced as well, when people started showing interest in the project and started contributing to it.
With more than 20,000 followers, each post on The Window Seat Project gives an interesting insight into train travel. Be it the dynamics of fellow passengers; or breath-taking landscapes outside the window, pet-travel or even the railway food we all love to hate; each capture; sepia-tinted, colour or monochrome; takes us arm chair train travelling around India and gives us a peek into the lives of hundreds of people and their journeys.
Talking about his favourite train travel Shanu tells us about the one he took from Gwalior to Sheopur; calling it The Great Indian Rail Trip. He says; “It is the longest light train route in the world. The train is so full of passengers that most of them travel on the roof of the train. It had been my fantasy and I finally managed to do so. The train usually runs at 40 - 50 kmph but there comes a bridge on the way, where the driver reduces the speed so that people can get time to adjust and stoop to save their heads. You could find vendors, singers, everybody on the roof. The experience was thrilling.”
While it isn’t rocket science to be featured on the Window Seat Project; the only criteria is to be able to communicate a good story through the images. His favourite visual on the page is the one below; where he says that he understands what it is like to save every penny to be able to travel. “I know that you have sacrificed a fancy meal or taken a long walk from work to your home almost every day to save some bucks and take that trip to your favourite destination. The struggle is hard but the joy of achieving it is impeccable”; he explains.
While thousands of people still take the train every day; our relationship with fellow passengers seems to be changing. Engrossed in our phones, tablets and laptops we often turn away from many conversations and experiences. “But, at times you do bond over phones and laptops also; perhaps asking; ‘do you have that movie on you, could you share it,’ Shanu says optimistically.
For those of whom the journey is the destination; take a train, and do not forget to hashtag your posts with #windowseatproject.
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