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Train of Thoughts

Though you can hardly see London from the tube, there's something about it which adds a whole new dimension to your view of the megapolis

We are all creatures of industrial or technology revolutions. As long as we lived in villages, as most of us still do, the revolutions did not touch us. I saw my first electric bulb when I was over 10, and my first train at the age of 14. After that, it was rather quick work.

I had my first plane ride when I was well over 25, and worked on my first computer at the age of 50. I still don't like planes or computers though we have to put up with them. The thing I like the most are trains, not cars or planes but trains, and I try to take rides in them as often as possible.

My first train ride took me from a tiny village in Goa to the vast metropolis of Bombay in less than 24 hours. It was a breath-taking experience. Hundreds of people got on to the trains at every station. This was during the last war - including soldiers going to the front, old men and women escaping the famine and young brides along with their husbands going to Bombay for the first time. It was India on the move and it was an awesome sight.

Since then I have been in all sorts of trains all over the world - from London to Moscow over the hump of Europe, from Chicago to San Francisco, and believe it or not, from Tokyo to Hiroshima. In the Moscow train, we nearly froze to death as the train ploughed through the icy steppes. In Hiroshima, we saw for the first time what an atom bomb can do to mankind. For 20 years after it fell on the hapless city, it still carried the ugly scars of the holocaust.

But the train rides I liked the most were on the London underground. There is something about the underground or the tube as we called it, which adds an entirely new dimension to your view of London, though you can hardly see London from the tube. Firstly, things were very cheap after the war. You could purchase a three penny ticket - about 12 paise - and travel all over the huge tube all day long without surfacing, and without anybody asking for your ticket. It was almost like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, without, of course, the sewers.

On my very first day in the tube, I travelled all the way from Hampstead to Bloomsbusy, names made famous in English literature, and from Westminster to Wimbledon, changing one train after another, rushing from one crowded platform to another. The trains were clean and fast, and the conductors most polite.

The tube stations in London had a literary air about them. You never know which writer or poet you will meet. In or around Hampstead, you could run into Bertrand Russel, or Julian Huxley, or if you were lucky, Bernard Shaw shaking his snow-white beard at the trees in the pond. I once saw H G Wells go down the lift in South Kensington and take a train to Piccadilly, where he must have no doubt visited his club. Another time, I saw Laurence Olivier come out of Piccadilly station and pick up a newspaper before going on to Shaftesbury Avenue, the theatre street.

Time is short and I have little money, but if I can afford it, I will visit London again sometime and spend a whole day in the tube, though I shall not see Olivier or Bernard Shaw or Wells, for they are all dead. But the underground is very much alive.