About 6/7,000 years ago, somewhere in Eurasia humanity had invented wheel that was meant for transporting small scale agricultural produces, firewood and pasture between settlements. It was a remarkable technological innovation that shaped the destiny of humanity forever.
Thousands of years later in the mid 1970s, I was a 5/6 year old child growing up in an era that flourished with all modes of transport, from bullock cart to bicycle, from motor bike to car, from train to aeroplane, but except the public transport means like bus and train, all others had remained only in the dream of common men.
At home, we did not have any kind of vehicle except a bicycle. My father used to take me to market, school, and elsewhere in his bicycle. I used to sit in a small seat placed in the front bar rod of the bicycle. When the entire family was on outing (my father, mother, I and my younger brother) we used to hire a cycle rickshaw. I remember, once in a fancy shop, I fell in love with a toy car that was on display. The car had a steering and paddles and one child could sit on it and drive. It was very expensive. I cried to buy for me, which my father could not, but it remained in my dream.
When I was 9 years old, I think it was 1981, my father bought a second hand Bajaj 150 scooter. There was a celebration at home. My father did not know how to drive it. He learnt driving from one of his colleagues, fell two/three times injuring his limb bones. Once he became efficient riding the scooter, he started dropping me in the school in the morning. Our family outing was now also in the scooter. About a year later, I started learning bicycle. As I was of short height in the beginning I had to paddle it by criss-crossing two legs. At that time children’s cycles were not very popular, especially in small towns.
I don’t remember, when I sat first time in a car, but definitely in 1982-83, when one of my maternal uncles who lived nearby our home in Sambalpur, bought a second hand ambassador car. After he became efficient in driving it became a regular hangout for me and my brother in his car. However, the scene in rural Odisha was quite different. I remember, in my mother’s native village, which was located on Andhra – Odisha border, there were no modern means of transport. To reach the village from the nearest town, either one had to walk for 4 km or commute in a bullock cart. If we had to approach the village from Andhra side we had to cross a perennial river by a country boat. Commuting in a bullock cart used to be great fun. Our bodies had been adapted to the pain of sitting and bumpy ride, which these days are difficult to tolerate. A pair of buffalo used to be attached in the front by tightening with ropes. On the back, a huge basket of cane was kept over the flat surface of the cart. The basket was meant for transporting agricultural produces or straw (cattle feed) from the field to the house yard, but it served also the purpose of human commuting for short distances.
Both bus and train journey in my childhood had been common though there were no AC travels till 1999. On every summer and winter vacations we used to travel to Brahmapur, a large town in South Odisha, located nearby my ancestral village. Also my father’s elder brother who was a professor in Botany in Berhampur University lived there in a sprawling campus near the shore of Bay of Bengal. The mode of transport between Sambalpur and Brahmapur (475 km) was a single bus in a day of Odisha State Road Transport Corporation. The road was narrow and on the way had to cross two major ghats of Eastern Ghat Mountains. Each journey used to be exciting as we could interact with fellow passengers but more than that eating our dinner at roadside dhabas used to be memorable.
Though I had travelled on many occasions in trains in my childhood, but there was a special incident, a memorable experience of travelling in an electric engine train from Jharsuguda to Bamra, a distance of 70 km. It was a gift from Uncle after I secured best 4th position in 7th class board exam in Sambalpur district, Odisha.
In the year 1988, for the first time I moved out of Odisha alone in a train. It was from Rourkela, an industrial city in Odisha to Kharagpur in neighbouring West Bengal. In the absence of phone and other communication devices that today we are used to, my parent had no clue whether I had reached safely or not. I went to Kharagpur to live with a cousin, who was an assistant professor at IIT to prepare for the IIT JEE exam. When I reached Kharagpur I did not notice the sheer size of one of world’s largest platform as my cousin was in the station to receive me. But while returning back, I was totally lost to its mammoth size.
In 1990s, I entered into the second phase of commuting experience, coinciding with the beginning of economic liberalisation in India.
After finishing graduation I went to Mumbai for a prospective life. It was first time I made a train journey for more than 24 hours. As I left Odisha, and entered Maharashtra, it was an experience to see different cultures, as fellow passengers who got into the train at different stations in Maharashtra were mostly in the Maharashtrian attire, the men folk were with their Gandhi caps and women with their unique style of saree wearing called kasta saree. The food was also different, vada with green chillies, being the popular one. At Mumbai, I got the experience of commuting in crowded suburban trains, a very tough life which I never used to be before.
In Mumbai, for a few months I lived with my cousin who was a passed out from BITS Pilani. As he was working with a finance company, he often used to go on tour. Once I had gone to drop him in the railway station as he had to travel to Nasik in AC 2 tier. Though I did not travel, but got a chance how the AC compartment felt.
In 1992 I moved to Pune and till 1999 I travelled always in sleeper class. There was only one train connecting Pune with Bhubaneswar. Sometimes I with other Odiya friends went to Pune Station to receive and drop friends, relatives and teachers visiting us in Pune. In the train, there used to only one AC compartment consisting of 48 births, of which 2 or 3 were reserved by Bhubaneswar bound travellers and rest were mostly for Secunderabad.
In 1999, for the first time I got a chance to travel in an AC compartment. It was a conference in Kolkata, which I attended travelling in AC 2 tier.
In 2000 I moved to Delhi. With the beginning of the new millennium, my commuting experience took a radical shift. It was February 2001, for the first time I flew in an Air India flight from New Delhi to Bhubaneswar. This was not a professional related travel. I had to fly due to the health ground. As I suffered from jaundice, and there was no one in Delhi to look after me, the only option was to fly to Bhubaneswar with my parent’s money. The first time flying was a unique experience. I flew over 35,000 feet and the surface visibility was clear. It was amazing to see the vast North Indian plain from the sky which clashed with Vindhyas as the flight entered into Madhya Pradesh sky.
In 2003, I moved to Ahmedabad and since then every year i have been flying every year two/three times either on official tour or visiting hometown. There was another feather added to the personal commuting journey. In 2004, my father bought a brand new car, a dream came true for the family. However, in Ahmedabad I managed my commuting through auto rickshaws.
A decade passed of the new millennium. Last year in the beginning of February I was restarting my life in Ahmedabad after 3 years of hiatus. One day I received a call from TATA Motors at Pune, which was a promotion call for the TATA Nano, a tiny wonder yet world’s most economical car. Initially I did not show interest, but to keep the request of the woman who called me from Pune Marketing Office I visited a showroom and immediately liked it. And on 17th Feb 2013, the car was in front of my home. I learnt driving and since then completed 11,000 km of travel that includes travelling in the interiors of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Today after 35 years of my childhood dream has come true of driving a car.
When I decided to buy a TATA Nano, even after purchasing it, many of friends and colleagues have passed comments on its look, low price and driving speed but as I reflect I only know what stages I have passed through in my life before owning this little wonder.