Following the TimeTable

I went to school. I went to college. I received as good an education that the prevailing system could offer at the time. I owe my education to my parents, without doubt. I am 40-something and I continue to have calculus nightmares; integration flavoured are worse than the differentiation flavoured. They are nightmares, irrespective. Not all my dreams are nightmares. Some are sweet. Those are often about what I learnt from my father and my mother.


I have an unfounded great love for the Indian Railway. It is another thing that I haven’t been on a train for over a decade. One reason is that a decade ago, I bought my first car. Another, is that smoking is now banned on trains. So, if it is drivable distance, I drive, else, I fly. Many years ago, my fascination for trains was inculcated and cultivated by my father.


Every four years, the bank that he worked for, offered an LFC – Leave Fare Concession. It was a perk he received from the bank that compensated in full, for all travel to a destination and back, within certain limits. As far as I can recall, we never went to single destination and returned; we always took one route to the destination and returned by another. That way, we visited more places.

0299: Rail Track

My sister and I looked forward to this four-year event as soon as our summer holidays commenced. My father would go to the local ITDC office and get the brochures for various places. When I try and remember those brochures now, they were very pastel-coloured documents. However, that didn’t dull our excitement. We both used to read every brochure back to back. Not every brochure was a destination; but we read all of them, all the same. After the general direction of the destination was decided (which was his call) the brochures were sorted according to the routes. Then came the two critical books.

Trains At A Glance, and the All India Railway Timetable.

My father used to tell us of our destination and ask us to pick non-overlapping routes to get to the destination and return. He gave us vague guidelines about how to use the timetable, and asked us to plot the to-and-fro routes. The All India Railway Timetable was a thick book with coloured pages and came with a foldable in-book map of the railway map. We could query him about available “holiday homes” and ask him Qs of the codes used in the time-table. When I think of that drawing-room of ours, all four of us sprawled on the floor with brochures, maps, and timetable, I suspect that he had already planned out our LFC. (It may have been an acronym of a perk; for us, it was an event). When I think back, I suspect, he gave us the resources for planning so that both of us would know how to plan and use those resources. When either of us offered a plan he presented challenges to us. But we have only a day there. But we have no place to stay there. What if we took a bus instead? And we had to rework the plan. Eventually, my sister and I came up with the plan that he (already) knew would work (He obviously knew more about constraints, logistics and such). At the end of it, however, both of us were very proud that we had designed the plan.

Today things have become much easier. we can enter the name of a location and get trains, those days we had to scour through an alphabetic list of location to get a Station code. Then we had to find the appropriate train tables. Check what class of travel was available on that train and confirm it with our father, if we were eligible for that class. Then, we had to check arrival and departure timings. Ensure that we are not cutting things short. My father used to refer to this as “keeping a cushion.” Buffer is the common term for this now, among other words. I don’t know how many of you encountered the word “vestibule” or “pentograph” in your school. I never did. But I know these words because my father taught us these words in real-time. He never stopped at teaching us the use of railway time tables.

The ability to read a printed railway timetable may seem like a useless skill now. And I’d agree. It is. Yet, it is not a defunct skill. Planning, with available data, is relevant even today. The form, format of the data may have changed. The basic skills remain the same.

For the life of me, I cannot solve a calculus problem, but if you want help designing an optimal route, I am your guy. Like most of you, my real education started at home, and what I could not learn in a structured education system, I learnt from my parents and my sister. Not sine theta and cos theta. Life skills. And I am ever grateful to them for that. By this, I don’t intend to diminish what I have learnt from my teachers. But, I will say this: I learnt more from them than the syllabus they covered. The impact that my teachers have had on me, has been beyond the curriculum. It has been tremendous; it has been significant.

What’s this post about?

My father? Indian Railways? Learning? Teachers? Family? My childhood?

I don’t know, dear reader. But I will tell you this. I recently read an article about railways and timetables. And that article provoked this post. All I can tell you, there is gratitude in my entire being, but…

If you can comprehend what this post is about, let me know.




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