How the Old Romance of a Train Journey Lost Steam in the Digital Age

My journey on an ordinary train on a Sunday afternoon ended up being a lesson in human relationships and conversations.

Travelling from Jalandhar to Amritsar in a sleeper with little else to do, I found myself observing my fellow passengers. What struck me the most was that these days no one talks to one another even on a leisurely train journey.

I saw everyone flicking their phones. Everyone had their smartphones for company. You will hardly find anyone sleeping in a sleeper on a Sunday afternoon. They are busy with their mobile phones – listening to songs, watching videos. This device, which is essentially meant to connect people, has made them oblivious to their fellow passengers.

You don’t find strangers making conversation anymore.

There is something extraordinary about this. Human beings in such proximity yet cut off from each other.

Passengers packed liked sardines oblivious to who they are surrounded by. They aren’t aware about the space they share; it is as if they are locked up in their invisible cubicles. You will, of course, have the odd couple talking to each other, but they are an aberration.

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The smartphone has surely empowered the masses but it has also made them more self-absorbed.

Caught up in the world of YouTube, they seem to have forgotten the joys of chatting and of conviviality and laughter.

The smartphone era has produced boring and emotionally numb human beings. There is nothing smart about them apart from the phone they carry in their hands. Not even for a moment does anyone take their eyes off the screen to admire the lush green fields outside.

There is something so charming about aimless gazing. It has its own rhythm and so does the train.

The train journey itself is like a conversation: pacing up, slowing down, with its own pauses and even making the occasional noise. The sound of the train then implores us, to break our silence, to speak, to communicate.

It bemoans the death of conversation. It implores us to listen more carefully both to the varied rhythms of its conversation and to our fellow passengers. It is as if the train itself wants to talk to us and wants us to talk to each other.

Alas, if only we were to listen to the train and to each other.

We seemed to have forgotten not only the art of conversation but also the art of listening. Only if we had the patience to do so, a train journey could become so much more.

It could be full of the cacophony of human voices and noises, of strangers chatting each other up, an orchestra of human conversations.

Only and only if we had the time to look up from our mobile phones and at the person sitting next to us. Only if we had the curiosity to know where he/she comes from and who he/she is? Only if we would take out time and care enough to know a stranger, probably we would get to know ourselves a shade better!

Madhav Nayar is a student of Modern South Asian History at SOAS. He can be reached at

Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty