|GREAT RAILWAY JOURNEYS.....
THE NINE O'CLOCK LOVE TRAIN
Fading memories.....trains and teenage love....
In the late Sixties and early Seventies when I was a teenager living with my parents in Kalutara, the Nine O'clock "Love Train" from Aluthgama to Colombo was a very slow steam-hauled mixed train..It was of questionable value to serious commuters and ran almost empty...By the time it left the Kalutara South railway station all "office workers" had already departed on the 0730 "Samudra Devi" or the 0830 "Ruhunu Kumari" express trains to Colombo. The Nine O'clock train therefore ran virtually empty...and took its own time! This of course gave the ideal opportunity for courting teenage couples to indulge in a bit of "necking"..Public displays of affection were frowned upon..especially between teenagers! Most marriages of the previous generation were "arranged" anyway!
Train fares were cheaper than cinema tickets and budgets were very tight..............
The trick was to get into the carriages at the very front of the train or at the very back! These carriages were guaranteed to be totally empty!
The whole business of travelling on the Nine o'Clock Train needed considerable planning to stop reports reaching your parents...Teenage love did not exsist...Marriages had to be arranged!
At that time I was madly in love with a girl from the neighbouring suburb of Katukurunda...the train halt before Kalutara South. It was rather unwise for both parties to get on the train at the same station as this would create a minor sensation among station staff. News travelled fast in that part of the old Republic and the chances were that by the time you got back on the next train your parents would have been informed as to where you were and with whom! I was rather handicapped by the fact that most of the denizens of Kalutara and within a ten mile radius of Kalutara knew me..Or rather they knew my father, a formidable school teacher very definitely of the old school type...and, by the way my mum had been brought up in a convent! A number of our relatives worked for the old Ceylon Government Railway..affectionately known as the CGR..and it didn't take much time for news to travel.
On the very first occasion we embarked on the love train, we made the foolish mistake of getting on the train together from, what we thought was, the deserted platform of Katukurunda. The reason I made this foolish mistake is beyond me... but perhaps I thought it was bad form to expect the girl to travel on her own the whole of two miles to Kalutara South where I would have got on the train. After all, this was our first time...on the Love Train!...Every minute was precious! My life-long friend Terence who helped us on our way later remarked that it was a strategic mistake on our parts..I needed Terence's bicycle to get to the station!...The consequences have probably changed the rest of my life!
Still, that trip on the Nine o'Clock Train is one of those memories forever engraved in memories.......at least in my memory......Our teenage love was plagued by busybodies and was doomed from the very start...We continued to see each other for some time, frustrated on all sides and against formidable obstacles...The latter included the Catholic Church (although a Catholic, her parents were divorced ..an unpardonable sin!...a nice Catholic boy like me from a stable Real Catholic family with three younger sisters to give away in marriage couldn't be associated with such families!)....The whole affair went rapidly downhill...we parted acrimoniously.....She eventually married someone else....I hope she is happy....I haven't met the girl concerned in over thirty years....Only my youngest sister ever got married..of her own accord....Not arranged...I stopped going to church a long time ago.......Eventually I met Ranji..a non-Christian...we got married on our own at the registry office at Badulla..during the lunch hour!.
THIRTY YEARS ON...
On my recent visit to the republic (Jan 2001) my old friend Terence informed me that the Nine o'Clock train is still on the timetable! I did shed a few tears whilst writing this account! Nearly short circuited the keyboard. Keyboards are easier to replace. Ex-girlfriends are not!...life doesn't have a replay facility...
Funnily, I first wrote this piece on the 14th of Feb 2001, St Valentine's Day! You will find other snippets relating to my "affair" with this girl on other pages, if you are interested.......try the Punchi Borella essay...if nothing else it will give you an insight to the prejudices and bigotry which is responsible for the country's problems....
Another popular alternative was almost any train on the mainly steam-hauled narrow guage Kelani Valley Line between Colombo and Opanayake..now sadly upgraded to broad guage...with a section closed down. This railwayline employed some interesting locos from narrow guage coal-fired Beyer-Garratts to Hunslet diesels..! and ran through some of the busiest suburbs of the City of Colombo such as Baseline Road, Cotta Road, Narahenpita, Kirillapone and Nugegoda. A number of manually operated level crossings in and around Colombo considerably impeded the progress of trains on this line.The trains travelled at a leisurely 10 MPH. Purists would argue that the Kelani Valley line was THE Love Train.
There were no toilets on the trains. Not surprising.. It has been said that if you are travelling in one of the front carriages, you could actually jump off the train, have a trackside pee and jump back on the last carriage!
Well away from Colombo the gradient in some places was in the order of 1 in 22 thus explaining the need to employ Beyer-Garratts.
© Gyan C A Fernando
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