TLJ Connects | The Windowseat Project
A student at the Symbiosis Institute of of Media and Communication, Shanu Babar has become a sort of visual curator of train travel. Back in 2014, when he was doing his final year thesis, he combined two of his passions, filming and trains, to come up with what has now become a full and continuing project of its own, The WindowSeat Project. Today, three years later, the project has over 21,000 followers on Instagram and has mobilised people into using the #windowseatproject whenever they travel on a train. Shanu daylights as a cinematographer on a few reality shows and is based in Mumbai.
TLJ caught up with him before he took off on his next destination for a quick chat on the project, about single-photo-stories that narrate a travel experience, and his favourite train routes.
TLJ: This is a personal side project that you make time for. What goes into planning your own train journeys and how do you find the time to curate through the many hashtagged submissions on social media?
SB: Unlike the reality TV shoots that I am engaged in for months at a stretch, it gives me a rush to explore the actual ‘reality’ of the world around me. When I think of travelling, it is like a breath of fresh air, away from work. It's a lot of fun and spontaneity, but it is also a lot of hard work— lots of planning and organising. The problem mostly comes from scheduling conflicts, especially when I have to juggle my professional and personal commitments, but the urgency of it all is part of the fun.
Also, this is not just a hobby, it is a need. Trips and plans like these give me time to develop my skill as a professional filmmaker, so that when I come back to work, I am a more valuable professional.
TLJ: The project is getting a lot of attention lately. But how do you plan to take this project forward? More than it being an interesting lifestyle project, do you think The Windowseat Project has a larger goal or purpose?
SB: The railway network gives me a pan-Indian access to all sorts of people. I am a storyteller at the end of the day and all people are stories. Once I feel like I am done exploring this part of the world, I'd like to broaden my horizons, know more people, more cultures, and go find more stories from across the world. All through the railways only, wherever I go.
I can already hear the chugs of Sri Lankan railways. I hope to be there, post this monsoon.
TLJ: What's your most favourite train route?
SB: Mandapam to Rameswaram. The sight is breathtakingly unique. Rarely do you see such generous stretches of clean blue waters. It is almost nostalgic, like as if I'm photographing some of the pictures I grew up watching.
Notes in the margins:
TLJ found out later that the quote attributed here to William D. Middleton is only the title of his short stories. (Click here to read bits of the book.)
The original quote is from American poet and 1923 Pulitzer Prize winner, Edna St. Vincent Millay's Travel. Read the little poem here:
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
TLJ: Your least favourite train route?
SB: I don’t think I have a least favourite route. I have had tough journeys, but like (the American journalist and photographer who wrote extensively on railroads and their history) William D. Middleton said: “Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take”.
TLJ: One train route you are yet to explore and is on your bucket list.
SB: I am yet to completely explore the North-East of India. Dooars Voyage (a train route along Siliguri-Newmal-Hasimara-Alipurduar) is one I am very kicked to explore. I have seen the pictures, I have read articles, I can’t wait to go there myself.