As I stood there and watched the train gradually speed away into the horizon, it felt like I was in a state of trance and neither my body, nor my mind, had the ability to function in the way they were designed to. I was still gazing at the railway tracks, long after the train had already disappeared. Eventually, my solitude made me feel  uncomfortable, and I turned around to look at the station itself. It occured to me, that I was actually standing in the middle of nowhere, with green paddy fields on either side, a single railway track next to me, and a wooden board with the word ‘Banghaat’ written on it. What had seemed like a ‘small platform’ to me earlier, was in reality, just an elevated ground which was somewhat flatter than its surrounding areas, and could have been a man-made effort at raising the ground level.

I was the only passenger to have alighted at this stop and there was not another soul, as far as my sight would go. On hindsight, I couldn’t even say for sure, if there was anyone else in the train, that had brought me here in the first place.

But I knew, today was a day when I should not expect too many answers. I should rather be prepared, that whatever happens from here, will only add to the questions I already have in my mind. I spotted a patch of grass with a lighter colour, a few meters away and on closer inspection, perceived it to be a human foot trail. It meandered away almost perpendicularly to the railway track, and I made up my mind to follow it and find out, what lies ahead.  After walking a few hundred meters, I felt a sharp pang of hunger and finding a nearby tree, I sat down in the shade and hauled out the tiffin box from my bag. I wrapped a slice of Ruti around some potato and mixed vegetables, and began to munch on it with a sense of gratitude. I looked back at the board of Banghaat station and reflected on everything that had happened since the morning. The first train to Kakdwip, the lady, Platform No. 11, the elderly gentleman, Chumki and Banghaat station itself, kept flashing in my memory. I couldn’t see the railway tracks from that distance any more, but the very idea of a station in the middle of nowhere, with no proper platform, not a single person around, no roads, no lights; had a very eerie feel about it. But what made me really convinced that Banghaat station had something uncanny about it, was the fact that I had noticed only a single pair of railway tracks! In all the local train stations I had seen till date, I was pretty sure the tracks came in pairs, for trains going in opposite directions! 

After satiating my hunger, I stood up and looked around me with more intent. I could see some movement in the distance, probably less than a kilo meter away, in the form of what seemed like a push cart. So there had to be some sort of a road. Most of the area between my present coordinates and that presumed road, was covered with green paddy fields which were mostly waterlogged. While I was asked to wait for someone to ‘pick me up’, it had been a while since I sat down at the foot of the tree for some refreshment. Besides, since it was a fairly open field, I was convinced that if there was someone to approach me, I could see him from a few hundred meters anyway. So I decided that I needed to get moving, despite not really knowing where. I packed the last two rutis inside the tiffin box, to save them for later, and adjusting my side bag over my shoulder, set out in the direction of the road. 

Soon, I reached the point where the paddy fields started and I started to walk cautiously over the thin, elevated alley separating two wet fields. It was way more difficult than what I had expected, and every time I looked up to see the way ahead, my next step landed on the side and into the wet field. It became so frustrating, that I took off my shoes, which were mud stained by now, and started walking barefoot on the alley. I must have walked for close to an hour before finally reaching that mud road and when I did so, I couldn’t see any more people anywhere. I just picked a direction and kept walking, but tiredness started creeping in me and I felt it might be a good time to take a break. Luckily, there were more trees on the side of this mud road and I chose one and laid my bag down to take a breather.

As I was settling down, I heard a wooden screeching noise and turned around to see an ox cart approaching from a distance. It was still a few minutes away, and I was suddenly so happy to see another human being. The question that immediately came to my mind was; Could this be the person to pick me up? but as soon as I thought about it, I felt embarrassed at my blatant acceptance of what I had always considered as ‘superstitious and unscientific’.

The cart was being driven by a dark, stout man in his thirties, with a bushy moustache and unshaven beard. As the cart approached me, he slowed down a bit and asked me where I was headed. I raised a finger and pointed ahead, to indicate the direction that I was planning to take. He looked in front and then with a quick glance around, politely remarked; 

– “ Babu, the next village is over six kms away. It will be a long walk. If that is where you are going, I can take you there for six paise”

The offer sounded like music to my ears! I knew, walking six kms along a dusty road could be stressful, both physically and mentally. I thanked him, paid him the six paise as he had demanded, and climbed onto the cart and into the flat space behind him. He poked both his oxen with a short cane and off we went, and after a few minutes, I had come to terms with the rhythmic sound of the wooden wheels of the moving cart. The driver was making some small talk but I had started to feel so comfortable, that soon his voice faded away and I dozed off due to the fatigue. When I woke up, the cart was parked in the shade of a tree and the driver, approached me with a coconut, with its top cut open and I gladly accepted it. While my wife had done well to pack me some food, I believe both of us had over estimated the availability of potable water on the way, and my thirst had really started to affect my energy levels. I finished the cool, sweet water in no time and felt like being reborn.

I offered to pay for the coconut, but he dismissed the suggestion, stating he had plucked them from a tree himself. He also wryly added;

– “You city folks want to buy everything, but we village folks, don’t sell everything!”  

I thanked him with a smile and asked how far we had come, and he said it was another 2 kms ride from there. The sun was pretty strong and feeling my energy coming back, we resumed our journey. 

 At this point I checked my wrist watch and much to my surprise, found the time to be 9 o’clock. I quickly reflected on my trip so far. I couldn’t have reached Sealdah station before 7 am, assuming the train had left platform 11 around 7:45 am, I would have reached Banghaat around 9:30 am. Then I must have taken half an hour for my meal and walked another hour or so. That puts the time for this cart ride to start around 11 am, and there should have been another hour for covering these five kilometres and the coconut break. It should be at least noon in my estimation and the strong sun above us also seemed to justify my calculations. 9 am was definitely impossible!

I had this strange realisation , that time was of little relevance to me right now, and this thought made my hands tremble a little, as I held onto the wooden frame of the cart to keep myself stable.   

Coming up next: CHAPTER TWELVE

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