CHAPTER NINE: A JOURNEY TO REMEMBER!
(At this point, the narration switches to my father, in the first person)
I reached Sealdah station, the second largest station in West Bengal after the Howrah station, and also the hub for local short and medium distance trains. I had neither a plan nor an idea where to go, but I did have those words “Go to the South” reverberating in my mind, so I checked out the train information board to see which trains were going to the ‘south’, and randomly picked up a train to Kakdwip, one of the towns I knew for sure, was to the south. Kakdwip was a small, sparsely inhabited town on the banks of the river Hoogly, very close to where the river merged into the Bay of Bengal. The train was supposed to depart in thirty five minutes, so while waiting, I munched on one of the rutis from my tiffin box. I was hungry to some extent, but I also knew that the next few hours would be full of uncertainty. My wisdom urged me to ration the stock of these right rutis, so they can be made to last for the longest period of time.
With about five mins left for the train’s departure, I decided to pick my side bag and gingerly walked to the platform no. 7, where this train to Kakdwip was supposed to depart from.
There is always a huge rush for the local train, especially at the point of departure. Bengalis tend to believe that boarding a train beforehand, when it is showing no signs of life, is inefficient and a complete waste of time, an opinion I shared myself, which was why I was eating my ruti while being seated at another platform, rather than boarding my train sooner.
People were already shoving their luggages and each other, by the time I was close enough to board the train. Not being as desperate as the others, both because I was neither time bound, nor direction bound in particular, I moved at a much slower pace and with less urgency, since I was confident that I should be able to make it before the train departs. The guard blew the whistle and the rush increased even more, and I managed to step inside the train’s bogie through the wide open door. The local train doors remained open through the journey. Within a few seconds, there was a sudden jerk as the train started moving, at a very slow pace at first, and there were still people jumping in and luggages being hurled in, while the train was already in motion. I was still standing at the door and watching in a relaxed manner, helped by the fact that I had no major luggage to worry myself about. But then, something happened!
A lady, in her mid 30s, wearing a dull blue sari, attempted to board the train carrying her luggage, a large sack tied with plastic tapes. She placed the sack on the train, but it lost its balance due to the motion, rolled over and fell back on the platform. As it landed on the platform, the binding strap opened up and some of the stuff packed inside the sack, new folded sarees it seemed, dispersed and landed on the platform as well. The lady gave a very desperate look towards others, and seeing no one show any intention to help her out, I decided to do my part as a good samaritan. I swiftly jumped off the train and with a quick movement, collected the sarees lying scattered around and stuffed them back into the large sack. The train was already moving at a higher speed now, so I urged the lady that we had to board it NOW!
To her credit, she was pretty quick with her reflexes, as she picked herself up, and made a rushed attempt to jump into the moving train compartment. It might sound somewhat movie-esque but in reality, jumping into a moving train used to be a pretty common ritual for daily local train passengers. I gave her a push when she made the jump, and that helped her get the required momentum, and much to the relief of both of us, she landed well and stably on her two feet. Once I saw she was settled in, I created some room and threw the sack inside, and saw that it landed safely in as well. She smiled at me and uttered the words “thank you!”, and it felt like a reward more than what I could ask for, at that moment. I shook my head once, to acknowledge her gratitude and then turned my focus back to the one task that remained.
The train had now picked up a reasonable speed, and there were not many people left to jump in. I was already half running to keep up with the moving train, when I had thrown the sack inside, and I estimated that I had a few more seconds to jump in, or the speed will be too much to make a safe landing. So I started running faster, to bring myself to a stable speed next to the moving train and when I felt it was the right time, I prepared myself mentally for that decisive jump. Suddenly, I realised that I was the only one running on the platform at this point, and most passengers had their heads outside the doors and windows of their respective carriages, as they urged me to jump now, or let go! I could sense the concern in their eyes and in their voices.
But I was confident, I could make this jump. Besides, I was too invested in this and couldn’t back out now, as I believe it would have hurt my dignity, to some extent. So I caught hold of the vertical iron handle by the door, and with a firm grip, cleared my way for that final jump. But I looked up to find the lady standing at the doorway in such a manner, as if to obstruct my way into the train. I signalled her to move to her right so I could jump in, but she held her position resolutely, and didn’t flinch at all. Instead, she spoke out in a stern voice;
– “This is not your train! Your’s will leave from platform 11 in another 10 minutes. So hurry up!”
I was dumbfounded and absolutely stunned, as I looked at her face and could not be entirely sure, if I had really heard her voice, or if it was my imagination. But she gently tapped at my fingers around the door handle and almost subconsciously, my hands let go of the handle, and my feet came to a gradual halt, as if someone had applied brakes on them, remotely.
The train whizzed past as I caught one last glimpse of her, smiling at me this time, as she disappeared inside the train, leaving me stranded on Platform no. 7, with a feeling that my mind had lost all its control over my body!