Written on 28 September 2008, Sunday
If one wants to reach Deoghar from Bhubaneswar, it is pointless to first take a flight to Kolkata and then a train from Kolkata to Deoghar. It is pointless at least when you have landed in Kolkata already at 10 in the morning but when your train for Deoghar shall depart not before 4 in the evening.
Yes. I had six hours to kill in Kolkata yesterday. This is one reason why I simply walked out of the airport. No taxi. No auto. No bus. Nothing. Just walk.
I kept walking in whichever direction I felt like; whichever direction my feet felt like – walking on the damp roads of cool but humid Kolkata – walking past piles of garbage and men and women working on those piles – segregating recyclable waste from the good-for-nothing waste. The shoulders took their own time to realize what I was upto and after a while they stopped complaining about the two – not so light – bags that they carried.
After about a little more than two hours of road roaming that included just a single ten-minutes pause (solely to avoid getting drenched when it started raining heavily), I suddenly realized that I had reached an interior region of a very isolated colony. Shoulders didn’t seem too happy. I could feel a sense of anguish even in the legs, in spite of the fact that they were used to running ten kilometers in one hour.
I spotted an auto. It was the only auto and more than that, the only public transport medium that could be seen in 360 degrees. And that auto was leaving. Before it could disappear, leaving me with my tired shoulders and legs in the middle of nowhere, I waved at it. It stopped.
I had no clue where I was. I had no clue where the auto was headed. And believe me, I liked it that way.
There already was a passenger inside. So this was a shared auto, I concluded. I sat inside. Another passenger joined and the auto started. No words spoken. After fifteen minutes of ride on bumpy roads, all the passengers left the auto at a market place. I stepped out too. At least, now I knew that I was in the middle of something. A market place.
It was 12:30 already and I had no idea how far Howrah station was. I could see few city buses running. Could one of them be going to Howrah? Wish I could read the Bengali letterings on the buses. A shopkeeper was of help. He made it clear that none of the buses would go to Howrah. 🙂
I refused to take a taxi even when I found some of them. A taxi wouldn’t be half as fun. There still was plenty of time left before I could come anywhere close to missing my train.
Another shopkeeper was of slightly greater help. Bus no. 211 would take me to XYZ from where I could take a ferry for Howrah, he told. The ferry ride was supposed to be a ten minutes thing and everything sounded fun. After all, I had never boarded a ferry in Kolkata before.
The only problem was that it was difficult to guess what XYZ meant. Names of places when delivered in thick Bengali accent are too difficult to comprehend even for someone like me who has grown up in a neighboring state. So I was in this bus no. 211 soon, but without any clue where exactly the bus was going. XYZ! Besides telling the name, which I couldn’t pronounce for nuts, the shopkeeper had been kind enough to also let me know that XYZ was supposed to be the last stop. That’s exactly what I told the conductor when he asked me where I wanted to go to. Last stop. 🙂
This was a first timer in a public bus in Kolkata. The bus interiors were all wooden, almost like that of the trams that run in the city. I forgot that I had a camera in my phone then, or else I would have clicked some pictures.
An old Bengali man entered the bus at one of the stops. I don’t remember the last time I ever left my seat for anyone as long as I was not seating in some ladies-only or handicap-only seat. Yesterday, I said to myself: if you can’t even be of help to this old man who is standing right in front of you, how can you help anyone else? How can you start doing what you think you are meant to do in this life?
As I stood up, letting the oldie sit, it felt so much better even when I was all tired. The meaning of life is changing, and for good.
Time was ticking by but the last stop, wherever it was, whatever it was, didn’t seem to be arriving. I started to get impatient. Traffic was all messed up and slow on the roads with water clogging and all that. Shit! What if there was no last stop and the bus ran in a loop? But then I had a ticket for the last stop, right? Oh no, what if the conductor hadn’t heard me properly? Did he mistake my ‘last stop’ for some ‘ABC’ stop and gave me a ticket? Did that mean, I had already passed by the stop where I was supposed to get off and catch my ferry? Oh my, oh my!
I rushed to the conductor and told him that I wanted to go to Howrah and that he should tell me where to get off. The moment I asked this, he told me that I could get off then and there and take any bus for Howrah. I looked outside. The bus was passing through downtown Kolkata. There were millions of other buses running outside. Some of them must indeed be headed towards Howrah. But what about the ferry? He told me that from the last stop if I walked for two, three Kms, I could catch the ferry. Ah! So something like a last stop did exist! I decided to remain seated.
After leaving 211 at its last stop, I finally took another ‘bus’ for Howrah station instead of trying too hard to find the place from where the ferries left. At about 3:30 PM, I was sitting on my seat in Mithila Express. This is when I met the best dressed beggar that I had ever seen in my life.
The Last Stop, Kolkata
Howrah Railway Station, Platform no. 8
She must have been about 40 years old. She was slim for her age and had a typical Bengali face. She wore a very clean and good looking black sari. She could speak fluent Bangla, broken English and an equally broken Hindi. For the first three minutes of her speech, that was an English-hindi-bangala mix, I could not make out what was it all about. Finally it was clear. She wanted money. She told me that she was collecting money so that she could treat her dad who was supposed to be an ex-railway employee and now suffering from TB. I meet such people all the time and almost always at railway stations, outside restaurants etc. In Chennai, the typical way such conmen, usually a troika of a dad a mom and a kid, would start off would be with an opening sentence like this: ‘bhai saab, kyaa aap Hindi samajh sakte hain?‘. Try saying yes and you will be asked to help the family with monitory support because either they lost all their stuff while coming from Jaipur to Chennai. If not the Jaipur Chennai tragedy then some other nice story aimed at triggering your sympathy button. There are two types of beggars – the honest ones and the cheaters. These conmen belong to the second type. That lady who came to me to tell her story as I was seated inside my compartment, belonged to the second type. Worse than an honest beggar. And it was the first time I was seeing a beggar trying to tap the 2 tier AC segment. This was the classiest act of begging I had seen.
Almost every time you have refused to buy what these conmen tell you, don’t you think about a what if case? What if one of them was indeed genuine? I think about that too. To make myself feel better, I, almost always convince myself that the chances of somebody genuine asking for ‘even 10 bucks’ with such self-confidence and in such a balanced tone are too low to worry about. These good actors should give theater a shot, if they indeed want to make money by pretending to be what they aren’t.
Today is a Sunday and it has been raining here in Deoghar since morning. Today is day one of my vacation. And I am already missing my work.