Thursday, February 8, 2007

EXPERIENCING “5 DOWN” IN THE EVENING


During my summer vacations I used to visit my maternal village called Barundai in Orissa. It had a small mofussil railway station by the name of Baitarani Road which served near by villages as far as 8 k.m and lies on the main line of Howrah and Chennai. Its name has been so as it is very near to the great river called Baitarani which is approximately 6 kms from the station. Few trains stopped including some express trains like East coast express (Howrah to Hyderabad) and Tirupati Express (Howrah to Tirupati ). Apart from that few more passenger trains halted there for the daily traders and office goer’s convenience.

The place itself is serene with a calm atmosphere. Big Banyan trees, Jackfruit trees along with Bougainvillea shrubs all formed the flora community of the railway station. Crows would parch on these trees and feel jealous of the pigeons that have made their nests all around the station master’s room. Station master’s cabin has only three rooms. He is the supreme commander of this small battle field. Be it, issuing tickets, handling telephones, making entry to log books etc etc….. Another room meant for parcels is also there but I have not seen it ever getting opened except for Vishwakrma Puja when all rooms of the stations are cleaned and poojas performed. After all Lord Vishwakarma is the mechanical and civil engineer among Gods. A small waiting room is attached to the station masters cabin. But hardly people sit and wait in that room. But once in every 5-6 years it acts as a good shelter to people whose house gets washed in cyclones. A beetle wallah sits in the waiting room catering to needs of passengers in the form of pan, candies and biscuits. Nothing has changed in the architecture of the station. Rumours are going on that a foot over bridge would be constructed this year for the convenience of passengers. But I will be the person who will be very sad the day it gets actualized as I hate changes being made into the station, my station. After all I have been the king of this railway station for past 16 years not to forget 8 years of princedom.

My first experience of Baitarani Road railway station goes back to as far as when I was a child of 4 -5 years. My father would take me to the station along with my mother. There we would sit on a cement bench and they would go on talking about the various sahis (village settlements) and there day to day living. As other Indian couples, they would also fight over some issues which I don’t remember. Generally during that evening time a train called 5 down would come from Puri going towards Kharagpur, carrying all sorts of people. Trader’s especially vegetable traders, students, railway workers and people with their daily purchases from the near by station called Jajpur Road. Bengalis in the village formed a formidable part of the population and they too would return in the same train after completing their daily office work in the near by places. They would be dressed in their neat and clean white dhotis with beetle red mouth. In fact Bengalis in our village have a great track record in railways in the form that many have been station masters over in Baitarani Road. They all have settled over here and have made Barundai, their permanent homes. No more they are outsiders to Oriya people. I would get over excited seeing the train slowing down as it crossed the station master’s office.

Rickshaw pullers especially Raghu mamu (mamu in Oriya means uncle) would line up near the old iron gate of the station to fetch some passengers. I used to call him uncle as he stayed near my grandfather’s house. He was the so called shrewd aide of local M.L.A, Ashok Das and was the main person responsible for political debates in the chai stalls. Since Ashok Das was one of my grand father’s political rivals, I always looked at Raghu mamu as one from the enemy camp. They all would carry passengers to near by villages, even to places like Makundpur about 8 kms from the station for mere 10 rupees. Whole village bazaar would come alive with the ringing sound of the rickshaw bells. The sweet shop owners, the vegetable shops, the grocery shop owners will all be looking at the people who would be moving in the rickshaws. A buzz would get around the market place that Down (short form for 5 Down) has reached. I never got the logic that why day in and day out people of our village get excited with a train reaching the station. It is as if the first time experience of people of Malgudi when train reached their station for the first time. The railways are itself an integral part of Barundai community. The station was built by the British and had importance as at that time this was the station for delivering postal letters and documents to near by places. Present day neighbouring big station, Jajpur Road was a very small station by the name of Dolipur. My grand father has seen the trains run from the first day itself through this line which connects Howrah with Chennai. Then it used to be under one of the British companies called BNR i.e. Bengal Nagpur Railway. That is the reason why I think that people of Barundai have trains in their blood.

I still remember that around 5 pm, the tiny railway canteen run by Bisia, the 40 year old grey haired would also get crowded. People would throng around the canteen for tea and sweets like Gaja, a sweet made out of cheese. My father would fetch me some Indian donuts and potato snacks (vada and alu chops). I would relish that along with some black salt. Some guys of the village would hang around in other cement benches and would gossip around. Now also when my father goes to our village, he makes it a point to go to the station and sit for a while. I am sure in the calmness and serene atmosphere of the station, thoughts regarding the past might be cropping up in his mind. As I grew up, I was astonished to see the same tradition continuing. Tradition of people hanging around the railway canteen hut. Gossip of local politics and trade would go on and on. But there is a difference. Same, small railway canteen hut is still there but it’s closed. Poor Bisia instead of paying hefty sum to the railway authorities (you need to pay some amount to the railway authority for running the railway canteens, even in small stations) has opened a small chai stall near by the station where he doesn’t need to pay anybody. Some times when I visit the station these days I miss those snacks and tea of the canteen. Perhaps, that poor old canteen hut still waits for some body to come and start again the small business of selling tea and hot vadas.

But how can I forget the pleasure that I derived from eating those snacks in the platform. So, these days I make arrangements on my own. I would give 20 rupees to one of my friends Jaga, who would buy some vadas, boiled eggs and fried papads and reach the station, where I would be waiting. Then like two hungry mangy dogs we would fight upon the last piece of vada. It would be generally 7 pm by that time. Time for the prestigious, double engine, 24 coaches, Howrah- Chennai Coromondal Super fast to cross the small Baitarani Road. The station peon will be ready with the small, traditional green lanterns. Those lamps modern day children may not be able to see again with battery operated torches being operated these days. Coromondal would approach very slowly towards the station and as soon as it crosses the platform, speed would go up. As if taunting the station master – “look your station is too small in comparison with my reputation “. Faded faces of Madrasis packed in the bogies would move too fast to actually see them. We would sit there and talk for some more time after drinking tummy full of water from the station hand pump. How can two tense youths who had a lot of discussions regarding politics, village life, career, and most importantly girls can live without tea? So tea would be ordered to the tea seller Haria, who would be then packing up to go in the arriving D.M.U (the local train from Bhubaneswar to Bhadrak). This train would be the penultimate train that would halt in the Baitarani Road station that day. Haria would be ready to go to near by Manjuri Road, which takes 10 minutes in D.M.U after selling teas in trains, between Jajpur Road and Bhadrakh. Poor chap after hard days of work would hardly have collected around 100 rupees. 10 rupees would be kept for giving bribe to the police man next day on train, as he is not a licenced hawker. By this time D.M.U would be sounding horn from about 1 km. Some old, poor villagers would be ready to go to Dulakhpatna, Manjuri Road, Kenduapada…… Tired office clerks and students would get down from D.M.U after hard days gossip in Bhubaneswar.

After D.M.U had left by around 8:30, whole platform would be silent with some barking street dogs playing around. Station peon Kolha Buddha would start rubbing Khaini in his palm and waiting for next order to wave the lamp for the next train. In the mean time his son would have reached there along with the night meal in an old silver Tiffin box.

Time for us to leave the station and go to our home where hot fish fries would be waiting for us on the dining table. Station master would be picking the ringing phones again and again and would be answering in soft calm voice – Baitarani (the informal code in place of “hello” to talk with other station masters). At around 10:30 pm, Bagha Jatin Passenger (named after famous freedom fighter Jatin) from Kharagpur to Jajpur Road would arrive to find handful of passengers (some time none). Still the station master’s phone would keep on ringing reminding him that he needs to keep awake along with Kolha Buddha to wave green lanterns to the night expresses -Utkal Express, Puri Express, Chennai Mail……………………list goes on till dawn.

Bhitar Kanika, Chandaka, Chilika, Simlipal, Tikarpada, Gahirmatha, Nandan Kanan,Ambapani, Badarama, Balukhand, Baisipalli, Belghar, Debrigarh, Hadagarh, Karlapat, Kotagarh, Khalasuni, Kuldiha, Lakhari, Padamtala, Satkosia, Sunabeda, Ushakothi ,Darjeeng, Dairingbadi, Barunei, Dhamra, Chandbali, Tensa, Narayani, Saptasajya

 

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