Life moves on…
My Cellphone rang and woke me up from my nostalgic travel through memory lanes.
It was around 11.20 pm when we reached Khapoli on a chilly December night. We were traveling by the 9pm Local from CST to Khapoli. I had never traveled out of Mumbai or even in Mumbai in a local train at that hour of the night. It hardly made any difference — trains were bustling with human beings at least up till Kalyan station and even a little later. I could not believe my eyes to see that so many people travel so late from offices to their homes in distant corners of Mumbai suburbs. In Odisha there is not much of a crowd after 9pm. The office-goers who come from smaller towns like Dhenkanal, Angul, Talcher, Khurda to work in offices at Cuttack or Bhubaneswar usually return by the 5: 15 pm local and reach their homes by 7.30-8.00pm.
I used to travel from Bhubaneswar to Angul/Dhenkanal every Saturday-Sunday and sometimes even on holidays in this particular local train for 7 years; first during Graduation and then during my University days in Post graduation and M.Phil. Either my parents or my uncles would be waiting to receive me from the station. Every time I came back home from the hostel on weekends, I would be received in a grand fashion. When grandpa was alive, he would come to pick me up or drop me while on his morning and evening walks to the Dhenkanal station. I would jump down from the boggy, hug him as if I had not seen him for ages (it might be even less than a week) and then happily chatter away about my friends/teachers in college or University till we reached home, where specially made delicious baingan bharta and mushroom deep fried with garlic and steaming hot rice would be eagerly waiting for me. I think I lost my best friend when I lost him. Grandmom and my aunty sadly would lament on my health condition because of malnutrition in the hostel food 🙂 .
Probably, this nostalgia was the reason that when we were offered a “Special Paper” in PG English, I had enthusiastically opted for a course in “Professional Writing” and chose to write my dissertation on “The Life in Local Trains”. There were diary entires, interviews with commuters, history of the train, letters and statistics collected on the 5:15pm local train for the dissertation. In fact, at the peak of my data collection I had traveled almost everyday by that train to observe and record events and take snaps of various landmarks. I had a very strange, mysterious bonding with the Local trains, as if these trains gave a miniature version of my world.
All these memories of the past years had come drifting towards me when I saw a group of office-goers boarding from different stations, in one compartment on the CST-Khapoli Local. Probably they were using this one compartment for many years and were now friends or perhaps family. Interestingly, one of them carried a mouth organ, another a dafli and another a flute. While some of them sang some Marathi and Hindi numbers, the others’ played on these instruments or listened silently. I thought there was some special occasion and asked one of them sitting close to me that what was the reason for celebration. He replied with a smile; “nothing! we do this everyday! we celebrate everyday…we come from different stations and from different offices, but make it a point to meet in the train, share some joys or our troubles, sing, laugh and get down at our respective stoppages. This has happened for years now.” He grinned and the song : “hai apna dil toh awara na jane kis pe ayega” …wafted in the air. Everyone in the compartment was silent, listening intently to the songs; no one felt like talking…I suppose everyone had some or the other nostalgia to go back to.
These people specially reminded me of an event which I have documented in that dissertation on local trains. It’s the story of one particular gentleman who had traveled in the 5:15pm local from Bhubaneswar to Dhenkanal for 30 years of his service in the AG Office (Attorney General’s Office) in Master Canteen Bhubaneswar. He worked as a senior clerk there.On the day of his retirement from service, the entire compartment (he had boarded the same compartment for the last 30 years) and his fellow office goers had organized a grand farewell for him in the compartment itself. People sang, made speeches on the small tid-bits of their experiences with him, cried, hugged him and then saw him off with tears as he got down at Dhenkanal station on his final day from work. I was very young then to understand the realities of these emotions — because I had everything and everyone around me at that point of time.
But, of course the event had intrigued me and my imagination. I tried to locate his home in the town and went for an interview for the dissertation. He had told me during the interview that more than his family he valued the friends in the train. They shared all his day-to-day stories, gave valuable advice like his son’s job or a daughter’s wedding or official tussles. They had laughed, played cards, gossiped against their office colleagues, sometimes also fought, but most importantly had grown old together. He added that he will not miss office so much as much he would miss his commuting in the train. “Sadly I will not meet my fellow passengers any longer as I will not need to travel from this small town to Bhubaneswar anymore. My friends in the train have shown more patience and have listened to me more than my own family”... I saw his eyes moisten.
The picture of the old gentleman vividly came before my eyes in the CST-Khapoli local train after another 7 long years of my life. I realized seeing these people around me on the train, that there are certain human emotions which cut across narrow language, caste and cultural divides and time. When the politicians and even some theoreticians seek to divide my nation on the basis of caste and language politics, I still can see that the emotion which people have in Odisha is similar to that which they have in Maharastra or maybe elsewhere in the world — the emotional bond of one human being with another.