July 31, 2010

On Rail

The train line that is known as Howrah-Panskura takes one through the inner country anatomy of Howrah – Mourigram, Andul, Sankrail, Bauria, Chengail, Phuleshwar, Uluberia being my usual route – sometimes deeper into Bagnan. The trainride unfolds onto girls on bicycles going to school, fields waiting for rains, local ‘big shots’ loudly declaring their supremacy over the territory in concrete two-storey houses painted in pink, red flags, trinomool flags, colored flags on top of mosque minarets. Women sell guavas in the ladies compartment and men sell clips combs and ribbons. Sometimes awfully-sweet-candy. Invariably a madman or a blindman come on board. The blindman usually sings for alms. The madman is inevitably pushed out at the next station. I am always anxious to notice the sign on the engine compartment of the train as it approaches. If it says Panskura, it means it is going Up, and will pass my station. If it says Howrah, it means it is going Down. Asking people does not help, I have figured, as they have their own definitions of Up and Down. Invariably women meet extended family or neighbors or old school teachers in the ladies compartment. Some share stories of a wedding in the family, some of new jewelry acquired, some express concern over their kids’ health or performance at school. I like to stand near the open door (all the while fearing that I may fall out) to feel the wind on my face. That is on days that it’s not too hot.

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