The Train to Howrah

Tatanagar, a popular nickname for Jamshedpur, did not feature on my travel itinerary till a few days back when I was visiting the Steel Plant of Tata.

For a city that is named after the steel magnate himself, it is not surprising that the original name of railway station Kalimati was changed to Tatanagar after the name of city’s founder, Jamshetji Tata.

Tata all the way...
Tata all the way…

After a day spent at the steel factory, I had a slight overdose of Tata with walls, gardens, bus-stops, shops all displaying one and the only name. And I had completely forgotten that even the train I would be riding back to Howrah was the ”Steel Express’!!

Even as I marvelled at the dedication, loyalty, determination and stamina of employees at the steel factory who worked day-night all round the year near the blast furnaces where temperatures were unbearable, I was exhausted by the end of one day tour of one section of the plant. Next morning getting up in the wee hours was a task in itself but a train had to be boarded to get back to Kolkata.

I had hoped to board the train and spend the next few hours snoring away. But, I seemed to be out of luck that day… No sooner had I settled and the train began to gather some speed, that a never-ending swarm of railway vendors swooped down from the pantry car ahead, on the groggy travellers.

‘Aaloo chop, aaloo chop, aaloo chop’ rattled off one, selling potato fritters…’cha, cha, cha’ sang the tea vendor…another one with incense sticks and hand-made cotton wicks spieled off something which my sleep-deprived Bengali-illiterate mind could not comprehend… And at some point I gave up on a wish to doze as my semi-awake brain had gone off in a loop and every time I decided to shut eyes, the high and low-pitched sing-song voices of different vendors would roll into the train compartment again.

Portable book shop?
Portable book shop?

Among all those vendors, came in one book seller, when the train made a brief stop midway. He was not an employee of the railways like other vendors who after their work shift ended would head back home without worrying about the next day.

With some hundred books tied up in a sturdy string, he made his living trying to sell aboard the train to Howrah. What intrigued me was how dexterously he would untie the bundle and fish out a book from the bottom of the pile and re-tie the whole thing again balancing it precariously on his knee all the time.

I wondered how many books he could sell by end of the day? Did he work in a book shop later in the day or was the train to Howrah his only hope? Did he ever read any of those books he lugged all day? What goals did he aspire to meet by each day? How he fed his family?

While I pondered, the train arrived at Howrah and I disembarked promptly….book seller dismissed and forgotten!

It was later, while sorting through the photographs I took on the train ride that I wondered whether I should have bought a book from him instead of just taking his picture? Did I fail to help a person in need?

This ride was definitely niggling at my conscience…..

Comments

  1. Rakesh Pandey

    Loved your journey! Especially the book-seller intrigued me. You should have asked your questions aloud. Although, it seems odd to accost strangers, I’ve found them very interesting. That Aloo Chaap part reminded me of my native Benaras! 🙂

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  2. AMITABHA GUPTA

    Hmm…I used to think likewise about booksellers and other vendors from whom I hardly buy books or other things (other than snacks like Jhalmuri, Chole Mix or if Lemon Tea is available).

    But then I thought that they are professionals like many of us. They do not deserve charity, but honest buyers. In such trains going a short distance like Behrampur, Purulia, Malda and of course, Tatanagar, I have seen they are fairly acquainted with regular travellers who buy books from them only. Sometimes a customer even preorders a book which is not readily available.

    I have bought from them only a handful times, mainly old collectible magazines which they have provided at a reduced price.

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      shoma abhyankar

      It is quite possible what you are saying, that those book seller have regular clients who buy magazines etc but I think even the regular traveller might not be buying a novel so frequently. I was actually feeling bad for the guy for he carried so many books and so much weight. And yes they are not looking for charity …but it is a fact that they struggle to make ends meet.

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      shoma abhyankar

      Yes such vendors are common everywhere and I have bought sometimes a magazine or newspaper but no novel which usually I buy from a book store. Poor guy was carrying around the paperbacks …

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  3. Anil

    Nice blog on a rail journey. I have vivid memories of my journeys from Doon to Bandra which i used to take during my school vacations.It used to be of two and a half day ,the train passing through number of states. By the time one got down the co passengers were almost like relatives.

    Next time do buy a book.

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  4. ~ av

    The steel express in the evening and the Ispat Express in the morning.. The veins that ran the life between TataNgr and HWH. Many a trips done in these two during my early days

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