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.
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.
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…..