Contrary to the assumption that Asansol would be a lifeless and a non-descript station, one was privileged to be placed amidst its soothing and lively setting. After a quick bath in the open bathing enclosure, I feel refreshed and energised. While beginning my wait for the beleagured Burdwan-Hatia Passenger, I can not resist the temptation to try the famous Jhal Murhi of Bengal. Before the JM(ingredients being soaked gram, hara moong, boiled potato pieces, green chillies, lemon juice, coriander leaves and liberal sprinkling of dalmot) takes its toll, I grab a bottle of ‘authentic’ mineral water.
2. Even though the train is reported late by almost an hour, not even an iota of stress is visible on the faces of the prospective passengers-daily wage earners, Govt.servants, happy go lucky kind of students, power showing cops and responsible looking old couples. They appear enjoying this state of affairs in their own unique ways.
3. When the arrival of train became imminent, hectic pace of activity gets generated. As it came to a screeching halt, ‘rush-ins’ and ‘push-ups’ materialise on the expected lines. Once inside the crowded compartment, my instinct for survival is clearly spelt out. Afterall, I was in a journey mode for good fourteen hours. I was fortunate in grabbing a portion of an empty upper berth. Unlike my fellow passengers in the previous train, the ‘neighbours’ over here look to be spoit brats of the big shots or shall we call them Noveau rich ?.Needless to say, each one was fiddling with the latest Nokia mobile.
Within a few minutes I could confirm their fast, flexible and furious I.T. connections.
4. While the behaviour pattern of a middle aged and a young couple could be termed fairly decent and tolerable, the third ‘live-in’ kind of couple began displaying rather shamelessly, bold, beautiful and mischievous “fit for Bedroom” type of antiques at the drop of hat. They were lost, apparently, in their own fairy world, totally oblivious to the presence of the self-proclaimed conscience keepers like me. While some noble and tradition-bound soul attempted to smile, if not frown upon such an open display of emotions, the passengers in general decided to ignore the activity. Who does not relish this type of free bout of entertainment in a slow moving train? When a kissing and tight-hugging scene(straight from New York or Love Aaj Kal) was on the anvil, the unwelcome appearance of a fat and perspiring TTE took place. The bold show soon got transformed into a cold show. Matters became really worse when scores of passengers were found either ticketless or having exceeded the prescribed limits of a particular length of journey.
5. Having shown my ticket with a confident and beaming look, I look forward to ease myself. I do not have courage to undertake any discharge on seeing the filthy state of affairs of the Loo. Absence of water at the wash-basin adds to my woes. Nevertheless, sipping cups of tea and quietly breathing fresh air from the lush green jungles, in a standing posture near the gate, I ultimately manage to reach Gomoh.
6. Thanks to the misguidance of one of the irresponsible railway employees, I am compelled to go up and come down twice at this historic station, rechristened recently ‘Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose Junction.’
7. Finally, one of the Paan-eating mischievous characters shows me the correct way to the make-shift taxi cum bus stand. No sooner than I realize that I was the lone passenger to be ‘catered to’ after the departure of the last train, I am surrounded by a gang of middlemen and drivers. Even though it was fairly early in the July afternoon, I was impelled to think that I had no option but to act according to their dictates pertaining to the high fare of taxi as the only bus plying in this ‘route’ had left for the day. A running non-stop commentary regarding the prevailing Naxal threat in the area further perpetuates the crisis.
8. A timely intervention by the Manager and his helpful colleague of Bank of India, Gomoh saw me in some safe and secure hands. I was left with no alternative but to consent to pay an exorbitant sum of Rs.950/-for a ride to Hazaribagh against the alleged ‘prevailing’ rate of Rs.1100/-.Once inside the comfortable, brand new Ambassador Diesel car, I begin dozing-off. When the car begins zooming off the beautiful highway, a man in his twenties makes an attempt to occupy the front seat. Mohd. Harry, the stylish driver introduces him as his ‘cousin’. I firmly resist and see to it that the fellow does not get entitled to travel with us.
9. The smooth and fast drive through the thick teak forest turns out to be very pleasant. We hardly feel the impact of summer or the humidity of Monsoon in the vicinity of a place called Bagodar, more so, on hearing some nice old hits from the bygone era.
10. The very opening song – ‘Tu Meri Janu hai, Main Tera Dilwar Hoon……………………………..’ from the superhit ‘Hero’ of 1980 reminded me of the innocent and cute charm of Meenakshi Sheshadri and tough and robust look of Jackie Shroff. A few other soothing numbers from the same film and some other chart-busters of that period keep me occupied for the next half an hour.
11. The lunch break at Tatijharia, 35kms short of Hazaribagh was an eye-opener. Before having a sumptuous and appetising lunch at a Brahmin Dhaba, I did not mind responding to the short call of nature in the open ‘bathroom’. As per local customs, cool water was poured over my hands from a sparkling Lota, followed by the free service of a cotton gamcha to enable me to wipe my face. I was simply amazed on being offered five types of green vegetables, a katori of dal, unlimited numbers of chapatis and a handful of rice for just Rs.18/-. More than low rates, it was the warmth of the bearer and his Dhoti clad master, which won my heart. While departing, I was advised to purchase some hot gulab jamuns. I had to politely decline, as the sweetmeat may not have survived for another week or so.
12. Back on the road, a few more pleasant songs from ‘box-office hits’ prevented me from taking a nap. The villages of Daru,Meru,Amritnagar,Singhani,Lakhe and Korrah look truly transformed and modern. The first view of the outskirts of Hazaribagh is possible as soon as the historic Canery Hill appears on to my right. It was the place that had witnessed the honeymoon of P.M. and S.M. in the early sixties of the twentieth century. Time and tide wait for none.They did not wait for him. They simply flew. Flew with a supersonic speed. P.M., after tasting considerable success, faded with the passage of time. His friends and well-wishers forgot him, sooner than expected. He was destined to confront economic hardships following his decision to give up a government job to explore the ‘green pastures’ of the then booming coal mine industry. He was misled by his own ‘firm’ calculations.
13. Instead of being a leader of his charming family, he soon became a disgruntled follower of his innocent, teenaged off springs. A decision of not giving up smoking and drinks led to the gradual loss of his strength and youth. It ultimately was instrumental in his withdrawal from the main team events. Instead of seeing the budding football talents (including his youngest child) to sprout and grow, he became a sort of vegetable. Frequent trips to Ranchi to seek specialized medical treatment could not also prevent him from further onslaughts.
14. His ‘D’ day came on 29th June 2009, when doctors advised his family members to take him back to his place, wherein not only he had learnt the A B C of football, but he also went on to play at the state level championships. Purely by grace of God, he survived for another three days. The miracle of Homeopathic medicine too contributed positively. A real life drama akin to the closing sequence of the popular Hindi film-‘Anand’ was enacted. He was in a position to regain some strength, gulp liquid food and speak to near and dear ones. I was lucky too to converse with him for a while on phone in the evening of 30th June.
15. On 1st July, the morning and afternoon gave him a ray of hope. The onset of darkness, however, proved fatal. He seemed to have slipped into a kind of ‘end approaching silence’. Though his eating improved, he could hardly utter a word. He left for his heavenly abode at 2.45 P.M. in the afternoon of 2nd July. While every available relative offered him spoons of water as an end heralding gesture, he surrendered, and rightly so, in the most comfortable and secure lap of his life companion. While some new P.M’s and S.M’s were thronging the cool confines of the Canery Hill, the end came slowly but painfully for P.M. Death is a harsh but hard reality. Everyone has to, or is compelled to believe it.
16. Thinking of all this, I gather enough courage to enter the abode of now “late” Phat Mama. His last few incomprehensible words spoken in the evening of 30th June still echo distinctly into my ears. True to my nature, I do not break nor do I lose heart. I meet Guria, Sonia, Nitin and Jeetu first. Thereafter, I spot Shiela Mami in a semi-dark corner of the house. Expectedly, tears begin rolling down her cheeks. I bow and hold her affectionately. Console her profusely. What else could I do in this hour of grief? Her cheerful and once vibrant life had come to a standstill. She was perhaps destined not to move on the main line any longer. Rather, she was to drift towards the side lines of life as per our wretched Hindu customs.
17. We should see to it that such fine persons are not ignored and confined to the dustbins of history. They were not to be loose-shunted. However, thanks to the possible preference and tantrums of her immediate relatives, life as a low profile person in a slow motion should be a safer course of action for her.
18. I whisper all this into my own tired ears while hitting the pillow in the erstwhile drawing room of Chotka Mama. Before closing my eye-lids, I stare at his garlanded portrait. Thereafter, I fold my hands to seek his blessings to take note of the hard fact that two more of his brothers and a sister-in-law had bid farewell to the mystical world in quick succession to qualify to give him company in heaven.
19. The next morning, snow-white Seine greets me through his wagging tail. Behind him is Babli, the epitome of selfless service. As expected, she is gracefully holding a glass of fresh, sparkling water for me. One person has departed, others have to carry forward the journey of life. Perhaps, she reminds me of that. While looking at the rising Sun, I see a glimmer of HOPE.