Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Journey to School - I

Since I joined Bantul Mahakali High School, somewhere in a far-off area in rural West Bengal, I have been inundated with questions. Curious friends want to know how life is at this village school for someone who has studied and worked in the city and knows nothing of what life can be 50kms away from the heart of Calcutta. I have tried to answer these questions to the best of my ability but there is just so much to say that nothing I could write on chat boxes or say on phone conversations could totally encapsulate my experience. A series of blog posts on my life at school was long overdue! With the doors of this co-ed institution shut for three consecutive days and the weather enforcing me to keep my own door firmly bolted, it’s time to keyboard my story.

This was going to be my first journey on a local train! Yes, when I mention this to anyone, they don’t believe me. It surely does not make me feel proud of this dubious distinction but I have never traveled short distances by train. I didn’t need to. I was gearing myself up for the worst when my colleagues laughed at my question, “Where should I punch the monthly ticket?” These two friends are regulars on local trains and had told me to buy a monthly ticket for convenience. I was of the opinion that they could be punched, much like Metro Rail tickets. When my colleague took out his ticket and railway ID card, I had my first look at what I needed to be armed with to take local trains on a daily basis.

I had done a reconnaissance a few days before I was scheduled to join and knew that it would take me a couple of hours to reach the school. I started off this reconnaissance trip with a lot of foreboding. I had no idea how it is going to be. I had a rough sketch of where I needed to go and what I had to take. The rest would unfold when I hit the track. High on a desire to explore and quite low on enthusiasm, I took off. I had to walk for 5 minutes to reach the bus stop. If I had to go to Calcutta, I need not have walked because a bus going that way would have saved the trouble for me. Anyway, not to be weighed down by the loss of this luxury, I took a bus to the train station. The bus was near-empty because office goers were headed the opposite way, towards Calcutta. I was going away from it. The bus stopped on a flyover above the train station. I had to climb down about two levels to reach ground floor.

The way to the school was a series of questions. The first one was, “Where is the ticket counter?” I had no choice but to depend on random strangers to locate a destination where I might spend the rest of my professional career. I was shown a structure which was more like a concrete hut with a tin roof and polished marble floors. The rain in the morning had left patches of water on the floor and years of use have eroded the surface. Walking carefully, I reached the ticket counter. Two counters were on the sides of a room that can pass off as a rectangular hall. Rubbish was heaped on at least two of the corners. An old woman was strategically standing between the counters, expecting passengers to drop their loose balance into her begging bowl. Many were disappointing her.

I bought my ticket and headed for the over-bridge that will take me to another platform. Again, this information was indebted to a stranger. The climb up made me sweat badly and I realized with a tinge of fear that maybe these flights of stairs, the flyover and now this, will be difficult to manage some years down the line, if I continue to skip exercises. I got to the right platform and asked a tea vendor when the train will come. He replied that it was due and anytime it would arrive. True enough, I saw it chugging in lazily. With each passing day, I have learnt to trust the information of train hawkers more than railway time tables or officials. Seats were available on the train. The same reason, like the bus, applied to save me from another physical exhaustion. I was on my way.


c said...

Idle mind is not always a devil's workshop. It can rock at times.

Deb said...

Nice indeed. Eager to read more in upcoming series. :)And why don't you put some photos here? I hope you carry a high-end camera mobile phone. Those shots would make the story more juicy with your as usual superb writing style. Keep up :)