Curse of a city slicker: aren’t things supposed to be orderly?

… Nope, I learn as I negotiate the vagaries of the town and its sweet-n-sour ways

pujab

Puja Bhattacharjee | November 6, 2012


Nandaria is bright and happy during day. Salboni is a study in contrast once dusk takes over: not exactly a walk in the park for an urban dweller.
Nandaria is bright and happy during day. Salboni is a study in contrast once dusk takes over: not exactly a walk in the park for an urban dweller.

Among many disadvantages of being a city slicker is the level of expectation that comes almost guaranteed. A railway station, for instance, ought to have an enquiry counter. Or roads, for that matter, are thrown open to the public only after the streetlights are put in place. We take them for granted

Midnapore, though, is teaching me small aspects of life that I would not have encountered in an urban landscape.

I had a post-lunch appointment with the block development officer (BDO) of Salboni today, and there are two ways of reaching Salboni from Midnapore town: a train or a bus. Slightly more familiar with trains, I headed for the railway station.

Each time I am at this station, apprehension takes a firm grip over me. The first worry is the train I am supposed to take, and what time it leaves the station. Midnapore station does not have an enquiry counter, so enquiring from the ticket counter is the only, though not a very good, option. It is a very busy station and people don’t have the patience to wait while the commuter at the counter takes her time checking the train timings. They just push past you and offer their fare at the counter.

I had protested on one such occasion and was told to go enquire elsewhere — “the train is waiting on the platform and I have to hurry,” I was told, and not too politely at that.

Today I was lucky. A person at the guesthouse where I am residing had the train-timing chart and I knew which train and its time.

Usually, my next apprehension is from which platform the train leaves. As a rule, I enter the station and look for someone to pop that question to. When lucky, a ticket collector can be spotted on the platform. I don’t have faith in the loudspeaker announcements, as the voice is often garbled and I have to listen a few times to figure out what is being said.

Bad luck; no official in sight today. I made my way toward one of the officious-looking rooms, where a lady sat reading the day’s newspaper. I knocked; she looked up; went back to her paper. I approached her gingerly with my query, she told me, a little curtly, to pay attention to the announcement.

On that loudspeaker.

Luckily, I could make out what the loudspeaker said and made my way towards the correct platform. The train arrived on time but left Midnapore half an hour late, dropping me at Salboni at 4.30 pm. The BDO’s office is a few minutes from the station. I was familiar with the route, having gone there once before.

The BDO was gracious. While talking to him dusk fell and I couldn’t help but notice how dark it is outside.

I asked him if any of his staff was headed toward the station and that I would like to accompany them. As I made my way out — it was quarter to six — I realised how dark it actually was: not a single streetlight was in sight. I was silently thanking God that two other people were accompanying me to the station. There was no way I could have made it there alone — the only lights came from houses beside the street.

It was so dark I couldn’t even see if I was stepping into potholes, had there been any. Luckily one of the gentlemen was carrying a torch.

The train, Rupasi Bangla Superfast Express, was not very crowded but finding a seat was difficult. Some passengers had kept their luggage on the seat instead of the overhead storage space. One of them did not answer when I asked her if anyone was occupying the seat. Another said the seat was too wet from the rain to sit. I could tell he was lying since I saw there was no space in the overhead luggage storage.

In a more urban setting I would have argued but here I moved on to another compartment and found a seat. I noticed a few men in khakis with guns in the compartment, travelling both ways. I couldn’t tell if they were CRPF.

It took exactly 15 minutes to reach Midnapore. It had been raining heavily for the past few days. Thankfully, I got a rickshaw and reached the guesthouse in a few minutes.

 

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