Diptarag Bhattacharjee and Indraneel Ganguli narrate a ghastly incident that happened in the 7PM local train to Howrah way back in the early nineties
It was the early nineties. As a Marketing Supervisor at a reputed electrical appliances company, I used to manage the sales and distribution for the entire of South Bengal market. That used to often take me to big and small towns across Midnapore, day trips on local trains from and to Howrah.
This incident is a recollection of one such.
The Calcutta Regional Office was always busy – daily orders, invoicing, collections – most of us, the Marketing Supervisors (the one’s who had none to supervise!), preferred to spend as little time as possible in there. Field work was much better!
South Bengal was my sales beat. From Adra, Amtala, Bakkhali, Raichak, Mecheda, Durgachak, Haldia, Tamluk, up to the Sunderbans. Sometimes on bicycles, cycle rickshaw, and often on foot.
Life was a breeze – book orders for the month, submit invoices on time and travel once or twice a week to collect payment for the previous month. This is the story of a Saturday visit to Midnapore …
The hawkers on a local train – they were brilliant sellers! Their scripts were a real treat (depending on your mood of course). From daily newspapers to rat poison. From guava slices to jhaalmuri (a typical Bengali street food made with puffed rice) … these guys were amazing!
In between work, the real incentive was a lunch at a Pice Hotel. My favourite was the ADARSHA HOTEL, where for a hundred rupees, you were served steamed rice, Daal, Alu Bhaja (potato fritters), Torkari (vegetable), stir fried Morola (small fish), Pabda Shorshe (Indian Butter Fish in mustard gravy), Chutney, Papad and one sweet of the day. Burp!
By the end of the day, en route to the station, I stopped for a quick Bhaanr (earthen pot) of tea at an adjoining tea shop. Overheard among heated debates ranging from Tendulkar’s batting prowess, Amitabh Bachchan’s latest release and Maradona’s dribbling skills was the possibility of the 4:00PM local train to Howrah might be getting delayed due to some work along the train line, somewhere nearby.
“Drat!!!”. The 4:00PM local meant I would reach Howrah by 7:00PM, take an E1 bus to Jadavpore and end the day with hot dinner prepared by Ma. Now, even the train ticket attendant could not predict its arrival … so here’s me, on a Saturday evening, in a desolate platform.
“Hello Ma! Train late, phirte deri hobe.” (Hello Ma! The train is delayed, will return late). No mobile phones those days!
Finally, the train to Howrah arrives at 7:00PM. Using my fourteen-rupee ticket, I board an almost empty train. I drag myself to a compartment towards the front, with the intention of saving time when alighting at Howrah. I try to find a co-passenger but not a soul! Finally, I see a solitary man, hunched comfortably, against a window.
The train leaves the station and gathers momentum. I take a careful look at my co-passenger – it appeared that the man wasn’t very communicative. A serious look, frowned as if he was expecting something. A loose, worn out pullover and a scarf around his neck.
The inquisitive me asked him who he was, what he does for a living and why is he travelling on a weekend, etc. Through the almost monosyllabic and reluctant responses, I figure out that he was an ITI pass-out, an ex train driver, who quit the Indian Railways a few months back.
The train had just past Radhamohanpur and was fast approaching Haur. The man gets up, retrieves an iron rod from below his seat and stands in the alley, balancing and bracing himself, while mercilessly beating the rod to the train’s handstand, in a uniform manner … clang, clang …
Clang … clang … clang … clang!!!
I was aghast! What was he doing??? And why??? Feebly, I shouted above the sound of the moving train, “O Dada, ki korchen ki?” (“Hey brother, what are you doing?”)
Clang … clang … clang … clang!!!
He ignores me and continues beating with his rod … a deafening sound in an empty compartment! It seemed that he was chasing away someone or something … he was almost possessed.
“Oh shut up and let me do my work!!! Can you, just how can you, stop the laughter of the woman who jumped in front of my speeding train, a few weeks back? Happens to me every time the train passes this part of my journey. Just the sound keeps her away!!!”.
I sat back in absolute terror.
He narrates the incident to me vividly. A hijab clad woman committed suicide by jumping under his speeding train, which left him completely terrified. His request to grant him an extended leave to mentally recover wasn’t accepted – hence he quit.
The rest of the journey concluded with not a single word exchanged between us. I took a taxi home and skipped dinner – I was too shaken, too tired and much confused.
The following Monday, there was only one entry on my travel voucher – Midnapore to Howrah, Rs. 14.
DIG-TALES created by Indraneel Ganguli and Diptarag Bhattacharjee
Illustrated by Indraneel Ganguli
Diptarag manages country operations for a US multinational. Photography amateur, food explorer, story teller, cricket aficionado and suffers from wanderlust.
Brand builder, artist-writer, storyteller and lover of world cuisine. With a 25-year career across top advertising firms, telecom and IT, he now runs his Marketing Consulting consortium “ReachIG”.