Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Another Travel Diary

I spent the past few days traveling to my Mamaji's place, both in Tatanagar and Dhanbad. The journey has a sorry start. I was supposed to board the Steel Express that arrives at 7:20 pm. So on last Friday's night, in order to reach by 7 pm, I took a rickshaw at 6:30 pm. On the way to the railway station, I noticed something odd; that no vehicles are coming from the opposite side. It was a strange feeling, but I don't know how I noticed this and actually chose to ignore this as coincidence. But I noticed the reason very soon. When I reached the railway crossing, I found that there was a train standing across the railway crossing. This was again strange as I had never seen this before. I dodn't remember any signal just after the crossing, and I would regard it a folly of the engineers if this were the case. But soon, the red-light thoery was dismissed. People started coming looking for something with torch-lights. Now I proposed a new thory.....A chain pull. But alas, even this was not true. When they zeroed in onto a place, instead of climbing the train and catching the culprit (who, if existant, must have already fled), they started seeing under the tracks. A few more people joined in. One of them came back to tell that a scooter-rider has been hit by the train and has died.

That the crossing was manned should not create stirrings in your mind. There is hardly anyone who abides by the dropped level-crossing bars by his own choice. All the vehicles, including bicycles, rickshaws, scooters, etc., use their flexibility to create a mockery of the crossing. Even I do it, though only after being triply conscious. But anyway, someone had been in hurry to have missed noticing the incoming train. From what I gained from eye-witness account (they spoke in Bangla, and I understand it in parts), the man's scooter got shut down on the crossing, and the man tried to start it instead of steering it to safety first. The man managed to get the scooter going, but the train was also quick to knock him off. I couldn't help blaming the IIT authorites who have for some mysterious reasons, kept the joint project with the railways of creating an over-bridge over the said crossing in back-burner for years.

Coming back to the story, I waited for the train to start again as it was not possible to cross the level-crossing on the rickshaw. But then people told that this is not going to finish off quick. There will be a police enquiry and only after it will the train move. This all will take close to half-an-hour. I was undecided whether to believe their speculations or not. But within a few minutes I realized that I better do something quick as time was running out. I gave a 5 rupee note to the rickshaw-wallah and crossed the crossing by going over the train. I had a few moments of panic when I was aboard the train. After managing to board the train and before I got to the other side, the train gave a whistle, prompting people to board the train from where I was supposed to get down. The big shoulder bag I had added to my misery by restricting free movement. I panicked as I knew that if the train started going, there is no chance that I can get off it before the next station, which will surely mean two things: Missing the train to Tatanagar, and a hefty penalty. Fortunately nothing happened and I crossed over to the other side without any problem (as if this was not enough). On the other side, I took another rickshaw to the railway-station, and I realized that I got it just in time as on reaching the railway station, the Steel Express entered the platform with me.

I spent the next day at Tatanagar with my eldest uncle (Mamaji) and his family. My grandmother was also bed-ridden owing to a fractured hip. After spending the Saturday and the morning of the Sunday, I took Swarnarakha Express to go to Dhanbad. On the day I was to travel, my uncle gave me a suggestion. That instead of taking the train to Dhanbad, I should get down at a station called Patherdih. The reason he gave for it was quite interesting.

Not long back, the said train travelled from Tatanagar to Dhanbad going through Patherdih and then Jharia before going to Dhanbad. Then happened the great fires of the underground that have been raging even till today. That led to a sinking of the section around Jharia as the coal under it gave way. Since then, the train has been retained to run till Dhanbad, but from Patherdih onwards it now takes an alternate route by going around Jharia. This means that the train has to change direction and now the situation is that while the journey can be completed in under 45 minutes if we take a Auto-rickshaw from Patherdih, it takes almost one and half hours to complete the journey if we continue to stay in the train. This translates to a near complete emptying of the train in Patherdih. This is a chain reaction as a more empty train means a greater chance of incidents like robbery and this prompts even more people to leave the train.

So even I unboarded the train to get into a crowded tracker (I believe its called so) to my Mamaji's place. That the tracker was crowded looks like an understatement to me. Though designed to hold eight people (including the driver), it moved with 15 people on board. And this even with the condition that the roof was so low that it was impossible to stand upright.

I spent the next few days in Dhanbad (upto 2nd November). I don't play with crackers as I have a history of smoke-related problem since the Diwali of 2000. But anyway, this never came into picture owing to the tight schedule of pujas. We had a Laxmi puja at home from 7 pm to around 8 pm. After that we took a cab to reach the shop where we had a Puja from 9 pm to around 10 pm. After that, we went to a nearby Kali temple to have a darshan and bhog and by the time we reached home, it was already midnight. I came back the next day from the usual passenger train to Adra followed by Rupashi Bangla Express to Kharagpur.

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