Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Gagan-babu is the station-master of Sitarampur Railway Station. After serving the railway many years as assistant station-master, Gagan-babu was promoted to the post of station-master at the fag end of his life and posted at Sitarampur station two years ago. Those who joined the Indian Railways with Gagan-babu as assistant station masters are all now superior to Gagan-babu in positions. He remained in the same position from the date of entry to the railways for forty years. If anyone becomes inquisitive enough to enquire about his efficiency it is open for him to find that inefficiency was nowhere recorded in his service book. His colleagues felt pity for him and many of them also felt it their ordained prerogative to advise him to bring the matter of the injustice to the cognizance of proper authorities. But Gagan-babu could not be able to make an application. He carried in him a sense of humiliated self and so deep was this sense of humiliation that he always avoided any discussion about his career. He generally shied away from his colleagues as his very presence amidst them would trigger a sense of pity and compassion in the mind of his friends.

He had no grievance against his authorities. To him reminding the authority of denying him a promotion would be an act of digging out some hidden inefficiency about his performance hitherto unknown to all. So what was the use of making open a point of his inefficiency for a wider public?

It had been very difficult to get an employment when Gagan-babu got an assignment and that too in as big an organization as Indian Railways. Gagan-babu in his childhood had been very fond of reading travelogues and about the places of tourists’ interest. But he could never dream of travelling to far off places like Delhi, Shimla, Kanyakumari etc. They were for the well-off persons to travel in such places. It had not been easy for him to go to Calcutta for attending the interview for the railway service. The up and down train-fares from his village to Calcutta was too much for his father to afford. So after getting the service when he found that he was entitled to get two free passes a year to travel by railways he felt indebted to the railways for being so generous to its employees and with this also, for the first time in his life, Gagan-babu had become relieved to be under the care of such a giant and and generous master.

So it never occurred to him that he needed, by means of an extra effort, to remind the authority that he should get more.

It was after many years Gagan-babu began to find unevenness in the system in respect of treating the employees. He was not considered at par with his colleagues. He found himself as left out at every sorting every year and a day came when he discovered that he had been discarded for something more. He began to feel ashamed of himself and always faced a sense of guilt at any incidence of facing his higher authorities. It was, he thought, a great wrong on his part by failing to please his authority by getting a higher responsibility. He was growing very keen to hide his ‘inefficient’ self from the eyes of all. Fortunately for Gagan-babu he did not have to work with many persons in a small station as assistant station master.

So one day when he received the office order promoting him to the post of station- master he kept an emphatic low profile with his promotion and did not inform any of his colleagues who had been working in other far off divisions of the railways. Losing was not so bad but to receive a crown only for the last two years rubbed salt into the wounded and hidden sense of inferiority.

Gagan-babu’s tenure as station-master in Sitarampur station has now come to an end. He will have to retire today. A young man of his early thirties has arrived yesterday and took charge of the station from Gagan-babu. Gagan-babu had been living here in the railway quarters with his family. He sent them along with all his belongings to his village home a week ago.

Gagan-babu is free today- the last day of his stay at Sitarampur. The young station-master is very smart and has already brought everything of the station under his command in a single day. It has been at his insistence the assistant station master arranged a get-together at his quarters and the three have had a great lunch, the cost of which has been borne by the new station master. There has been no other way of giving a farewell to the outgoing station master.

In the evening all the three-Gagan-babu, the new station master and his assistant are waiting for the last train 2115 UP. Gagan-babu will never return here. The train appears in the far. Suddenly Gagan-babu feels the powerful authority of the railways is coming in the train to bid him good-bye. A sense of repentance darts through his mind.

Gagan-babu has left to join another phase of his life. Does any authority exist there to whom Gagan-babu will have to prove his efficiency anymore, and if yes, what for?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

2115 UP on hidden rails

In one summer afternoon I went to Sitarampur Railway Station at quarter to 6 and sat on the bench on the platform waiting for the last train which was scheduled to arrive at 7.30 pm. So I would have to wait. It was not comfortable and rather bothersome to wait for a long time especially as I was a little restless then in my mind for my uncle whom I wanted to meet as soon as possible. I had received a letter yesterday from my uncle requesting me to meet him as soon as possible for an urgent matter. He had not, in his letter, mentioned the nature of his urgency. He was a bachelor and lived alone with his servant cum manager, Bhutnath, who was very trustworthy and had been living with him for a long time. So I was worried with the word ‘urgent’ in his letter although he had advised me not to be worried and read too much about his request. But it is futile to claim a calm poise of mind if one is summoned to visit someone for an urgent but unknown need. My uncle should have studied a little about human psychology!
Naturally the time passed in a slow pace and played tossing with my worries to every conceivable direction. When I took out the last cigarette, moved to the waste-bin and threw the empty pack into it- the small but convincing light appeared in the far end of the rails. Suddenly I felt indebted to the train.

There train was almost empty as it was a Sunday. I sat beside a window and became relaxed. The body had been feeling uncomfortable for bearing for a long time an unusually heavier mind which it was not accustomed to. It was always pleasant to sit beside a window of a train. Though little could be seen through the darkness outside, I enjoyed the cool air blowing gently over my face and hair. Darkness has also a face. Only she prefers to be enigmatic and likes to reveal much while consciously hiding herself. Night, perhaps, showed much-I thought. I went on discovering that we could see the world through eyes which were dependant of light and we could never be independent of those slaves of light in daytime. We were shown only what were there to be shown in this limited world. But in the night we could find in our own way. And we were the limit.

The dots of lights outside ran past my window. I wanted to see more but-they went past before I could grab them. After some time the world vanished as the night grew. Slowly there appeared a sky above and it expressed with its innumerable stars the hidden hearts of all those now gone hidden in sleep.

Suddenly I found brazen light outside. There were so many people running here and there and coolies with luggage on their heads moving in a single direction as men of sorrows with the burden of life move towards a single destination-death. It was a scene of commotion everywhere. There were none inside my compartment. What station was it? I looked at my watch. It was 11.30 pm. I got down from the train and came to know that the train reached its last station. I had fallen into sleep and had been unaware when I went past Giridi –where my uncle lived. I became frightened at this unimaginable situation. I ran to a railway official in uniform and enquired about the next train to reach Giridi. He informed me that there was no train at that hour of time. I would have to wait in the platform to catch the first 2115 DN tomorrow.

I had never faced such a situation earlier in my life as I had never missed any train for not coming to station in time.

This time perhaps the 2115 UP had run through the hidden rails.

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