The Journey of 8:00pm via 12344 Down Darjeeling Mail

This is another story of mine own creation. Since my very childhood I have been fascinated by trains. One of my favourite is the Darjeeling Mail running between Sealdah Jn. in Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri Junction in Shiliguri. This is one of the greatest trains of India. Started in 1878 in pre independent India this Grand Train has come a long way…. So I thought of dedicating a just a piece to this Royalty and here it is.

This story would never had been written if in the early years of my life I had decided not to live on the Railway Station or pick pocket for a living or if there was no Darjeeling Mail…
In the starting years of my life I could never understand the meaning of  an orphan ‘anath’ or whatever they used to call me.  The only thing I knew was that my mother had died just a few months before I could celebrate my first birthday or even call anyone ma. My father left me soon as soon as he found that ‘she’ was dead and told by Raju bhai that a well-to-do man wearing the traditional boardroom uniform – black suit-white shirt-and a checkered tie stepped down from a car probably a Sant-Roe or E-lan-tara and without saying a word ‘dropped’ me in Platform no: 5 and never looked back since. That’s how I came to live in the Railway Station. This station has been my home since the past 14 years. During these years I developed a mutual love for the railways which so generously had given me everything which I had in those days – albeit indirectly.
            Life had been a hell in the station growing up with my friends who came from the nearby bastee everyday at 7 o’ clock and taught me the basic instincts of pick pocketing at an age of 5 years. So pick pocketing became my way of life and also the source of the roti-sabzi three times a day. But you know. . .  men-in-coats with their Me-God-You-Dog attitude are very cunning rascals. Each time I try to go near them someone calls those fatty-blokes with their tummy protruding out in tight khaki shirts and they give me a run for my stolen money. Bloody-Black-Suit-People! In fact due to their such ‘atrocious’ acts I had go sometimes hungry. But Raju bhai whom I am have earlier introduced and who owns and runs the only station eatery ‘Mera Khana’ was a very generous sexagenarian who before closing his eatery always used to leave some leftovers of the day at the steps of his eatery for me. Oh God! Thanks for Raju Bhai who ensured that I slept with a full stomach no matter whatever it the food packet contained.
            Well during the time I had spent on the platform – sleeping on the hard cemented platform with the occasional kicks of yet another Me-God-You-Dog bloke or getting caned by Mr. Protruding Tummy Policeman I never realized that someday I would land up in a position like this…  Sitting in an air-conditioned empty boardroom with minutes to go before I make my final and last presentation before another group of 60+ blokes whose heads are so bald and shiny that you never know whether there was any crop of hair growing on it or not and yes, wearing the traditional black-suit, sipping coffee at 9 in the morning and typing about my journey from Platform no: 5 to the Board Room no: 5 of the largest conglomerate in India on my laptop in English.
          Umm… where to start? So many things. . . It all started on the day I turned 14 on 17th September (actually it’s not my birthday but the day I arrived on the station).
As usual I woke up at 6:30 in the morning after having a ‘good-night’s sleep’ with mongrel dogs keeping company I started my day by first pissing on an empty track keeping an eye for any trains but the most important was that of girls from the nearby bastee who I don’t know why always used to giggle when I passed them. Girls. . . . Inexplicable Human Beings. After my bladder had been emptied I broke a twig from a nearby neem tree and ‘brushed’ my teeth. The day had begun.  Pick pocketing will start exactly at 8:05 am, the time when 12343 Up Darjeeling Mail will pull up into platform no:1 of New Jalpaiguri Junction.
I was also the leader of the only pick pocketing gang of NJP Rly Station having 8 others as my employees. Leadership was built in me which can be evidently highlighted from the fact that none of my employees had been caught by a police.
Exactly at 7:55 I could spot the engine at the distance.  It must be nearing the Route Relay Hut, I thought. I called my gang – it was a meeting to decide who will do what.
“Pinto, Naman and Ashok, you three take the S3 and S4 bogies it is the easiest.”
“Ali, Raj and Nondon go and stand near the foot-over-bridge and look out for any black-suited men they are bloody rascals. If there are any problems run away but not before you have lifted 5 wallets from them. ”
“I will be heading for the AC compartments. We all meet outside near the bus depot at 1 hour from now. Young commandos we have an obligation to fulfill to our stomachs. Godspeed all of you!”
With that little bit of inspirational speech which I make every morning we all parted. The train was just entering the station and the arrival of diesel engine shook the platform. The members of the Ratan (yes this is my name) gang were all in their positions by now waiting for their deep pocketed monsters to step down of their safe compartments. I stood there watching the movements of each and every policeman in the platform and also keeping an eye over my soldiers. By that time the engine was already slowing down and the AC compartments were approaching to the place where I was standing. A light blast of the engine’s horn announced that 12343 Up Darjeeling Mail from Sealdah to New Jalpaiguri had arrived. My work begins now!
The doors of the compartment opened and those filthy rich people who did not care for ‘mongrel dogs’ like us stepped down with their heavy luggage and their fat families. Soon the platform became crowded with happy faces and broken hearted. In the midst of all those I chose my first victim – a black-suited man with graying hair and carrying a light suitcase. I moved up to him and began begging for alms.
“Dada, give me something. I have not eaten anything since yesterday. ”I said with a pathetic face.
Just then I don’t know how that bloke seemed to know me and that too perfectly well. He grabbed my hand firmly and called for someone in a hurry. I wanted to go. I realized that my game was up now all I needed was a safe haven away from this idiot and of course the police. I tried to wriggle free from his grip but he was too strong for my feeble efforts. I was frantic I realized that I was in deep trouble and so started shouting at the top of my voice. In reaction the bloke gave me a heavy blow on my head and I fell down on the hard ground. Then everything went black and could not remember anything what happened afterwards.
“Is he alright?”
“Of course he is.  I don’t see any reason behind why Aakash will not be perfectly alright. Just give him time and then you explain him everything.”
“But he was stubborn the day I met him and I don’t think that there has been any improvement. . . By the way when will Darjeeling Mail reach Calcutta?”
“At 6 in the morning. Mind you, you have very little time left and maybe this journey will be one of your last. It is crucial both for you and Aakash. Use the time carefully. Aakash has grown up so much since the day I left him at the platform in the care of Raju. ” said a middle aged man who was wearing a crisp white cotton shirt and blue jeans. He was so calm rather than his companion who was sitting beside a sleeping boy and was sweating with his eyes continuously getting wet.
When I woke up I found myself in an AC compartment. After the blackout I could not think of any suitable reason how I may have ended here. But I was sure of one thing I was no longer in my safe haven of the station or my gang. I am kidnapped.
“So you have waked up. You see I am a bit sorry for my harsh behavior in the morning. By the way I am Harsh.” said the 30 something man with warmth in his voice. I could see that the gray haired man was still quietly reading the newspaper but I could tell certainly that he was doing it to avoid my eye. I did not understand what was going on and instantly made an attempt to leave the compartment.
“You cannot go anywhere. It’s been 1 minute since we left Kishanganj and the next stop is Malda about 4 hours later. So have a seat and let’s talk”, Harsh said with a smile on his face. Shit! He was right the train had indeed picked up speed and I could see the fading lights of a station moving behind through the glass window.
“Who are you? Why did you bring me here?  If you want your money back then take it all but please leave me alone” I begged. At this the other man tore down his newspaper and barked at me, “We don’t want money. We want you. You have to come with us to Kolkata. No just stop your mouth before I hit you.”
“Ah! Amit why are you so rash. Let him take time to adjust. You have already made a mistake and you don’t have the time to repeat it again. Don’t mind okay, your father Amit Tripathy is always like this since the day he left you, Aakash” pacified Harsh.
“Father! I don’t have a father or mother I am alone. Who the hell both of you are? My name is Ratan not Aakash do you understand?” , I shouted at them.
At this moment Ruia Sr. looked at me in disbelief. I believe he could not find any words to come up for the argument which had just begun. But somehow that man actually spoke up not in a barbaric way but in the same soothing way in which his younger brother Harsh had spoken.
“Aakash look I know this is going to be tough for you. But in reality you are my son. 14 years ago I was compelled to disown you which I admit it was my mistake. I also admit that it is I who have denied you the chance to call someone your mother for I killed her. She was a devilish lady, my son! She married me just take over my bankrupt my company . . .  she never loved you or . . .  me. It was her love for money that led her to strangle you the moment you were born. If I had not been in the hospital then you would not have been sitting in front of me now. You are a son and you are in line to inherit the great wealth of your grandfather, Mr. Ambuj Ruia. If you had been a girl then your mother’s brother would have been the benefiter. I could not tolerate this for any longer so one day after I came home drunk  I saw that she was trying to poison you, my son! This time I could not hold back my anger. I took my father’s gun and pumped those bullets into her body. In the morning I realized my mistake and took you in my arms and left for NJP where I put you in the care of Raju. I did not want the world to know that you are my son after I went to jail. I did not want anyone to know that you are the son of a killer. All I wanted is that you have a happy childhood which should be spent playing and not visiting the jails to meet your father. I tried my best to provide you the best so I paid Raju 5000 every month since then to ensure that you went to sleep with a full stomach and that you should be known as Ratan and allowed to play with the children. I knew that you lived a hard life all these years sleeping in the hard ground and living the life of an illiterate is very difficult and sometimes frustrating. But I am still happy to find you atlast in a perfect condition, although a bit dirty. The first thing I did after getting released from jail yesterday was to call up Raju to find you and prepare you for the reunion. 14 years my boy. . . 14 years I have been away from you but now I will not let you go again, Aakash. From now on I will give you the love of both a father and a mother whom didn’t have. You are my only living family right now. ” said my father who was crying after reuniting with his only son.
I was speechless. I did not have any words. My father and uncle both hugged my dirty body wrapped in dirty shirt and pant which was smelling like a street dog which just had a bath in the garbage dump. Yet that did not deter them from loving their only living family member. I too had a family. I too had a person whom I can call ‘baba’. I too was loved during these 14 painful years by someone who never stopped caring for me even after sitting miles away in a 5X5 room with iron bars.  
The train I realized was the 12344 Down Darjeeling Mail which ironically 14 years ago separated a father from a son. Now 14 years later this grand duke, Darjeeling Mail of the Indian Railway had connected another dot. . .  reunited another family and brought a blissful glee in the hearts of two people just as it had been doing since the past 130 years. From 43UP – 44DOWN to 12343UP – 12344DOWN nothing has changed what has remained is the old charm of the grand duke of Northeast Frontier Railway which will continue to charm its passengers in the years to come. Perhaps that’s why it has been aptly said “New Jalpaiguri springs to life with the arrival of the 43UP Darjeeling Mail and sleeps with its 44DOWN Darjeeling Mail at 8:00 in the evening.”

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