I had to go to Kolkata for a relative's wedding during the last visit home. Hadn't been to Kolkata since the last visit I made to take CAT in the early winter of November. This time however, there was nothing to worry about, test or the distance of the location I was supposed to reach or the time by which I should be there. Instead of taking a direct train to Dumdum (as any sane human being would do) I decided to take a round-about route only the be able to feel the pulse of the city once again. I decide to reach Howrah by a train, then take a minibus to the nearest metro station (depending on the route followed by the bus it could be Central, Esplanade or even Park Street), go to Dumdum on the metro and take a rickshaw to my relative's house.
As the designated day came I got onto the Howrah bound Agnibina Express (still known as Bidhan to the common man - sometimes a change in the name only popularizes the older name to a greater extent). The journey to Howrah was quite uneventful, if I decide not to mention the way in which the twenty something commuter letchs at every female form of any age, seated anywhere within the limits of visual contact. Looks to me, the average working male in the Asansol-Kolkata belt is starved of female company!
Alighting from a train at Howrah station has always been a different feeling altogether. Its been one of awe mingled with fear in the beginning (but that was mostly because a visit to Kolkata was usually made for the purpose of writing a test) which slowly transformed to one of distaste (in the formative years, I used to think of Kolkata as a huge, dirty city filled with beggars and undernourished children running along the footpaths) and finally into a feeling of recognition and love for the city that is the symbol of all Bengalis to the World. I am not scared of the city any more, neither do I hate the beggars and childern on the footpaths. I enjoy the tussle of the numerous mini-buses that fight for a passage from the conjested alleys into the broad crossings leading onto the Howrah Bridge. I have learnt to become a part of the crowd the moment I get off the train. But I haven't been able to give up looking at the different faces and trying to decipher the story behind each one.
I reached the exit of the station within a couple of minutes after getting off the train and jumped on to the first bus that was leaving the parking area. Once inside, I paid for my ticket (five bucks for a ten minute ride to Park Street is definitely costly by Kolkata standards, but then communism in the city is dead for good and costs are going to rise) and sat by the window as the bus started on its ordeal to reach the windy boulevard of the Howrah Bridge. When three buses fight for the place of one, there are bound to be a few scratches and "thuds", but as long as they are not near my seat, I enjoy the fun. Finally we did manage to get onto the wider road, only after a traffic police thumped the front of the bus with his Lath . This is the only place in the world perhaps where traffic police is still equipped with a plastic whislte and an unenviable lath to control rogue buses and unruly traffic!
By the time I reached Park Street it was office time at its peak. I never quite accepted the fact the getting to office from home was a big thing. For me its just a 7 minute motorcycle ride on NH2 where the concept of a traffice jam is hardly considered. In Kolkata however its different.
As I got off the bus and crossed the AJC bose flyover to get into the park street metro station, I stole a glance at the best chicken roll shop I had come across, the little shack called hot kati rolls a couple of steps down park street after passing the Asiatic society building.
Walking with the flow is easy, standing against the flow, difficult and walking against it, next to impossible. I am not getting philosophical here, just trying to explain the act of walking down the steps leading to the platform of Park Street metro station. Everyone in the building was leaving it while I kept decending the stairs. The air was thick with smell of hairoil, deodorant and even traces of perfume. The anxiety of the working youth to reach their office on time was palpable. The numerous earplugs shoved into their ears gave them this eerie image of robots being controlled by that little peice of wire dangling out of their ears. reminded me of Agent Smith from the famous movie. We are all running after something, but to understand the significance or insignificance of the whole act, we need to stand out of the crowd and look at it from a distance. Its worth the pain.
The rest of the journey was insignificant though, the same old yellow compartments of the metro train, the stench of Dumdum railway station, the finicky rickshaw puller trying to extract an extra buck from me, guessing my unfamiliarity with the place from my attire,the same relatives welcoming me with open arms. The typical bengali family engaged in the nitty-gritties of a marriage. I was home, but not before I had walked down the crowded streets to which I belong in the larger race of life.