Not even in my weirdest dreams I imagined myself waking up one fine day in the bank of the Ganges, asking for direction, where I will be spending my four years at a factory what will issue a certificate which proclaims to have molded an engineer out of me.
The city was as alien to me as I was to its people staring me. I would have liked it had it not been litters, dust, roads taking turns around garbage mounds (ok… garbage dumped on road), heat of June and harshness of language they called Patniya (a mix of Hindi, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Magahi, English and XYZ).
Somehow I reached the college gates on a rickshaw zigzagging though herds of buffalo marching on the historical road called Ashok Rajpath. The scene was itched to the severity that I associated Rajpath with buffaloes marching on a wide black topped road for many years later on.
I wondered if it was only for me, but the college had a distinct air of an abandoned relay room of Indian railways. I felt weird… more is waiting for me. The first guy I met who appeared too old to be senior and a bit young to be college faculty asked me what rank I had on JEE. “But, I appeared for AIEEE so I am here.” I said.
“Hum inke senior hai.” (I am his senior) the guy said to my father.
“Jitna pucha jaaye Utna hi batayiye.”(Answer what is being asked) and turned to me.
Back in my mind, somewhere I could feel the tingling of what everyone warned me for, the most dreaded “Ragging at an Indian engineering school”, the cruelty of which is supposed to match the reputation of the college.
“It is good for you, that you have been admitted to this institute, now prepare for JEE and get yourself into an IIT.”
I thought he must be kidding. “Ok… as you wish” I thought. “@#$%^&*”
The guy offered to take us to the building where admission formalities were to be done. On the way he asked me which caste I belonged to. Although that was out of place, I answered.
He took us to the floor where registration was going on. On the way, on both side I can see, people being ragged. The so called seniors howling at every new ones passing through, I looked around pretending not to look at anyone as I passed through the lobby.
Once inside, I decided only time I will go out is when I am done with every formalities for the day. But things were planned differently; I had to come down for a medical test. A fear ran through my head, but I did my best not to look scared. I passed through the lobby, there were people calling me. Not by my name, they do not know my name. “Hey you, the long hairs”, “Hey you the folded sleeves”, “You tall boy, come here” they were howling as hungry dogs who lurked too long for a piece of meat. I can feel what a dog felt who had ventured into the territory of other dogs.
I went back to come again in a week. What I saw on the day of registration was just a trailer of things that was to happen. Battling through all the adversities I continued as fresher at the college and survived. By the second term it was more like following the instinct, practicing the skills that were inherent. I knew how to abate, how to abuse, how to escape, what to ignore whom to ignore and so on and so forth… Every step I took was calculated like following the instruction in the manual of survival as a fresher.
(Perplexed?? I was to describe the train journey, but this is not so. From here the journey will starts…)
Nothing is as delightful as return home for a homesick; I was elated, moreover, I had a confirmed ticket that too on the concessional fare granted to students. Although, more than often the expenses to avail that concession exceeded the amount of concession in my case such was the procedure and number of windows one needed to visit. I realized this after breaks and vacations; I later renounced taking concessions which I thought as a noble act (I guess it was not responsible for swelling of Railways coffer in those years).
The state was in big festive mood of electioneering. Governor’s rule was not an option in a land identified as birthplace of republic. Exhibitionism of firearms imported, licensed, unlicensed, automatic, semi-automatic or desi-handmade was in vogue. It should be when your merits for candidature are judged by how tarnished your character certificate looks. The train I was to board came to a whistling stop a quarter before midnight. I waited for a few minutes before boarding, I wanted to be sure if it is on correct platform and they have no plans of changing it. Don’t you know it was a cool thing to do in this part of the country? Despite display, notification and continuous announcement, you walk to a different platform and then force the Railway staffs to bring the train to the platform you are standing on.
With my bag slung over my shoulder, I walked to the door. The coach was too crowed to catch the unusualness. Passenger seemed not to move, they were all queued up in the aisles. Tearing through the bodies some fragrant, some smelly, some dressed as extravagantly as if they are on way to their wedding, I reached to my berth. My friend, who came to see me off and stayed on with an excuse of nothing much to do in hostel either, was behind me. There was a man in all whites, sleeping on my berth with rolled towel acting a pillow. I looked around and what appeared was me basking the centre of attention. The adjacent compartments and that of mine have been occupied or rather encroached. I called him asking him to get down, “This is my berth I have made reservations” making a valid point and even eager to show tickets. The man didn’t move, although I was sure he got what I asked but he pretended to be in deep sleep. I grabbed him by shoulder and shook him up his pretension.
“Go take a seat somewhere else” he shouted.
“This is my seat, see…” I made another attempt to make him realize that he has encroached seat reserved by me.
Before, I uttered another word; there was a voice from behind “Netaji, ko disturb mat karo.”
I turned around to see a group of around a dozen men on the other seats of compartment. A pile of guns rests against the window side.
The guy came forward “He didn’t get seat in the AC coach, so we are here. I have talked to TT, we will shift as there is a vacancy. Adjust, till then.”
But where am I supposed to sleep” I replied.
“No one is sleeping. No space, only seating.” Then I realized what was unusual in the compartment. The passengers who have booked tickets were standing in the aisles, waiting, requesting, some pleading for them to vacate, how they will travel with a patients.
“Give me your bag, I will keep it under seat, don’t worry it will be intact and safe.”
The train started moving. Amidst all the hullaballoo in the coach, he could not get down. I moved with him towards exit. “What are you going to do?” he asked.
“I think we will get down at the next stop. I will go tomorrow.” I said but I know there will be same case tomorrow. Reservation or no reservations you travel alike, unless you enter into a fight.
“Will you get tickets for tomorrow?”
“No, there isn’t any chance. Moreover, things will be same.”
“See, if you can travel, by the way there is no point arguing with them. I will get down at the next stop.”
“Ok.. Let’s see. But make sure you get down at the next stop. Any stop after this will be at least 50 kilometers away.”
After a few minutes, the train slowed down to a halt, a lot of passengers who were to make this journey un-boarded. I waved byes to my friend who will have to travel another 10 kilometers from a desolate place to get to the hostel at mid night hours, and all because of some fcuking MLA occupying the berth I paid for, and his goons occupying seat of other passengers.
I went back to my seat as the train started from station. Of course there was no place even to sit; I stood there, looking at them searching for feel of despite or otherwise in their eyes, but it was absent. I checked for my bag, it was still there under the seat. I stood there for some time trying to catch any remnant of human behavior left in them. I cursed myself, why I came to this city at first place, but I could not complain, some where I am related to, I belong here.
One of the offers a little space and asked me to sit. It felt generous of him, I took sat there. I don’t remember when I surrendered to sleep. In the wee hours of morning I woke up to the nudge of one of the guy.
“We are getting down at this place; take care of your seat and your bag.”
“Theek hai” I said. I stretched myself on the berth, eight more hours of journey left for me. Things will be better, sane and humane.
I wrote this post last week, I didn’t post it. I am posting it now. Once an IIT + IIM fellow blogger expressed his displeasure over my writings and remarks over people behavior in Bihar, he said, it is obvious but why portray it to the world. What is bad should be kept within veil, somehow I don’t subscribe to such views.
11850+ words so far in 2012 on Barunjha’s Blog
© Barun Jha || 2012