Thursday, February 26, 2009

Daylight robbery in cultured Bengal and grace in rustic Bihar!!

I was to travel to Kolkotta,the city I have always raved about.The shaktipunj express in the AC class reads all booked.I board the train and what do I find ?-the TTs have booked the berths -there is heavy selling and buying inside the train for a goodnight's sleep.What's more the passengers all seem to be ready for it and obliging-I heard the TT label these passengers as his Laxmi(the goddess of wealth).The night's journey takes me to the taxi stand-I find the taxi driver's pestering right from the moment I disembark-their asking price is anywhere between 150Rs to 250Rs.I manage to wheedle my way to the pre-paid booth ,the man behind the counter asks for Rs 80 and does not have a change for Rs five hundred-suggests I take a taxi without the receipt and pay the meter charge-there is a taxi driver behind the counter monitering it all.I threaten to lodge a complaint-he brings out the change and allots a taxi immediately.On my return journey again in Howrah I see an inspector of sorts harrasing some passengers over some luggage ,he coolly empties their purses and pockets the loot.
The same Shaktipunj is to take me back to my destination-I miss my station and reach a vague place called Nagar-uttari at 3.33 AM in the morning.The station is all dark but for a gas-light of a tea-vendor and shadows of humanity stretched out in every direction.I pull my suit-case to a cold cement bench and generally graze around to look for a comfortable spot.A family of four-a rustic husband ,wife with two kids look like a relatively safe bet.I make enquiries and generally stick around with them till five in the morning.They are apparently going to the adjacent town of Ramna and are gracious enough to invite me to accompany them .They promise to put me in a bus to DTO from there.
I board an over-loaded utility van and bump my way through the bihar roads with every other live creature literally cackling away to glory so early in the morning-half an hour's drive ,I am in Ramna.It's a town of sorts.Immediately a host of people conclude and ask me if I have missed the station-it seemed to be a common mishap in those parts.I get through to the hospital and ask for a car to pick me up from DTO.The bus-ride to DTO is an eye-opener of sorts as we cross Meral,Garhwa road,Garhwa town,Shahpur,etc....these are the places where a lot of my patients come from. I mentally map them in my brain and enjoy a taste of my own medicine.Next time I see patients from this side of the world I will know exactly where to place them-geographically as well as morally!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I have been reading a book on Kanchendjonga by a contemporary journalist in Sikkim.Kanchendjonga-a  sacred summit.It made a compelling reading for the fact that it has been written by a sikkimese for one and it is a farely comprehensive ,well-researched book written with a heart of an insider(i am not too fond of the word normally).
As I travelled home from Siliguri to my place in the north,I felt nostalgic and  sad.The beautiful drive home by the riverside was different with grotesque colonys of similar looking cold cement flats ,electrified to the hilt covering the prime lands near the river.Dams had been built and the normally turbulent ,spirited and wild  teesta had been reigned in to contain the waters-it looked strangely still waiting to be exploited to the hilt .As I travelled further north I saw a sight which gave me a reasonable amount of clarity and insight into the situation.I saw a group of young lepcha youths working on the road-side as labourers.I was so stunned by the sight that I did not realise that I had been oggling-they hid their faces.In my lifetime ,I had never seen them do that.Now there is nothing wrong with doing an honest days work but there has always been an un-written rule in Sikkim that the road-works and public daily wage works atleast in the north are done by the migrant labourers exclusively(Sounds almost biblical).
These gentle,protected folks from the himalayas who a decade ago had been hailed by one of their own as 'my vanishing tribe ' were being forced by circumstances into the mainstream -and they were not prepared for it.
Going back to the book I was reading, the author has done a two-paged write-up exclusively about Thomas Merton's visit to then Sikkim.Thomas Merton was a trappist monk who belonged to the Abbey of 'Our Lady of Gethsemani',a roman catholic and prolific spiritual voice of the twentieth century.His quote-my thoughts-summed up-
'There is another side of Kanchendjonga and of every mountain-the side that has never been photographed or turned into post-cards.that is the only side worth seeing'.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Stranded in the station

The train from delhi reached two hours after mid-night.The station was a sea of humanity prostrate in the sweet world of dreams and beyond.I deb0arded,lugged my luggage to the exit and looked around for a familiar face come to receive me- there was none.I made a space for myself on the floor and sat on the steps while I called the hospital.The driver had slept off .It was an hour's drive away.I got myself a cup of sweet tea and sat down to enjoy it and the utter peace with a book by Ravi Zach.
I was deep into it when I noticed an old lady take a seat next to me.She was apparently my patient and was waiting for the dawn.She lived in the village next to mine.She gave me company for the moment.Tapeshwar came by an hour later-it seemed too short a time.We took the lady and her son to their village and got back to the hospital in the early hour of the morning.
There were several things that surprised me about myself.
1.I wasn't anxious when the expected was not forthcoming.
2.I enjoyed my time in the station in that wee hour of the morning -reading and talking to that simple village lady from Bakoria which I normally do but hadn't ever done at such an odd hour.
3.I wasn't irritated with Tapeshwar for sleeping off when he was to have been in time for my train especially when I was anticipating a busy day at work.
4. I found myself thanking the lord with a joy in my heart for the experience.
Now when did I change????


My soul yearneth for you-my creator
A deep,deep hole in my heart,
I live during the day I barely do,
Going through the motions,

Where and when do I find myself closest to you?
It is not in the comfort of the home and the familiar,
where most parts of me just lulls to sleep,
It's not in the luxuries of the world,success and entertainments,
Fleeting,dissapearing,pathetic and tragic
in it's illusive temporariness.

It is not even in the comfort of my friends,
and loved ones where I feel accepted and almost close.
Amazingly,I feel closest to you amidst conflicts,
broken people,broken lives-torn by diseases,worldly poverty.
I feel closest to you when I overstep the boundary-
When I have nothing but you.