Kolkata: Journey to the festive land

As the Durga Pooja fever catches up in the country, we planned a visit to Kolkata. It is undeniably the best place to see and feel the grandeur of Durga Pooja. It is the time of the year, when Kolkata is in its full glory, looking like a new bride. It is also the time when getting a train ticket to Kolkata seems like boiling the ocean.

We did get a train ticket, albeit from a far away junction – distant 180kms from our place. As we headed towards it to catch the train, I was overwhelmed with feelings of nostalgia of memories of a dozen Poojas of my childhood of Calcutta or Kolkata as it is now called. The train that we had booked from Mughalsarai, was the “Howrah Express” scheduled to leave at 9.45 a.m. To get to Mughalsarai from Sundernagar, we had to start our journey a day earlier. The condition of the roads of UP is very poor and after breaking much sweat we managed to hit the Jharkhand border later in the day. Jharkhand roads were a pleasant surprise in comparison to what we had endured in UP. We finally reached Mughalsarai around 12 midnight after what was a backbreaking tiring road journey. After a frugal dinner we slumped to a well deserved sleep at the officers’ guest house.
Next day greeted us with chirping birds & bright orange sunrays. I brewed a cup of tea.  Our car had travelled so long over such terrible road conditions, that I felt pity how it striven on those curvy roads. After a sumptuous breakfast we made our way to the Mughalsarai Railway Station. The train was running late. And after some ado we finally located the coach and boarded the train. The compartment was surprisingly spacious and sparkling clean.
As we had feared that the tickets would be unavailable, my husband had approached an agent for tickets as well as he himself had booked tickets. So now, we had the luxury of four tickets for the two of us – my son and I. So much talk regarding redundancy! But after the train had travelled a few stations, the two extra tickets were cancelled automatically.
The AC chair car was very comfortable but super chilled. As the train went through the country side I witnessed the lifestyle of rural India, small towns, people standing at railway checklist gates and lush greenery. As the other train zoomed past, I got a quick glimpse of people on board the other train. As the Pooja was near and trains all full the people going to Kolkata had resorted to sitting at the steps of the exit doors, while others peeped inside to get a glimpse if any seats were vacant.
The meals were not included in the ticket cost. So, we bought a plate of chicken biryani and another of egg biryani. Meanwhile vendors selling all sorts of snacks and drinks kept doing the rounds.
My first treat was a cup of hot masala chai, which was just perfect!!!
Next came paneer pakodas, samosas, yummy snacks and drinks. After much salivating at the various snacks I decided to just take tea and have the biryani lunch, which was yummy and fulfilling.
My son played games on the phone and then saw a Harry Potter movie. My soul mate on such journies are the evergreen music which refreshes my memories of yesteryear’s dreams and schooldays.
As the train progressed through the landscape of Bihar and Jharkhand, the beam of sun scattered, as I felt the sunset. Soon, stars and moon welcomed on the canvas of sky.
Our journey was going to an end in few hours making all these a memory. Suddenly, I saw a slim English looking boy with blonde hair, entering our coach. He wore a blue check shirt and black trouser with slippers, and was speaking Hindi with an English accent. He started showing different tricks of sleight of hand. He also sang songs. “Wow! A Magician!” I thought. I wondered how he met this fate of earning money by showing small tricks to train passengers.
As he walked in all eyes were fixed on him. He absorbed all this attention towards himself. He walked around, entertaining all of us. His tricks were fabulous.The quality of tricks was amazing and I still could not figure out how he did them and left everyone guessing.

This impromptu magic show in the train coach added a magical sparkle to my day and I forgot that our train was running late. Yeah! He created amazing memories for us.
Finally, he paused and pleaded to help him with money if we liked the show. I wondered what made him to do all these things. He hadn’t borrowed or begged, rather relied on his talent to get whatever money he could get. I was literally in tears by his gesture.  My heart was feeling pity. I was thinking “He may be juggling to survive in India” or “he may be striving to go back to his own land” or might he be a hippie drug addict who had managed to get broke! How can I judge a person like that, without knowing his problem? But his simplicity and honesty to get money by doing something overruled everything else. I thought of asking him why he was here but somehow I was reluctant to voice my questions. Self respect, dignity and honour was all we could learn from him. Every day we should learn at least one good thing in life.This man taught a lesson for all those who beg, idly wasting time. It is only a few tricks which captured everyone and he was rewarded by all. After all, hard work pays.
The train arrived at Howrah junction, one and a half hour late. My eyes trolled for the man but he had vanished in the thousands of passengers who were busy exploring their compartment to reach their destination. We also took our luggage, got off the train. I booked an cab, and continued our way to home. It was good fun reaching home and surprising our folks, as we had not told them that we were coming!!!