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12 November 2007

A Piece Of Me

The train was moving as if inebriated. After hundreds of jigsaw-puzzle shaped irrigated fields, thousands of trees and lampposts, millions of rhythmic taps of the train-wheels' on the conjoint tracks and a billion stars in a moonless night, it stopped at a semblance of a station. A ramshackle structure was there, in which an excuse of a government servant, whose designation is a euphemism: "Station Master", was seen serving in odd hours, lest one should say the administration of the country does not work. In Baba's rectangular arms' lock, about five feet above ground level, I descended on what was supposed to be the railway stoppage of a paean-like name of a town—Bokaro Steel City.

It seemed Baba knew the Bada Babu. A child all of three, I used to wonder those days how almost every person the elders came across appeared an acquaintance. After the mandatory niceties, we left along a serpentine way that looked like the parting of hair of an old lady with thinning hair. Far away, tube lights on another street flickered to offer us a better deal than twinkling stars alone could. Every now and then, a snake, I guessed non-poisonous, crossed our way as I stayed safe aloft Baba's crossed arms. In another direction, six queues of government quarters could be seen under construction, exuding poodles of grey without having been whitewashed. Thrown every few minutes from Baba's left over to right arm, and then on to Ma's, I had a bumpy but enjoyable ride to the final house, which Ma said would thereon be our HOME.

Once lowered to the chilling floor, I rushed to the bathroom only to see sand poured over the urinal and toilet. I had the option of rushing out to the backyard. My parents had to clear the mess after all the journey's toil. I could already hear Ma complaining. It seemed Baba had projected a much rosier picture of Bokaro before we got to know that was what the place could become a few years thence. Baba stood with just a leg released from the shoe-sock's clutches, as if planning to denounce the government's audacity in dumping all of us there; and then declaring a retreat to the well-established Bilaspur city we had just come from. Ma went on with the typical feminine repertoire of husband-bashing vocabulary. Baba stood there looking as befuddled as an MCP who finds it too sub-standard to respond to the puerility of a wife's grievance. For me, that place was second to heaven: Vast expanse of wilderness in front of our first floor window gave me the thrill that a painter could get on seeing a blank canvas. I planned to do with the emptiness the next morning what takes city planners decades to accomplish.

Many years later, some fifty bubbly beastly children and an antonym of Charles Dickens' dormitory school gave the township a character that whoever left it for transfer or retirement wished time stopped ticking. But all that will come in due course.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.