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Monthly Archives: June 2012

The sun rises, from amidst the tall standing palm trees. There is a mish-mash of trees here, once as the fertile Ganges flowed, it left behind deposits of rich alluvial soil. The land as if touched by Midas – only everything turns green here. There is no patch where there is no vegetation, for where there are no plants, there are countless weeds and grass peeping in, trying to make their place. And in the competition, if the land is soon exhausted, the game is not yet over! They make their place on the trunk of the already standing trees.

As the sun rises up higher, it sparkles from the numerous ponds around. There is an abundance of ponds here, and I have seen no village that does not have a pond. The water is very murky and varies in shades of green to brown. However, these ponds are the lifeline of the people around. It bathes people, washes their clothes and utensils, and even feeds them. In these ponds live a variety of fishes, small and big. No Bengali’s plate is complete without the fish – curried, fried, baked, chutnied, et al. Bengalis can often be heard saying they live to eat, and the fish have managed themselves a revered spot.

I set off with my uncle and younger cousins to watch fishing – while the freezer is still stuffed with a week’s supply of fish. Sunil Da, the elderly helper is swimming around the pond, a cotton gamcha around his waist, net in hand. He throws the net where he sees the water bubbling. As he un-knots the net, he keeps some of his catch and throws back some. Curious, I inquire of his selection procedure. “Some will grow bigger and tastier. The smaller ones that are kept will grow no more, while few others are not allowed to. They will grow up devouring the other fish and prawns”. There is complete knowledge about the fish.

As Sunil Da swims across, throwing his net here and there, a striking blue kingfisher also finds his fare. It swoops down from the branch of a mango tree, overhanging on the pond, and snatches his meal. Then it goes back again to eat and waits for its next catch. It grabs two prawns as we look on.

We return for lunch to the piquant smell of fish being fried in mustard oil. Lunch is an elaborate, 5 course affair with preparations starting well in the morning. And after the heavy lunch, it is time for the afternoon siesta.

As the evening descends, the sun sets quickly, the horizon hidden behind the trees. Light fades from golden yellow to pinkish red to darkness and the sounds of blowing of conch shells emanates
from all the houses welcoming the evening. The prayers are completed and the lamps lit.

While the land sleeps in darkness after its long day, countless fireflies wake up, looking like stars descended from heaven. In the village, boys meet for a session of cards or carom, under a sole hanging bulb, playing well through the night. The sweet melancholic sound of Rabindra Sangeet fills the air as children and elders sit with their harmonica, practicing. And again, it is time for dinner. Meanwhile, a lizard has its fill with the bounty of insects under the light and it chuckles.

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ImageThe diverse landscapes swoosh by: barren lands with thorny shrubs to gushing waterfalls, sea coast to hills and mountains, dark smoky tunnels to vast farms stretching to the horizon. But the more common are the vast stretches of farms. If it were to be seen from the top, it would look like a land of different colored patches put together, like a beautiful Indian patchwork. The palm and other trees often mark borders of plots. The closer ones run past, while those at a distance, provide some company.

The view changes drastically with the nearing of any big city. Big and posh buildings left aside, the rat infested slums is the more common sight around. There is a stench;  dark almost black water flows around it. In this hell, little children play cricket and other street games. All enjoying themselves. The other teenagers and youngsters wave us goodbye. The ladies are sitting in a group or are seen washing clothes and utensils in the single govt. tap provided for the entire slum dwelling. A number of small shops, even clinics, are located in the slums itself. In the night, the light of the bulbs, often with illegal connections, provide a dim light.

This is India in its truest form, covered in the shortest time, by the life line of India:  the Indian Railways. Spanning over 65,000 kilometres and carrying over 2.8 million passengers daily, this is the fourth largest railway network. Different people, different cultures, different customs, all come together here.

The daily passengers, who over their shared travel time have befriended other fellow travelers, chat, share a snack, sing, pray,. The family, parents with their kids, travelling to visit the grand parents, during the summer holidays. The salesman carrying his goods to sell in some other part of the country. The professionals and students, going home for their weekend break. You see them all!

The different classes of compartments, offer another interesting scenario. While those in A.C. coaches, typically hailing from upper middle class families, enjoy a more peaceful and undisturbed journey with lesser vendors, the second class, as the regular non AC coaches are called, offers full flavor, with the vendors and open windows. The other unreserved compartments often are over filled to their capacity, with a queue forming hours in advance to get a seat. Getting a place to stand properly is luck enough. The villagers carry bulk of goods on a single ticket. In addition to the commotion, other vendors hop on selling their ware. You can buy all odds and ends while travelling in the local train too: hair clips, stickers, key chains, ear rings, mobile covers, children books, etc. you name it they have it!

Food is not to be missed in this cultural confluence.There is a wide variety of food at different stations. The vendors run along, from window to window, carrying fruits and small food parcels of local dishes . As soon as a station approaches, the tea vendors hop on to the running train, eager to get in first to get more customers, shouting ‘chai… chai… garam chai’. The tea varies, from cutting tea in Mumbai, called so because of the quantity, half compared to the regular size, to the tea served in tiny earthern pots, known as kulhads, to the masala chai in the west.

So next time you want to visit the “Real India”, the diversity, the people, the cultures in one huge confluence, skip the air travel, hop on to one of these. It is not just a transport, it itself is the travel.