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Manoj Kumar Goswami
Date of Publish: 2015-11-01

Journey to the Last Station

(Prithivir Sesh Station)

Manoj Kumar Goswami

Translated from Assamese by Neeta Sharma

The whistle of the 27 down train was heard from a long distance. Hurriedly Haridas looked at himself in the mirror of Binod Bihari's barber shop. Neatly combed hair, clean shaved face (of course on credit in Binod Bihari's shop); his looks were that of neither too cunning nor of a fool's type, alert eyes, thin neck and when he swallowed, the Adam's apple in his throat moved up and down like an engine's piston.His clean shirt was a little torn on the shoulder, yet the reason for his embarrassment was his vest, full of holes like a fishing net, which was distinctly visible under his shirt in broad day light. Haridas arranged his hair for the last time with his fingers. He emerged out of the barber's shop and walked fast on the steps to climb up to the over-bridge of the railway station.

Platform No-3 was overcrowded with passengers. The train was entering slowly into the station. The sound of the engine was lost in the midst of the tumult and uproar of the passengers which kept on increasing! The engine's smoke could only be seen going up slowly like the sigh of a poor man.

"Which is platform No.-13 ?" - a man panting and almost running out of breath, with a load of children on his shoulders and luggage around him asked Haridas. "Just climb down from here. That is your train." Then Haridas leisurely leaned on the railing of the over bridge and lit the half smoked cigarette which he took out from his pocket. He stood gazing at the increasing commotion on the platform below.

Today,he was upset. The last few days were not good for him. A few days back the astrologer ,who sits on a tiger's skin near Nepali Mandir had told him, "Better days are ahead of you, son. Jupiter and Saturn are in so and so positions. Sukra can be managed somehow. Now give me fifteen rupees". "That scoundrel astrologer! Fifteen rupees were just wasted." The day before yesterday while bringing goods from Prasad's grocery shop on credit, he had to hear a lot of rebuke from Prasad who asked for his unpaid previous balance. He insulted Haridas a lot. The same day the ASI of the local police station came and rotating his stick at Haridas' face had said: "Earning a lot, huh saalaah! Hardly to be seen now a days. Either you give hundred and fifty or I'll put you in the lock-up, you son of a swine!"

Haridas thought how miserable days had befallen him. He couldnot get a good chance these days because people now a days had become very alert and careful. His business was down. His son was to be admitted in school, but he had not been able to arrange the money till now; his wife who continued to be sick has to be taken to a good doctor. What a life - indisciplined, insulting, devastated and filled with hatred !

Haridas walked quickly down the steps of the over bridge and stood on the platform. Busy and crowded. He walked aimlessly beside the boggies. People were boarding or getting down from the train; hawkers and vendors kept screaming. Two sullen faced ticket checkers; three army jawans sat on a trunk eying greedily a young girl sitting by the window, a vendor put down a box of cold drinks with a thud on the platform. "You people sit comfortably under the fan and we are being sandwiched in this heat' - an argumentative voice was heard from inside one of the compartments; a Marwari gentleman stepped down the train along with his family and two large suitcases in his hand….

For a moment Haridas' eyes were fixed on the Marwari gentleman, not on the gentleman exactly…. but on the suitcase in his hand, just as Arjuna in Mahabharata, neither saw the tree nor its leaves or branches, but only the object of his aim i.e. the eyes of the bird. Standing near the water-tap, with alert eyes Haridas followed the Marwari gentleman. He dragged both the suitcases to the centre of the platform, made his plump wife stand near them along with the two children, and himself looked here and there for a coolie. Haridas took two steps forward, the gentleman was about 25 meters away from the suitcases and was calling a coolie, and was also glancing now and then with alertness towards his family and the luggage. Taking a few more steps Haridas stood almost near the suitcases, pretending to arrange his slippers. Haridas greedily looked at the suitcases; fat like a pregnant cow, healthy and stout…. as Haridas stood thinking of stretching his hand to grab the suitcases and run, he saw the Marwari gentleman returning along with an old coolie.

Haridas was a little disappointed. Now he stood near the dustbin where it was written 'Use Me', Perplexed, he stood staring at the huge clock in the railway station. Today he needed some money for the next meal, to buy school books for his children and some medicines for his ailing wife. Life had never given anything to Haridas and he had also never asked in excess from life but whatever little is indispensible for a human being to sustain life, Haridas had been denied even that too. He had been disappointed again and again whenever he had asked even for the little that is needed to sustain the life of a human being. Haridas lighted a new charminar cigarette. Last piece…. he threw away the empty packet. The usual foul smell came from the railway lines, a heap of left overs on the platform; the strong smell of Madrassi dishes being cooked in cheap oil came from the food vendor's stall, two constables rubbing tobacco on their palms walked lazily to and fro on the platform.

Quite sullenly Haridas looked up and then he saw the big black spot on the roof of the platform. A huge black circle on the platform's roof-cover. Almost four years back, a bomb had exploded on this spot of the platform. Oh! What a horrible scene it was! The station , as if was torn into pieces with that huge sound of the blast. Within moments many human bodies were torn and scattered in pieces; as if the sound of a thousand engines was lost in the screams and wailings of the people…. huge clusters of smoke and fire escaped into the sky through the torn roof of the platform. The roof was repaired later but that spot of black circle remained. Still Haridas could feel his heartbeat quicken whenever his eyes fell on that spot…. The bomb was first discovered by a coolie - a watch with red wires, some batteries and a base of hard metal - before anyone could make out anything or could be alert and careful, the bomb exploded. Later on, the unfortunate coolie could be identified only from the torn pieces of his red uniform.

An engine was moving to and fro on platform number one. Some other engine blew short whistles. Haridas tried to follow two men and a woman separately. But in vain. He was not successful. Everyone seemed to be alert these days like a rabbit. No one is ready to be duped easily. The railway authority's caution hung on walls and pillars of the railway station. BEAWARE OF SUITCASE LIFTERS.

Yes, Haridas has been earning his livelihood by lifting other's suitcases and luggages. He is a suitcase lifter who takes advantage of the inattentiveness of railway passengers. Cursing his own life, Haridas stood leaning on the boggie of a train.

Suddenly Haridas became active. A neatly dressed man lean and thin, stood just in front of Haridas reading the list of reservations on the board - he had a briefcase in his hand. A sleek expensive briefcase. The man could easily be perceived to be a very busy person. The man with the briefcase in his hand, now moved towards the wheeler book stall. He kept the briefcase down and gazed at the newspapers. Haridas moved swiftly like a hyena. The man now opened a newspaper. After glancing at the front page, he spread the paper in front of his eyes to look into the next page - there was a grave but profound calmness on his face. Haridas stood near the man - a flick of a second, and then Haridas moved away. The briefcase was in his hand.

As he exited from the main gate of the railway station, he heard the long whistle of the train. As if the whistle was pursuing him. He stumbled and knocked against a man in his hurry to climb down the steps. Then he ran to the street, with the briefcase in his hand. He held the briefcase tightly to his chest as if it was some valuable property. Like the railway engine, he could feel something beating in his chest. 'No, this cannot be called a life', thought Haridas. He could no more bear and tolerate this panic, excitement, shame and uncertainty. This has to end. Haridas took the decision, that this is the last time; he can no more allow his life to go on in this manner. Both his children are now growing up, very soon they will come to know about this profession of their father. No, he cannot allow himself to be identified as a worthless, barbarian, inhuman fellow, to his children. Yes, today; from today he will give up this profession for ever. So many people are living with honesty and dignity in this world. He will take whatever he finds in this briefcase and with it he will start a new life, he will move away along with his family, from this city and from its filthy life. May be this briefcase contains very little but he will be satisfied with whatever he gets. He made himself more determined and strong with a promise to himself.

He entered the by-lane. He would take the short cut to the main road. As if with great difficulty he tried to run away and escape from his recent past; the past which mocked and laughed at him. To escape from it, Haridas went towards the highway with quick steps. Slowly the darkness of evening was descending. In that dusky light a few young children were playing, two tired horses stood still, prayers praising Lord Krishna flew out of an open window.

Haridas felt a little more assured as he boarded the city bus. He thrust his face to the wind in the window. The indistinct light of the shops and market by the roadside seemed delusive to his eyes. Suddenly the bus halted. The police check post was before them. A few jawans haughtily boarded the bus, with automatic rifles in their hands.

"Open the box" - a jawan in a rough voice ordered one of the young co-passengers.

Haridas shivered from within. He could feel the sound of the railway engine in his chest. His face turned pale. Sounds of the boot came towards him too. He fearfully glanced at the briefcase.

'Hey, what's there in this ?' a jawan moved the briefcase with his feet.

'A few clothes', Haridas could hardly recognize his own voice. In case he was asked to open the briefcase, he did not have the key! The tall jawan eyed Haridas steadily for a few moments, and those few moments seemed to be endless to Haridas. However after that, the jawans noisily stepped down the bus.

Haridas filled his chest with a deep breath. He repeated his promise once more to himself. He was not going to face such a situation again. He would start a new life - a life in which each morning will be filled with hope and possibilities, not with misery and slander.

His wife opened the door. This area away from the city was now submerged in darkness.

The kerosene lamp burnt dimly inside the house. All quiet and peaceful. The children were asleep. His wife kindled the fire in the kitchen and gave him water to wash his hands and feet.

Haridas kept the briefcase aside. His lean, thin and weak wife, always was in awe of him. She had to bear the burnt of Haridas' pain and insult which he suffered throughout his day. Her weak body shivered in front of him - as if she was doing everything helplessly in fear and terror of that anger and attack of her husband. But no; today he embraced his wife passionately. Both went to bed and slept beside the children. Haridas dimmed the light of the kerosene lamp; two bodies gradually became tired; her eyes slowly closed down in exhaustion and satisfaction. Haridas sat down and arranged the clothes of his sleeping wife. Then he increased the light of the lamp.

In the light, the briefcase could be seen kept aside in the room. Haridas picked up and kept the briefcase on the bed. He pulled out the tool box from under the bed and broke the lock of the briefcase with his tools. There was a dark black thick piece of cloth inside the briefcase. Haridas removed the cloth. A watch with a still red arrow hand; another thin arrow hand was gradually moving towards that still hand of the watch. Some batteries were beside it; some red-blue wires and a black metal base. Haridas recalled that incident of the railway station. A terrible sound; flames and thick rings of black smoke; screams of hundreds and hundreds of people flew towards the sky. Next moment blood, flesh, scattered pieces of human bodies, devastated platform…. Just after a few minutes, the bomb will explode with a huge sound, fire and smoke - as it had happened in the railway station.

For a moment Haridas looked at his wife and two children sleeping calmly on the bed. Then... hugging that dreadful briefcase close to his chest, Haridas lay down to sleep in between them.

--

The author :

Manoj Kumar Goswami is one of the most stylish and powerful voices of contemporary Assamese literature. His storytelling style is distinguished by simple yet intelligent and moving interpretation of a particular situation that evokes incredible inquisitiveness.

He received the prestigious Katha Award for Creative Fiction during 1994 for his highly acclaimed short story Samiran Barua Ahi Ase. He was also awarded the Sanskriti Award for Literature in 1996. Collections of his short stories include Iswarhinata, Swadhinata, Samiran Barua Ahi Ase and Aluminumor Anguli. His only novel is, Anadi Aru Annyana.

Born in 1962, Goswami is also an accomplished journalist. He started his journalistic career in Natun Dainik, an Assamese daily in 1986. He was associated with Ajir Dainik Batori as Executive Editor and Dainik Janasadharan as Editor. He is currently the Editor-in-chief of Dy365, an Assamese satellite news channel.

The translator :

Neeta Sharma is an Associate Professor and teaches English in ADP College, Nagaon. Her published works include Story of a Story - a collection of English translation of Assamese shortstories. She has co-edited a book titled Women:Issues and Perspectives" with Arindam Borkataki.

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