For as long as I can remember, the name “Canning Local” conjured up images of local trains disgorging thousands of people on already crowded railway station platforms. A vast majority of them travel from the hinterlands of 24 Parganas for work in Kolkata and its suburbs. They are what city people call ‘daily passengers’ although many city dwellers go the opposite way to suburban towns to work. The act of boarding a local train everyday is known as “daily passengery” – elevating this innocuous necessity to the status of almost a profession.
View from the local train: Kolkata to Canning. Picture courtesy: A Year In India (Blog by Jessica)
My initial forays into this district were accomplished riding in the ‘insulated’ and upholstered comfort of chauffer driven cars. I considered myself lucky for not having to travel on local trains – packed in like a sardine. I would see these trains pass by and shudder at the thought of having to travel that way on a regular basis. The few times that I had used this mode of travel in the past, left me with absolutely no desire to experience it again. I must confess that the concept of “Amra aar ora” (‘Us’ and ‘them’) must have had its genesis in some such urbane snobbery. This disconnect exists and will exist as long as economic disparities remain between the urban and the suburban.
The current project however does not allow me the luxury of hiring a car or driving down in my own trusted 25 year old jalopy. So, I had to do what one does in such a situation - every Monday morning at 7:50am I board the Canning local at Ballygunge station. I am surprised and amused with myself when I tell the taxi driver to hurry up…”sat ta ponchasher Canning local dhortay hobay!” (Sorry, a translation here will not convey the innuendos).
Once on the train, I start feeling the ‘disconnect’ with everything urban increasing with each passing minute. Every Friday I board the train at 4:18pm from Canning station to return to the city. I look forward to this about-an-hour journey, as every minute on it brings me closer to the comfort of my home and the feeling of ‘re-connect’ is unabashedly reassuring.
This journey is not without its high points. On one particular journey the train was extremely crowded and a young man standing in front of me jostled for space to get his cell phone out of his pocket – elbowing the person next to him, he manoeuvred himself to be able to make a call. He spoke in a loud voice to make himself heard above the ambient din; his pauses indicated that the person at the other end was speaking. I am sharing this amusing one-sided conversation…
Young Man (YM): “Hallo Madam? Yes it’s me – Khokon”.
YM: “I have arranged your gas connection.”
YM: “Yes Madam. It was difficult. But, I can do more than that.”
YM: “Madam? Now that I have done the needful…please do something for me”
YM: “I mean…um...if you don’t mind can I ask you something?”
YM: “Madam, do you have a boyfriend?”
YM: “Shit! She disconnected!”
Progress: Second Week
In the meanwhile work on the “Olive Ridley Shelter” is progressing well. So far so good as they say. All the bamboo sections have been drilled, cut and pre-assembled as far as possible. The concrete anchors have been positioned and retainer walls are being erected. The Lime is slaking. Prasun Ghosh taught the local workers to handle FRP. They are elated to have learnt a new material. Next week I hope to complete the structure up to the floor level. Hope there are no hitches in between.
Life at the ashram is peaceful as usual and the kids are not feeling shy any more. They have given me some very amusing drawings in return for the paper that I had handed out. I hope to employ their talents to adorn the walls of the shelter.
Lunch break and everyone gets ready to leave…everyone, except Bablu Biswas. I tell him to leave and come back on time. I tell him that having lunch on time is good for him. He replies, “You are right Dada. But, don't worry. We work for food. The problem was created by God…he made a huge mistake by giving us a stomach!”
To me food is also entertainment and perceptions such as these gives me a guilt trip. Bablu, you are cruel!