This all started with the arrival of Mrs Nisha Singh, a close relative of our boss, as the company guest. Her request (read demand) – I want to visit few terracotta temples of Bengal, of which I have heard so much. And my boss passed a request (now read order) to me asking to comply with her wishes. But what came as a jolt was her child like demand – I want to take the journey to Bishnupur through train and better still, in an unreserved compartment as I want to get in touch with my roots. Atleast it was better than being a chauffeur that one of my friends Arpan was made on her visit to Chandigarh.
We started off on a very positive note with the compartment almost empty. Then it dawned upon me. The train will be passing through areas which were too close to Lalgarh, the main centre of Maoist activity currently in Bengal.
First thing I did was to look around to find some security guard. As usual, there were none. I saw a middle aged guy sitting and asked him about guard. His simple reply – Why do you need guards to save yourself from them when this train is randomly used by them in disguise. Gulp!!! That was a nice starting!!!!
We took our seats and my guest got a window one. A man sat next to her while his wife and six year old son sat opposite her. I decided to sit besides the guy. Rest of the seats had no occupant. In order to start conversation with the people, sole intention being “getting in touch with her roots”, she asked the kid his name. Until then, she had underestimated the abilities of six year old’s to embarrass the fellow passengers. The son kept staring at her without giving any reply.
Maybe she was wishing for some conversation between the couple so as to get some space to but in. But unfortunately nothing such happened initially. Suddenly the wife started talking and declared how bad her husband’s relatives were. “I bought her daughter such expensive sari and they could not even give a full pant to my Bittu”. Finally we get the name of the boy – Master Bittu!!!!
Having given up hope of any fruitful social interactions, she tuned to the moving world outside the window. I saw, it was with relief that she noticed the family preparing to get down at the next station. Her anticipation for a better company, however, couldn’t have been more ill founded. In place of the otherwise harmless looking husband-wife and mildly irritating Bittu, now sat two shady looking middle aged men.
In contrast to her observations on Indians in general and me to be specific, she found both the men to be too animated while talking. Suddenly I felt her nails piercing hard on my arm. I winced and looked at her. She whispered in my ears that the two guys were dacoits. But why? Because she heard them using the word “Pistol” during their conversation!!! I had no doubt on her hearing capability, the area was also well known for dacoits, so could not throw away her apprehensions. I decided to give more attention to both the guys.
Things took a bad turn when one of the men opened his bag and our eyes fell upon a shinning dagger besides blood stained clothes. Mrs Singh gasped in horror which in turn was noticed by both the men. They quickly zipped the bag. Now Mrs Singh again whispered – Did you hear beta what they are saying? But they were quiet!!! No Beta, I can read their mind. According to her this is what they were discussing!!!
“Let’s finish it off”, one said.
“Patience.” said the other.
“Do you think they suspect?”
“True, doesn’t matter.”
Here now let me make an honest confession, even I got psyched. Who are they? And it’s not just me, but I have a lady with me. If only she had agreed to go by car as proposed by me!!! I peeped outside and saw with relief that we were on the outskirts of Bishnupur. “An excellent opportunity to slip out, if I survive till the station,” my companion commented.
As soon as the station approached I stood up to go to the door. Both the men left their seats too. “Have I seen more than I was supposed to when the man opened the bag? Are they going to ‘take care’ of me for doing that?” Here my guest jumped out of the slowing train and walked as fast as she could. She turned back and saw both the men following her besides myself. She ran frantically outside the station and into the streets of this unknown town. Three bystanders simultaneously expressed the opinion that she ran faster than P.T Usha. (My heartfelt apology to P.T.Usha!! They are simpletons and from a small town where TV came late so must have missed out watching you running).
She sprinted until she could run no more and stopped, panting for breath. The two men were nowhere in sight. I came near her and she turned her head to look at me. My eyes went to the boundary wall and so did her. And there they both were. But, in a poster!!! “Are these two wanted men?” She couldn’t read what was written in Bengali below the poster but then neither could I.
I got hold of a little boy and asked him to read what was written below the posters. The boy, who looked like Bittu, thankfully replied. “Bharat Nautanki Group. Roj 2 show. Lal Maidan ke pass.” It was the poster of some play being enacted by a troop which here Bengalis call as “Jatra”!!!
Many realizations dawned upon me. And in a calm state of mind explained all to Mrs Singh and took a rickshaw to the circuit house.