Like every day, well every working day, I walked out of my house situated in the sub-urban area outside the sub-urban metro city of Kolkata. Dressed in ill fitted, bland and uncomfortable formal clothes I crossed the narrow street to walk on the newly constructed footpath while exchanging nods and smiles with two of my neighbors, standing there in their own ill fitted, bland and uncomfortable formal clothes, like every day, well every working day.
Unlike my neighbors, who chose to ride their bikes, I prefer walking the same distance. It’s just a seven minute walk, anyways. It also serves as an answer to the statement often thrown to me these days, “you should start exercising” to which I retort, quite emphatically, “I walk”.
I pulled my mobile phone out and checked the time, it was 08:53 AM which meant I would be easily able to catch the 08:58 Bandel Local. It never was on time, 09:03 was the earliest it came. I continued to walk towards the railway station, walking side by side to what could be considered as exhibits of the ruined state of Bengal, two shut-down factories on either side of the road.
I reached the rusted and half broken gate of the shut-down factory on my left and noticed the portly man walking down from the other direction on the other side of the road. I don’t know him, but he serves as a signal for me, like the lady with the yellow bag who I encounter at the turning of the road, I don’t know her as well. The man and the lady, who I don’t know,and who neither know each other, without saying anything, tell me every day, well every working day, whether I’m early, on time or late. That is, if we cross each other after the usual point of rendezvous, the rusted half broken gate of the shut-down factory for the portly man and turning of the road for the lady with the yellow bag, it means I’m early, if we cross at the usual point it means I’m on time and if before the usual point, which is mostly the case, it means I’m late. Of the more than one year, since I noticed the two,there hasn’t been one occasion when the portly man and the lady with the yellow bag were late themselves. They’ve always been on time.
After crossing the two people, I had now reached the road that ran parallel to the railway lines. I walked on the road for another three minutes to reach the entrance of the station and climbed up on the platform, the big red digital clock right ahead of me showed 09:00 AM, as I said; it was just a seven minute walk.
I walked up to my typical point on the platform, right below the big tree, just before the cover shed. My companions for the local train ride were waiting for the train there, two accountants, a techie anda hotelprofessional; the retail store assistant hadn’t arrived yet. I know one of the accountants and the hotel professional as we’ve been to the same school;the other three are their acquaintances.
The train came at 09:04, a bunch of people got off the train and a larger bunch, including us, got in. Squirming through the crowd we made our way to the end row of seats where the familiar faces were seated. These familiar faces, along with the rest of their bodies, generally sit on theend row seats and get off of the train at the fourth station from ours, leaving us places to sit and rest our posteriors. Again, we don’t know any of the familiar places personally, but they’ve been providing us a place to sit since we noticed and identified that opportunity. Normally they sit at the end row seats, but if otherwise, they call out to us to stand near whatever row of seats they are seated at, to which we abide securing a resting place for our posteriors.
Howrah is the seventh station from mine and it takes a little above 30 minutes for the train to cover the distance.This little above 30 minutes is generally spent reading news, a book or listening to music. The members of my travel group, including me, hardly converse on anything interesting. It’s always the usual, the ordinary, the regular.
We reached our station at 09:37, got off the train and joined the sea of people trying to move hurriedly but slowed down by its own mass. The sheer population on just one platform of the station cringes you and forces you to believe that the place, in fact, needs a plague. One, being a part of it, follows the metaphorical seatowards the exit of the station and notices it diverging into different directions, the wave in some being bulkier than others. It wouldn’t require much prowess to identify that the bulkiest wave is headed towards the Bus Stand, where the wave would be divided into small blocks and shipped off, rather tediously, to various parts of the city. My companions of the travel group formed a part of the bulkier wave while I made my way along with the lucky few towards the Ferry Ghats.
I exited the station and went down the stairs into the dark and stinking subway. There is a mild but alarming crack bang in the middle of the subway’s ceiling, right above which cars and cabs, buses and bikes run wild. I always imagine myself walking right below it when a car would come crashing down, making a hole of the crack, but only wide enough to allow the front of the car to peep into the subway while its rear will be stuck and the car would be suspended right above my head, you know, like a Tom Cruise movie. But these things only happen in New York.
I walked up the stairs and out of the putrid subway into the open and made my way towards the jetty to catch the 09:50 ferry. The announcement speakers hauled up on the light posts were playing the irritating ‘Livoplex’ advertisement, a medicinal tonic which promises to cure every gastronomic ailment, excruciatingly detailing the name and symptoms of each disorder from constipation to acidity, exactly what you don’t want to hear in the morning or any time of the day for that matter. I made faces and tried to ignore the audio while imbibing the dwarf but picteresque Kolkata skyline. The Howrah jetty is a solid construction on the bank of the Ganga and looks like a winner’s podium extended to accommodate the runners-up up to the fifth place. Its five uneven levels are constructedto enable the ferry to dock parallel to any of them, depending on the water level.
I made my way towards the ferry docked parallel to the 3rd level, and noticed the band of uncles standing near the gate of the ferry. The usuals wouldn’t need to check the board of the ferry of to know where its headed, the band of uncles would be sign enough to know that it was going to Fairlie Ghat. I, being one of the ususals, hopped the small gap between the jetty and the ferry and went on to stand near the gate as well, but distant enough to be stay away from the uncles.
The ferry ride is the calmest thing I do all day. Standing besides the railings, inhaling the river breeze, I consider myself lucky to do it every day, well every working day.
It’s only a 5-7minutes ride depending upon the water current. Today, as the case was, it was a 5 minute ride day. The ferry reached the Fairlie Ghat and docked at its small floating barge turned jetty. I waited for the crowd to pass and then followed behind it on to the wooden foot bridge connecting the barge to land, completing its length set foot in the city of Kolkata.
I, following the crowd, walked past the college kids waiting for the gates of The Millennium Park, located along the stretch of the river bank, to open. We, the crowd and I, crossed the BBD Bagh Circular Railway Crossing unabashedly, giving no importance to the fact that it was closed. We continued straight and went on to cross Strand Road as the traffic Sergeant whistled everyone to hurry. I kept walking parallel to the Eastern Railway headquarters on my left, past the street stalls lined up on the footpath serving everything from Biryani to Burger, Dosa to a full Bengali fish meal and selling everything from socks to IPO forms.
Finally, I waited at the N. S. Road crossing while the signal turned green for pedestrians and crossed the street on to the other side to reach my old and heritage office, blue and white office building.
Walked up the four stairs, into the hallway, punched my card in, the clock showed 10:03. I entered the ground floor of the three-storeyed building, into the maze of cubicles and was reminded of the opening dialogue from ‘Birdman’.
“How did we end up here? This place is horrible. Smells like balls.”