On his arrival at the Head Quarters of the Eastern Railways in Kolkata, his documents were re-verified by a gruff man in his fifties. Binay mostly stayed shut and did as he was directed. Still, he was reprimanded twice, once for putting his elbows on the table in front of him and then for not furnishing one of the documents as promptly as was expected. He sat straight and alert after that trying not to make any noise and became extremely conscious of his own presence. He didn’t touch the chips and tea he was offered, because he was anxious that the chips were going to make a crunching noise in his mouth. The man’s tone reversed instantly after the documents were verified. He congratulated Binay and welcomed him into the organization. Binay was then sent to another person who told him to wait outside the room. The wait continued for almost the whole day, after which he was directed to report at the Station Master’s Office in Kumarganchi, 130 Kms away from Kolkata.
Binay boarded the first train out of the city and three hours later, at ten in the night, disembarked at the deserted station of Kumarganchi. He made the long walk towards the Station Master’s Office, all the time babbling about the excess weight of his luggage caused by all that was amassed inside it. Fortunately, he found the Station Master, Amrendra Babu, who was just about to leave. Amrendra Babu checked Binay’s appointment letter and congratulated him with genuine praise. He, then, enquired about his dwelling arrangements, and after getting a blank face as a reply, took it upon himself to get him a place to live. As luck would have it, Amrendra Babu’s neighbor, Ghosh Babu, had a room to spare on his third floor – and so Binay was settled.
That was last night. And today was the first day of the job. Even the weariness of all the travelling and waiting could not overcome the excitement and fear of the new job, and he stayed up all night. The mosquitoes and the absence of a fan also played a role, but emotions were the main culprit of the insomnia.
He was alerted of the morning when he heard bells from the aarti coming from the floor below, where Ghosh Babu’s family resided. He was instantly transported to his home back in Darbhanga, where the mornings were similar, only the bells were louder, but somehow soothing.
He got off his bed and readied himself for the day, and then waited for more than 2 hours for it to be time to leave for work. Like last night, he was given a lift to the station by Amrendra Babu. Once there he was introduced to the thin workforce of the station – Biswas – the Peon, Gita – the Ticket Clerk, Abhijeet – the Asst. Station Master and Roy Da – the Railway Announcer who was retiring at the end of this month and whose place Binay was expected to fill after his superannuation. Pleasantries were exchanged and Binay then sat on a chair besides Roy Da who had already started to explain how things worked.
“This is called TMS or Train Management System” – explained Roy Da, pointing at the large unit mounted on the wall in front of them. “These lights tell us the details of each train and their position”
“A total of 47 trains cross through this station, of which 33 trains stop at the platform. Each of the 47 trains requires the railway announcer to announce their arrival. If you don’t announce properly someone may miss his train. This is a responsible job. You can’t just sit on your chair and do nothing all day, like the ticket lady.” – Roy Da said in one breath and then carried on explaining what the various buttons on the board did. Binay was listening intently, trying to absorb all the information, just when a light on the board started to blink. Roy Da pointed at the blinking light which was now slowly moving forward – “That is the Kabilpur Local. It has left the previous station and is now approaching towards our station. This is when we make the first announcement.” He cleared his throat, bent slightly and with one finger at the base of the microphone announced in a completely different and clear voice – “May I have your attention please. K1302 Down Kabilpur Local is arriving on platform number one. I repeat, K1302 Down Kabilpur Local is arriving on platform number one.” He then continued the same announcement in Hindi and then again in Bengali. After a three minutes the, light on the board started blinking more furiously that is when Roy Da made the second and final announcement.
Binay was intrigued by the process. The announcer’s cabin, like all stations was situated besides the platform at one of the ends and they were seated on the second floor which gave them a sweeping look of the station. Binay had noticed that Roy Da’s first announcement had caused movements on the platform – people had begun to stand up and move forward towards the platform’s edge, albeit keeping a distance, they’d started to look in the general direction of the oncoming train in anticipation of its arrival. The second announcement made people more alert, any jaywalkers on the tracks instantly moved away and as the train entered into the station and halted at the platform he also noticed an ever so slight sign of relief on Roy Da’s face. Binay was fascinated by all this. It seemed to him that the announcer possess a sort of control. It occurred to him that the seat had an ability to guide people, to apprise them and it made him feel exhilarated.
After the train left the station, Roy Da continued Binay’s education of the systems asking questions in between to know his understanding and he was surprised of his alertness and comprehension of everything.
After around 20 minutes, one of the lights on the board started to blink again. Roy Da pointed at the board again – “That is the B256 Down Birpur Local. Would you like to announce this one?” – he asked Binay, who was dumbfounded by the question. “Umm… Me. This one?” – He barely managed. “But, I don’t know Bengali.” – He tried to excuse himself from the job, scared that he would make a mistake.
“You have to eventually do it, you know. Don’t be scared. I’ll make the announcement in Bengali; you do the ones in Hindi and English. Here, I’ll write down what you have to say, just read them out slowly and clearly.” – Roy Da explained, pacifying him somewhat. He then wrote down the words and made way for Binay to use the microphone and make the announcement.
Binay cleared his throat and gathered all his strength and read the words written on the piece of paper into the microphone. “May I have your attention please. B256 Down Birpur Local is arriving on platform number one. I repeat, B256 Down Birpur Local is arriving on platform number one.” His voice was squeaky in the beginning but gained clarity and became stronger as he progressed. He followed it with the Hindi announcement and looked at Roy Da for his assessment of his performance. Roy Da had picked up the Microphone and was doing the Bengali announcement.
Binay then looked at the platform and saw people doing the same actions he’d seen them doing 20 minutes ago, when the previous train was announced. Binay felt a sense of fulfilling and thought to himself that he could get used to it.