Sorry to disappoint folks.. its not about a
'Bong' in the middle. Its about...
A Punju sitting in a coach full of Bongs**
Is that even possible ? Apparently, yes!
After vacationing for 3 wonderful days in Puri, we were to return to Calcutta via the Puri Sealdah Duronto. We had arrived in Puri on the Shalimar-Puri SF Express taken from the 'yes-I-am-there-in-one-corner-of-Calcutta' station named Shalimar. Before that time, I hadn't even heard of this name. Not my fault. It's the same if you tell a non-Delhiite whether they know of Sarai Rohilla station.
The train was to start at 7:45 PM and we were there by 6:30. With mum and dad around, there was no question about reaching the station late. Now for me, time spent at stations is generally loitering around watching trains go by or get amazed watching the menagerie of people, but this time I was just too tired from roaming in the blistering sun at the Chandrabhaga beach and then walking all the way down from Grand Road till the station. So we chose the confines of the air-conditioned waiting room. A 3 tier AC ticket entitles you to that luxury, although now, over the years of my travels I've managed to understand that 'confidence' and not the numbers on your ticket get you past the entry barrier.
All thanks to my habit of getting things done at the very last minute, one of our berths was in a different coach than the other three. Oh-yes! And wasn't I desperately looking for some time away from the chitter-chatter of the family. With a snicker on the lips, I happily agreed to go occupy the lone berth.
The train chugged its way out of the temple town to get onto its 8 hour journey back to the original capital of the East India Company.
Seat no. 32.
30 odd people to the left, 30 odd to the right. Literally in the 'middle'. As I scooted my way up and down the aisle, all I could hear were Bangla syllables thrown around in the familiar high pitched tone. A frequent rail traveler in India would know that Sleeper and 3-tier AC coaches have berths in groups of eight. And I usually prefer the hassle free side upper berth (whose number happens to be in multiples of 8) since less people want to climb up and trespass. The group of seven around seat no. 32 were occupied by two Bengali families who had dropped into Puri for the summer vacation. An elderly couple and a family with 3 generations all tucked into seven berths.
I had specially packed in a reading material to pass my time during the journey. While the two families ate and chatted away in Bangla, I, nonchalantly, with a book in my hand, tried to make sense out of the on-going conversation. All that I was desperately seeking was, an entry into the banter.
Between soaking up dealer pricing and FMCG distribution models, I would pause for a moment, look up from my papers and admire how pretty bengali girls are. And then get back to hearing something about politics, the weather, how much better train food can get and cricket. All in bangla, of course. The young Bengali lass would meanwhile flit between getting her hair combed by her grandma and joking with her grandpa.
This scene carried well into the night after which I scampered four small stairs to the comfort of my bedding and cursed Indian Railways for having the air conditioner on such high blast that a blanket would be required to survive the night when it was 40 deg humid May weather outside.
Departure came early. 4 AM.
But the Punju was already half Bong by then. Having had my mind interpreting conversations all journey long. Being in the 'middle' had paid off!
**Punju : Punjabi and Bong : Bengali are quirky nicknames given to people of either community same as Gujju (for Gujarati). You can read more about the origins of these words in this nice article here.