My earliest memories outside of home were of the Mallikpur station, a picturesque little sleepy station quite like thousands of others in India. I had heard from my mother later on how it once looked enchantingly beautiful in spring with the fiery red Krishnachura trees (that’s Gulmohar or Delonix regia ) in full bloom, swaying in the gentle breeze accompanying an approaching Baruipur local or a departing Namkhana Rail, reaching right up to the southernmost tip of the state jutting into the Bay of Bengal. I heard from her poetic self how the first train left the station accompanied by the gently swaying coconut palms ( that still are visible now ) and the accurately timed utterings of aazan in sharp contrast to the inaccurate train times! ( Nowadays it has succumbed to consumerism as the sporadic growth of shops selling what-not have removed the Krishnachura trees and have induced a perpetual non-melodious cacophony.)
I vaguely remember the wait at the southernmost part of the station for the train to arrive. As soon as it did, I would scamper forth for the windows and stand right in front of it to revel in the glory of the wind swishing by, notwithstanding the density of people. These people represented the huge aspiring middle class and the hopeful people of rural south Bengal, going to seek their fortunes in the light beacon that was (is?) Calcutta – office goers, students, teachers, domestic help, hawkers, businessmen and whatnot. And then I would disembark at initially Jadavpur station, (Jadavpur of Jadavpur University fame) and later at Ballygunge junction. This journey I would take more than a thousand times in my life, after which I would shift to more environmentally polluting means.
I have many memories of the Ballygunge station, overwhelmingly fond, for it meant two things- one was of course my alma mater – the great South Point High School, and the other was Dr. Shibshankar Sinha, paediatrician. The latter I was very afraid of (naturally?) and dreaded! However that is a story that soon outgrew itself, because well, time goes on.
Regarding the station, apart from the plethora of hawkers (including one that displayed live scorpions and claimed to manufacture a panacea from them – you can still find the guy today!), a few things have to be mentioned- the newspaper shop at its outer reaches, from where I would regularly (and I was quite regular) buy a comic book featuring, say, Chacha Choudhury, or some other Diamond Comics equivalent. And then would come other monthly magazines like the Anandamela! On days I would be slightly late and the train would be incoming, the man would keep a comic ready and take money later. Another thing was the guy selling lottery tickets who would gladly give some non-winning tickets to this wide-eyed boy to play ! (to be used later as Monopoly money or rather ‘Byabshayi’ as it was known! I still have a few stacks lying around!) The boy, in a true embodiment of innocence, was as glad as if he had actually got a winner! That shop is closed now. Another guy I remember was the fruit-seller from whom we would regularly buy fruits en route to school, and I’m glad to say he’s still there and remembers me, Fol-kaku, he does! And the last group of people I remember was the office going group of Lion Uncle (for he had a huge mane of hair and a similar pair of regal moustaches!) who always gave me a seat when I returned from school during rush hours,(the train was usually packed like sardines).
But Ballygunge was my gateway to Calcutta, the city I had grown to love; and to my school.