Monday, April 14, 2014

The Road to Barkakana, Jharkhand

7 pm, 31.3. 14
Barkakana Junction. The road from Ramgarh to Barkakana is a veritable nightmare. Potholed, with no tarmac to speak of, damaged by years of overloaded trucks coming from what the taxi driver told us were “Colveries” up ahead. I have a choice of keeping the windows up and slowly suffocating inside, or rolling them down and choking on the thick clouds of dust that swirl all around you inside the car, and in your nose, mouth, hair, eyes, nose and ears. My eyes water, I sneeze and cough, and wonder how daily commuters put up with this. The last three km from Ramgarh to Barkakhana takes us 20 minutes to cover with luck favouring us all the way – the level crossing is open, and there is no truck or jeep overturned or with a punctured tyre blocking this track. I wonder how the driver can see where he is driving or where the edge of the road is.

We finally decide that suffocation is preferable to death by dust, put up all the windows, and drive on; the driver perspiring with the effort to keep the car on the so-called road.

The road to dusty death - Ramgarh to Barkakana
The railway station at Barkakana is a small affair – you climb a flight of stairs (like an overbridge), walk 50 feet over railway tracks below, and descend to a courtyard which you cross to enter the main platform. This is brightly lit, the announcement board for the trains dark and the display switched off; the enquiry counter has its shutter firmly down.
Barkakana railway junction. The entrance to the main platform is beyond this overbridge

Looking down from the overbridge. The main platform of Barkakana is across the courtyard to the left of this photograph.
The 2nd class waiting hall where I sit is done up in pink – pink tiles line the walls chest high and also the slabs for people to sit on. A lone man wrapped in rags sleeps on the slab at one corner, oblivious to the mosquitoes buzzing around, and the noisy announcements.

The ladies and gents’ toilets are, mercifully, not smelling. Perhaps no one uses them, since there is no water in the basin at least.

The Upper Class waiting room, strangely, is not unisex, like the 2nd class one is. The ladies’ room is locked from within, while the gents’ room shows moulded metal chairs instead of a tiled slab to sit on.

I wander up and down platform 1, in search of a drinking water tap and fail to find any. At one end I spot two enterprising youth unhooking the large pipe (that is used to fill the railway coaches), opening the valve and having a drink in the gush of water.. I don’t fancy doing that, and walk back to the stationmaster’s room to enquire. He informs me that it is on platform 2 – I have to cross the tracks or go on the overbridge if I need a drink of water. Otherwise, he adds helpfully, just go to the railway canteen at the end of this platform and there is water there in the basin.

That is precisely what I do, though getting inside requires skill and maneuvering between the cartons of mineral water bottles that have been stacked like sandbags in front of a VIP residence. I edge in sideways to find a spotlessly clean and empty restaurant. The manager (a youth of about 25) edges in after me, asks what I want. The menu is in English and in Hindi, at least 50 items on it, put up on the board like a roll of honour. I have no intention of eating there, but keep up a discussion about the various items as I stroll casually to the basin and wash my hands. I tell him I will think it over and return, and edge out – what subterfuge to be able to wash one’s hands!

A little later I walk past the same canteen and drop some waste paper into the dustbin kept outside. I hear two of them mutter among themselves – she is the one who said she will return in half and hour….. meanwhile I have crossed the tracks to reach the second platform for my train.

No comments:

Post a Comment