Saturday, April 5, 2014

Boat-trekker-trekker-boat: a travelogue

Kaleidoscope by virtue of his continuous and never-ending service to Higher Education often undertakes extensive travels to investigate the progress of pupil in other side of the river - in Nandigram. The ultimate aim is to impose a momentary halt in his non-judgemental self and start judging pupil and their works with a few often stereotypical questions. However, as always happens Kaleidoscope finds these moments as opportunities to experience people and places. 

Therefore, Kaleidoscope must leave his office early and cross the river which has the most amazing sun-set views. 

A few sun-set moments

Kaleidoscope crosses the river in an over crowded machine run boat which constantly speaks monotonous word "bhat bhat bhat bhat" and therefore, these are "bhotbhotis". People can manage to sit on a three inch elevated side wall of the boat and speak with each others. Much like local train co-passengers they start talking from nowhere and continues until the boat reaches its destination. There are issues of health, office politics, state and central politics, cricket, good looking girls and films. As Kaleidoscope almost makes once-in-a-year visit to Nandigram he is often asked by the daily passengers his whereabouts. He is mostly thought of as a newly appointed school teacher or somebody going for the BDO office work. 
This is how you need to cross the river

It takes about 10 - 15 minutes to cross the river and often there are displays of bravery by age old or quite young people who jump from Kaleidoscope's boat to another boat which goes to Nayachar. If Kaleidoscope's boat starts late it meets the Nayachar boat mid river and both the boatmen try hart to bring their bhotbhotis closer in such a way the gap becomes just enough for one brave heart person to jump off, but there must be a distance so that these two do not collide with each other. 

When the boat anchored in the opposite side of the river bank, a race takes place to catch the trekker - sole communication medium in most of the rural West Bengal. A trekker is a metal hooded vehicle with an unlimited carrying capacity. While there are sitting arrangements for about 10 to 12 at least 35 to 38 people boards and travels with a smile. The drivers and helpers are their friends or neighbours and many of them are grown up together. The attachment is such deep seated that several trekkers bear the inscription "bandhutto barite/ byabsa gaarite" - loosely meaning I am a friend of yours' at home but this vehicle means business - an alternative way to say "pay to avail the service." There is a huge concession for school going children, they boards - almost always clings with the vehicle and pays Rs. 2/- against the minimum fare of Rs. 5/-. Everytime Kaleidoscope goes he finds the driver taking personal care of each of his passengers who are dangerously clinging with the vehicle. He constantly reminds passengers to holdfast. At the back side of the trekker where Kaleidoscope most of the times gets to seat has a single sit in between two parallel sits virtually omitting the slightest leg-space. This time a girl sits on that single sit and keep browsing facebook from her touch screen cellular phone. Yes, while these people do not have a 'proper' transport facility, they have mobile phones and many of them do access facebook. 

The trekker with unlimited carrying capacity makes regular stoppages and its carrying capacity increases as the drivers never say no and passengers reciprocate. once in a while it has to stop to check whether the hen or duck which was crossing the road actually have crossed it or is still waiting under the vehicle. The car stops, the helper who happens to be a spider-man to be able to cling throughout the vehicle and collect the fare, asks "what happened?" The driver asks "you must first check with the duck!!" A cheering smile goes across the vehicle and it continues to shuttle. The people of Nandigram having being able to mark a prominence in the social movements related to land acquisition continues to toil happily between "Kendamari to Nandigram bazar" or between "Terepekhya to Nandigram bus stand." As Kaleidoscope is writing this unproductive experience he can still hear the cheering smile by the school going students who were advised by the trekker driver to ask their MP for bicycles... or the moment when the real life spider-man had to check whether the duck was still there!

P.S. Kaleidoscope's boss at one of the best institutes of the world once received a FPM (PhD) application with a Post Script "Sir, I am from Nandigram!"