It has been 9 hours now that I am domiciled in this AC-III tier Indian Railways Coach.
Two ladies with gold nose rings are chatting in the seats in front of mine. I cannot speak the language. I am too old not to learn how, also too busy when I am busy, and too indolent when I am not, wherefore some would imagine that I am having a dull time of it. But it is not so. The ladies are from Bengal. They talk to me in Bengali, I answer them in Hindi. I do not understand them, they do not understand me, consequently no harm is done, and everybody is satisfied. In order to be just and fair they throw in a Hindi word learnt from a Bollywood movie when they have one, and this has a good influence.
A moustached man with thick black spectacles is reading newspaper on my left side. It has been weeks since I last saw a newspaper. Apparently a self-proclaimed psychologist years ago had once advised me to stay away from it to cure my depressive thoughts. I had reapplied his theory when they had come to haunt me again since my engagement.
His eyes sparkle when he tells me about his idea of making me quit newspaper for a few weeks to cure my unhappiness. I laugh. “You need to understand yourself first. Forget about the world.” Surprisingly it did work for me.
A sense of grief suddenly lances through my body as if dissolved in my blood transferred to every part like oxygen. I push the thoughts away, surprised that they still have the same damaging effect over me.
My eyes fall upon the ring I am wearing in my left hand. I bring it at an angle so that the rock reflects the sunrays making beautiful illusions inside it. Sudeep Sarkar was a fellow Officer Trainee at LBSNAA, training for the Indian Administrative Services. We hit upon from the very first day and became inseparable in the span of six months together. He had proposed to me on the day of passing out in front of our “horrified” families. Sudeep was a fish eating Bengali with a sense of humour. I was a vegetarian from a Jat family in Uttar Pradesh. For a few days, tempers flared, emotions were high on both sides but soon everything calmed down. I was in a happy place, going to be married in five months. Sudeep was given the Punjab cadre and I was allotted Uttar Pradesh. Our joinings had come the very last week.
So, here I am, bound for Gorakhpur district in Uttar Pradesh, joining as the trainee SDM of tehsil Dumrao. The weather outside is cloudy.
“Where are you headed?” The moustached man pulls his newspaper down and faces me. He seems to be the regular Indian Man, going to the same office in the same bus, bringing groceries on way back, complaining about wife and the stock market. Looking at him I realise he is younger than he seems to be. Life has weared him down.
“Dumrao in Gorakhpur.”
“Aren’t you reading the papers? The Kosi has flooded the entire district. Here read this.” He hands me his newspaper. He is right. The incessant monsoon rains have triggered the flood burst of the already notorious river. The death toll had risen to 56 during the last two days. I give a mental kick to myself.
Thanks to my old habit of procrastination, I hadn’t even informed the District Collector of my early arrival yet. I had planned of discovering the town before officially taking charge. I quickly dial his number. He promises to send transportation on the station and arrange for my lodgings. I sit back in relief.