A Bus Ride and Other Short Stories

Table of contents :
CONTENTS......Page 3
The Bookstall by the Station......Page 6
A Bus Ride......Page 13
Romola and her Three Sisters......Page 17

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A BUS RIDE and other short stories



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Copyright © 2019 by Biswajit Nath All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the writer

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The Bookstall by the Station

I love travelling, especially via train. It’s not that I don’t have problem with the unhygienic sanitary system or the overcrowded bogies of the Indian railway, yet, I love travelling by train rather than the other transportation systems. I stepped into the crowded compartment and my father followed. At first, I thought, it was going to be a tough journey. In that crowd, it was nearly impossible for us to find a seat. Luckily my father managed one. He adjusted himself and I got comfortable on his lap. With two loud whistles the train began moving. I scanned the other passengers around us. Two fat ladies sat in front of us. Two gentlemen and their three sons sat next to them. Their sons were like me, of the same age, or maybe a year older. I mean, they were definitely thirteen or above. All three were focussed intently on their smart phones. They were playing some kind of video game. Two men sat next to my father. Their faces were blank. They were lost in some thoughts, unconscious to the world around them. I took out my half-read novel, Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie, from my bag. As I read through the pages, I felt something strange. It made me awkward. I looked up to find that all eyes in the compartment were focussed on me. Some mouths were wide open. The three kids in front of our seat had

paused their video games just to look at me. For a few dumb seconds I stared back, confused. What the hell is going on? Why are all these people looking at me in such a way? Even the newly married couple in the nearby seat had removed the headphone they had been sharing and was staring at me. Unable to guess the reason, I looked at my father for answers. He had understood the whole situation and a smile played on his face. He replied to my silent question, “You are reading a book! Isn’t it strange enough?” His answer made it crystal clear for me. There was nothing to be surprised about. These days every book lover has to go through this kind of situation. I know, the term ‘every book lover’ nowadays is limited to a few writers and a handful of readers. If one dares to open a book in public, people judge them in a different way. The look on their face said they were feeling, as if, someone from another planet had just landed amongst them. My father used to say, “When I was young, while travelling most of the people used to bring books with them, to pass time. Only few passengers used to while away time by chatting or playing cards. As time has passed, the demand for books has decreased at such a rate that people don’t even remember when was the last time they had read something.” I agree with him. We can’t blame anyone for this change in people’s interest. Since technology has reached this new level, people can now easily entertain themselves and spend their time by watching videos and accessing almost any information. Why would anyone bring a book? Not many kids are interested in reading. Most of the students in our school prefer playing video games instead of reading novel or playing outdoor games. Even their parents don’t force them much. But I am different. I am the kind of boy who is addicted to reading books and not playing video games. I fall in love with books so fast and so deeply that I can read a thick book in a few sittings. I can read faster than my

teachers, even our principal sir (he hardly reads anyway!). Our subject teachers and my school friends often ask me a question, “How do you read so many books in such a short period of time?” The point is not ‘So many books’ but Book. If you want to read many books, you’ll have to start with one book and to read that book, one needs to have interest in reading. Since my childhood I have seen varieties of books in my father’s old library. From mythology to fantasy, romance to detective stories, the library was full of books. Each time I complete reading a book, my way of thinking changes. My prospective towards the world becomes fresh. I find myself becoming mature. I start thinking. I start getting ideas. From the first time onwards, the habit of reading became permanent in my life. As a result, here I am reading a book in a packed passenger train and every passenger was watching me, making me awkward. Our train stopped at Jamshedpur Railway Station. My uncle lived 15 km away from the station. We picked our bags and started walking through the highly crowded platform. I have some special connection with this platform. We have visited many places and witnessed much larger platforms, but this one holds a special place in my heart. The reason is Rama Bookstall. Like most of the Stations, Jamshedpur Railway Station also has a book shop. Rama kaka, a sixty-yearold talkative man is the owner of the shop. With paan in his mouth, he tells details of each book that his customer picks. No doubt, he is an avid reader. He loves books from the bottom of his heart, and has knowledge about authors and their works in detail. Being a human it’s not possible to read each and every book that is there to sell at his shop. It was his narration skill that made the audience believe that, whatever Rama kaka is telling about the book was true and they purchased the book without a second thought. From his marketing skills one could definitely make out that not only writers and publishers, but contribution of book sellers matters a lot in making a book bestseller.

His presentation skill was magical, and it was the only marketing skill that he mastered in his entire life. My father and Rama kaka knew each other since the time my father was a student in college. They had this crazy habit of discussing books. Since my father was a bookaholic and used to read a lot of extra books, he had to face a major problem of purchasing new books with little pocket money he received from my grandpa. One day he decided to meet Rama kaka, and they made a deal. It was a simple deal. As my father had no money to purchase books, Rama kaka would let him to take books of his choice to read. My father would have to give back the book after he completed reading along with a brief summary of the book. By doing this both benefited. Rama kaka understood the story of the book in detail without reading it. It helped him to sell that book in more quantity and my father got to read for free. In this manner their friendship grew, and they became close to each other. Times changed. My father got a high paying job in a different city as soon as he completed his master’s degree. He moved to another city leaving behind all his family and friends. Amongst all his childhood friends and close relatives, the one whom he missed the most was Rama kaka. The day my father took the train to Ranchi was the saddest as well as the happiest day for Rama kaka. He brought his little child Ayushman and his wife to meet my father. He was happy that now his book lover friend was going to be a big man. Like a real big man. The one with luxurious life. Literate and wise. Years passed by. Everything changed. New technology started arising like never before. People’s interest started changing in unbelievable ways. The ones who used to read books now found more entertainment in phones and other gadgets. Book sales started decreasing. With the little income from selling newspaper and some magazines it became a major challenge for Rama kaka to manage his family smoothly. In spite of all these changing circumstances the bond between my father and Rama kaka remained same. Every time father visited Jamshedpur he spent some quality time with Kaka discussing books and other related stuffs. He knew about the suffering sales and the low profit margins of books, so he used to help kaka with money whenever they met.

Day by day the bookshelves of the bookstall started becoming empty. Kaka could no longer afford to purchase new books, since there was no guarantee of sale. Still Rama kaka came to his shop each day with remnants of some hope and energy that he had fifteen years ago. Breaking away from the crowd at Jamshedpur Railway station, we now stopped at Rama Bookstall. As usual Kaka was sitting on his old rocking chair reading a book. As soon as he saw us, he jumped out from the chair. “Oh my god! I can’t believe my eyes. Is this, Mukherjee?” kaka screamed in happiness. My father smiled and hugged Kaka. “Are you sick, Kaka?” I asked. His health looked degraded. When we had visited him last, he had looked so young and fresh. Maybe he looks like that because of age, I thought for a moment, but five months is not so long a duration to acquire so much change. “Yes, even I find you not to your usual health. What is happening? Are you sure you are fine? I have some friends here, who are doctors, I can call them if you want,” my father offered. “Nothing like that, Mukherjee” Rama kaka said running a worried hand through his hair. “Mukherjee…, I am going to stop selling books from this week.” Said kaka after a long conversation. “But why?” “I can’t afford to pay school fees of my son with the earning I make from this shop. Livelihood by selling books is no longer a good earning option. People come here and to other bookstalls to see books and if they find any interest in it, they order it to be delivered from various e-commerce sites. In the past few months, more than hundred bookstalls have closed down because of low profit margins and less sales. I think the time has come for me to take the right decision.”

We remained silent for a few seconds. There was nothing wrong with his decision, but the point was, will Kaka earn enough by doing any work other than selling books? When he started earning from his shop, he had become skilled at the art of selling books like no other. He was a master of his trade, and this decision…, was it really wise? “What about the remaining books?” asked my father after a pause. “I am looking for someone to purchase them. I have contacted a few friends of mine who love books. No one is interested in purchasing in bulk. Few of them bought 5-10 copies. I still have some 25 books with me.” Kaka pointed at the box filled with books. Father opened the box and inspected the mix of books there. He reached into his bag, took out his chequebook and wrote a cheque of ten thousand rupees in name of Kaka. “Take this money and invest it in the new business that you start. You don’t need to sell these remaining books. Keep them with you, and read whenever you feel like it.” Slowly Rama Kaka sat on the chair, he looked at the cheque and then at my father. His eyes were moist. For the first time I saw Rama kaka crying. I wondered, if this was that same Rama kaka who used to describe books’ summary to customers with so much zest. Was this the same Rama kaka who had worked every day with so much hope? Was he the same man? I tried to make out, whether his tears were out of happiness… for getting an opportunity to start a new business… or due to the pain he felt because he was forced to stop selling books from that day. It remained a riddle for me. Few days later… We were on the train, on the way home. The train had started moving slowly, leaving behind the platform, heading to our destination. From a distance I saw Rama kaka serving customers in his new shop. Yes, he owns a new shop now where he sells almost every kind of packed food for passengers. Though the shop is brand new, still it was filled with customers. I saw kaka working with his usual zest.

He is earning… But I found something missing in him today. I couldn’t identify what it was. Was it his smile? Maybe…

A Bus Ride

Few years ago, I was travelling to some place by our town bus. I don’t remember the purpose nor the destination but the thing that I do remember was an interesting incident. The incident changed my way of thinking. The bus services in our region are not the same as other places. You can say, we don’t even have basic transport convenience. Getting a Redbus, OLA, or Uber is unheard of. On a normal working day, buses get overcrowded with passengers. Conductors pick more and more passengers disregarding the capacity of the bus. As buses are cheaper than taxis and other transportation services, people try to overlook the numbers. For college students it is especially difficult to get a ride on bus. According to Government rules, students in uniform need to pay only half the normal rate. The rule was made to benefit the students, but its actual effect was unexpected. As the conductors could not ask for full payment from students, they didn’t pick many students on their route. They didn’t even allow students to get into the bus, even if the whole bus was empty. As I said, most of the time buses are overcrowded. Fifty percent passengers don’t get any seats and they have to stay standing, arms stretched as much as the crowds would permit. You had to depend on the person next to you to carry your weight. For people like us, who have lived here all their

life, it’s a common thing. But if you’re new here, you are sure to have a tough time. That day the bus was less crowded than usual, I was certain because, I got enough space to stand comfortably. In the seat on my right, two beautiful girls were sitting. I looked at them casually. From their clothes, I reached to the conclusion, they were girls who preferred modern life over traditional. Usually, I don’t judge women by their dresses. Anyone can choose to wear anything. We are no one to question their choices. These girls, with their backless attires looked delicately pretty. I didn’t want to credit their dress too much for making them look gorgeous, they were really attractive. Both had beautiful features and as they smiled while talking to each other, I made up my mind, their smile was sufficient to make anyone fall for them. I felt a strange satisfaction. Maybe because it was tough to find gorgeous women in a public bus, and now I had two near me. In an effort to not stare, I turned my face to the other side. There was a girl with a bland smile. Her face looked hard and tired. She was dressed in some traditional wear. She had a dull dark skin which allowed no praise for her beauty. As I looked around I noticed, almost half of the passengers’ eyes were focused on the two pretty girls in the backless clothes. Not a single person gave the other girl a second look. The bus kept turning and bumping on its route and the passengers started chatting with the strangers beside them. There was no one near me with whom I could feel comfortable conversing, so I had no other option but to keep quiet and eavesdrop on other’s conversation. I heard the two modern girls on my right talking to each other. ‘I don’t like coming to the village, you know, Rekha. I don’t understand

why people live here! In city the lifestyle is so beautiful,’ the first girl said. ‘That’s what I have been wanting to tell you for so long! Why ever, does our family want to stay connected with this village? Just because… we have some acres of land here. It makes our life so miserable, coming here and wasting our holidays. We should have gone to Goa instead. There are so many things to enjoy there.’ The second girl said. ‘Above all… I don’t like this transportation system. Buses here are always crowded with illiterate people. You now, they don’t even know to speak English properly,’ the first girl made a face. ‘I don’t think these places will ever develop… and people here will ever learn to be civilised. There is no hope, sister. All we can do is to get settled in developed city and never come back.’ The second girl shook her head emphatically. ‘Hey, look at that girl in those traditional clothes. She looks so ugly in that dress! And her face! If god had given me a face with such colour, I would have died of sorrow.’ The first girl screwed up her nose in disgust. ‘She should have waxed her hands at least! Anyway, they’re illiterate. You can’t really expect anything more from them.’ The second girl smirked. I felt a little awkward after hearing their conversation. Especially when I realised, they were talking about that poor girl on my left. I felt pity for her. On one of the stops, a middle-aged woman got into the bus with a small child. I heard some disgruntled voices around. Of course, it was impossible for anyone with a child to travel in such a crowded bus. But everyone understood the woman had no option as the next bus would come only after an hour, and waiting for one hour, at this time of the year, in the hot sun, is not a joke. The woman somehow carried her child inside and stood next to me. The two girls on my right made an awkward face at the dirty clothes of the woman. The woman was bathed in sweat. She looked tired and frail. It looked like, she had just recovered from some serious illness.

While the two girls could not bear to look at the woman and were feeling uncomfortable due to her presence, the girl on my left stood up and said, ‘Madam, please take this seat. I will stand.’ The tired woman looked at the dark-skinned girl in confusion. She had not understood what the girl had said, she continued to stand. The confusion was clear to me. The girl had spoken in English. I spoke to the woman and translated the girl’s request in the regional language, pointing at the now vacant seat. For the rest of my journey, the ugly girl stood with me and travelled like a real woman while the other two with pretty faces, sat quietly in their seat. They had not expected the dark-skinned girl to understand their conversation, and now, the girl’s action had left them speechless. Suddenly it looked like, they didn’t even know to speak, talking in English was a thought far from their mind. I say, it was the best bus ride for me. It taught me a new way to look at people. The bus ride is memorable because I shared it with the most beautiful girl, ever. Being modern is not any achievement, being mature is.

Romola and her Three Sisters

My grandmother was a wise lady. She once said, it’s not good to eavesdrop on elders’ conversation. When I was young, I had a very bad habit. I am not sure if I should call it a bad or a good habit. I used to listen to others’ conversation. Grandmother was the only one who loved stories in my family. I shared a strong bond with her. Wherever she went she would take me with her. We would go out together and come back home only at dusk. In a few years this bond got so strong that I refused to stay without her. When I was first admitted in school, she had to stay with me the whole day. My friends and teachers would try different ways to make me study and not be dependent on her presence, but all their attempts were in vain. Every day she would sit under the banyan tree in front of my classroom, so that I could see her and study. Anyway, my grandmother used to say it was wrong to eavesdrop, but I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. I enjoyed listening to others conversation a lot. Every conversation was like a story for me. If I heard a part of it, I could imagine the rest of the story. I never felt guilty while doing so. Whenever someone came to our home, they would not go without spending some quality time with grandma.

It was a sunny day, when an uncle came to our home. I was sitting on the mat and going through the chapters we had studied the previous day at school. Uncle and grandma talked about a lot of things and as usual my ears were tuned to their conversation. I don’t remember much of that exchange, but one topic stuck with me. While chatting, grandma asked uncle about his daughter and the progress of her education. Uncle responded to grandma’s question with, ‘I don’t think there is any benefit in sending a girl to school. Eventually, all she will do is cook for her husband’s family and serve them. I am planning to send my younger son to a good school from the next month. He is the one who will earn for the family. There is no point of wasting money on education of a girl. So, she will not be going to school.’ On hearing this grandma’s face turned grave. She looked at the man silently then smiled. I understood her silence. I was eager to hear her response. She looked my uncle in the eye, ‘Bahadur, let me tell you a story… in our village Gagandeep was the wealthiest person. He had acres of land and so many cows that he could feed the entire village for free for at least a month. He used to work very hard. Soon, people began regarding his family as the happiest in the village. It used to be a time when someone was considered happy by their wealth. But the sad truth was, Bahadur, Gagandeep was not happy. The reason behind his unhappiness was his four daughters. Each time Gagandeep and his wife were expecting a child they prayed for a boy, but God seemed to be against their wish. Finally, his wife understood that there was no boy child in their destiny and decided it was for the best that they stopped hoping for one. The four girls grew up playing in the village. When they were big enough to go to school Gagandeep’s wife asked him to get them admitted in the paathshala. She wanted her girls to have, at least, basic education. But Gagandeep denied. His philosophy was the same as yours, there was no benefit in sending the girls to school since all they would be doing was

cooking for their husbands’ family. Serving them was the ultimate thing they would be doing, being women. If they were boys instead of girls, he would have thought of arranging a master to teach them maths. That would have helped him in transaction of business. A girl couldn’t do anything like that, so according to him, it was better to save the money and get them married as soon as possible. Three daughters of Gagandeep agreed with their father’s decision. They started learning to cook and do other household chores, from their mother but Romola, the youngest daughter of Gagandeep, had other thoughts. She had seen the paathshala and was impressed by the topics she had heard being taught there. She was sure, despite her father’s philosophies, she would go to school and study. Whoever heard of her decision said “no” but she was stubborn. Eventually her father gave in and got her admitted in the paathshala for primary studies. She completed her primary studies and also managed to get some higher education. By the time she finished her studies all her three sisters were married. No doubt, each one of them got married into wealthy family. The three sisters were living a luxurious life. Gagandeep now always thought of finding a husband for Romola. Because she was educated, not many were interested in marrying her. They thought, her education would have stuffed her up with useless theories, but she couldn’t have any knowledge of household duties. Years passed, Romola spent her days at her father’s home remaining unmarried. Lacking any good prospects, Gagandeep finally found a simple guy in a nearby village and got her married. As dowry he gave Romola and her husband five cows and some acres of land. Romola’s husband was neither rich nor educated, but he was wise. He knew that in the coming days education will be valued. The newlyweds respected each other and started living a simple, happy life.’ Grandmother

looked at uncle who was intently listening to her. She continued, ‘I got to meet Romola and her three sisters recently. All of them have grown older. I was excited to find out financial status of Romola. I wanted to know, how she had managed to live in a poor family when she had been habituated to a luxurious lifestyle. I was certain, as Romola was married to a poor man, she would be doing pathetically. I was in for a bigger surprise when I found out about the three elder sisters of Romola. They lived in the same houses that they went to years ago, and now those houses were crowded with their children. Their sons were still doing the same business as their fathers. Their financial status was not very enviable. On the other hand, family of Romola is now the richest and the most respected family of the city in which they live. Her son owns a company and also holds shares of many well to do companies. Everyone was surprised when they found out about Romola. Someone decided to ask the secret of her success. Romola had replied, “Do you know the greatest wealth of all time? It’s education. You give your child a toy, he will use it for a few days to play and then it will be thrown into the garbage. You give your child money, it will be used to purchase something and then it will be gone, but if, you give your child education, it will open up their mind to think differently and do well in life. I got a chance to get proper education and I gave the same chance to my son. The most important thing is education to women. A mother spends more time with a child. So, a mother’s education matters in the overall development of a child.” Grandma gave Bahadur a look. She was done with her story. She finished with, ‘If you give your girl a proper education, she will also think of making her own child educated. Her education will affect the entire family. If you wish to see some changes in the coming generations, at least one generation will have to sacrifice a little.’ Next month onwards, Bahadur uncle started sending his son and daughter to school. I don’t know, how, but after listening to the story, I started going to school without my grandmother.

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