Adventures of Tarapad Bakshi - R. K. Roychoudhary
(Taken from the novel Reminiscences from Dawn to Dusk)
There was a boy named Tarapad Bakshi in my class. He belonged
to the same village and his elder brother Kalidas was one
year senior to us in the same school. Kalidas was a good
student and passed matriculation with what in those days
was known as 'letters,' first division rank. But after matriculation
he couldn't continue his studies. With the help of a police
officer in our village, he entered the police force and
rose up to the rank of an inspector. Soon after, he slowly
removed himself, away from the village affairs. Perhaps
we were not good enough for him anymore. I remember, Kalidas'
dad was almost a second version of my father- child beating
was also his forte.
Tarapad once left home and showed his rebellion against
his father's tortures. It had been a few days after his
disappearance and no news of him were heard anywhere.
Rasiklal Bakshi didn't exactly seem very perturbed or anxious
to find his son. Maybe he had an inkling about the extent
his son could go to in any circumstance. Yet Tarapad exceeded
everyone's expectation this time, as we learnt about it
later. After a month of his disappearance, Rasiklal received
a letter from someone in Calcutta. Tarapad was living with
a gentleman in Calcutta and the letter stated that he would
make arrangements for his safe return to the village. This
letter may also have contained some suitable advice because
after Tarapad's return, both he and his brother experienced
a marked change in their father's behavior.
I hadn't yet seen Calcutta in those days. Leave aside Calcutta,
I hadn't even seen a train or boarded one. After Tarapad
returned to the village, he became the famous raconteur
of our friend's circle. He would narrate stories from his
incredible escapade and we would to sit under the peepal
tree all afternoon listening to him in rapt attention.
A train was 'one furlong' long, we were told; the word
'furlong' was new to me and I used to repeat it to myself
several times, thrilled with the sound of the word in my
own ears. The whole idea of a train carrying passengers
to a fixed destination was unbelievable to all of us. Some
of us even cried out in astonishment-"Now don't give
us your hoard of lies!" That he hadn't lied was clear
to me shortly, when for the first time I visited Calcutta
for my cousin's wedding.
It was Tarapad's first trip to Calcutta as well. It was
really a mystery how a helpless, young, village-boy like
him reached the far-away dreamlike city of Calcutta. We
were all curious to know the details but after he unraveled
the story, faint seeds of doubt were raised in our minds.
There was a spot in our village for the launch of jetties
at the river banks. That morning, Tarapad walked to the
river ghats and boarded a jetty without anyone's notice.
It was a hot, breezy afternoon and he soon fell asleep on
the deck with his crumpled bag of clothes lying beside him.
When he woke up, the liner had reached its destination and
Tarapad got off with the other passengers. Pangs of hunger
clawed within him as he realized, he hadn't eaten a morsel
throughout the day. He noticed the nearby railway tracks-
series of iron planks adjoined together in lined structures.
At first he didn't understand what these meant, but remembered
a picture of this kind in some book, he had read years ago.
The main station was not too far away and Tarapad walked
to a nearby tea-stall with his new acquaintances from the
ship. Soon the inevitable happened- someone asked him for
his share of money for lunch and when they learnt that he
had none, they beat him up and threw him out of the shop.
Lost and forlorn, Tarapad sat at one corner of the station,
thinking for a long time. The events of the entire day had
made him weary and his present situation seemed unreal.
The afternoon heat put a strange lull around the station
and Tarapad sat there listless, huddled in a corner.
The station clock struck three, and within minutes the
midday's drowsy station sprung back to life. Masses of people
suddenly seemed to appear from every corner of the station,
restless and waiting. Tarapad saw a huge train with its
bulky gait slowly puffing its way toward the station with
an immense noise of grating steel. It was the first time
he had seen a train. Crowds thronged the small, raised doorways
of the train as it gradually came to a complete halt. The
air was invaded by the screams of hawkers selling tea, sweetmeats,
silvery chains and colored glass bangles. Coolies with deep
red turbans swiftly made their way through the narrow compartments
of the train. Tarapad acted quickly and slipped into a compartment
which looked scarcely populated. In those days, trains had
four class compartment sections- first, second, inter and
third. Tarapad looked around the compartment and gathered
his clothes-sack at one corner of the floor. The train finally
started moving and soon he fell asleep again, rocked by
the swinging motion. When Tarapad woke up, the train had
come to a stop. It was almost empty and few last passengers
were also getting off. Tarapad didn't know what to do; he
sat watching the people leave the train. Then an elderly
gentleman, dressed in dark clothes approached him. "Don't
you want to get off the train?" With Tarapad's silence,
the questions increased. "Where are you going son?
Let me see your ticket." Tarapad almost choked with
fear and started crying in front of the gentleman.