Saturday, 17 May 2008

Last Bus to Tata

Going to Jharkhand from Delhi is not easy. That is, if you decide to travel at the drop of a hat; your time window is a weekend, and IA decides to cancel its flight out to Ranchi at the 11th hour -- which also entailed the cancellation of a tatkal ticket on the Rajdhani for the return trip and the forfeiture of almost the entire fare.

So I postponed my trip to the next weekend and booked a return fare on Kingfisher airlines instead. But then, while I flew in to Ranchi on Deccan (now a KF subsidiary), I did not fly out. Being a traveler, I decided to economize - given the Rajdhani fiasco - and get back from Tatanagar station, Jamshedpur on the 2819 Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi Sampark Kranti which chugs in on Sundays at the nice hour of 11 pm. It took a long time, I remember for it to dawn on me that there is no station called Jamshedpur! The station for Jamshedpur is Tatanagar. Wasn’t the station for Vasco, called Vasco? And wasn’t the station for Delhi, Delhi?

Jamshedpur was where I was headed after all at the gracious invitation of my documentary film-maker friend Ms Biyot Projna Tripathy who keeps buzzing in to Delhi on work. Khalid Parvez, a colleague of Ms Tripathy met me at Birsa Munda airport, Ranchi and spirited me away the the bus stand. The flight having arrived late at 7.15 pm, the last bus, like in Goa in the early days, had already left. So Khalid put me on to a bus bound for Kolkata which would deposit me at Dimna chowk enroute. The deposit turned out to be only at midnight with the driver stopping for a leisurely dinner along the way. Later I was informed that the route is also on the naxal corridor.

Waiting for my train, I watched the skeletal tribals hard at work twining the sticks from the forest at Tatanagar station. I recall the abject poverty they live in. As their forest space is being wantonly depleted, they are losing the only means of livelihood they know.
Dispossessed and helpless, can we give then another alternative besides naxalism? Birsa Munda) was a Munda leader from Jharkhand and opposed British Raj. What would he say now?

Tatanagar Station

Brian Mendonça

Tribals twine
sticks into string
as a skeletal sadhu
eases himself from the platform's edge.
Red ambush at Dumka
Iron ore on track
A bespectacled beggar on crutches
begs for alms.
'Your attention please
Train number 2819
Bhubaneshwar-New Delhi
Sampark Kranti is on line clear
and will be arriving shortly
on platform number 2.'

(Tatanagar station
Sunday, 27 April 2008)

Red ambush: title of news report in the day's Telegraph of naxal attack on police at Dumka
Iron ore: Tata steel, Bokaro and Rourkela source all their iron ore from the mines for their steel plants through wagons on the South Eastern Railway

Dr Shubhra Dwivedy is CEO of the Socio Economic and Education Development Society (SEEDS, at the XLRI campus at Jamshedpur. She was beaming when we went to visit her. Many people had come to see her, ensconced as she was among Bastar black metal work designs. I happily picked up jute bags made by tribals, containers of coconut husk, and cute key chains of fibre.

What impressed me the most – and usually does—is the way people reach out, across India, to help you at every stage of your journey. In the cool weather of Ranchi, as we sped along on Khalid’s bike, he was very impressed by the title Last Bus to Vasco. And by way of conversation he shot back ‘How come you are always taking the last bus?’ The way he was waving down vehicles enquiring 'Tata?' made me see how the name had once more reified to its short form taking on board the consciousness of the place - difficult to miss as the Tata caterpiller trucks roared off to 'Tata'nagar on NH 33.

Today, the Indian Express (Sat, May 17, 2008) reports assailants opening fire at the residence of a prominent shoe baron Shekhar Dey on Thursday, only six months after his older brother Ashis was shot to death in the Sakchi area of Jamshedpur. Though armed constables stood guard outside the house, they did not return fire. The firing was ostensibly to terrorise the family and hamper the ongoing investigation into Ashis’s death on November 2, 2007. We live in violent times.

I passed through Sakchi market on the way back after my hosts had taken me for a laser sound and light show at Jubilee Park. It is interesting and a bit awesome how a traveler can open a newspaper in the morning and transport himself to the place from where the incident is reported, as though he is once more walking on those same streets - all because he has visited the place and knows its roads and has heard its sounds and silences.

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