This diwali vacation I travelled quite a bit to the faraway nooks and corners of my home state Jharkhand and once again enjoyed the highly nuanced face of India – sometimes a bit disturbing if my urban tastes and sensibilities forced me to judge, but mostly enjoyable for the sheer richness of diversity that was on offer. India lives in many decades - Some in 2010's, some in the early 2000, some in the 1990s and certainly but unfortunately some even in the 70-80's. Each decade has its own sights and sounds, peculiar to the times they represented which became the liet motif of those times - and fossilized over the layers of time, lending them identity and signature. This trip gave me the unparalleled joy of living those sights, smells and sounds yet again - sometimes eerie, but joyous nevertheless.
Post Office Gomia, in District Giridih, somewhere in the north-East of Jharkhand, right next to the Bengal border, is in the heart of mining belt, the hotbed of naxalite activity, and the destination of my journey. The 200 kms drive was an ensemble of a variety of experiences, often unrelated, but in warm harmony with each other – giving it a collage like diversity and appeal.
Crater sized potholes break the pace of the journey to no more than a drag, while rich green hues of paddy fields mark the countryside till as far as eyes can see. On the horizon is a faint boundary of the hills that puts an end to the audacity of sight. The roadside dhaba in eastern India is quite different from its flamboyant north-Indian cousin. Its tiled or thatched, mud paved, surely dirty and opens to the fields in its backyard. The tea is milky, syrupy and very sweet, the food however is fresh. We crossed the monthly fair for all the nearby villages as we reached the infamous town of Purulia. What a sight waited for us - 3 kilometers of the fair on both sides, cattle being traded and loaded on cranky trucks, bullock carts blocking the traffic endlessly, items of living made out of bamboo or hay that I never imagined people used anymore lined on both sides.
Darkness descended while we were a good 20 kms away from the destination - a twenty nasty kilometers cutting right across the heart of naxalite territory and passing over the 30 year old Tenughat dam on the Damodar River. It was perhaps the longest 20 kms of my life; the pitch darkness, made scarier by the stillness - a state of no sound exploding within your head, aggravated by the dense forests on both sides. As one passed on the road on the dam, a near vacuum of nothingness engulfs you on both sides - invisible in the dark, starless night but hundreds of meters of precipice palpable and felt through your bones. Such a night has its own smell - fresh, elevating, cold, very grassy, but blunted with the smell of fear it gets marinated with, so much so that one has to strain to enjoy it. As we descended on the other side, much to our relief, we noticed the first glimmer of faint yellow lights.
The day in these parts begins with sunrise and ends with sunset - something that is quite unfathomable to those who are used to extending the day beyond the sunset, aided and abetted by the glare of CFL and neon. Mornings are misty, grass rich with the overnight dew and the dozens of roosters at the forefront of the hamlets community alarm system. October evenings descends early - as if the preparation for the evening begins even before the afternoon is over, as one is acutely aware that darkness will bring the day to an unceremonious end. Early mornings and evenings there is a layer of smoke in the air, of burning raw coal from the nearby mines and of dried leaves, obnoxious and poisnous, but for those who might have lived on it, its comforting and familiar. It adds to the feeling of being at home.
The railway station is breathtaking in its antiquity -Two platforms, one each for the Up and Down trains. One small tea shop doubles up as a two-item-menu-snack counter serving samosas and boiled eggs ONLY. The lonely pan shop has beedis and non filter cigarettes stacked for display. At 8 o clock in the night when the last passenger train passes through the station, the station momentarily flickers back into activity for 5-6 passengers that will alight and the same number that will board, before things close for the night. The dark engulfs till the roosters to get to work the next day.
And the only thought that comes to my mind as I return, is Ah! So many roads, so many journeys - and such a short life.