Burdwan, a railway station, is the beginning, middle and end of many of my train journeys. Not unusual for a boy who went to boarding school to have many, many train journeys. Sahibganj, the town of my boarding school, was reached from Kolkata, my home, by train. I made the trip six times a year from age six to seventeen, when I left school. Then because my parents had made Sahibganj home, my trips continued but less frequently. The trains to Sahibganj pass through Burdwan, an important junction. Burdwan is also the stop from where I change to a bus or car for the trip to my mother’s home in the village called Galsi. Between Kolkata and Burdwan, is a small suburb of Kolkata, Uttarpara, the town of my ancestral home. After so many trips, for so many journeys, for so many reasons, Burdwan is one open window in my life.
For all of my travels from, to and through Burdwan, the longest time I have spent their is probably half an hour waiting to board a train. Yet the windowlogues are endless. Obviously some more worth recounting than others. There is one common memory and life long impression. Burdwan is also home of the very famous Bengali desert mihidana. Now many people travel through Burdwan. During a short stop, you can make a mad dash to get off your train, exit the station, weave your way through rickshaws, autos, cars, taxis, push carts, and passengers, get in the line at a sweet stall, bag your precious cargo of mihidana, and hopefully resume your journey.
Burdwan, Galsi and Sahibganj featured prominently in my life. Galsi, my grandmother’s home, was an idyllic Bengali village. It fits the bill like a shoe. Travels through Burdwan to Galsi featured a local or express bus trip in my childhood, a private car in adulthood. The early years also included a trip by rickshaw during dry months or by bullock cart during the monsoon to my grandmother’s doorstep. The house gained stature and size over years. The entrance way remained the same and served a clear purpose. From the street level you climbed about eight steps to reach a concrete platform about ten feet long before you knocked on the door. The platform leveled off with a bullock cart base; so you could hop off the cart onto the platform while the cart driver held his bullocks and cart steady in the ever sinking mud. I wouldn’t dare to step into the street, sometimes a river of mud. Once through the doors, a small hallway and then the beautiful courtyard opened into the vista of a lush green country, sometimes swaying with paddy, at others a golden brown with wheat, whatever the farmers saw fit to grow.
Once passing through Burdwan, my father performed an extra-ordinary feat. In the mid 70’s I was in the second year of my college at St. Xavier’s Kolkata. Having consumed many tasty meals at a local dhaba, I came down with a bought of malaria and finally severe jaundice. My cousins in Uttarpara took me home, while my parents came up from Sahibganj. All the conveniences of our small but adequate living quarters in Sahibganj beckoned us to rush back even though I was far from recovery. That would take my absence from college and Kolkata for three months. We boarded the train at Howrah, Kolkata. The train makes its first stop at Burdwan some two hours later, before chugging on to other stops and reaching Sahibganj after nine hours. A fever started and burnt my body. My parents conferred that Father would get off at Burdwan and make a dash for the pharmacy located by the sweet stalls to buy a stronger fever reducer. I was quiet layed out by the fever to be aware of their daring plan.