Khurda Road Junction
Travelling back to college campus for start of a new semester is not fun; not if one was attending a college in India, at least not when Juggernaut was attending four decades ago. One has to reckon with bad cafeteria food, poor living quarters and terrible bathrooms in the hostel. End of a semester was a great relief, beginning of a new semester signals more stressful time to come. If they can only make learning more fun and less of a stressful event, learning life skills really means something worthwhile.
A travel from home to the campus town was a slow train journey that takes 10 hours to travel around 250 miles, from one culture to a totally different culture as if one is entering a different country. As train travels through the route, new passengers get in and some drop off. The new passengers ‘profile change, they speak different language and wear different garb. As the train travels towards the destination, at each station it stops, the snacks sold at the vendor stalls change from South Indian ‘Idli’ to Oriyan ‘Bora’ and less coffee and more of ‘chai’ or tea.
A casual conversation with fellow travelers may not occur because of language barrier, unless one meets that speaks English. Luckily for Juggernaut, he met an Anglo-Indian lady. She introduced herself as Mrs. Victoria Thomas travelling to Calcutta. A heavy set woman in her late fifties, she wore a short flowery dress exposing her legs. Though a descendent of mixed Indian and British ancestry, she has dark skin and looks more Indian. Without her short hair and dress, she could be mistaken for an Indian woman, unless she speaks out with her unique accent, either British or Indian.
The name Victoria brought back his memory of a statue of Queen Victoria over-dressed in layers of garments looking fat placed on a huge pedestal under a large canopy in a small square opposite the Central Bank in his home town. The decades old statue perhaps made from stone or bronze, hard to tell since layers of dust and oily soot coated the statue over time. Only beggars and mentally ill shared the canopy with the neglected statue.
“How far you were going?” asked Mrs. Thomas.
Waking up from his thoughts of statue of Victoria, Juggernaut replied “I am going to Bhubaneswar.”
“Are you from this area?”
“No, I am attending a university there,”
“How come, you have lot of universities in your state?”
“We do, but I want to experience living in a different culture.”
“That’s good; so how things going so far?”
“Not very good, the cafeteria food was very bad, so as my hostel.”
“There is nothing like home cooking.”
“Sure,” “do you live in Calcutta?” asked Juggernaut.
“No, I live in Guntur,” “My husband works in ‘Golden Tobacco Company there,” said Mrs. Thomas removing a small gold colored metal cigarette case from her purse.
Juggernaut never before saw a lady carrying a cigarette case and so as the other travelers sitting around. While the fellow travelers looking at her curiously, she opened the case, took one and placed it in-between her lips and asked Juggernaut whether he smokes.
Juggernaut eagerly accepted one and realized it was ‘Gold Flake’, an expensive brand marketed by ‘Golden Tobacco Company.’
Mrs. Thomas took a deep drag and exhaled the smoke in between her lips slowly as if she wants to keep the smoke in her lung a little longer.
“While attending agricultural college near Guntur, I once took a tour of tobacco fields near the ‘Golden Tobacco Company,” Juggernaut tried to make a connection.
“Do you have plans for the future after getting your degree?” asked Mrs. Thomas in a casual manner still inhaling and exhaling smoke while the travelers around watching her without blinking. After all, not often women smoke publicly, only in movies the bad women characters smoke to show their villainous nature.
“I am hoping to go abroad to pursue further in my field,” Juggernaut appeared to impress her.
“That’s good, I applied some years ago to immigrate to England,” “We the Anglo-Indians have a special arrangement with the British Government to get special permit to settle in England, but the process is taking a long time,” Mrs. Thomas looked frustrated.
While the conversation with Mrs. Thomas and smoking cigarette helped to break the boredom, Juggernaut noticed that the train was slowing down and pulling into huge railway yard with endless tracks and locomotive engines in slow motion pulling trains in different directions. The railway station was Khurda Road Junction, a cross roads for changing trains to go different places, a brightly lit railway station with several platforms and train tracks that are connected with over-bridge passes. The station was crowded with passengers and porters in red uniform carrying baggage on their head packed in layers one over the other.
For Juggernaut, sinking feeling sets in on arriving at Khurda Road Junction; it is only 25 miles to the final destination, a point of no return for the next four months of misery from terrible conditions at the hostel and hostility from some classmates. Juggernaut got off the train to walk on the platform to relax his strained muscles from sitting in the train. Here, the train crew changes. Workers connect water hoses to re-fill the in-built water tanks on top of the rail cars for travelers’ use. The train halts at the station for a good 30 minutes to complete the transfers. Meanwhile the passengers get-off the train to the platform to walk around and make purchases from the vendors hawking loudly refreshments, news papers and other sundry items. Mrs. Thomas was still smoking cigarette sitting next to the window and looking outwards towards the platform. The train guard whistled loud and waived a green flag to signal the engine driver to start, Juggernaut got into the train, as the train started slowly pulling out of Khurda Road Junction. After four months, he will be travelling through Khurda Road Junction again, but on way back home, a jolly good feeling. Somehow the name Khurda Road Junction bring back memories of melancholy.