An India from 1947, to 2021
Written by Tathagata Banerjee
The fact that he was way too early at the train station wouldn’t be surprising at all to anybody who had ever known him. Missing trains was a constant paranoia, and Amit effectively tried and failed to get over it. The fact that today it felt like the sky is gonna fall down – with how heavy the rainfall had been since dawn – only added to his mental misery. Sitting under the shed of the station, and looking on at the heavy downpour, Amit sighed. He was stuck now.
Amit checked the wristwatch. An hour or so for the train to come. His home is a bit away from the station, and he left in a hurry in order to not be late. Amit looked around for a bit. There’s no way he could take a stroll even. He would usually do that. Walking up to a nearby tea stall, chatting up strangers. Collecting stories was a hobby for him. All these lives which interconnect with each other at a station, and move on from these crossroads – it enchanted him. The silent whispers of the cosmos that one could hear when there was concentration – the sound of the beating tale-tell heart of the civilization. Amit sighed again, looking at the station being drenched in the rainfall. None of that was going to happen today. Leaving this shade would be idiotic now. He leaned back in his seat. Being in the company of one’s own mind is not so bad either. Solitude had its perks. Monsoon has a sense of poetry about it, like a narrative whose first few lines that hint at a grander tale waiting to be told. Rain had that sombre beauty and rhythm which fascinated Amit ever since he could remember. He pushed back his hair. The wind was strong, and a faint sound of a thunderbolt came from somewhere far away.
Amit took a deep breath. Would everything change soon? The country had come this close now to reach the goal. The goal for which so many people have sacrificed their lives. It felt surreal to him. In few months, India would become independent. But things were changing globally. It’s 1947, after all. It’s a new world now, he thought.
Ranjana moved the newspaper a bit, which was covering her view of the surroundings. It’s still raining with the same force. Well, she thought, that wasn’t a big problem. She loved monsoon, and was not at all in a hurry.
The station is almost empty today. She’s here to receive someone, but the train didn’t arrive yet. Ranjana sat there and kept reading the newspaper. The world was changing fast. Imperialism as a concept was falling apart, and global powers had to face the reckoning of the unchecked unleashing of over ambition that they had done. Reading the news, Ranjana sighed. Nation states had forever been a concept made up with binary notions, treating civilization as a monolith. Society as a whole was a broken system. Every country everywhere had ignored its poor people, marginalized the powerless. Ranjana smirked. Every nation state had always been patriarchal. Every news story around the world talked about powerful men. There was this constant erasure of women. Did they forget the women exist too – Ranjana often raised the question. The world’s changing, supposedly. But was it really? She felt she didn’t know the answer. She felt that nobody knew it, at all.
Ranjana had to look up from her newspaper. This man had been the single other person who was sitting under this shed, beside her. She didn’t notice when he left his seat and walked a few steps to her. Ranjana replied, “Yes?”
“Can I borrow the pages of the newspaper that you aren’t reading right now?” The man asked.
Ranjana picked up the pages that she’d kept by her side and moved her hand forward, “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” He smiled again, courteously, “I’m Amit. Amit Bose.”
Ranjana smiled back, “Nice to meet you. I’m Ranjana Mitra.”
Thunder roared somewhere far, they could hear the sound echoing. The wind seemed relentless, like life somehow realising it’s true meaning.
“If this is how the weather remains”, Amit said, “The trains are for sure going to be cancelled. There goes my day.”
Ranjana laughed, “Didn’t you just say you came way too early here? I’m assuming this day didn’t have a packed schedule from the get go, outside of the travel that is!”
Amit smiled, “Hey, someone’s observant. Well, that’s true. But you know, it feels like a wastage ruining a perfect day. Would have enjoyed the rain with tea back at home, listening to the radio. Now, that’s some quality time!”
“Come on now, Mr. Bose”, Ranjana smirked, “You ended up meeting me today, didn’t you? That’s a day ruined for your majesty, I presume?”
Amit laughed out loud, “Haha, now, aren’t you quite the clever one, Ms. – am sorry, it is Ms. Mitra, right? Not Mrs?”
The wind ruffled her hair a little bit. Putting the rebellious locks behind her ear, Ranjana laughed again, “Who’s trying to be clever now, huh? Yah, it is ‘Miss’. Wouldn’t it be apparent otherwise? You people had made it into customs how women should be marked with the signs of their marriage, right? Like she’s a signed property now?”
The raindrops were hitting the pavements and ricocheted off the ground towards them. Amit had to guard his face with his palm in order to save his face from it. Ranjana waved her hand, “Let’s sit in the chairs at the back of the shed, shouldn’t we? We’re gonna get drenched otherwise. How come with both forgot to bring umbrellas?”
After resetting at the seats at the back, Amit said, “I don’t believe in those, Ms. Mitra.”
Ranjana laughed, “Don’t believe in what? Umbrellas as a concept?”
Amit grinned, “Haha, smooth! No, on a serious note – I don’t believe in the ideologies which dictate how a women should dress or live her life. I don’t believe the customs of the world – marital or otherwise – which wants to mark a woman as someone’s property. And I don’t believe any rituals which society has forced women to follow whereas there’s no such equivalent for men. They go scott free!”
Amit stopped. Ranjana’s face was stern as long as he was speaking. As he stopped, she slowly smiled, “You are saying words from another century, Mr. Bose. Not even the first time I’ve heard good intentioned men say things like that. But they all cave. They all go back to conformity. They push us back to the kitchen and go on to save the world and create a revolution. You’re atleast a good pretender, Mr. Bose. You might even con yourself to think that you actually believe your own words.”
“But I do!” Amit said, putting emphasis on his words, “I do believe that the world has to evolve.”
“Really? Well, then, what else do you believe?”
“That men are women should be treated the same. That women are equal to the men.”
“Equal?” Ranjana sarcastically laughed, “Come on now, Mr. Bose, we’re supposed to have smaller brains, don’t you know? The great writers have written about it!”
Amit stayed silent, and looked on at the rain. The weather was getting cold. The breeze felt like the notion of a mystery unknown, as if a great plot would be revealed soon. Ranjana was looking on at the outside, too. The unrelenting sound of the downpour hitting the tracks. How far could a railroad take one with? How far could journeys go? She spoke up again, “Anyway, it probably feels good to think of yourself as a radical, Amit Babu. I do hope you end up actually being one, someday.”
Amit sighed, “Here’s to that, I presume. You’re a fellow rebel then, I’m guessing?”
Ranjana half-smiled, “It’s not about rebelling. Women have always been forced into the horrific societal norms. Men had always been so afraid about women’s thinking abilities that they’ve tried anything and everything to stop them from stopping for a second and considering themselves as individuals who have a life of their own. These norms are rotten. And that is a truth. What anyone believes or what someone doens’t – has no impact in the notion of truth. It is a self-fulfilling concept. Truth remains truth. It’s not about rebelling. It’s about being in the right side of history. Of humanity. This country is about to become independent, but do you think we women would ever get that? In anyplace in this earth where the society consistently tries to keep us at the periphery?”
The sky lit up for a second. Another thunderstruck happened somewhere far. The sound echoed at the station.
The rain had slowed down. Ranjana was looking on at the drops slowly crawling through the tree-branches before jumping head first into the ground. There’s some metaphor of life – she chuckled to herself.
Amit was sipping tea. They got two cups of tea in-between, when the rain suddenly stopped for a few minutes before the drizzling began again. Looking at the newspaper, he said, “Well for what it’s worth, atleast the war is over. The past few years had been terrifying, with the war roaring all over the world.”
Ranjana was flipping through her paper too. The Second World War had left ashes and demolition in its wake. She sighed, “War’s never over, Mr. Bose. They just dropped atomic bombs in two cities. How do any of us go back to sleep ever again? How do we collectively face the reckoning of the ramifications of that event?”
Amit stayed silent for a few seconds. It’s a question that had no answer, probably. He said in a low voice, “And the Nazis. The Fascists. To think half of the world got wrapped up into believing these horrifying ideals – to think that Hitler was being considered a hero to a large part of civilization – is nightmare inducing. We should learn that people who run on divisive rhetorics all while pretending to be a saviour are capable of nothing but doom.”
Ranjana smiled, “Ah, you’re a thinking being, Mr. Bose. Rare in our times. No, actually, it’s nice talking to you. I don’t mind today’s routine getting messed up.”
Amit laughed, “Well, since we are being honest, Ms. Mitra – coming to the station way too early might be the best decision I’ve made in a while.”
They stayed silent for a while. The drizzling rain had a rhythmic pace as it was hitting the surface, the shed, the tracks. A gust of wind touched them suddenly, like a deep realisation suddenly coming to fruition with an epiphany. Amit sipped the tea again, “How do we go on from this broken state of the world, you know? With the wars and imperialism – what these powers have done…”
Ranjana put the newspaper aside, “You know what I think? I feel like we shouldn’t confuse people and the nation-states which represent them. These atrocities are done by powerful people with no conscience or fear of consequences. It’s personal sins. It’s a sin of nation as a political identity. But any country, or any of the people of any country, shouldn’t be carrying these sins with them. It’s not their story. Not their burden to carry.”
Amit nodded, “A hundred percent truth. I agree wholeheartedly. Our own personal struggles towards independence have been a historic narrative. And in the events of recent times and of past, we had to come face to face with the deep rooted problems in our society also. The division. The hatred. We need to redeem ourselves from all of these. We need to pick each other up and be better.”
“Here’s to that, Mr. Bose”, Ranjana said as she got up and put the empty cup at a dustbin nearby, “Here’s to hope, and never giving it up.”
“Well”, Amit said, “If the trains do get cancelled today, I’ll be glad.”
“Why exactly is that?”, Ranjana pseudo frowned with an inquisitive expression.
“Well”, Amit stumbled over his words, “I mean… Um… You know…”
Ranjana burst out laughing, “Calm down Mr. Bose! And, for the record? I’ll be glad if the trains are cancelled, too!”
Amit looked at the outside. If he didn’t have somewhere to go, he would go up to the roof of his home during monsoon season and would let the rain wash over himself. There’s something poetic about rain. There’s something poetic about today. “You are, Ms. Mitra”, Amit said softly, “a very remarkable individual.”
“That’s a bold claim to make regarding someone you juts met an hour ago”, Ranjana replied with a broad smile, “But thank you. You are not bad, either, Amit Babu. I’m going to remember you.”
“Who are we to remember ourselves, you know?” Amit said, not quite grasping exactly what he meant by those words.
A moment or two passes. There’s a faint sound of a train coming from a bit away. Ranjana spoke up, “You know what, maybe I won’t forget about this chance meeting either…”
“In the offchance that you don’t”, Amit stood up to look at the incoming train, “Is there any way this conversation continues?”
“I’ll need an address Mr. Bose”, Ranjana said while writing something down on a paper, “address to where one can post a letter to. Here is mine, if you think-”
“I’ll write. That was what I was going to say.” Amit said, as he takes the address of her. She gave him another paper to write his address and laughed, “I know that.”
There’s a bit of commotion in the surroundings. People stared walking to and fro. A man walked up to Ranjana and Amit. Aged around sixty, the man leaned towards them, and soflty said, “Hey, we have to go know.”
Both of them didn’t move. A woman noticed the situation and walked up to the man, “Hi there. Would you be needing any help?”
The man seemed relieved, “Yes, if you would be so kind. You see, I’ve a car waiting just outside. I need to take my parents there. They’re very senior people, as you can see…”
Ranjana and Amit sat there, two very old individuals in their 90s, in an airport. The calendar in the reception table said the year was 2021.
The man spoke again, “I’m Ranjit, by the way. Thanks again for the help.”
“Well I’ve made a promise to help people”, the woman laughed, “I’m a doctor, you see. I’m Kavita Chattopadhyay.”
She extended her hand. Ranjit shook it with an expression of relief on his face, “Oh, thank heavens, then you’ll understand it. My parents are in late 90s, and both had been diagnosed with Very Late-Onset Schizophrenia-Like Psychosis and Alzheimer’s. The symptoms had started to show a while back. They can’t remember who they are, where they are, who we are. In rare moments though, it seems they can remember past events.”
“I see.”, The doctor nodded, “And you’re here because?”
“My daughter works in this city. A friend of her gave a recommendation for a good doctor regarding this. We just landed a while ago. My wife booked a cab, and I came here to take them to it now.”
A few moments later, Ranjit and Doctor Chattopadhyay were standing outside, as the elderly couple settled in the cab. “Thank you”, Tandra – Ranjit’s wife – said, “For being such a Godsent at a moment of need.”
“There’s nothing like that. It’s basic human impulse.”, The doctor brushed off the compliments, “It’s also an experience to meet people who’ve seen this country during the pre-independence era!”
Ranjit smiled, “They actually met months before independence. And oh the lives they’ve lived. My mother was a teacher who organised movements regarding women’s rights and education for everyone. Father was a social reformer who worked hard to bring in the changes they hoped for. They met at a train station for the first time, you know? I was thinking if today’s events of us visiting an airport somehow triggered the memory of that day in their minds. Doctor Chattopadhyay, you think that’s a possibility?”