Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Kafurpur Halt

A small 'Halt' (below the dignity of even most ordinary passenger trains) station in west UP, Kafurpur was the place where we often went as children for our summer holidays (and sometimes winter ones as well). That's where my eldest Tauji (father's elder brother) was posted as the stationmaster.

The reason for the larger paternal joint family gathering there would probably be the presence of either or both of my paternal grandparents (Ammaji and Babaji).

Being the stationmaster gave my Tauji a lot of importance and dignity in the surroundings, including, of course, the station premises. We children sort of lived in that reflected glory, happy to strut around officiously and without care.

There was no electricity, water was from the handpump, and there were mango trees all over, which gave off real mangoes. Mustard and sugarcane fields nearby completed this incredibly pastoral scene. But one shat in latrines of the manual kind, where the stuff accumulated below in metal containers, which must have been removed by hand by a thus-assigned caste person periodically. The younger children (including me) however did the act directly outside, in spritual communion with mother nature.

Most of us kids had come from restrictive urban environments and thus must have found the rural spread and simplicity (seeming like that to us, then) of Kafurpur brilliant. For me (and my younger brother Aloke) the highlight were the stacks of used cardboard railway tickets we induced Tauji to hand over to us, after he was through with collecting them from alighting passengers. I remember he looked grand in his black railway official coat, kindly but firmly standing at the informal exit of the station, and collecting those treasures.

Not too many passenger trains actually stopped at Kafurpur halt. I think in the whole day there were possibly only two. The rest whizzed past, including some express trains, on their way possibly to Delhi or Moradabad. Possibly Kafurpur was in the Delhi-Moradabad route, with stations like Amroha, Gajraula and Garhmukteshwar nearby. We usually travelled from Calcutta in an Express train upto Moradabad, and then changed there into a passenger train for Kafurpur.

There was intersting exchange of a metal ball placed in a larger metal ring, each time an engine rushed past. One came from the running train, another was given to it. Then that ball was inserted in some formal and mysterious looking large mechanical contraption fixed inside the stationmaster's cabin. This activity resulted in a authoritative-sounding metallic gurgle which seemed to me terribly important and insider-stuff, and I felt privileged.

The winters were bitter and fun. Coal-fires (or was it wood?) kept the temperature friendly (literally as well as figuratively). The comfortably warm and cosy stationmaster's cabin at night was a dream, with a pitch dark freezing neighbourhood outside, and the dramatic aural hurly-burly of the occasional through express. On one such night in that unreal den part of my posterior (actually the side view) got too close to the amiable fire. It was some time before I realised that my skin was badly scalded.

On another occasion we children decided to derail a train. Carefully and scientifically we placed the smooth round stones (ballast, I believe they are called) one by one in a straight line on top of the streakily polished rail track, probably to a distance of about 5 feet or under. Then we waited, half-fearful and half-excited of our deed. The scene-to-be played in our heads (at least it did in mine), with dreadful visuals of the consequences. Finally a train appeared, and passed safely over. To this day I wonder about our good luck.

5 comments:

ME said...

Nice blog!:) nice name. though i saw hiroshima mon amour long time back. it left some beautiful impressions on me. may b will catch up with it again some day soon!

Parul Gahlot said...

Childhood memories of a different time...an innocent time that one cherishes...

anshuman said...

I really like the way you write. Why have you stopped? Or was it just a month of tumult that caused this catharsis?

Mandakini said...

Very vivid Arun. Your memory must have been very clear for you to have been able to write this way. Have you read Ruskin bond's stories featuring railway stations, trains, tunnels and stationmasters? He has a flair for making them come alive :)

sanjukta said...

reminds of "diaries of franz kafka"
memories of the kaldah station.. if im right with name...although not similar but pictures that float up in my eyes are ones i saw both in his as well as in your writings....