(This Post is written for Dahlia’s Story Club)
Have you ever been to Deoli? Made a stop at that ‘lonely little’ platform on the way to Dehra where the train waits for a whole ten minutes although nobody gets in or gets off ? No, is it? Even I have never been there and when I tried to locate the spot on Google Map this is what I got. Just imagine! And then I almost pierced a hole through Dehra’s and lo! Not a single dot I discerned which would help me find the place. Now, you may ask why are you all of a sudden so keen on Deoli? Well, I am keen on all those lesser known, desolate stations where the train stops or passes by rapidly without bothering to ask the far and few gazers whether they were interested to cross over the threshold of their insignificant lives and jump into the speeding carriage to some place else teeming with excitement and fun hitherto untasted by them. But the train does or does not stop and no one hops in or out and I keep on resisting the insane urge to pull the chain to de-board and jump over the station wall to find out what lies beyond.
Once I did pass a few such stations on my runaway trip to Shimla. Picturesque corners with one or two passengers here and there, a tea-stall selling hot tea in plastic cups and stale snacks and a few stray, lazy mongrels sleeping dangerously close to the tracks. The attractively painted cabins of the stationmaster however looked uninhabited. But wild flowers grew randomly on the window sills and butterflies flipped about – a reminder that God’s grace abounds even in the remotest of remote nooks of this planet Earth where perhaps even humans have not placed their ungainly feet. The picture on the left is just an impulsive click of one such station where the toy train halted during its laboured glide up to Shimla and not to be confused with that deserted station called Deoli on the way to Dehra where the girl with the soulful eyes sold baskets and stole hearts and made promises of being there always but never kept the same. And the robust boy of ten and eight, who fell for her frivolous words, would scan the platform eagerly always whenever he passed by Deoli by the night train puffing and panting its way to and fro his grandmother’s place at Dehra.
Now that you know what is Deoli all about or why I am harping on Deoli for so long, ye must have gathared that its just one of those short stories by none other than the master-wordsmith, Mr Bond – Ruskin Bond (as Dahlia so endearingly puts it) – The Night Train At Deoli. But please do not go by the length of the tale as in its minimal format it encapsulates a timelessness which perhaps transcends human existence. How can one obviate that perennial and primordial pang of waiting from one’s existence? Hasn’t the entire cosmos been holding breath from inception in waiting of that ultimate intervention which will put an end to everything that has remained undone? Is there any other way to explain that thin thread of wistfulness that weaves through this ever-expanding Universe – that wordless yearning from time immemorial for something that is beyond accomplishing?
Remember this all-time classic from that beautiful movie Uphaar, a remake of one of the stories of Satyajit Ray’s film Teen Kanya adapted from Tagore’s short story “Samaapti” (The End). Those beautiful lines from the boatman’s song echoes that eternal truth: “Aisi koi mauj nahin, jisko koi khoj nahin…..” Not a single wave in sea, Is free of quest for Thee..
Its difficult to talk about RB’s writings let alone a review. Why I wonder! Probably the reason lies in his simplicity and matter of fact style of telling a story. Had he cloaked a cauldron of sizzling emotions in verbiage it would have been easier to deep-dive in and unearth what lay beneath and in-between. But he being an ace storyteller leaves no scope for unnecessary dissection. I have always quoted him generously whenever I have dared to speak of my feelings about his creations because it is far easier to explain him in his own words than vainly try a hand out to do so in my limited capacity.
“I decided that one day I would get off the train at Deoli, and spend the day there, just to please the town.” What an innocent wish! But while reading this line how I recalled that one statement by Imtiaz Ali, the Director of Jab We Met, his maiden venture which broke all records, which went something like this “A story begins when you get off the train and follow the tracks…” Had that firebrand Sikhni from Bhatinda not got off the train at an unknown station in the dead of the night to extend unsolicited help to that poor rich guy who was off his mind with anguish and despair there would not have been any beginning to a stormy search for the right path!
But here RB’s tale veers to a different alley. “Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to break journey at Deoli and spend a day there. I think I was afraid to do so. ” And it is herein that reality takes over and the boy who has been besotted with a forlorn lass with eloquent eyes, selling baskets on the platform of Deoli station, cannot bypass the set norms of society and go in search of his muse jumping over the station wall. Come to think of it how often have we got off life’s well trodden tracks and taken a course less travelled?
And he is afraid to do so….why? Don’t we all dread to venture into the unknown? Aren’t we all fearful that our quest may land ourselves up into something less adventurous, less gainful, more disastrous and more ordinary and foolish? A stupid extravaganza that we could have best not invested in?
Yet, we have all along repented that one single step that we never took throughout our lives. “Had we not followed what came our way things would have been different” is an easy and oft-repeated lament. But do we have the strength and the courage to follow our dreams? And it is this not-doing that has more than often made us wistful and sad on lonely evenings when the sun has set forth westward. It is this undefined longing for every those bits and pieces of life not experienced and earned that has been so well brought forth in Tagore’s inimitable style:
And therefore, ” In the last few years, I have passed through Deoli many times, and I always look out of the carriage window, half expecting to see the same unchanged face smiling at me, I wonder what happens in Deoli, behind the station walls. But I will never break journey there. I prefer to keep hoping and dreaming, and looking out of the window up and down that lonely platform, waiting for the girl with the baskets….I never break my journey at Deoli, but I pass through as often as I can.”
At times, I feel, we humans have this incorrigible tendency to play games with our own selves. We aspire but do not go that extra length to possess what we aspire for and then we keep on hoping, dreaming and pining for what we never achieved but aspired for throughout. And at others, I also have this secret thought that perhaps this not getting what one wants has given that extra bit of mournfulness to life which is so essential to creativity. Similar to this thought comes this odd appreciation of the author’s sadness for this strange estrangement from the object of his teenage fascination (?) , whom had he united with, such a romantic story would not have ever been born! And this deliberate clinging to its memory …..adds exponentially to the poignancy of this love affair with a wistful ending.
……Its this one element of nostalgia that threads through most, if not all, Bond stories. You end up with a lump in your throat and a heaviness in your chest which trickling tears would somehow not dissipate but rather deprecate in worth and extent. So, all Bond fans learn to live with and love that feeling of deprivation which cynics may ridicule as masochism.
Yet, one day I would love to locate unbeknown that obscure station at Deoli and reach there by taking that night train which stops at the platform ten whole minutes in the stealthy light of dawn when I shall longingly look out of the window through wisps of thinning fog for that one glimpse of a dark beautiful young girl with doleful eyes selling baskets of the finest cane and who by her own confession does not have to go anywhere but is still never found there…..
And the memory of everything that is heartfelt and beautiful but ephemeral shall live on…..