By Simanta Barman
In the part of the world where I live – a small town called Pathsala in the state of Assam in India - we do not have any parks or attractions in which to pass our time. We do, however, have a river, a few streams and wetlands. And it’s on the bank of these that life flourishes for some – be it in terms of their livelihood or their settlement.
'As well as facilitating people’s daily commutes, the station is also a place where many take an evening stroll.'
Pathsala is not my birthplace: we migrated here from a smaller nearby town, but now we’re permanently settled here. Moving to a new place is hard. It takes time to be able to call a new place home and find your own space in it. I struggled to find mine. Luckily, there is a railway station that connects Pathsala with the rest of the world, and as well as facilitating people’s daily commutes, the station is also a place where many take an evening stroll.
Throughout my higher secondary years (the equivalent to British sixth form), I became a regular at the station. This is where I would chase down the sunset and delve into stories under the sky. This is where I would carry on my solitary musings as I did not have someone close to hang out with. I’m not someone who likes groups, and so in a way the station became my sole mate.
But, in time, there came a new addition to the station – a series of godowns lining up along the railway line (godown is a term for warehouses, used primarily in Indian English).
There was this wetland so tiny that you will miss it from the train window; the godown lane sprung up in place of that. It all happened very quickly. One day, the news came of a new construction that was underway by the station and in a month or so, it sprung up. Seven bright blue godowns stood in full glory. They were to be used as storehouses for cement-making raw materials.
'There was a certain kind of childlike thrill for something new, something I hoped would compensate for the lack of any park whatsoever in our town.'
I’m someone who thrives for new places and stories and so by default, I was a witness to the birth of this place. From the moment I heard about the construction, I had been a constant visitor. I cycled through raw mud, tumbled once or twice; yet stood sentinel to its growth, bit by bit. There was a certain kind of childlike thrill for something new, something I hoped would compensate for the lack of any park whatsoever in our town. And with that hope, I spent my days on the steps of the construction’s foundation.
After a month or so, it appeared as a fresh new addition to the town of Pathsala, with a promise to be a place one can come to have a quiet time amidst the paddy fields and streams that surround it.
Needless to say, I was more than excited for it. Along with the station, now we had another place to weave our stories and chase the sunset. Initially, I was solitary in my exploits. I would wake up and go jogging to catch the sunrise over the Turkini stream. I would put my feet in the dew grass and throw glances over the flourishing paddies. I would not return until the morning passenger train came.
During the evening, I would chase the sunset up to the nearby pond and lose myself in the wind that blows under the dusk sky. I was mostly alone for the initial days and it filled me with such an inexplicable joy. On full-moon nights, I would be lying alone over the railing and would count the stars and sing a song or two. I felt free and liberated. There was no one around except the faraway dim lights of the villages and the town. I cherished these solitary musings greatly. The entire godown lane stood in such a way that it divided the city and the rural life along with the railway line. On one side, there was a rustic route leading to the villages and on the other side, there were glaring buildings boasting of the city. This division let me observe the contrast of both the ways of life.
When I moved to college, I met a guy named Rup and we became close friends. He soon became my partner in crime and I shared the place with him. After college, we would cycle through the godown lane, chase the sunset and stay up till the night. There were other people too but not many. Occasionally our conversations would be broken by the sirens of the passenger trains. Sometimes, it would start raining suddenly and we would hurriedly run for a shelter. It was a good time and a simpler phase in my life.
'It became a habit for people to leave their waste there, and it broke my heart.'
But, things didn’t remain the same. For a long time after completion, the warehouses were unoccupied as the work hadn’t started. But when it eventually did, it gained more attention from people, people of all kinds, some who would throw litter all around: plastics, cans, glass bottles, betel nut stains and more.This continued until it became a habit for people to leave their waste there, and it broke my heart. Soon, it became a playground for drivers and learners to go at full speed with their entitled vehicles without caring to slow down or look around.
The litter would be lying there, only to be washed away by rain and mixed up with the water system of the paddies. There was no authority, no regulation and I stood helpless. I couldn’t take it any more and so stopped going there. It was hard as I had been there since its birth and it had been such a confidant to all my woes, but I couldn’t stand the way some people were treating it. When I moved to university, I left with an enclosed longing for this place, keeping the time I spent there as a treasured memory.
'Perhaps, there is a necessity to relearn some basics for taking care of nature.'
Now, coming back to the present, the pandemic that we all are part of has brought me home as well. It’s been nearly five months under phased lockdowns in my area. During this period, I have got a chance to revisit the godown lane. In fact, it has become the only place of solace and openness during this dreaded phase of confinement. The litter? Still there, but not so much as before. The people? Still thronging in numbers and doing all the mindless things that please them. Perhaps there is a necessity for them to relearn some basics for taking care of nature. They should have the minimum decency to carry their garbage in their pockets rather than throwing it in the open, but perhaps that cannot be taught. Along with their freedom to have a secretive beer party, they should feel a sense of responsibility to carry their leftovers with them. Otherwise, we would only be chasing waste rather than sunsets.
Simanta Barman is a post-graduate in English Literature from Tezpur University, Assam, India. He is currently enrolled in a second masters course in Mass Communication & Journalism from the same. Passionate about travel and food, Simanta loves to treasure stories on his travel blog therandomtrotters.com. When not writing you can find him chasing sunsets through the rural routes on his bicycle or sipping tea in a thatched stall.