The station was small, neatly kept. There was a tube well, a tin shed, a clock on its white wall, but no display board. Passengers’ sole solace was a worn microphone tied to the tin shed. When it sleeps, passengers sleep. And when it cringes, passengers sleepily move to the counter for tickets.
“A ticket to Dalgaon,” hurriedly said a handsome young man, well dressed, clean shaven, with a water bottle in hand.
“No tickets will be issued,” calmly said the aged master with his eyes closed, hair gray, limbs long, face expressionless. The lone ceiling fan was tiredly screeching over his head. “Wait under the shed. Have ear to the microphone. Come when it rings.”
The gentleman looked sideways, grumbled, murmured, and in anxiety went to the shed and sat by a family. The mother was milking the girl, and the father was pumping the tube well for boy. It had gone dry. Father and son came back and sat under the shed with a mournful look. A dog stirred its ears when the flies pestered on its wound. The sky was cloudless. The trees stood dumb, and patiently bore the onslaughts of the shimmering sun. Birds hid under the foliages, and one or two tiredly cooed somewhere.
The gentleman was bored. There was no coffee shop or tea stall either, no men to talk with. He read and reread the headlines of the day’s daily over twenty times. He sighed to himself, “Is it a station or cemetery fenced by forest, dull, grim? Uoof!”
He thought of taking an alternate route to town, but next minute he discarded it as the mike mumbled and soon he hurried to the station master.
“A ticket to Dalgaon,” irritatingly asked the gentleman.
“No tickets will be issued,” drowsily said the master the same way as before and he waved hand over his head and a red ant fell under his feet and scurried away.
“Why? Your mike cranked! Is it a sin to ask a ticket in this station?” haughtily argued the young man.
“Have you heard it clearly?” coolly asked the master. His eyes were still closed and his hands dangling from the huge arms of the chair as if they were lifeless.
“Yes…no,” hesitated the young man and faltered, “Ay! It’s not clear. It’s indistinct. But I think it is an arrival call.”
“Not so,” the master mechanically rose, went to the small hole of the back wall, spat and slipped into his rusted chair again. “In our job, clarity is a must. Each task needs to be as clear as a dew drop, whether it is a call of arrival or departure, or unfurling a flag to a racing train, or making an entry into a log book. And all I do with my lone assistant Hari. Very nice boy! Today he is absent for his sister’s marriage in the village. Such a ni—i—ce bo—o—oy,” he fell asleep and soon snored.
“What is clear? Nothing is clear in this part of the jungle. Your voice is not clear, mike is not clear! You are as opaque as the dull tall trees which surround you! You’re a fuzzy man in a hazy wood!” blasted the young man. “Will you issue a ticket or not? Come clear! No citation of your sugar boy!” hollered the young man whose face had become red in rage and annoyance.
The master stopped snoring and in a serene voice asked while squeezing his eyelids with both hands, “Why are you so furious, my son? It’s my job to stay clear. That’s why I clear first thing first. Is it my sin too?” Then he paused and continued, “You know man. It is Indian summer. The sun blazes and burns whatever comes its way. But see, here I am in luxuriant slumber! The trees stand tall, the birds hop, and the forest looked festive! Only a mini Elysium, young man! Wealth you amass, but you are miles away from wealth’s great secret! I mean leisure, man. Leisure, pure leisure in the lap of a wild forest! From far and near tourists pour here. They take all the troubles and stay for months, and you cannot wait an hour!”
A silence followed.
“Okay! Let that be. Are you married?” the master yawned and asked.
“It’s bliss! Young man, it’s heaven! Then come one day with my daughter and enjoy the beauty not spoilt yet by man’s greed. The forester is my friend, and you need not be worried at all.”
“But let me grasp the ticket,” pleaded the young man in exasperation. “She is counting minutes, and over fifty times she rings. The flat is furnished but she can’t talk with the walls!”
“What I said, I say again. It’s my duty to stay clear. Wait, I come in a minute,” the master hardly paid heed to his anxiety, went out of his room limping and looked at the far ends of empty platform with a slant. The couple with the children sat there peacefully munching puffed rice.
“Cheer, my boy! Line is clear. Your train will arrive shortly,” he came haltingly back to his counter and issued a ticket. “But don’t forget my words. Go home but come along with my daughter and enjoy a day or two in this paradise! She needs honeyed air, seraphic light, my son!” he flashed.