Shrikant's train adventure
(This is a feeble translation of a story by Bengali humorist Shibram Chakraborty.)
All of you, I believe, love to travel - all youngsters do. But Shrikant is an exception. He hates to travel. The word travel conjures up visions before his eyes of heavy luggage which he has to carry.
Shrikant's uncle is a miser. If the uncle wants to visit any place, he carries everything in the house with him! The reason: You never know what you may require at a strange place and, so, it is better to carry everything with you instead of spending money on buying them again. And where does Shrikant come into the picture? The uncle takes Shrikant along with him and the little boy has to tow all the luggage - it is he who has to get the luggage inside the train and it is he who has to take them out again when they reach the destination. The uncle is least likely to hire a coolie to do the job.
Uncle also likes to travel in passenger trains rather than express or mail trains. The reason being that passenger trains charge a lower fare. But the passenger trains halt at every station and take longer to reach. Uncle argues that if you reach your destination two hours late, it does not matter. But if you save some money in the process, that is what counts!
He may not be inclined to spend money, but uncle wishes to travel in style. He wants the whole compartment to himself and does not wish to be disturbed while he is sleeping. It is Shrikant who has to stay on guard and ensure that other passengers do not disturb his uncle. So, now you can understand why Shrikant hates to travel.
But, whether he likes it or not, Shrikant has to travel. He has to go to Madanpur with his uncle today. His aunt and cousin sister Tempi are also going. Uncle is carrying a huge water bottle, a lantern, handbag, a can of betel nuts, items of food, sleeping bags, and a large suitcase stuffed with clothes. Upon reaching the railway station, a posse of coolies rushed to offer their services but uncle waved them off. "Hey, what do you think? Can't we carry our own luggage? Don't we have hands?" he told them. When few coolies still remained in spite of the reprimand, uncle sounded them, "Do not touch my luggage, I will not pay you a single rupee."
"Pick up the things," uncle ordered Shrikant. The boy picked up as much luggage as he could but found that he could not walk burdened by the weight. "I cannot walk," he mumbled. Fortunately, there were only a few minutes left for the train to leave and uncle did not want things to fall from Shrikant's little hands and get broken. That would be a greater loss than hiring a coolie. So a coolie was called and Shrikant heaved a sigh of relief.
Uncle found an empty compartment and ordered the coolie to put the things inside. "But ...," the coolie began. "No buts, just do as you are told," uncle said and the coolie, shrugging his shoulders, did as he was told. He took his money and went away. The guard blew the whistle and the train commenced its journey. As the train gathered speed, a cool breeze gushed through the compartment and uncle closed his eyes in sheer glee. It was really surprising that no other passenger had got into this compartment!
Aunt looked at Shrikant who was massaging his shoulders. She felt pity for the boy who was made to carry heavy luggage. "We are going to Madanpur for only a few days then why do you have to carry so much luggage?" she asked her husband. "You never know what you will require, so it is better to carry everything," he replied.
Aunt was not convinced. Another thought struck her and she voiced it, "The train halts at Madanpur only for a minute. How are you going to remove this mountain of luggage within such a short time? Much of our things will remain in the train itself."
Such things did not bother uncle. "Don't worry," he told his wife, "God helps those who help themselves."
Shrikant who was listening to the talk, felt a flutter in his little heart. He could not imagine God coming to their help at Madanpur station - it is he who would have to do the needful.
When the train halted at Dumdum, a few Englishmen entered the compartment. When they saw the mountain of luggage, they were astonished. "Why did you get into this compartment? Did you not read the notice on the door that this compartment is meant for Europeans only (In those pre-Independence days, few compartments in trains were reserved for Europeans)?" they asked. You will have to get down, they said.
The Englishmen summoned a railway employee. The railway employee also asked uncle to get down and board another compartment.
All the other compartments are full and there is no place, uncle told him. "You find us a place somewhere else and we would be only too glad to move," uncle told him.
"Alright, let me see," the railway employee said and hurried away to find some place. Shrikant was worried that if the employee did manage to find another place, he will have to shift the luggage on his own again.
But the employee did not return and the train, meanwhile, commenced its run.
The Englishmen continued to grumble but uncle ignored them. This infuriated the Englishmen further and they started making a racket.
When uncle saw that things had come to a head, he devised a new scheme. Turning to Shrikant, he whispered, "Can you bark like a dog?"
Shrikant obliged and let out a growl.
"A little louder," uncle urged.
"Bow-wow," Shrikant imitated.
The Englishmen were alarmed. "What has happened to him?" one of them asked.
"Oh, nothing. A few days ago, he was bitten by a mad dog," uncle told him."What, hydrophobia! Why didn't you inform us before? He will not bite, will he?"
Uncle assured them that Shrikant will not bite.
But uncle's assurance failed to revive their spirits and the Englishmen made haste to get down at the next station.
Uncle let out a huge sigh of relief. But his relief was short-lived. At the next station, another European youth got into the compartment. He did not utter a single word but sat in a corner reading a book.
"Okay, I will make you get down too," uncle said to himself but the words were directed at the youth. Uncle looked at Shrikant and whispered, "As soon as the train starts, let out another growl."
Hearing Shrikant barking like a dog, the youth looked up from his book in surprise. "What is bothering him?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing. He is suffering from hydrophobia," uncle replied nonchalantly.
"I see," the youth said not a bit alarmed and went back to his book.
Uncle was crestfallen that his scheme was not working on the youth. He decided to give one last try.
"It is my duty to tell you. What if the boy bites you!" uncle told the young man.
But the young man simply smiled and replied, "Don't worry. Barking dogs seldom bite."
Now it was Shrikant's turn to be angry. Who likes to be described as a dog!
The train halted at another station. The youth craned his neck out of the window and he sighted his friends. He called out to them. They were the same Englishmen who had earlier left the compartment in a hurry.
"Are you alright?" they asked the youth. "There is a boy in that compartment who is suffering from hydrophobia."
"Oh, I have cured him," the young man told them.
"You have cured him! How did you do that?"
The young man told them that he had seen through uncle's scheme at once. "As soon as I entered the compartment, I saw the boy (meaning Shrikant) drinking water. Had he really been suffering from hydrophobia, he should have been scared of water."
At this disclosure, the group entered the compartment and made it clear to uncle that he will have to get down at the next station and under no circumstances will he be allowed to remain.
When the train halted at the next station, uncle pleaded that he be allowed to remain and he would certainly get down at the next one.
But the Englishmen refused to listen. All of them as one man picked up uncle's luggage and put the things on the platform.
"My water bottle and my hand bag are still inside," uncle told them.
One of them picked up the water bottle and handed it over to Shrikant. Another picked up the hand bag and gave it to uncle while bidding, "Good bye, mister."
Uncle turned to them with a grateful smile playing on his lips. "Good bye," he told them. "Thank you so much for your help. This is Madanpur and it is here that we wished to get down."