Since I was keen to start off early in the morning I paid the rest house charges the previous night. The excellent accommodation cost me Rs. 34! Gopal Mohanty insisted on seeing me off. He came down from his flat and wished me well for the rest of the journey. Last night Kaushik had given me patties and fresh fruit to nourish me on the way. Much of it was consumed by the time I reached Malda.
While NH 6 and 2 were very good, the SH 7, where work is in progress, had poor to indifferent roads. The route passed through congested villages with heavy truck and local transport. NH 34, which I took from about 100 kms short of Malda was also bad in stretches. Kaliachak, near Malda, delayed me by about an hour with humungous traffic jams caused by wanton encroachment of public land and indifferent users. The distance from Farakka to Malda is just 35 kms, but I was on the road for more than 90 minutes. Kaliachak is notorious for smuggling and many other vices.
I was originally booked to stay in the rest house at the Malda railway station. As I approached the city I was give accommodation in the Kaladiri officers’ rest house, in the railway colony. I was asked to wait at the railway station for a while till the Holi celebrations tuned down a bit. While waiting in the VIP waiting room of the station, HK Singh, the Station Manager, asked if I would like to have a south indian lunch. I replied in the negative, wanting to skip the meal. In a while he came into the room with an elderly person, who he introduced as KV Sadashivam. For the next 30 minutes I was privy to one of the most interesting success stories I have ever heard.
Sadashivam hailed from Mavelikara in Kerala and is 83 years now. He does not look a day older than 60, with clear complexion and a sprightly manner. Happiness and contentment, I understood later, as was made him look the way he does. He ran away from home at the age of 12, unable to bear the tyranny of his older brother. He took a train to Chennai and later to Kolkata, remaining hungry for days together. Those experiences shaped his character and taught him lessons that served him well in the later years. He said he realised that even water has properties to quench hunger, when you are without food. After many small jobs and attempts at entrepreneurship he was able to get licence to start a south indian refreshment stall on Malda railway station platform with the help of the then Divisional Commercial Superintendent who happened to be from Andhra Pradesh. For the past 46 years he has been running the stall, and now also has additional stalls on each platform. The railway has provided him with accommodation for cooking, where he stays with his wife in one of the rooms.
The licence fee for the stall has gone up from Rs. 15 to 38,000 per month in the past 45 years, he said. The tariff for the food items have almost stood still. The amiable Sadashivam says that his food is always in demand because of the quality and the quantity. Even local dadas pay for his food without harassing him because of this. The IRCTC food court has not affected his business, he said. The human in him cried aloud when he saw refugees of the 1971 war licking banana leaves thrown on the railway track by passengers. It made him think as to what he could do to help under the circumstances. The days that he went without food too shaped his decision to organise anna danam every Thursday. He said at least 75 destitute people partook of the dal kichdi every week. He also organised medical camps monthly for 14 years since he saw destitutes rolled up in the railway station and died without attention. His daughter is married and settled in Cochin while his wife and son help him out with his business. His daughter in law is an ayurvedic doctor and runs the Shriddhi clinic in Malda, which is hugely popular. She has clients from abroad and other parts of India, even staying for long durations for congenital and problematic cases.
HK Singh is an exceptional gentleman. He has come up from the rungs to be the Station Manager of Malda Town railway station, a very respectable position. He has three daughters, all of whom are professionals. The oldest is a media professional working with the Zee Group in Mumbai; the second is a computer software professional based in Australia at the moment for a project with Infosys; the third is a student, pursuing her ambition to become a doctor. He unambiguously credits his wife with the good upbringing of his children and their professional achievements. His wife, he said, explained to his children about the demanding job that their father was in and, despite her lack of higher education, set professional targets for her children and helped them grow to achieve them. He proudly mentioned how his two older daughters bought their parents enjoyable holidays to Thailand and UAE.
The stay in the Kaladiri rest house gave me time to do the laundry and catch up with blog writing. I was, however, unable to post them since there was no WiFi on the premises. I also did some repacking of luggage in the car. Despite deciding to skip lunch Sadashivam insisted that I should have a light meal from his stall. I ended up having a hot dosa and vadas with special chutney. He insisted that I should have dinner with him so that he could introduce the rest of the family to me. I did so and I had biriyani with egg curry, after spending quite some time with his wife, son and daughter-in-law. The Sr DOM of Malda division dropped in for a small chat before I turned in for the night. Since I had close to 700 kms of drive to Guwahati I decided to hit the road, yet again, before 4.30 am.
All in all, an amazing day when I could get to know two wonderful gentlemen and their families. Travel is all about such experiences that help to understand your own life in the right perspective. And, you also wonder how such experiences come into your life. Take this day’s experience itself. If I had gone to the Kaladiri rest house without going to the Malda railway station I may never have met these two people, let alone experiencing a slice of their lives. Such experiences make me believe and accept that everything happens for the best. It takes time, sometimes, to understand why even misfortunes befall us; it may be to fortify you or help you understand more about yourself. ‘God will never test us beyond our strength’.