August 02, 2020
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Burning Trains

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Burning Trains
Speeding on the Magadh Express through the mustard-flower yellow countryside of Purvanchal, I reflected that eastern UP, which gave the world the Buddha and Tulsi Das, is also ahead in the matter of burning trains. The first to burn recently was the Licchavi Express, a Bhojpuri speakers special, which was reduced to a smouldering shell by rioting students in Ghazipur district. The causes of other blazes haven't been so clear, but it's a miracle there aren't more fires. Recently on the Taj Express, where my second class reserved compartment was twice as full as it should have been, I and other passengers complained repeatedly to the tte about a tea vendor pushing his way past us with a kettle and roaring kerosene stove. According to the warning on the wall of the compartment, the offence of lighting a stove on a train carried a two-year jail sentence. The tte listened to our protests but did nothing and even a complaint to the chairman of the Railway Board evinced no reaction.

My mission in Purvanchal was to carry 270 Hindi books to a girls' intercollege, 22 kilometres east of Ghazipur. Until now, the school has had an enthusiastic staff but no facilities besides a building, blackboards, benches and the odd ceiling fan. A school function to mark the occasion, with 500 girls crammed into a small colourful shamiana, was a total delight. It was a multipurpose affair-the school said farewell to the 12th standard, who hugged their teachers and wept bitterly, and to a member of staff who was leaving to get married, for whom wedding songs were sung. I inaugurated the library by cutting a red ribbon. They had even found out it was my birthday. All 500 voices were raised in "Happy Birthday to You" as I cut a cake with my name and three icing rosebuds on it, which had been specially ordered and brought all the way from the best baker's in Ghazipur.

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