As the Aranyak Express screeched to a halt at Garhbeta station around 11 in the morning, I was amazed by the quiet and serene surrounding of the station. Unlike any suburban station that we are familiar with, there was no crowd’s jostling on the platform and no scramble for seats as those waiting got into the train without any fuss. The May sun was unusually expansive and the heat and humidity wasn’t intolerable. What struck me particularly was the absence of din and bustle at the station. And I was lapping up every moment.
My destination: Prof H.S. Paul Memorial School about five km from the station.
As I got off the train, Swapan-da, who invited me to visit the school, phoned me to find out if I have reached the station. He asked me to wait outside the station. “A young man would come on motorbike and take you to the school. Wait for five minutes,” he said, his voice betrays his excitement of hosting me.
Swapana-da, who was a student of Presidency College during the turbulent sixties, taught in Oman and Eritrea and was also principal of Patha Bhavan School, Kolkata. He’s currently engaged in overseeing the Prof H.S. Paul Memorial School that has students till class V.
The thirty-something guy named Anup Mondol soon arrived on his bike and I rode his pillion. As he drove through the dusty roads, I could see the changes that have transformed the face of villages. Availability of cheap two-wheeler, spread of TV channels and the incredible spread of mobile telephones have completely changed the rural Bengal. The motorbike has not just provided greater mobility, it also brought about significant reordering in power relations among rural groups — from being an object possessed by local landlords, the two-wheelers are now found in many middle-income rural homes. Many girls in the villages are also using bikes even though their parents are against it.
“In Garhbeta town, many cell phone companies have opened their outlets and many local boys and girls use cell phones,” Anup said with a smile. “Our boys and girls are no longer behind their city counterparts. They’ve bikes and cell phones. They are equipped with almost all types of modern gadgets,” he said, his voice could hardly conceal his conceit .
He’s right. Over the past three decades, a significant change has taken place in the rural-urban relationship and it’s very difficult now to distinguish between a townsperson and a rural folk. There is hardly any difference between what each of them wears, aspires or consumes, thanks to ubiquitous televisions.
It’s not that the differences have disappeared. Poverty and malnutrition still exist. And many houses even don’t have proper toilets.
(To be continued)