“Chai! Chai!” The shrilling voice filled the compartment bringing me back from the trance, then it stopped as the owner of the voice stood infront me.
“Bhaishab, chai?” He asked.
He gave me his pleading look. I looked at his dark face, his blue faded collared shirt and his big khaki pants dangling on his lanky figure, his feet bare. His bony hand held two steel flasks that were rusted on their edges.
“One cup.” I ordered.
He grinned at me and started pouring the dark fluid into the paper cup that spelled NESCAFE in the wrong way.
I handed him fifty bucks.
“Change?” He asked. I told him that I didn’t have.
He frowned as he handed me the hot cup of tea and his hands searched the pockets of his shirt and oversized pant. After some minutes of searching, he handed me two notes of ten bucks and coins which he counted twenty bucks.
“Ten bucks?” I asked.
He nodded his head and left, continuing his cries which faded as he got lost into another compartment.
I sipped my tea which surprisingly tasted good, laying my back against the seat, I stared outside the window. The scene was same, the vast never-ending green fields of Bihar. Those fields and dusty roads have never changed as I have traveled this same route for more than ten years. Maybe, our country was too old and tired for the change or maybe the people were too afraid of western influences and enjoyed their own way of life, old, cultured, and sophisticated.
I eyed those dusty roads, rice fields and houses made of red bricks. After ten minutes of constant staring, my neck hurt. I decided to read the newspaper which I have bought from the last station. It had the top story of some ministers cleaning the roads with brooms and black suits wearer surrounding them.
“MINISTERS CLEAN THE DIRTIEST ROADS OF THE CITY.”
Their khaki coats and brooms looked contrast. Sighing, I folded the newspaper and kept it inside my black backpack.
The old man sitting opposite to me eyed me from above his specs but soon turned to his book as I caught him looking at me, his book’s title was in some unknown script maybe it was in Bengali or Assamese. He put his legs upon one another and licked his index finger to turn the page.
After five hours of staring, reading, snoring, and chatting with some unknown people about the Rio Olympics and how women of our country have proved their capabilities in sports, my station finally came into the view.
Walking through the hustle bustle of crowds and ignoring coolies who wanted to help with my luggage, I finally made it out of the station. The dusty air of Jalpaiguri seeped through my throat, I coughed. Even though it was a winter time, I could feel sweat forming on my forehead.
As I walked to the parking lot, I looked at the rows of autos, rickshaws and four wheeler and their drivers trying to grab hold of passengers as much as they can.
“Darjeeling?” A stout dark man in his early thirties asked me. I nodded my head no.
Then, options to go to different places were thrown at me.
That was the place where I want to go, my home.
I turned towards the man who had asked me about Gangtok. A lanky man nearly the age of my father with a big mole on his nose, smiled hopefully at me.
“Gangtok?” I asked him.
He nodded and grinned at me, helping me with my bags. I followed him to his vehicle and luckily I got the second seat near the window. The vehicle soon got filled after ten minutes and my companion was an old monk who looked very tired and his eye started dropping as the vehicle moved on.
The vehicle started moving as the driver started switching songs and at last, decided to play a Bollywood song which I have never heard. Soon, the North Bengal plains disappeared and the small hills came into view with the brown fluid flowing by along with some garbage.
I could hear the steady breath of the monk, who was taking his afternoon after his tiring journey. I could hear someone snoring at the backseat. Ever since I was small, I never slept while traveling instead, I enjoyed the scenery passing by, the fresh air that sends chills through my body. Those experiences were something I always looked forward to while traveling.
As the time passed by, the hill started to get bigger and I could feel the familiar chills on my bare arms.
“Those who are visiting Sikkim for the first time, be ready with your identities. We are arriving at the check-post.” The driver announced. Two foreigners started rummaging their bags, probably searching for their identities. The vehicle moved slowly and I couldn’t control my feeling, the same feeling I always have when I reach this place even though I have been traveling this same road for years. It was a feeling of safe and security, and belonging.
“We are now entering Sikkim.” The driver looked at the two foreigners who nodded their head in response.
I craned my neck outside my window and looked at the big red gate which looked atavistic in its design, and on which the words were engraved , ‘WELCOME TO SIKKIM’.
I was finally home after one year.