Just a Train Ride Away
Just a Train Ride Away
This book can be consumed in one gulp like the proverbial ‘roshogulla’. The story is simple enough: Santosh, a sensitive soul, old enough to enjoy P G Wodehouse, lives with his brisk, efficient and loving mother in Mumbai, and is malcontent because he yearns to meet his Baba – long separated – who lives in Kolkata. In Santosh’s fertile mind, his father is a crack scientist working on “the most brilliant scientific discovery in the world”. The holidays come around and his mother asks if he would like to go to Kolkata and stay with, no not his father, but a documentary filmmaker friend of hers. So the stage is set...
There follows the solo two-night train journey on the Howrah Mail, where Santosh meets fellow-travellers, most very different to the kind of company he normally keeps. An urchin hawker, a madwoman with her own tragic tale, and the ordinary family sharing his space, from which he realizes very perceptively that there could be more to love than merely saying ‘I love you,’ in the cool American way, six times a day.
Sushmita, his mother’s warm, happy-go-lucky friend, is delighted to see him and asks him what he’d like to do while in Kolkata, and he kind of stuns her (and himself) by blurting that he’d like to find his father and start his search at Calcutta University, where surely they would know about him (being a famous scientist and all). Sushmita breaks it gently to him, that no, his father was not a scientist at all, but hailed from a family of lawyers, which is probably what profession he followed. It’s a hard blow to take, but eventually Santosh accepts it and decides that his father must be a crack world-beating lawyer handling very high-profile cases (and hence too busy for his family). Telling Sushmita he’d like to “sightsee” in Kolkata, he buys a map and proceeds to tour all the district courts in the city in the hope of finding his father. And then one day, he does… Nothing more shall be revealed here.
There are, of course, a lot of questions curious kids will ask: How did his mother allow him to travel all alone by train to Kolkata? How did his mother’s friend allow him to roam around Kolkata alone? Isn’t it very unlikely that he’d actually meet his Baba? The answer is simple: there wouldn’t be a story otherwise! And such things happen in stories (and oftener than you’d believe, in real life too). It’s the story of the dilemmas faced by single parents (how to deal with the missing half) and kids with single parents. Mini Shrinivasan deals with it in a straightforward, no-nonsense yet sensitive way. It would have been wonderful if Santosh had had a chatterbox sister or brother with whom he could have voiced his thoughts and exchanged views, or simply told to shut up and listen.
Neat and sparse, the book (which won the Sahitya Akademi Bal Sahitya Puraskar 2010) is a simple read about how, often, life is not what we’d imagined it to be, and we must make the best of whatever it has on offer and move on. It can, as mentioned above, be consumed in a single gulp like a ‘roshogulla’, but then like Santosh, a lot of readers would probably want at least six!
Ranjit Lal writes for children between the ages of 10-100+ and has had over 30 books published so far.