I can’t believe that the two most important towns of Jharkhand are not connected well by train. There is a train that leaves Tatanagar for Ranchi at 0230 hours. That’s too early for me. The next train is at 0625 and only a slow passenger. The only other train is in the evening. Quite disappointing and I have to settle for the passenger train.
One of the golden rules of an Indian Railway – never be in a hurry when in a passenger train. The train stops at every station but worse still it stops at every opportunity between stations. Priority is always for express trains. All these are scheduled stops. If you are unlucky, the train may be delayed beyond imagination and arrive many hours late at your destination.
In this manner, with many starts and stops I am inching my way to Ranchi. Villagers get in with their heavy loads. Bundles of firewood is their common luggage. Women are carrying green channa by their shoots. Food vendors come and go in a constant stream. Channa walla comes with his basket of sprouted channa with cut salad on the side in between boxes of sauces and spices. Groundnuts in their shells pass by. When they are served, it is with a small mixture of chilli powder and salt. Tea comes in a steel container along with a slice of lemon and a plastic box of masala. Jelabis and vada make their rounds. Although they are not fresh, they are ordered to keep the kids quiet. The kids stop crying and are gainfully occupied for minutes – nibbling, drooling, licking and smelling.
What really makes my day happens next as the train waits for an indefinite amount of time. A singer comes into the compartment with a two-stringed instrument. He starts his act in Bengali. I do not understand the language but a few words do make sense. The meaning is hardly important for me. His music is soulful. He sings with great emotion. With every note I can feel his desperation, his hope, his love, his longing or whatever else the song is supposed to convey. All passengers fall silent listening to this masterful rendition.
His song comes to an end but everyone demands more. It becomes apparent that many people standing around have been following him compartment to compartment. This entourage surrounds him to listen once more to another song. People start dancing. At the end of song, the audience dishes out the reward in coins. Many are so impressed that they give out ten rupee notes. I don’t know what this instrument is but the two strings are held taut with one hand and plucked with a plectrum on the other. The strings come out of a hollow drum which is held under the arm and hung by a string across that shoulder.
The train is actually on time when it arrives at Ranchi, six hours after leaving Tatanagar. Ranchi is one of those places that has no ruins, palaces, museums, mausoleums or temples. At least, there is nothing my little research yielded. There is Tagore Hill past the Ramakrishna Ashram on one of town. I visit this hill. There is a small monument at the summit. Nothing impressive here but it is super windy. It looks like its about to rain but it doesn’t. The hill is named thus because of its association with the poet. It is supposed to be a place that inspired the poet. Such naming is common, a clear credit to the place than to the poet. If we have Tennyson Down in the Isle of Wight, we have Tagore Hill in Ranchi. The truth is a real poet finds poetry and beauty even in the dullest of places.
For dinner I stop at Lalpur, one of the areas of Ranchi with many fine restaurants. I have an Eco Thali for Rs. 75 at Anand Vatika. It is not really that great but the Lachchha paratha is something I try for the first time. I ask the waiter about this paratha. He says its made in a different way but is unable to explain to me the details of the preparation.
So that’s it for Ranchi. Nothing memorable here except for the two-stringed Bengali singer on a slow passenger.