Nikhil was very excited. He was going to Kolkata. In the eleven years of his young life he had occasionally gone out of Delhi to Chennai to visit his grandma, but this was for the first time that he was going to Kolkata. This was a new place for him and there were so many new things to explore!
This was summer and during the vacations his Dad and Mom had decided to visit Kolkata. His sister, the six year old Shruti, was also accompanying them. He had gone shopping with his parents specifically for this trip and insisted on buying a blue cap. He had heard that it would be very sunny in Kolkata and so decided to wear a cap during the trip.
They were travelling by train. It was to take seventeen hours for them to reach Kolkata. On the day of the journey, they got ready and reached the New Delhi Railway station platform an hour earlier. They waited at the platform for the train to come in. Nikhil was wearing his blue cap. He looked around. There were many people waiting with their luggage to board the train. It was a very hot afternoon. There was a stall on the platform and the man behind it was very busy selling cold drinks and water to the passengers. Nikhil was feeling very hot too and wanted a cold drink. He asked his Dad if he could have one. His Dad went over to the stall and bought four orange drinks. Everybody enjoyed the cold drinks.
Soon the train came in whistling. There was a lot of rush on the platform. Nikhil watched in wonder the passengers hurrying to board their compartments. The coolies in their red shirts and white dhotis were running about, carrying very heavy luggage on their heads. The stewards of the train were busy loading blankets, clean laundry and water to be used during the journey. His Dad and Mom found their compartment and Nikhil excitedly rushed in to take the window seat. He wanted to see the scenery outside while the train moved. Shruti ran to the other window seat. Soon they were all settled down in their seats. Shortly the train blew a long whistle and slowly started moving out of the station. As the train picked up speed, Nikhil pressed his nose on the widow pane so that he could see the passing scenes better, ignoring his Mom’s scolding.
On the way, the train passed through many cities, towns and villages. Nikhil saw many wonderful fields, hills, rivers, and bridges and pointed out all these for Shruti to see. Shruti was busy enjoying the ice creams and mango juices being served on the train and looked up only once or twice at the passing scene. The train stopped at some of the main stations and Nikhil could see the people on the platform dressed differently and talking in local languages. His Dad had brought along a camera and Nikhil pointed out these things excitedly to his Dad and urged him to take pictures. He had decided to feed the pictures on his computer and make an album. He could then show these to his friends and tell them stories of his visit to Kolkata. He attempted to take some pictures himself. Some of the pictures did turn to be good and Nikhil was happy. They reached Kolkata the next morning.
From the station, they took a yellow colored taxi to go to the guest house. Nikhil could see yellow taxis all over the city. He liked the taxis; they looked so bright. On the way he could see the Howrah Bridge. His Dad told him that the Bridge was built by the British engineers and was more than seventy years old! Nikhil looked wide eyed at the Bridge and dreamed that he too would grow up to be an engineer and build a big bridge like that. Presently, they reached the guest house. After refreshing themselves, they were ready to go out to see the interesting places in Kolkata.
Today they were going to see the Victoria Memorial. Nikhil’s Dad had hired an air conditioned car to take them around the city, as it was hot and humid. But Nikhil did not mind it. He was too busy looking at the things around him. He saw a rickshaw being pulled by a man, who was running barefoot, with a man seated in it. He was surprised. His Dad told him that the rickshaws were pulled by people in earlier days because there were no cycle rickshaws then. But now-a-days people pull cycle rickshaws too. Suddenly the car came to a halt. Nikhil saw a train-like vehicle on the road, with only two compartments, moving slowly on tracks like a train’s. He was very curious and asked his Dad what it was. His Dad told him that it was called a tram. The people of Kolkata rode the trams to go from one place to another. The trams have been in used for more than a hundred years now. The trams ran on electricity and did not use petrol. These trams moved so slowly that you could easily get on and get off one while it was moving. Nikhil decided he would take a joyride on a tram soon. For now, he took a picture of the passing tram.
The Victoria Memorial was a big white building, with a dome. It had beautiful lawns around it. Nikhil wondered what was inside the building and was eager to go in. Nikhil’s Mom told him that the Memorial building was constructed long time ago in memory of Queen Victoria, who was at that time the queen of England and India. They had to walk a little distance to get into the building. At the entrance, Nikhil saw a canon. It was an old canon that the British used to fight battles. The building had huge halls inside that displayed many things in different sections. In one section, Nikhil saw swords, arrows, canon balls, armors, pistols and rifles that were used by Indian Maharajas and the British. He was fascinated.
In another section there were paintings and posters of how Kolkata looked like three hundred years ago. There were paintings of how the British officers lived and also how the Indians lived. They lived in separate towns, called the white towns and the black towns. In yet another section Nikhil saw some paintings and he immediately recognized some of them. These paintings were of Subhas Chandra Bose and Rabindranath Tagore. There were others too but Nikhil could not recognize them. His Mom told him that they were the freedom fighters who fought for the freedom of the Indian people from the British. There were paintings and photographs of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Khudiram Bose and many others. Finally they came to a section where the Egyptian Mummies were kept. Nikhil was captivated by the mummy lying in a glass case in front of him. His Dad told him that this mummy was an Egyptian king who lived very long ago, about four thousand years ago. Nikhil wondered if the mummy would come to life and scare him in his sleep. He told Shruti that the mummy will wake up if she was being naughty. Shruti got scared and started crying, and Nikhil got a scolding from his Mom.
Everyone was feeling tired and hungry and so they decided to have lunch. When they came out of the Victoria Memorial, they found hawkers selling golgappas. Nikhil and Shruti wanted to eat these. So they all had golgappas and enjoyed them. Thereafter, they returned to the guest house to have lunch and take rest. They planned to visit the Science City and go boating the next day.
Nikhil and Shruti sat at the two window seats in the car the next morning. They were going to see the Science City. Nikhil had not forgotten to wear his blue cap. They passed through many large ponds on the way, which were surrounded by tall coconut trees. They passed buildings and houses that were painted in beautiful shades of red, blue, yellow and brown. Nikhil had not seen such colorful buildings in his life. Presently they reached the Science City.
There were many pavilions inside the campus. They went inside one of these. This one was the physics pavilion. Many models were displayed for children to playfully experiment with. There were models to test sound and Nikhil immediately took up a small rod and struck the line of hollow cylinders hanging in a panel. A beautiful musical sound came out of the rods. Nikhil and Shruti took turns to strike the cylinders and played with it for a while. The next model was a huge xylophone on the floor and one could walk on it. Nikhil rushed to it and started hopping from one huge key to another. Different musical notes could be heard with each step. Nikhil and Shruti were very excited with it and even his Dad and Mom joined in. They enjoyed it thoroughly.
The second pavilion they visited was the dinosaur pavilion. Nikhil and Shruti excitedly ran into the dark entrance of the pavilion. The pavilion showed the Jurassic age when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Nikhil was fascinated to see the huge models of different types of dinosaurs. There was the Brachyrophus, Brontosaurus, and others, and also Archaeopteryx, the dinosaur with wings, which could fly. Nikhil posed with the dinosaurs and asked his Dad to take pictures. Back home, he had seen the movie Jurassic Park on TV with his friends and now he could proudly show these pictures to them.
It was lunch time and they had a snack of sandwiches, potato chips and cold drinks in one of the many stalls outside the pavilion. Suddenly Nikhil looked up and saw the ropeway high above where the colorful cars were moving along the rope. He asked his Dad for a ride. So, all of them went to take a ride on the ropeway. They bought tickets and sat in a blue colored car. The attendant closed the door of the car and it started moving. Soon it came over the campus of the Science City. Nikhil looked down. He could see the pavilions, but these appeared very small. They could see the dinosaur pavilion from this height and it looked colorful and small. The car reached the gate of the campus and they all got off.
Soon they were on their way to the river Hoogly for a boat ride. Nikhil saw the big river so closely for the first time. His Dad told him that this was the Ganga River but the people of Kolkata called it the Hoogly. There were boats tied along the banks of the river. They bought ticket for one of the boats and proceeded to board it. The boat was gently rocking in the water because of the waves and Nikhil hopped into it. When everyone was seated, the boatman started the motor and the boat moved into the river with a chugging noise. It was evening time. The sun was setting and was bright. Nikhil adjusted his cap so that his eyes were shaded and he could see well. Nikhil saw that the river was really very big. The waters were flowing past him. He leaned sideways to touch the water, but his hands were too small to reach. His Dad told him that when he would be a big boy he could come back again to touch the waters. He asked his Dad if there were fishes in the water. His Dad said yes there were fishes and if he was lucky he could see a dolphin too. For a long time, Nikhil looked closely in the water for dolphins, but could not see any. Probably the dolphins had gone to sleep. He looked at the banks of the river on both sides. They passed by several temples.
His Dad said that this was the Dakshineshwar temple, and the one on the opposite bank was the Belur Math, where Swami Vivekananda used to stay. On the banks, Nikhil saw many trees laden with red colored flowers and his Dad told him that the flowers were called Palash. The boat ride was very enjoyable and Nikhil liked it very much.
They were very feeling very hungry after the boat ride and decided to have dinner in a good restaurant. They wanted to taste Bengali food. The driver of the car took them to a restaurant named Bhojohori Manna situated in a big market place. They took their seats at the table and the waiter brought the food. They had ordered rice, different kinds of fried and curried vegetables, and dal. For dessert they had mishti doi (sweetened curd) and rosogollas. After a delicious dinner, they returned to the guest house.
The next morning, Nikhil woke up to find his Dad and Mom packing. They were returning to Delhi by the evening train. Their trip to Kolkata was coming to an end. Hurriedly he got up and got ready. They were going shopping after breakfast. The driver took them to a huge market place called Garia Haat. There were shops everywhere. Stalls were set up on the pavements and these were full of things like clothes, ribbons and hair clips, handbags, toys, flower vases, electronic gadgets, and so many other such things. At one end of the market there were small hut like shops that sold all kinds of vegetables. At the other end, there were huge shops and a Mall. They bought hair clips for Shruti and an electronic watch for Nikhil. They also bought a few tins of the famous rosogollas of K. C. Das to distribute among their neighbors and friends at Delhi. After shopping, they went into the Mall. It was a huge Mall and they went to the food court for lunch. Soon it was time for them to return to the guesthouse and get their bags for the return journey.
Nikhil was seated at the train seat with his nose pressed to the window. They had left Kolkata the previous day and were reaching Delhi in an hour. Nikhil was deep in thought. He was thinking about the Howrah Bridge, the Egyptian mummy, the dinosaurs at the Science City and the great boat ride. He would to go back again someday to touch the waters of the Hoogly.
Dr. Moumita Das is Assistant Director with NCIDE, IGNOU, New Delhi
All images under license with Gettyimages.com