As the Khulna-Kolkata trial train chugged in at West Bengal’s Petrapole station, 90-year-old Kumudi Hazra’s eyes turned moist. She nostalgically remembered the early days of her marriage life when she would take the train to visit her parents in Khulna….writes Bappaditya Chatterjee
Hazra settled down in Jayantipur village of North 24 Parganas district here after her marriage in the early 1940s.
“I am so happy today seeing this train. After marriage, I came here from my ancestral house at Khulna. I used to visit my parents by taking the train. Today, I am flooded with memories of those trips,” Hazra said.
She was simultaneously happy and sad on seeing the new train – called Maitree Express II. Happy, that people now will no more undergo the pain which she underwent at not being able to visit her ancestral house for 40 years and sad, that at her age, “I won’t be able to make the trip”.
Regular passenger services were in place connecting Sealdah to Khulna and Jessore, much before an international border came up in 1947 when India was partitioned and Pakistan came into being.
Passenger train services between the two countries were suspended after the 1965 India-Pakistan war, when the territory now known as Bangladesh comprised was East Pakistan.
East Pakistan later became independent Bangladesh in 1971.
Also nostalgic was Bharat Debnath, nephew of Hazari Debnath, who had worked at Petrapole railway crossing as a gateman.
“My uncle worked here as a gateman at the crossing. I came here to see the Khulna-Kolkata train. I have heard a lot of stories about this train.”
There were euphoric scenes in the border villages much before the train reached Petrapole.
People stood on either side of the railway track since morning just to see the train.
As the train passed them, people waved, and clapped.
“I was cooking at home. When I heard the hooters I rushed to see the train,” said Champa Biswas, a housewife.
Recalling his childhood, 87-year-old Achintya Banik said after the Partition, train services were there but many of the villagers were unable to avail it as they did not have passports at that time.
“We are originally from Bangladesh. Before partition, I came here with my family because my father worked here and later settled down. We would go to Bangladesh regularly by train before partition. Now we can do the same, it is a dream come true for me,” Banik said.
“During my childhood, I used to come here because one of our relatives stayed at Naraharipur village, about two kilometres from here. We settled here after 1971. We go to Bangladesh now but through roads. It takes huge time for custom and immigration clearance,” he said, adding the facility will help him to travel to his ancestral house more frequently.
The Bangladeshi delegates who came by the train were also overwhelmed with emotion.
“There might be an international border between the two Bengals, but culture and the social bonding between the Bengalis living on either side of the border is still as warm as it used to be. We need to focus on connecting cities of two Bengals,” said Alam Gir Alam, Additional Deputy Inspector General of Bangladesh Police.
Locals were also upbeat as the train would make the export-imports business more seamless.
“Majority of locals are involved with exports and import. We take working visas and people from either side need to cross the border. But it takes hours to get clearance. Railway connection will give a new avenue,” local trader Raju Saha said.
However, amid all the excitement and enthusiasm, stark reality also dawned on some of the villagers. For them, getting a local train from Petrapole to Kolkata was more important than the Maitree Express.
“Passport holders will only be able to board the Khulna-Kolkata train. We do not have any direct communication from here to Kolkata. We go to Bongaon by autorickshaws. But the auto service stops after 8 p.m. We will be more than happy if a local train service starts from here to Kolkata,” said Rinki Maity, a student of Bongaon’s Dinabandhu College.
Railway officials said they were aware about the local demand, but the tracks needed to be electrified.
“We are planning to send a proposal to the centre for electrification of the lines here. It will be sent soon,” Basudev Panda, Divisional Railway Manager, Eastern Railway, Sealdah said.