When he got back to his so-called ‘home’, a feeling of utter emptiness struck him like a slap in the face. Emptiness was a big, invisible, silent monster who would rough him up every time he returned home, and Dinanath Babu was scared of it. He needed to escape, and the railway station was a good place to escape to.
There was much to see and hear and think about at the railway station. There were benches with back-rest all along the length of the first platform where Dinanath Babu was wont to settle for the evening, and if there wasn’t any seating space when he arrived, it was just a matter of time before some seat somewhere became available.
Even then, sitting at one place for hours at a stretch was not a joke, and once in a while Dinanath Babu would take a little walk like or just a stroll to a platform tea-stall or one of the two book-stalls, where he would take a cursory peek at the new arrivals.
But, for most of the time, he would remain seated and let his mind take the direction it wanted. His eyes might alight on a group of youngsters being escorted by their families to a railway carriage. It would take him back to his own youth, when he had left his home in Kolkata and entrained for college in Delhi. There had been passion in his heart and dreams in his eyes, and the world had been his oyster.
There was an occasion when a young woman stepped out of an incoming long-distance train and, for an exciting moment, he had thought it was Malini. For a few seconds, he had become a young man in love again, before he realised that Malini now would be in her late forties! And then he wondered, ‘Could this girl be her daughter?’ But when she called out, ‘Ma!’ the woman who emerged on the carriage doorway was as different from Malini as a mushroom is from a rose.
Dinanath Babu’s shoulders sagged. He recalled how Malini’s father’s name had come up in connection with a financial scandal, and the family had departed under a cloud. He had kept hoping he would hear from her or meet her accidentally till, suddenly, he was no longer a young man; and still there was no Malini!
Yes, at the railway station, one way or the other, the time passed. And that was really what mattered—till he could once again immerse himself in his office-work.
The office and the railway station—these, really, were his two homes; and what people referred to as his home was just a fleeting stop-over, far less ‘home’ to him than these two places.