The Hari Putar Dialogues - 73
(BBC News; Calcutta; 8 September: A Indian railway station which was abandoned for 42 years because of fears that it was haunted has reopened in the eastern state of West Bengal. Locals and railway workers say they lived in fear of a female phantom who frequented Begunkodor 260km (161 miles) from the state capital, Calcutta. In 1967, a railway worker is said to have died days after he saw a "woman ghost" draped in a white sari. Officials say the story was made up to avoid postings at the remote station. They argue that it was primarily railway employees who expressed fears about the "woman ghost" at Begunkodor. "Soon all railway employees fled Begunkodor and trains stopped stopping there. It made life very difficult for locals," said Basudeb Acharya, former chairman of the parliament's standing committee on railways. Mr. Acharya says employees "cooked up the ghost story " to avoid a posting at such a remote station.)
Putar: There is a report on the BBC website about how today about how a railway station has re-opened after more than four decades. The Ranchi-Hatia Express stopped at Begunkodor a few days ago. It was the first train to draw into the station for 42 years.
Hari: Why was the railway station shut down in the first place?
Putar: It's supposed to be a haunted place.
Hari: Haunted? Are there ghosts at the station?
Putar: In 1967, a railway worker is said to have died days after he saw a "woman ghost" draped in a white sari.
Hari: And so the railway station was closed?
Putar: Yes. Railway employees expressed fears about the "woman ghost" at Begunkodor. According to some officials though the story was made up to avoid postings at the remote station. Begunkodor is a tribal area and 43km (26 miles) from the district headquarters in Purulia, the westernmost district of West Bengal.
Hari: Assuming that it's true that some railway employees wanted to avoid being posted at a remote station and spread the ghost story, why did their senior officials agree?
Putar: Bureaucrats help each other, don't they? You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Have you seen Yes, Minister? The bureaucrats decide what suits them.
Hari: Bureaucrats can be so selfish. They are supposed to be public servants, but instead of serving the public quite often civil servants just think of themselves.
Putar: Exactly. The reopening of the station became "an event for local celebrations", according to Dilip Kumar Ghosh. He said people gathered in large numbers and "danced in joy" as the train arrived. This was clearly a bureaucratic decision, which has now been reversed because of Mamta Banerjee, the Railway Minister.
Hari: She obviously doesn't believe in ghosts.
Putar: No, she doesn't. According to the report, Mamata Banerji dismissed all reports of an apparition. Apparently local residents had pleaded with her to reopen the station during the election campaign in May.
Hari: Suppose for a minute there were ghosts. What would have been their objection to the train stopping at the railway station?
Putar: Noise and disturbance. The ghosts would have been disturbed, you see, with all the passengers, the tea stalls and so on.
Hari: But the train passing through didn't disturb them.
Putar: They could live with that.
Hari: The people who believe in ghosts must have the view that that particular station was haunted. The train was passing through the area, anyhow. They could have built the station further down the railway line, if there was a problem with where the station building had been constructed.
Putar: That's true. Didn't occur to anyone.
Hari: What do the people who believe in the ghosts think will happen now that the train will stop there?
Putar: Anything can happen. Some people believe that the ghosts can make the train disappear.
Hari: Disappear?! Where?
Putar: Disappear into thin air. God knows where the train and its passengers will go according to these believers. Perhaps the famous writer J K Rowlings should visit the station for her next book.
Hari: Why is that?
Putar: In the Harry Potter series there is a train, which takes the Harry Potter and other trainees to the School of Magic. It's a kind of ghost train because it starts from an imaginary platform, and ordinary people cannot see this train. That is a work of fiction, but J K Rowlings can come and see a genuinely haunted railway station? if that is truly the case.
Hari: Interesting thought.
Putar: Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: A railway station can be haunted, but airports are never haunted. Why is that?
Hari: I suppose you'd have to ask the ghosts that question.
Putar: Is it because the ghosts would have no fun in making the airplanes disappear? As it is, you see aircrafts disappear into thin air?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.