Back in the seventies, there were only a handful of trains running from Cuttack to Tatanagar. The Utkal Express reached Tatanagar on an early morning. The passengers pushed and began to sigh. I disembarked holding my Maa’s Kani (lose end of a saree) and Iti’s hand.
Suddenly, my mother took Iti on her arms. She would be about six years old – no longer a child to be carried on mother’s arms. She was scrambling to get down. But my mother grabbed her by the jaw and started moving forward.
In front of her stood a man dressed in a black coat. He asked my mother for a ticket. Immediately, Maa showed him her and my ticket. Looking at our tickets, the TTE said,
“Where is the daughter’s ticket?”
“She is just a small kid. Why do you need a ticket for her?
“She looks so big, how come she is a kid?”
“Why are you carrying her in your arms? Get her down.” Then he dragged Iti down.
“Is she a baby? How old she is?”
“She is only three.” Maa said.
“Such a big girl, but you say, only three? No way, she would be more than seven.”
“Baby, mine or yours? Did I give birth to her or you?” My mother did not hesitate to respond to him loudly.
“Nothing to say. The child is old enough. If you don’t have a ticket, pay.” the TTE said.
“I have no money.”
“But, I will not leave the girl.”
The argument continued.
“If you won’t let the baby go, keep her with you. I have six more children.” Those were my mother’s last words.
Leaving Iti with the TTE, my mother and I went out to the gate. I did not understand what was happening. Iti started crying . She started biting the TTE.
“Take your daughter,” screamed the wounded TTE from behind.
Mother looked back. Iti ran to her. She hugged Iti again and all of us walked away.
Many years have passed since then. But that incident remains fresh in my memory. The girl who was abandoned in a railway station because her mother had no money to buy a ticket that day, is the editor of ‘Kadambini’ today, Dr. Iti Samanta. Rest is history.