For model-turned-actor Anuritta K Jha, trains bring back memories of her childhood, mischief, and lots more.
“I belong to the generation that grew up travelling on trains. Both long and short distances were mostly covered by train. Railways used to be the only mode of transport for those like me who lived in small towns and come from middle-class families,” said actor of this year’s National Award-Winning Maithili language film, Mithila Makhaan.
Anuritta hails from a family of writers in Bihar. Her grandfather Upendra Nath Jha ‘Vyas’ was a renowned Maithili litterateur and Sahitya Akademi Award winning author, while her uncles are acclaimed poets and writers. She spent her early years in Katihar where her parents, Dr Shailendra K Jha and Bhanu Jha, both well-known economists, taught and lived. It was during those days that she used to travel by trains to meet her maternal grandparents, who lived in Kehunia, a village in Katihar district, situated on Bihar and West Bengal border.
“There was a palpable excitement in the air as our family of four prepared for the train journey. On an average, an hour-long journey by the passenger train number 55704, originating from Katihar and going towards Malda Town, used to take not less than three hours. My brother and I used to be the happiest for it meant a lot of fun, during the trip and even after reaching our grandparent’s place when we fought over seeking their undivided attention, love and care.”
The first fight between them used to be for the ticket as to who will go and buy it. “Obviously, the older one, my brother got to do the honours always,” she said. With the score between the siblings at 1-0, the next fuss was about checking weight at the huge red weighing scale that used to dole out a small cardboard ticket with a beautiful thought printed on the other side. “I used to win this round without fail. After grabbing coins from my mother, I would be the first one to rush to get myself weighed. My brother often came second,” Jha reminisced with a chuckle.
From the ticket counter, the scene of action then shifted to the platform. “The coolie bowled us with his Superman act, carrying the entire luggage along, up and down the stairs, with ease,” said an awe-struck Jha. “Now all of us had to wait for the train to arrive. To while away the time, it was customary to buy some groundnuts or bhel (spiced puffed rice).”
The mere sighting of the train making an entry ensued a mad rush of passengers. Jha’s family, with luggage in tow, would be the last to board and quietly make their way to an empty window seat. Here round three between the siblings used to happen. “The battle for the window seat often used to end in a draw as the occupant of another window seat would inevitably show some magnanimity and voluntarily abdicate his seat for one of us. The view outside the window while the train was in motion made the fight worth it,” she said.
All along, it was fun watching the train whiz past another train on the opposite track, halting at each station, and sometimes in between as well, waiting for the green signal.
The Pranpur station was closest to Jha’s maternal village, and she remembers a big Gulmohar tree perched over the wooden benches, a natural shade for the travel-weary people, and a small tin-covered room that served as the ticket counter. “The landscape looked like a beautiful painting,” she said.
Jha was bundled off to a boarding school in Pilani, Rajasthan, when she was eight. From Katihar to Pilani, the train used to be the best bet. It was an arduous journey of three days. “It was like a three-day picnic in the train. We used to bond well with co-passengers; it was fun sharing food and playing games with them. As kids, we used to run around the entire compartment as if it was our playground.” Recounting those days when hi-tech gadgets were not around, a traveller cared to talk and befriend his co-passenger. “We made good friends on many such occasions. These were little joys of a simpler life.”
The other images that flash through her mind are of moonlit clear skies, counting tunnels and shouting along, the intertwining of wires of the electric poles dancing along the tracks, the vendors screaming their lungs out on the stations, the hide and seek of the slippers in the bogey or the Antakshari that she used to play, entertaining all other passengers as well. “The very thought of being confined in a train compartment for three days seems a tiring thought today but as a kid, I used to love every bit of those long trips to Pilani from Katihar. I thank my parents for taking so much effort to give us the best education.”
From Pilani, she moved to Delhi to study fashion and from there entered the modelling world and soon landed in Mumbai after winning Channel V’s ‘Get Gorgeous Contest’ in 2007, serving as a perfect launchpad for her film career. She moved to the big screen and made a stunning debut as Shama Parveen in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur 2. It was followed by the lead role in Maithili language film Mithila Makhaan, where she essays the role of Maithili, a fine arts graduate who returns to her flood-ravaged village and runs an NGO for the promotion of Mithila paintings, and in the process, she provides a decent livelihood to thousands of rural women. “The film gave me an opportunity to connect with my mother tongue, Maithili.” The film is all set to hit the theatres soon. Her other notable releases include Jugni and Moonlight Cafe.
Jha’s busy schedules might have denied her the pleasure of taking a trip down memory lane on a train, but she tries to relive it in some measures by becoming the engine by blowing air out of the mouth and running around the house with her nephews holding her tightly behind like two compartments. “It is a priceless memory that time can never return, but I want to make most of it in whatever little way I can,” she said nostalgically.
Written by: Shillpi A Singh