The many bus journeys I made during my college days for going home were largely safe and incident free. So, I hardly had any foreboding of something horrific happening to me while on a trip home on a night of winter in 2002. I studied engineering at Bengal Engineering College at Shibpore, Howrah, from where I used to go to Esplanade to board a bus to Siliguri in the evening. A 14-hours journey up to Siliguri and beyond would then take me to my hometown, Maynaguri, by the next morning.
Then as a college student, it was usually during summer and puja vacations that I used to go home. But this time, a few unexpected holidays in December made me homeward bound. As usual, I boarded a bus to Siliguri at Esplande bus stand. I still vividly remember that it was a cold night, making the passengers in the Volvo Bus sit in their seats, wrapped in warm clothes. The bus made a pit-stop at Krishnanagar, 100 km away from Kolkata, where we had dinner, and then left for the destination. I closed my eyelids, but the glare of headlights of the buses coming from the opposite direction fell into my eyes now and again, keeping me awake. I tossed and turned in my seat for some time and eventually drifted off to sleep.
It was about two o’clock. I was suddenly jolted out of my sleep! Some men were beating at the bus and shouting, ‘Grab them, hit them.’ Before I could make out anything, three or four of them, their faces covered with clothes, barged in to the bus through the door in the front, brandishing knives and pistols. The driver and conductors rushed to the back, fearing for their safety! I realized that the men were dacoits out to rob us of our belongings. They started lifting the bags and suitcases stowed in the shelves above the passengers’ seats. A man in the front row tried to prevent a dacoit from taking away the suitcases. What the robber did immediately still sends shivers down my spine! He swung his knife, nicking the man’s chin, thus making his intentions clear!
The robbers shouted in Hindi, ‘Kagaz Nikal (bring out your notes).’ Then they went about extorting money from the passengers. Seated by the window in one of the middle rows, I kept a bag in the aisle. I lifted it and stowed it below the seat in front of me. And as they came in, I brought out two hundred-rupee notes from my wallet and stretched my hand with the money towards them, apprehensive about their being satisfied with the offer. But to my relief, one of them collected it and hurried towards the back rows. They did not ask for more!
The robbers went about terrorizing passengers with knives and pistols and extorting money. But all of a sudden, a whistle was heard! A train was coming through the track that ran parallel to the bus route. The robbers seemed very worried! They screamed, ‘Train! Train!’ and rushed to the door! All of them got off the bus in a jiffy and went away as the train whizzed past us. The passengers in the bus heaved sighs of relief!
Our bus went to a police station near Farakka to register an FIR. And after registering the FIR, which took almost three hours, we left for Siliguri. It was in the evening that day as opposed to the morning usually that I reached home. The robbers were armed with knives and pistols, and the robbery happened all of a sudden when the passengers were asleep. But the train came to our rescue! What frightened them, I still do not know. Did they fear that the train would stop and people would go after them? Maybe they were afraid. But thank God the train came to our rescue at the right time that night!