This was March of 2007, and I was returning back to India after spending one week in Bhutan in a taxi that was supposed to take me to Siliguri. Since this was going to be a long drive, I started early morning from Thimphu in a hope to reach Siliguri before it is dark. Around 10:30 AM or so we reached Phunshillong, a small town at India-Bhutan border. At the India-Bhutan border, we were told that we could not cross the border. As there is Bandh in Bengal. I think this was a part of the Nandigram agitation.
I tried all possible of the limited options available there but I was told that Orders from Delhi say no vehicle can cross the border. They said you are welcome to go across on foot or come back, but the vehicle will not cross. When I asked what time do we expect this crossing ban to be lifted, I was told ‘We do not know. We will know only when the orders come’. When I kept asking they said ‘Madam, not before 5 in the evening’.
Getting stuck at India-Bhutan Border
I crossed to see if there was a vehicle available on the India side that I can take to reach any closest city. But West Bengal was absolutely closed and no transport of any kind was available. Soon vehicles started piling up on both sides. Ensuring that as and when the border opened, there is bound to be a traffic jam. I was traveling alone and knew only the driver who had accompanied me for the last few days. After all possible talking and walking, I accepted that I have to wait till the border opens. It is then that I started looking around the place to see what can I do for the next 6-7 hours. I pulled out a book from my luggage, the book was too heavy and sun too bright so the book went back to the bag.
I had some tea and snacks from the food stalls that were celebrating the bandh for the bumper business it was giving them. As I was sipping my tea, I saw the poster of Hindi movie ‘Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd’.
Watching a movie
Asked around for the theater that was playing the movie. And figured out it was a bit on the Bhutanese side in the town. So asked the driver to take me there. The person at the ticket window wondered why am I taking a ticket for a show that was almost approaching interval. I did not explain, just smiled and entered the hall. It was as basic a hall as possible, with wooden benches in front and some basic seating at the back. As I entered the hall, I could see most eyes looking at me till I settled down in a seat. And within 5 minutes it said ‘Interval’. I was happy I was sitting in a shaded area, have three hours worth of movie to watch. Yes, I had already decided to watch the next show as well to see the first half that I missed.
After finishing the movie when I came out, I was hungry. So looked around for food, found it, had it. By then the sun started coming down and people started coming out on the streets. Sat down and chatted with a few people and obviously asked them how is their life impacted by these bandhs. As expected they had accepted it as a way of life. They do not plan their lives so tightly that a day or two of delay messes up everything for them. They would prefer not to have these delays, but do they complain against them – No.
India-Bhutan Border opened at 6 in the evening and we started driving towards Siliguri and we had a national park to cross in between. Driver’s stories of wild animals did not really help my anxiety. But like they say ’all is well that ends well’. I reached Siliguri in the middle of the night safely in my hotel.
This episode made me think, should I be planning schedules in my life so tightly that any one thing falling out of place can lead to chaos. I did quit formal employment about 6 months after this incident. Though I think I still continue to plan and pack my days too tightly. On a lighter note, my driver was happy that I went and saw the movie instead of cribbing the whole day about Bandh.
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