This journey was in the second half of 2017. On a muggy September evening, with early signs of the city of Kolkata preparing for the Puja holidays, I boarded the Steel Express to Tatanagar from Howrah. This was with a friend who is from Kolkata.
The Steel Express is part of an old quartet of commuter trains from Howrah - Ispat in the morning and Steel in the evening towards Kharagpur/Tata and Coalfield in the morning and Black Diamond in the evening towards Durgapur/Asansol. Ispat has now become a long distance train, but the others retain their commuter train flavour with daily travelers taking their accustomed seats.
The Steel Exp has 23 coaches and we walked up a little to find an unreserved coach with good seats available. As it turned out, there were seats in the reserved coaches as well, but we stuck to the pleasures of traveling for Rs 70 in the unreserved coach. We saw later that these were less occupied than the reserved coaches.
Brisk sale of fried items began even as the train slowly pulled out and passed Tikiapara. Alu chop* and dalwada* was one combo sold by a vendor. Samosas and later, paneer pakodas appeared. All these were offered by the uniformed pantry car vendors. The non-pantry car chappies also joined in throughout the journey in a good example of live and let live. Chai coffee with one tea vendor offering the option of earthen pot tea were by the pantry and lemon tea* was by the non-pantry. All very democratic.
The much awaited jhalmuri vendor appeared to the pleasant jolts of the Steel Exp picking up speed after entering Kharagpur division and getting past Santragachi in the early evening. We settled down to the serious business of ordering, watching the jhalmuri* being made and then eating it. The muri was joined by small potato cuboids, chopped onions, finely cut green chilies, a little bit of mixed farsan, some boiled chana, rock salt, chili powder, all mixed up with a little mustard oil and topped with one sliver of fresh coconut, served in a paper cup customized for the purpose. Fantastico. There was another specialized item with freshly cut things offered by a different salesman, but I did not get a good look at that, unfortunately.
The alu chop was a small roundish concoction with fried green chillys and salt as garnish and the dal wada was good, though a bit dry. The lemon tea with masala was piping hot and hit the spot. Considering that I had consumed a small packet of frydums, a pear and a tetra pack juice on the way to the station after a latish airline lunch, it's amazing how much I put away in such a short time. The atmosphere of open windows, fresh air, green environs, a brisk movement of the train, the Kolaghat bridge over the Rupnarayan river and the train whizzing by Uluberia, Bagnan, Mecheda etc. was a combination conducive to indulgence and bien-etre. We passed the halt station intriguingly named Narayan Pakuria Murail just before Panskura Junction. It's not pronounced the way it's written, really, but Narayan and rail is about right.
There was plenty more on offer on the train. Items of clothing*, plastic items of indeterminate utility, toys, ayurvedic preparations*, coloring books, magazines, potato chips, locally made fried snacks in plastic packaging and bottled water. No vendor went completely ignored and no traveller was there who did not reach into his/her wallet at least once. Items marked * were transacted by us, so as you can see, we were quite busy.
The journey to KGP was indeed non-stop and we drew to a slow halt on the long platform a minute or so before time. Highly enjoyable journey in good company.