The Spooky Host of Chittagong Night Train
I did not know how to thank my host for his generosity. I only asked him if there was any way we could meet again so that I could repay his hospitality.So, I asked him for his address in Chittagong. He looked at calmly and replied, we do not what the future holds for us. But I am always traveling and as such do not have any permanent address, he said.
Stupefied by his cryptic answer I said, but surely you have a home and people who serve you there. Otherwise who cooked these heavenly meals? I asked.
The man ran his hands through his beard and said in a mysterious way pointing above, heavens I suppose. And then he burst into laughter. I thought this was a joke but did not want to pursue the subject. We ended the meal with a firni made with milk cream and all kinds of nuts. Again, it was an exquisite experience.
At the end of the meal I suggested to my host that I take the silver ware to the basin in the toilet and clean these. But he shook his vigorously saying that he would put back the dishes in the basket and "his people" will take care of the cleaning later.
I went to the adjacent bathroom to wash my hands. When I returned, I found my host had already climbed to his berth above. I found it strange that he did not go to the bathroom to wash his hands. Nonetheless, I said goodnight to him, dimmed the light and went to sleep.
I awoke from sleep hearing a knock on the compartment door, it was the Ticket Checker who was supposed to visit last night. He came in, punched my ticket, and returned to the door. Surprised that the Ticket Checker did not ask the other passenger above for his ticket, I asked him pointing up, are you not checking his ticket? Whose ticket, the Ticket Checker asked. There is nobody else other than you in this compartment, he said rather puzzled.
I stood up and looked at the upper berth. There was no one there. Not even a luggage or the basket that the white clad man had brought out last night.
I swear there was a man in white clothes who boarded the compartment after the train had left Dhaka station, I almost screamed when I said this to the Ticket Checker.
Sir, I also swear to you there is only one reservation for this compartment, and that is for you. No one could get into this train without passing by the Conductor. And the Conductor earlier confirmed that you are the sole passenger of this compartment, he added. He gave me a look of suspicion as he left, probably wondering if I had lost my mind.
But did I actually lose my mind? Was the happening last night a bad dream? I did not know what to make of it.
As I sat down, I suddenly remembered I had kept the ball of cotton dipped in attar that the night visitor had given me in my shirt pocket. I reached for the shirt hanging in the bracket and found the ball of cotton still there. I brought it out with great excitement and took a deep smell. Again, I almost swooned from the heavenly scent that the cotton ball gave me. So, it was indeed that Jasmine Sultana that my white clad host claimed he was given by someone. But then did he not also feed me the exquisite Mughlai dishes? Where did he go? Did he go the same way as he came? Was he real? Or was he a jinn in the garb of a man since he claimed he could get anything from anywhere he wished?
I have not figured it out till today. But let me tell you the taste of that heavenly food stayed with me for a long time, and every time I took a night train I was reminded of this spooky host and his meals. Alas, the experience never repeated.
The writer is a former civil servant