It’s a train of many firsts. Utmaram, 40, is taking the Thar Express to travel to Sindh where he will meet the family of his mother Mota Devi for the first time. “I was born here in Barmer, but I want to see my relatives; even my mother's very old now,” says Utmaram, waiting at the security checking point.
You’ll find similar stories all across Jodhpur’s Bhagat ki Kothi station which is quite crowded at the ungodly hour of one am on Friday night with passengers waiting to board the weekly train to Karachi, that was restarted with much fanfare in 2006.
Aamna Begum, 65, came to India from Karachi for the first time to meet her relatives. “What a visit it was! My mother, two of my brothers and a couple of nephews have died in these years,” she says, bursting into tears. “I wish they could extend my visa since I wanted to meet many others,” rues Aamna, who migrated to Pakistan with her parents in 1947. Her mother returned, but Aamna could not follow her.
Then there’s Mejhbeen, 33 from Karachi, carrying a bag full of bangles gifted to her by her husband’s relatives in Jaipur, and Akhtar Husain, 65, who has been visiting his family in Moradabad all of last month.
The security staff at the station say that, of late, the crowds have been thinning. “From about 500-600 people who used to take this train till about six months back, there are only 200 people now. The numbers are falling because after the Mumbai attacks people are scared,” says Shyam Jha, a railways security personnel. “It’s a journey that people plan for months, saving up, getting the documents ready,” he adds.
Whatever the police may say, there is little evidence of a fear factor here. “What do poor farmers like us have to be scared of?” says Utmaram. Nothing, I tell him.