Book Review: The Night Train at Deoli by Ruskin Bond

We all would like to meet or see someone worth remembering later in life. And normally this urge is very high when we travel on a train. The Night Train at Deoli is one such story where a young boy of around eighteen meets a poor and beautiful girl on a lonely platform.

The story has a few nameless characters. The narrator (boy) remembers a few journeys he made in past. He is traveling back to Dehradun from Delhi, and thirty miles before Dehradun arrives a single-platform station, Deoli. The train arrives at that station around five in the morning when there is no sufficient sunlight to make out the things. The station is rather a lonely sort of place. A few dimly lit bulbs, stationmaster's cabin, and a tea stall. But much to his amazement, he finds, at that odd hour of the day, a girl with pale skin, dark eyes. Her clothes are not that new or fashionable. From her outlook, she looks poor. She is selling baskets. When the narrator notices her keenly, unpretentiously she also looks at him. And at that moment both share an affectionate bonding through eyes. The narrator goes to the tea stall, the girl follows him and asks him whether he wants to buy a basket. The boy being asked, falls in love at the first sight, though no need of that basket but still he buys one for extending the meeting with her, and not to disappoint her.

Soon the stationmaster blows the whistle and they part away. The boy sitting at the window side keeps gazing at her, she too smiles at him and stands there till the train recedes out of the station.

Next time the narrator travels on the same train, he arrives at Deoli station at the same time i.e. five in the morning. This time the girl recognises him instantly and he waves her back from the door of the coach while the train is chugging out of the station.

The boy met her twice in the story, but every time he wanted to go against the time and society and wished to have that girl with him. Third time upon arriving at the station at the same time, he finds no girl there. He looks here and there for her but to no avail. He enquires about the girl to the tea-stall man but he had no information about her whereabouts. The narrator thinks of leaving the train and wishes to search for the girl in the surrounding jungles or in a nearby village but gives up the idea. The train moves on and so does he.

He makes wild guesses about her disappearance. She must have been got into a marriage or she died due to illness or devoured alive by a tiger from the jungle.

Disappearance of the girl with no valid reason is a common thread in Ruskin Bond's stories, this way he develops a sense of mystery in his work. Or was she a ghost girl like Binya.