A weird experience I wanted to share…

Kunkavav is a small hamlet in the interiors of Saurashtra Province in Gujarat. There are two villages Kunkavav Moti (big) & Kunkavav Nani(small). Let us call this place just Kunkavav. There is a story behind this rather strange name KUNKAVAV. Long long ago, when this village was just a group pf families living like a closed community around a large and deep VAV (Well), there was no name for the place. A young boy named Kunka fell into the Vav and got killed. And that Well was the only source of water in that small village of just 150 population many many years ago. The boy Kunka was a darling of this village. The well was named after him, Kunka-Vav. Since then the village itself got its name Kunkavav. However, there is another story which sounds more authentic but colour-less. It is told that the Village got it’s name Kunkavav from a step well named Kum-Kum Vav around which the village got formed.

I happened to visit this village in transit during the late 80s. I was travelling in and around Saurashtra region of Gujarat with my colleague, friend and boss Mr. Bansal when I was working in Ahmedabad. From Amreli, we were supposed to travel to Junagarh. Unfortunately there was no direct train. So we were advised to reach Kunkavav by road and catch a train from there to Junagadh which actually goes around the famous Girnar Hill where the famous Lion reserve Gir Forest exists (Google Map attached). This was a Metre gauge route with only very slow passenger trains passing through. We were hearing the name Kunkavav, that too with a railway station, for the first time. Even doubted whether that existed on the Railway Map!!! Anyways, the fact is that, it exists.

We took a bus to Kunkavav and we were dropped at the Bus stand. It was around 5.00 in the evening. We looked for the Railway station and we came to know that it was quite far away from the village. And as it was too late, there was no other way to reach there but to walk carrying the suitcase for 8-10 days travel. As we were not aware about any specific train that passed through Kunkavav to reach, Junagadh, we decided not to waste time. We took the challenge of walking without really knowing how far it was. There was no proper road. Whatever was there in the name of road was full of potholes and protruding stones. It got quite dark very soon and we could barely see around. So we had to walk very slow ‘feeling’ the ground step by step. After walking for some time, believing in the directions given by someone one in the village as correct, we were really tired and I was carrying my suitcase on my head! All through it was total silence and we could hear every grain of sand or stone grinding under our feet. After some time I could hear only my heavy breathing. We must have walked for hours, or so we felt. After some time we could see some dim light far away and we decided to go in that direction almost sure that it must be the railways station.

It must be around 9.30 PM in the night when we reached Kunkavav Railway Station. It was quite dark in and around the Station. It was just a one-bogey platform station. I could faintly see the yellow board written KUNKVAV in Gujarati, English and Hindi. The typical concrete board was all broken and the letters were very faded. The place was very silent. It was indeed scary. It was also very very hot due to the summer time. The whole place was very dusty. In Gujarat, during summer, you don’t sweat. The sweat whatever comes must be evaporating instantly.

The Railway station itself was an antique piece. It had a British colonial architecture right from the roof to the cast iron pillars to sculpted metal cornices to the ticket window near the entrance. The whole mood looked very surreal to me. (Photo given here and I am sure this has got a face-lift after my visit). We looked at each other and it would be wrong to say that we were not a little uncomfortable. We could smell dust all around. Nothing could be seen beyond 10 feet due to the darkness. There was nobody seen in the vicinity. A Railway Station without anyone to man it! Wow!!

We peeped in through the well-ornate Ticket window and suddenly a heavily wrinkled face of an old man appeared behind the window. He was wearing a large dirty turban and a Khakhi shirt. As he appeared suddenly from below very close to the window, we were taken aback. He asked us without any expression on his face “kyan javu chhe?” in a very heavy kathiawadi (very local) accent with a very deep bass voice as though coming out a of a deep ‘vav’ (well). He was asking us where we wanted to go. We told him “Junagadh” and pushed some cash for ticket. He took the cash and counted keeping it very close to his eyes. Those days, ticket was like a small card which is pressed into a heavy machine to mark the date (A picture given). He pushed the tickets and the balance money towards us and turned away. He slowly walked out of the room and came near. He told “Gadi savarej-chhe” (Train is only in the morning). There were a couple of incandescent bulbs on the platform but it seemed as though, those were kept only to attract insects around.

The whole atmosphere was like some horror movie of the 60s. An ancient looking Railways Station manned by just one old odd looking man. It seems he is the watchman, Station Master, Ticket vendor, Train signalling guy, etc. etc. It looked quite scary. Not because of any threat from any other human because the only human we saw was that fragile old man. But our fear was more because of the eerie darkness and total silence. He walked past us gesturing to follow him. There was no other soul except for the old man who was walking very slowly holding a huge stick on one hand and a huge bunch of very heavy keys on the other. He must be almost 7 feet tall. He was carrying a stick taller than him. He stopped in front of a huge door with massive brass lock. The lock and the door were pretty dusty and do seem to have touched for quite a long time. He opened the heavy lock with great difficulty. It is evident that the lock is seldom opened. He went inside and switched on the light. He invited us inside and said “Gadi savare haath vaagye chhe. humna andar jaine aaraam karo” (Train is at 7 in the morning. Now you go in and take some rest). Saying this, he slowly walked away keeping the door opened.

We were on our own and we went inside. The room was another British colonial monument. The place was wonderfully furnished with fantastic furniture with leather surfacing. But all are either torn or broken. There was a huge hexagonal table in the middle of the room. It must be at least 6 feet in diameter. We kept our bags on that. There were 3 straight back chairs around the table. And of course at least I cm of dust on every surface of that room. There were a couple of large wooden easy chairs in far corners. There were some ancient Railway posters on the walls. Don’t remember what it was. Ceiling was also wooden. I noticed a very ancient ceiling fan with twisted wings and very huge centre motor part which had some designs and some holes as ventilator. It was a large one indeed for that room. I looked for the switch and found one large oxidized hemi-spherical brass switch besides a massive regulator. The moment I switched on, the big fan above started rotating making the noise of a Railway Engine wheel! It made lot of creaking sound and whatever air it threw out was enough to raise the dust in the room. I immediately switched off the fan. There was a door on the other end which must be the way to the toilet. I ventured inside but couldn’t make out anything. So I decided to look at it in the morning before we go. In fact I was quite curious how the whole place looked in day light. Now, in the night, it indeed looked very fantastical for late 80s.

We were very hungry but there was no hope but to tighten our belts and stretch ourselves for a short rest. Both of us decided to use the two wooden easy chairs. Didn’t know when we slept off with the lights on and how many hours we must have slept. We had a very deep sleep after that arduous walk to the Railway Station.. Suddenly I felt somebody poking on my chest. I opened my eyes to see an old fact with dry hair all around staring at me very close to my face. He smiled with a thousand dirty teeth in his mouth. I could strong smell Thambaku (Tobacco) from his mouth which made me fully awake instantly. My colleague was also poked by the old man to wake up. Then I noticed an ancient grand-dad clock on the wall which showed 6 O’clock. I noticed that the pendulum was still. It made me smile. Morning light started filling the room and we were in for a shock! The whole room was full of insects. Many species. Some were very colourful. Some had beautiful patterns on them. Some were huge and really scary… Though it was a treat to watch them, we were very scared to think that we were sleeping there without knowing the existence of these kinds of insects which would have scared us to death had we seen them last night.

When I bent forward to stand, I felt a pricking pain on my back and I stretched myself to touch that spot where it pained. I felt something very large soft sitting on my back. I slowly removed my shirt and turned my back to my colleague to have a look and requested him to slowly remove whatever was there. His silence and his face spoke millions of words. He told that there is a huge boil on my back. He said it was very soft because it was filled with some liquid inside. Since I could not see that, I did not really understand the scariness of the whole sight! We looked at each other and decided something. I took my towel, twisted it holding across my back with both my hands and just squeezed the boil. It didn’t pain much. The bubble broke and lots of liquid ran out. I was told it was looking a large pink patch with the uppermost skin gone due to the rubbing of the towel on it. I could not put back my shirt as it would hurt badly. We thought the only way is to burn it off. But how? We had an after-shave lotion with us and I asked him to simply pour it on the pink patch. We knew that after shave lotion is a great anti-septic and that can heal cuts and burns. At least till the boil is covered we needed to protect it. I could not leave that as it is because I could get infected. He was a little hesitant in the beginning imagining the extreme burning I might have to suffer once the open skin come into contact with After Shave Lotion. Even with blade cuts, it is quite a burn. Here it is the whole area an open surface as the top layer of skin is gone! I bent forward with my back horizontal and closed my eyes. He took courage and poured the entire lotion on the open skin. It really burned… really burned… I screamed loud inside to contain the intense burning. But after a few minutes I was alright and then I wore a very loose shirt.

After some time we could hear the sound of the train from a distance we got ready to board. We saw the old man standing on the platform looking towards the east from where the sun was slowly rising. There were only 3-4 bogeys in this Metre Gauge train. The very few in the train were sleeping except a couple of them who were sitting at the door smoking beedi. The train which was already very slow came to a halt making lot of screeching sound. We got ready to continue our travel. All through the travel, I was sitting away from the back rest. Still the shirt got stuck on the wound several times and I had to release it and every time it pained. By the time we reached back to Ahmedabad after a few days, the pink colour on my back had already turned to brown. It was really healing! Thanks to the After Shave Lotion and my courageous colleague!!!