Dileep's Steam Trains

I HAVE RECEIVED some days back a most charming gift from a friend in Delhi. Shri Abhimanyu Shaunik was here in Nagpur on business work and when I went to see him in his hotel room, and we sat down to talk of our mutual fascination for the railways, Mani stunned me by producing an article that was so charming, so pretty, I could only exclaim "Wow !!"

It was a tiny pocket book. A book with pictures of trains in it. Yes, they were pictures of steam trains. And all shot on a film camera by veteran photographer Shri Dileep Prakash.

Dileep is a master photographer who needs no introduction. He is married to June Davy, an Anglo Indian, and besides his interest in steam trains, he has also created a charming portfolio of pictures of Anglo Indian families in India. Now why should this be charming ? Those who love the railways of the raj need no explanation why Dileep’s portfolio is so pleasing. They know the answer.

So here I am with a copy of Dileep’s pocket book on steam railways. It is called "Whistling Steam—Romance of Indian Rails". And it is truly a masterpiece in miniature, a lovely portfolio of pictures. I would go so far as to say that it is a collector's item.

To appreciate Dileep’s skill with a camera, you need to actually see the pictures for yourself. Like me, he has a keen fascination for steam railways, and like me, he arrived on the scene with his camera a bit late, at a time when steam trains were becoming a fast disappearing species. So then, whatever was left of those rusting old birds, he captured on film. He knew he was running a race against time, so he had to hurry, for he knew his beloved engines would not be around forever. And so, when we turn through the pages of this book, we will meet Jama Jiva, the loco fitter at the Wankaner shed. We are introduced to Nal Bahadur, the Loco Foreman on the Darjeeling Hill Railway standing against a B class locomotive. We are taken on a tour of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and its quaint engines. And we can step into the Nilgiri workshop to take a close up peek at those double-toothed cog wheels that help propel trains up the hills of Ooty. There are pictures of broad gauge locos being readied in sheds, a lone engine owned by the Madhya Pradesh State Electricity Board carrying along a load of wagons on a bridge. And you have a grand collection of pictures showcasing the Darjeeling Hill railway too.  

Here is a book you can't put down easily. When I got my copy, I went through the text as well as the pictures several times. There is something about these pictures that marks them as different from the rest. I think it is a kind of "atmosphere" surrounding each picture. I was in Darjeeling only once, in 1985. Although I never did ride the toy train, I did spend time at the station in Darjeeling. I saw school children walking the road as the train chugged alongside, I would stand watching the train taking a curve next to a pretty little cottage. Those images are forever etched in my mind. Now three decades later, when I flip through the pages of this book, it brings back fond memories. And I exclaim to myself , "Ah, that's Darjeeling !" 

Dileep's pictures have been skillfully crafted, and he has undoubtedly used burning-in or dodging to achieve his spectacular effects. This together with his composition (sometimes tight, sometimes all inclusive) results in a startling 'atmospheric' effect ; his pictures arouse emotion. I liked the dark, sombre tone that is so reminiscent of India's steam age, now a thing of the past. Atmosphere is evident everywhere in the book. It is there in the coal train at Korba, and in the Mettupalayam shed and workshop, in the Darjeeling train winding its way past a dream cottage, and in the group of schoolgirls descending the wooded hillside fascinated by a B class engine shunting nearby.

Richly textured and with superb detail, these pictures are a pleasure to watch.

Ravindra Bhalerao

Reminiscences of St. Andrew's Church

EUGENE IS AN AMAZING person ;  he knows just about everything there is to know about life in railway colonies in pre-partition India. And his knowledge has not been gained secondhand through research. Eugene has lived all through his boyhood in railway colonies here in Central India where his father worked for the Bengal Nagpur Railway. And he has great tales to tell about life in these colonies. He has explored the backyard of nearly every home in his neighbourhood while he was a boy. And the fragrance of these homes still lingers on him, as fresh as ever. His work in Britain’s RAF has not dulled his longing for a whiff of the good old times back home in India.

Eugene’s knowledge is phenomenal ; he has enlightened me with many a fascinating tale from his boyhood days. And he tells me that since earliest times, every railway colony in the country had a church in it, most often Church of England, but sometimes Roman Catholic. This was a startling revelation for me. Back in the early seventies, my father was posted in Gorakhpur where we attended St Andrew’s Church, a magnificent brick edifice, set amidst the sprawling railway colony. I was but a lad of twelve then ; winding my way through the streets of the colony my mind often wondered how a church came to be in the midst of these brick red homes. The answer was to come only several years later. The topmost cadres in the railway administration in those times were occupied by Britishers, while routine jobs and operating posts were held by Anglo Indians, fiercely proud of their association with the railways of India. To ensure all-round growth and a well-balanced personality among its workforce, the railways provided each of its colonies with an institute for recreation, an English medium school for the children staying in the colony, parks, officers’ clubs, and a church. The colony was thus self sufficient in itself, a small township whose inhabitants were well-provided for in all respects, not needing to look elsewhere for any of their needs, not even for a place of worship.

And so here I was, a boy of twelve, whistling a tune to myself as I trudged along to attend the railway school, sachel slung around shoulder. Built in true railway style, the school was an architectural marvel in brickwork with a large playground at the back, and a large lunch hall furnished with benches and water taps where we tiny-tots gathered in the afternoon with our tiffin boxes. Next to the school building was the railway institute, tall and graceful, standing amidst majestic silence, the wind playing on its twin towers in a soft caress, while an occasional hoot of an engine followed by a rattle of wheels reminded me that a train was making its way out of the railway yard nearby. Oh, for a taste of those days again!

The railway primary school I attended was staffed by ladies many of whom lived in the railway colony itself. And quite a few of these dear aunties were Christians who attended church. There was Mrs Newbolt the Headmistress, fair, tall and aloof. Then there was Miss Clifford who taught us Social Studies, Mrs Joseph, Mrs Cecil, and others, many of them familiar to us as members of St Andrew’s Church. Each Sunday the crisp morning air of the colony echoed with the toll of the bell high up on the steeple. Jangle-jangle chimed the bell, while families dressed in Sunday best would be seen walking up the driveway for morning worship. Many a young lad like me stood watching spellbound as Musa, the sexton, tugged at the cable that hung down, causing the huge bell atop the church to swing giving out a rhythmic musical peal.

The bell atop St Andrew’s tolled twice each week, one for morning service, the other for evensong. Morning service was always more formal and was attended by the cream of the congregation. There were the Browns and Benjamins and their sons, the Josephs, Cecils, and Amarnaths. After-church gatherings in the church premises were tinged with a butterfly touch when the men gathered in small groups lost in profound conversation, while the womenfolk flitted about speaking in low whispers, letting out occasional giggles. Some folks like the Chandis kept out of the general talk; they preferred to keep aloof, standing quietly beside their car.

The seven years we lived in this town in eastern U.P. saw a succession of parsons who held charge over St Andrew’s, beginning with the quiet Pastor Lall, followed by Rev Baldeo, Pitamber and others. Week after week these men watched over their flock, expounding the Word for all, exhorting men to turn back from the world and its ways and follow the path of honesty and godliness. Occasionally, a guest speaker would be called in to preach. I can still remember the clear tones of the Reverend William Paul, an English missionary, speaking out from the pulpit on one occasion. Lean, tall and fair, Reverend Paul was a much loved figure in Gorakhpur. He lived in an old style bungalow in Basaratpur, and we had the pleasure of having him in our home a few times accompanied by his Canadian wife.

Having stayed in India for years, Paul finally had to prepare to return to England. We went to see him in Basaratpur and found his wife had laid out several articles on a table to be given away to friends for a small price. Mother bought some cutlery, and several cut glass bowls. Then there was an old Viewmaster with several reels that we took home with us.

There was hardly a crowd beside the Ist class carriage at the station when we went to see off the gentleman and his wife. My hand was in a cast after a fall, and I was subdued, though inwardly excited to be at the station. The whistle blew, but Paul was unperturbed. He nimbly walked up to me, and holding the cast in his hand , signed his name on it.  W. M. Paul.  This was his parting gift to me. It was something anyone would treasure. Then as the night express to Allahabad jerked forward, Paul smartly moved and with one bound he was aboard, waving us goodbye as the train slowly pulled out.

But it was Evensong at St Andrew’s we liked to attend, for it was held in the cool of the day, and was more a relaxed affair free from the formalism of the morning service. Thus each Sunday evening found us preparing for a ride through the railway colony. For a fare of only Re 1, the rickety old rickshaw would take us past the railway sports stadium, go right over the level crossing of Mohaddipur, and then into the depths of the colony lined with tamarind trees. It was incredibly calm here. As the rickshaw creaked on, all you could hear was the rustle of the branches overhead, the distant cries of children playing, the occasional rumble of a train. We ride on going past railwaymen’s bungalows, neat and clean, set amidst an overgrowth of neem and mango trees. We ride on through Private Road, bypass the turning that leads to my school, and cross a square. The rickshaw grinds to a halt beside a gate and we alight. St Andrew’s is now in full view, thrusting its spire into the crimson sky, and bathed in the soft light of the setting sun. The place is aglow with life in the evenings: bees and insects swarm through the air, settling on hedges of pansies and snapdragons, while birds of all descriptions congregate on trees chirping excitedly, preparing for the night’s rest ahead. St Andrew’s church was truly set in paradise.

Evensong was held by the Reverend Caleb Bellah, a short, stout, cheery old man, as cheerful and vivacious as the birds now settling in the trees around. Bellah was in fact a pastor employed with a Christian girls’ orphanage, but as a sideline to his work he often volunteered to undertake the evening service at St Andrew’s. He was a man given to brevity ; he believed that a church service should be short enough to be effective, and to this end he would order the evening’s proceedings so as never to last for more than an hour. His sermons were always a pleasure to sit through; they were well-planned and thought out, and although he read his text aloud from a typed sheet he would give away cyclostyled copies which we were allowed to carry home. With never more than about a dozen persons in attendance, Evensong was a truly enriching experience quite alike an informal prayer gathering in the home.

The final hymn sung and benediction said, we emerged from church. It was dark by now as the little group stood chatting beside the magnificent edifice built in brick. It was a quiet little group; often there would be none besides my father, mom, my sister, the parson and his daughter and son-in-law. Then under the dim street lamps of Private Road we would begin our trek home with Pastor Bellah by our side, his vigour undiminished by the labours of the evening. And on we walked, sharing our tales of joy and sorrow with the old man, while the bungalows on either side, now alight, seemed to peek at us through rows of hedges and foliage. We walk on under the canopy of trees until we reach the railway. Here we slacken our pace, for we have often to wait till a shunting train has moved out of the way and backed into the yard from whence it came. Beyond the yard is a busy thoroughfare, and here we come to a halt waiting for a rickshaw to appear which will carry us back home before bidding goodnight to the cheery old parson.

The church of St Andrew still stands, a lone sentinel pointing the way to heaven amidst the jungle of trees and shrubs of Gorakhpur’s railway colony. Today a new group of worshippers may be seen in the pews on Sunday. New faces have appeared, new voices, a different gathering. The old congregation we had known is not to be seen anymore. After a space of four decades, many of its veteran leaders and elders have gone on to be with the Lord ; the children who graced the flowering gardens with their colourful attire and cries of play are now grown-ups who have moved away to distant lands in search of greener pastures. But the church itself remains unchanged, as of old. The bell atop the steeple still rings the same chime calling forth souls to praise and worship. And the story it has to tell is the same old story, a tale of glad tidings for all.
Ravindra Bhalerao

Didi's Gift -- On the Howrah Mumbai Duronto Express

Satish Kulkarni

AT LONG LAST FULFILLED a 30 years old yearning as I traveled the Howrah Mumbai via Nagpur train route on Mamata Didi's gift - the Duronto Express. Reached the Hallowed precincts of the Howrah Station at 6.50 AM for a train that was to depart at 8.20AM - this was coloured by earlier experiences of a literal traffic jam 30 years ago wherein I had made it by the skin of my teeth by sprinting across the howrah bridge with my yes - The HOLDALL!! . Howrah bridge now no longer has trams running on it so the hotel concierge wondered why I was leaving for the station so early - so I regaled him off my narrative 3 decades ago.. The only side-effect of this narrative being that the beautiful young lady at the reception got a fair idea of the age of this Uncle leaving me no option but to be at my avuncular best as I completed my check out formalities.

Howrah Station now has a new wing for South Eastern railway departure trains. It was cold misty and foggy but the station ambience is the same. Porters mostly from Bihar speaking bhojpuri/maithili - (kaa ho khaini khavatani baa?) - Roughly translating to how are you would you like some khaini i.e. tobacco with Lime/chun). The method of kneading khaini with chuna is the same replete with a deft toss between the mouth and lower lip. The children being with me and my having to be a model parent prevented me from (once again) trying this after 36 years ! People from all walks of life, representing a microcosm of India that one can only experience via long distance train journeys.

Gave reassurance to an elderly bengali couple at the platform in Bengali that .the Duronto indeed leaves from here (ai platform theke hi chaadbe). The feeling of reassurance that the couple had after I volunteered to help them find their coach/seat can only be experienced but cant be described (this was similar when I personally negotiated a lower berth for my mother whilst she was travelling pune to bangalore). The train glided off smoothly and promptly at 8:20AMwith with a post office maroon coloured Santragachi 4000HP WAP4 doing the honours. This loco would haul this train right upto Igatpuri. The train attendant welcomed us with a Rose -( "Welcome aboard the Duronto SIr") and soon we were past Santragachi into the lush green bengal countryside. Simple folk bathing in the pond soaking in the lingering winter sun, women washing clothes, some carrying water, the occasioinal bullock being given a bath, children waving at level crossings, banana trees, swaying cocunut/palm's - got goosebumps as I experienced the bucolic ambience of a fast vanishing era.

The train's music system jockey must be a great philosopher. Lovely piano versions of old kishore da melodies of yore suitable for all genre of passengres wafted through the music system on the train - sample these

- musafir hoon yaron na ghar hai na thikana..., meet na milaa re manakaa, jaane man jaane man tere do nayan, nain tumhare mazeedar o janabe aali, ghoongroo ki tarah bajata hi rahaa hoon main, teri galiyon mein na rakhenge kadam, raahi manwa dukh ki chinta kyon sataati hai, some numbers very very nostalgic and touching for chaps like me, yet some romantic numbers that were apt for the flirtatious couples in the coupe's for two..

Kharagpur went past and breakfast arrived - fruit juice, the best railway omelette you can ever get, the classic what only the khansama of the railways can prepare - cutlets superbly done with bread crumbs - shallow fried golden brown to perfection with a delicious beet, green peas, potato, onion filling, baked beans, finger chips cooked in mustard oil and tea...

Got talking with my fellow passenger Mr.Raychaudhuri a retired life sciences Prof., caught up with him with old text books of yore Gray's Anatomy (costing a princelely some of Rs2.50 in his father's days in Dacca as he told me), maths/kc.nag, algebra/kalipada basu, datta's botany - yet another dream fulfilled meeting and having an "adda" session with a bengali master moshai/intellectual on a journey.

The train pounding the miles- some changes as I missed the lingering windhorn of the WDM2 diesel loco as this route is fully electrified. Arrived at Tatanagar(Jamshedpur) and saw goods boxcars loaded with steel being hauled by coupled WAM4's with TATA stenciled on them - another reminder of the past. This marked coming into the second state of the journey - jharkhand. Came into Orissa at rourkela, and felt the sheer power of the 5 coupled 5000 HP bandamunda WAG5 loco's hauling a long boxcar goods traiin.

Lunch was soup with bread soupsticks, chappati veg/panner curry, aloo bhaja(fry) rice, dal and curd - very tasty children loved it too. My daughter's initiation into railfanning came with an innoccous question what do the devanagari initials "da pu" on the loco stand for. Patiently explained they stood for South Eastern (Dakhshin Purva) Railway and that this train route has been in existence since 1900 then run by the then Bengal Nagpur Railway(BNR) and the Great Indian Peninsular Railway(GIPR).

After a snooze came evening and then the most introspective part of the journey at dusk. Somehow late evenings on a train are always a time for reflection/introspection as one watches the sun go down the dark red horizon and as the evening mist settles in over the plains. Its almost as though one rewinds one's life's journey at this time of the day - times of bygone childhood, schooldays, one's first crush...

As night settled in went past bilaspur, durg, temple town of dongargarsh, rajnandangaon as I prepared to settle in for the night. Got up early at 4.00am and after a wash in a swaying railway carriage toilet got ready for dawn. (If one can hold one's aim in a swaying moving train one has arrived as a seasoned rail traveler :-))

Dawn at winter is one of the most fulfilling aspects of a rail journey. On the plains one can be amongst the mist and see the lingering fog as the upcoming day portends hope and aspiration. The railway town of Bhusawal went by - this place was one of the worlds largest steam loco sheds in the pre-independence days. Experienced dawn as the Sun broke out somewhere between Manmad and Deolali - O what a glorious sight. As my bangla copassenger remarked "O we are but mere children in front of Mother Nature and there is some divine power orchestrating this nature's dance and play"...(translation imperfect as this is best heard in bangla).

Stopped at Igatpuri and had the best ever masala and adrak chai's of my life. So much so that made sure that I had two cups of each but also made sure that both the children enjoyed this once in lifetime flavour - they loved it. Also cajoled my co-passenger who had given up drinking chai to have - just one (shoodoo taste 'er jonno i.e. just for the flavour) - he loved it. Tried maska paav at the Irani's stall - beautiful. Our adrak chaiwala being a Marathi Manoos - got talking and in his words "Igatpuri madhe chahaa/jewan madhe paisa wasool" you get value for money for food at Igatpuri and the weather is good only until kasara. Was touched by his humility and his happiness and contentment in life with what he enjoyed doing - something for me to learn as I continue in this IT rat race. Personally saw the AC to DC loco change as an Igatpuri DC/AC WCAM3 loco too charge. Bid adieu to the Santragachi WAP4 loco - this would return back with the return howrah duronto again at Igatpuri in the evening.

By now we had traversed 5 states (bengal, jharkhand, orissa, madhya pradesh, maharashtra), I had spoken bengali, hindi, maithili/bjojpuri, understood oriya, marathi and of course english. Suuun timing che - remarked the pretty young gujrati girl as the train rolled in at on the dot at 10.20AM Mumbai VT oops Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus.

Taxi guy Dalvi was a Marathi Manoos from Kanjur Marg so he loved taking us from VT to Powai at IIT.

All in all very very fulfilling.

The Approach to Itwari Station...

Here are two pictures showing the charm of railway heritage.

The approach to Itwari station...

And the station itself...

The Punjab Mail at Ludhiana

Selections from the Memoirs of
Sukhdev Singh,  B.E.,
Late Superintending Engineer,
Public Works Department, 

November 1956

THE DAZZLING SHOW OF exquisite goods on display in the fashionable bazaars have never held any charm for me, except perhaps to buy a few necessaries that are basic to the business of living.

How does it come about that people throng the bazaar dressed in their evening best, and flit from shop to shop, carrying back basketfuls of fancily wrought goods, half of which they might never use throughout the year, is beyond my power of comprehension. I suppose these folks like to stock up on merchandise in competition with their neighbours. It is a universal trait that may be found all over the civilized world.

These then are my views with regard to the acquisition of goods.  But of late, I find a change taking place within me. There is one object here in the marketplace which has cast a spell over me. I have often halted beside the New India Radio & Gramophone Company on my way to Harminder’s home. Each time I am here, a sweet melody may be heard floating out of the shop, a melody that is both soothing and pleasurable, mostly film numbers, but at other times English tunes.

The gramophone shop has an interesting assortment of goods. There are record players and stacks of records ; then there are radio sets on sale (Harpreet loves to listen to Radio Ceylon) ; and there are microphones and tape recorders and all the associated circuitry. As an added attraction, the shop also stocks on prismatic binoculars, slide projectors and magnifying glasses.

I wish I could get a record player for Harpreet, but a better idea would be to get her a radio set, so that they can tune in to their favourite stations. The girl often makes her way to her friend’s home a few blocks away, her frame swaying awkwardly with every step she takes, to sit by the radio and listen to Radio Ceylon. Here at the gramophone shop the latest British made Pye radio sets are on sale, but each set costs no less than Rs 300, and you need a license besides to own a radio receiver.  

These were my musings as I seated Biji and Harpreet in a III Class Sleeper carriage of 6 Down Mail. But this is no time to think about music and radio sets and licenses. I am here at the railway station with Harpreet and her mother, and after a wait of nearly an hour in the Waiting Room, the train has steamed in. The Punjab Mail standing at the platform arouses a sense of urgency ; there is no telling when the locomotive at the head of the train will commence to exert its tractive pull at the drop of the signal. There is the unmistakable feeling that an event of the first magnitude is about to take place, and event that will irreversibly change the destiny of those seated meekly within the train.  The yellow board on the carriage side is tilted over to one side; it reads ‘Howrah—Amritsar—Howrah’.  Another carriage down the train declares its destination to be Dehradun. This, I am told, is a through carriage that will be detached when the train pulls into Laksar in the dead of the night. I think I must study the timetable; this is the place that will furnish me full partculars of through carriages on this train.

Having settled Biji and Harpreet, I bid them farewell and hurriedly moved up the platform hoping to catch a view of the locomotive as it drew out with the train. I stumbled along, dodging handcarts laden with luggage and passengers scurrying to and fro. I reached the end of the platform canopy—oh dear, there were still four more carriages to go, out under the night sky—when the engine gives out a deep sonorous whistle, like a ship's siren. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the driver opening his regulator but missed the event. With a great roar, those mighty cylinders let out plumes of steam setting those steel rods into motion. There were three men in charge, active in the brightly lit cab. One blast, then another, WHOOOF—WHOOF—WHOOF , and the locomotive slowly began to move out with the train. I glanced at the yard ahead where a semaphore meekly pointed the way down shining a feeble green light towards us. “Gentlemen, all is clear, you are authorized to proceed…”  it seemed to say.

The rest of today's evening was uneventful. As the train pulled out, I made my way to the station restaurant for a vegetarian meal. Once out of the building I turned, as I often do, to glance at this great railway junction. Ludhiana railway station. A cold mist has descended on the night; the concourse feebly lit with incandescent lamps; tongas wait in uncertainty for passengers emerging from the main portico.

The main line that sails into this great centre comes from Amritsar and Pathankot further up north, moving down in a south-easterly direction to Ambala, Saharanpur and Delhi. A line leads to Ferozepur, while another branches off to Hisar down south. The town itself is home to a large number of private industries manufacturing blankets and woolen garments. The residents of this province are an industrious race. There is hardly a lane of the old city where you will not come upon signs of manufacturing progress. Every by-lane has its share of power looms, their shuttles busily clicking away at all odd hours of the day.
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