January 09, 2012

An Evening with Anoop Jhingron (Contd.)

Continued from previous post
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Tell us about your book on postal stamps. Does it tell a story?
I have written two books on Indian postage stamps. The first book “Daak Tikaton kaa Safar: Railway par Vishesh Nazar” was published in 2008. My second book is likely to be published in 2012.Both the books deal in detail about Indian stamps issued on different themes. However in both the books the evolution of the postal system, in the world in general and in India in particular has been discussed at length. Thus it does tell a story. However readers will also find several small stories and anecdotes about various themes and personalities in the books.

And now you are at work on a new project, we are told, with railway life as its theme.
 Yes, for the past some time I have been working on this project. This is intended to cover an important aspect of the railways, i.e., the life in railway colonies in India. The subject is vast and not much work has been done in the field. Hence it is a time consuming project. It not only involves research in archives and libraries but also visits to various important railway colonies all over the country. Hence the completion of the project will take some more time.

Did you ever ride the footplate of a locomotive?
During my service span of approximately thirty seven years I have travelled on footplate of locomotives on innumerable occasions. Right from steam loco hauled freight trains working in collieries and industrial pilots to state of art electric locomotives on Rajdhani Express trains, I have footplated on numerous  types of locomotives.


What were your impressions of steam engine drivers? Many of us rail enthusiasts have enormous respect for these men. 
          I found the steam engine drivers of our country to be a dedicated and disciplined lot. These qualities continued with them even after they graduated from steam to diesel and later to electric locomotives.
          The steam drivers appeared to be in love with their iron horses. There was a time when the best drivers used to have dedicated steam engines, which were driven exclusively by their team. The drivers and the firemen used to devote a lot of time to ensure proper maintenance of the locomotives. They would spend time in locosheds to see that locos were given proper attention. Even during run the team would devote time in oiling and cleaning of locos. They were so punctilious that it was sometimes difficult to find even a spec of coal dust once the loco had a stopover.
          In those days steam locos hauling prominent trains were given names. In the initial years of my service I have seen Punjab Mail from Bombay VT to Ferozepur being hauled by two locos : “Jhansi ki Rani” and “Veer Bundela” of Jhansi loco sheds. Jodhpur shed used to have “Vir Durgadas” and “Ran Baanka Rathod” and even till eighties I have come across “Hemu Bakkaal” (named after Hemchandra, the general who fought Akbar in the second battle of Panipat) of Sarai Rohilla loco shed.
          These drivers used to observe rules religiously. I remember an incident when four officers, including the Chief Electrical Engineer (CEE) and the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) were trying to board the electric loco hauling Howrah-Kalka Mail at Kanpur. The driver who was an old steam hand politely enquired, “which two of you gentlemen would be footplating with us? The other two gentlemen may either go to the rear cab or to the train compartment.” On the footplate of a super fast train only two people are permitted in addition to the crew. The result was that only the CEE and DRM went on the footplate and other two officers went back to their compartment. Now a days you will not find persons who would be such sticklers to rules even at the cost of annoying their superiors. My hats off to such a breed of railwaymen!

There are many rail enthusiasts who dream of the day when they will travel in an officers inspection carriage. Did you go on inspection tours often?
Normally the name Inspection Car conjures up an image of travelling in a fabulous carriage almost like saloons of maharajas. However this is far from the truth. One starts getting the facility of bigger inspection cars with better facilities only after spending a substantial part of career .In the initial years one may or may not get the facility of inspection carriages. Even if available, it may not be comfortable.
In my initial years we were entitled to travel in small four wheeled inspection carriages. These were not capable of travelling at higher speeds and were invariably attached to either slow passenger trains or freight trains. Their riding quality was far from satisfactory and the rides were generally bumpy. Having a cup of tea while travelling was a challenging job. However, comfortable or not, travelling by the inspection carriages was often a necessity, as one had to often visit such stations or work sites where no facilities for staying or food were available. In such situations, the stay in the inspection carriage made the basics requirements easily available.
Travelling by inspection carriages was an interesting experience. Normally the carriages were attached as the last vehicle on the trains. The officer travelling would sit at the trailing end of the carriage in front of a window and would conduct a “Window Trailing” inspection to see the condition of the track and other fixtures like signals, condition of points and crossings, bridges and the alertness of the staff.
           The inspection carriages provided to the senior grade officers are provided with better facilities, are more accomodatious and travel smoothly even at higher speeds. Some consolation for advancing age! 


Speaking of inspection carriages, tell us something about station inspections. What does the job involve?
          There are various types of station inspections conducted by traffic officials. They can be categorised as Surprise Inspections, Casual Inspections, Night Inspections, Detailed Inspections and so on.
          A surprise inspection has to have the element of surprise. Hence the inspecting official arrives unannounced at the station either by a road vehicle or by a goods train. The purpose is to see the true condition of the work and staff alertness.
         A night inspection is generally conducted between 1.30 to 4.00 am as this is the time when people generally feel sleepy. Hence this is the appropriate time to check the alertness of staff and also whether rules are being followed or not. For this type of inspection the official arrives generally by road or by goods trains. During night inspections, besides the station, level crossing gates and cabins are also inspected.
          A casual inspection is conducted when the inspecting official does not have time to have a detailed check and inspects few selected items for checking. A detailed inspection on the other hand is conducted at a fixed interval which may range from once a quarter to once a year. During such type of inspection a detailed check of all the important aspects of station working is conducted. This entails inspecting the Station Master's office, the cabins, yard, goods shed, passenger amenities, booking office, parcel office, running rooms and stores etc. Since all details are checked sometimes it may extend over two or three days, particularly in case of bigger stations.
          During the inspection the official must also look into the problems of the staff working at the station and try to help them.
          Generally there are no problems of logistics in case of short duration inspections like surprise, night or casual inspections. However, in case of detailed inspections involving night stays at a station such problems can arise. In such situations either one uses an inspection carriage or stays in a rest house. In either situation food etc can be prepared by the attendant. However at such stations where either there is no facility for placement of carriage or there is no rest house, one can stay at some nearby station where a rest house is available and make the station as base for inspecting nearby stations.
          Normally an inspecting official is accompanied by a senior supervisor, who assists in conducting the inspection or collecting various details. After the inspection, an inspection note must be sent within shortest possible time.

We in India appear to have arrived late on the railway heritage preservation scene. What, in your view, needs to be done further in this area of endeavour?
Even for general public a sense of pride for our rich heritage needs to be developed. Lessons in the text books and organizing visits to places of heritage value and museums by the schools would be of help. Similar exercises could also be undertaken for railway heritage. Visits to railway museums by school children in New Delhi have been able to create interest about railway heritage in young minds.
Even the officers of Indian railways need to be sensitized about railway heritage. Organizing courses at Railway Staff College and other institutions can be of immense help. Awareness campaigns about rail heritage can also be launched.

Ever travelled up the hills on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, or maybe the DHR?
I have not been able to visit the Nilgiri railways, but I have been lucky to travel over DHR, Kalka-Simla railway and Matheran Light railway, Kottavalasa –Kirandul  route, and a few mountain railways in Europe.
            Travel on these hill sections unfolds the beautiful panorama before your eyes. Travel over Kalka-Simla section with its arch bridges (reminding one of Roman aqueducts), its 100 plus tunnels, sharp curves, beautiful scenery and not the least, the lovely restaurant at Barog is a unique experience. Travelling on the footplate of a locomotive on a hill railway line can be an unforgettable experience. 


One of the finest marvels of miniature railway engineering, the Darjeeling Hill Railway is regarded universally as the prettiest toy train the world ever saw. And yet this fascinating railway fails to attract tourists in large numbers as one might expect. Could you suggest innovations that would go to make the DHR a bustling tourist attraction?
          The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is not only the finest example of a hill railway in India, but one of the oldest hill railways in the world. It can rank amongst the best hill railways in the world.
          Unfortunately in our country a railway line, even DHR, is not treated as part of the itinerary of a tourist. It only a means to reach the place of tourism—in this case Darjeeling. The tourists are in a hurry to reach the destination. The hill train takes much longer time to cover the distance between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, whereas the road running almost parallel to the track happens to be quicker. Hence unless a traveler happens to be a diehard railfan, the road is the preferred mode of transport.
          For attracting the tourists to the train, perhaps the trip time has to be reduced. Besides travel, the train should offer other attractions. Attaching a restaurant car selling tasty food items, a souvenir shop on board and better comfortable coaches could enhance the attraction.
          Presently a steam hauled train runs a short trip from Darjeeling to Ghoom and back. This is able to attract tourists. Perhaps introducing one or two more such trips daily may be of help.
          Some people, including a heritage lover have also suggested that only a small portion of DHR should be kept operational as a heritage railway and rest may be considered for closure. However I feel sad to see the decline in popularity of DHR amongst tourists.

How do you spend your hours of leisure ; do you read fiction, listen to music, chat with friends. . . ?
I am lucky to have cultivated a few hobbies. Pursuing my hobbies of stamps collection, photography, and listening to music keeps me sufficiently busy. I am fond of reading. Over the years I have been able to build a personal library of about eight to nine hundred books. Besides I keep writing articles. My reading and writing habits also keep me busy.
I travel as well. Visiting my sons, other relatives and seeing new places takes me out on travel frequently.

You do not seem to be the kind of person who will watch movies, but I could be wrong.
        I love old Hindi movies, and ever since I was in college, Devanand has been my favourite actor. Once while in university, our Professor asked us in class who was our favourite hero. I rose and mentioned Dev saab without the slightest hesitation. I have watched ever so many of these classic Hindi movies. It was my childhood ambition to meet Dev saab, but it was only some forty years later when I was posted to Bombay that my wish could come true. It was a great experience having a word with the legendary actor. Devanand offered us tea, and even presented me a signed copy of his autobiography titled “Romancing with Life.” Some years back, I even had the chance of meeting filmstar of yesteryear Waheeda Rehman at a function held in Bombay. It was a great experience.


Any parting words for the railwaymen of our country . . .
        Take pride in your work and the organization. Our railways had a great past ; let there be even a greater future. Railways have been under threat on several occasions and have come out with flying colours every time. The poet Iqbal had said about India – “Kuchh baat hai ki hasti mitati nahin hamaari, sadiyon raha hai dushman daure zamaan hamara”. The same is true of Indian Railways.

Well observed. Thank you so much Jhingron Saab, it has been so nice having a chat with you. We wish you all success, and the best in health and happiness too.
                        Thank you Shri Bhalerao, I have enjoyed this chance to share my views. And thanks a lot for your best wishes.
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Pictures courtesy of Shri A. K. Jhingron



COMMENTS ON THIS POST:

Dr Ardeshir B. Damania from Davis, California, USA wrote on 1 February 2012:

I have read with great interest the interview with Anoop Jhingron who retired in 2008 as G.M. of Western Railway, Mumbai. Recollections of such men should be recorded on video, not only for the enjoyment of the public but also for the archives of their survivors who may one day come to treasure such recordings.

I am very glad that Shri Jhingron has set up a heritage museum at the Churchgate HQ of the Western Railway. I would like to donate my uncle, Shri Dorabji M. Damania’s guard’s whistle to the Museum if they do not have one already. The whistle is made in England of course and is from the 1920s.

I was amused to read about Shri Jhingron’s first acquaintance with the Canadian WP locomotive which was capable of sustained speed of 100 mph (on a test run in Canada it touched 120 mph briefly). When these engines first came to India on steamers, my father took me to Bombay Central to see one of them. My father said that they were imported from Canada and he called them “the Bhon engines” because of the strange sounding whistle that was in use all over North America as compared to the whistle of the black steam engines we were used to until then all over India. The engines also had a more colorful paint scheme than just all black. The Canadian engines were first used exclusively on long distance passenger trains like the Frontier Mail (see attached picture). Since the Frontier Mail made very few
The Frontier Mail leaving Ballard
Pier Station
stops and ran at top speed the crew included two firemen. The firemen took turns. One fireman took rest while the other fed the boiler constantly with coal from the bunker. I was told by my father that strict disciplinarian drivers would not hesitate to hit the fireman if the steam pressure fell below a certain level which would affect the speed! The only stops that were needed were for taking on water.

Shri Jhingron will also recall that the first diesel locomotives came as gifts from the United States. They too had a new sounding klaxon. Both the Canadian steam WP engines and the diesels were later produced in India, perhaps at the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works. I was once allowed to ride late at night on a WG black steam loco in May 1964 somewhere on the Southern Railway section. It was a memorable experience. The boy in me would still love to ride in the cabin of the locomotive on one of these Rajdhani expresses.

It is sad that, not only in the case of railways, but also in other spheres, heritage is not taken seriously. Much to my regret the present generation has very little idea of how things worked in the bygone days. We need champions like Shri Anoop Jhingron to save our heritage for posterity. I would like to inform Shri Jhingron that I will visit the Museum at Churchgate at the next available opportunity on my next visit to India.

Best wishes and keep up the good work! It is much appreciated. 
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Anoop Krishna Jhingron, a great beacon of light for us rail heritage enthusiasts, passed away on 31 December 2014.