January 09, 2012

An Evening with Anoop Jhingron






THIS INVITING PICTURE SHOWS a view of the Western Railway Heritage Gallery at Churchgate headquarters in Bombay. Within the gallery lie an assortment of artefacts as old the railway itself—dinner plates and spoons, stations bells, emblems, antique railway instruments, each having played a role in a bygone age that has slipped into history. Meet Shri Anoop Krishna Jhingron, the man who conceived the idea of this priceless collection and carried it to fruition. Shri Jhingron is in many ways the quintessential railwayman: tall, athletic, full of interesting stories, and with a resounding voice and forceful personality. Had he lived a few generations ago, he would have been known to us as the Agent of the BB&CI Railway. But Shri Jhingron is here with us, and is going to tell us about himself, his ideas and the railways he has served all his life. Since his retirement in 2008 he has lived a quiet life staying with his family in his home not far from Delhi. Although retired from service, Jhingron saab is yet to retire from life; he loves to travel, attends functions, and much of his time is spent in his personal library browsing through books, researching details in archives, and contributing to journals and periodicals. What makes him so special for us is his unflagging commitment to the cause of railway heritage and its preservation. Having authored two highly acclaimed works—one on postal stamps, the other on Western Railway Heritage—Jhingron is now working on a new project, a book titled ‘Life in Railway Colonies.’ Read on to find out more about this fascinating person, his work, and his enduring affair with the railways of India and its heritage.

Shri Anoop K. Jhingron

Ravindra Bhalerao: People who have met you in person are known to comment that even after having crossed the three-score mark in life, you continue to exhibit something of the personality of a sportsman—that you refuse to grow old.

Shri Anoop K. Jhingron: I used to play cricket and badminton and was a good player. I tried my hands at table tennis and lawn tennis but was a damp squib in both. I was deprived of football by the ill advice of a doctor during childhood, who wrongly suspected a defective valve in my heart and advised my parents not to let me play football. I have played cricket till as late as 2005. However my play was not good enough to be beyond club level.
        Although now I do not play games, but I love to watch games, live as well as on T.V. However I imbibed sportsman spirit and always believed in a sense of fair play throughout. I also love to interact and associate with youth. This keeps me young in spirits.

Your career with the Indian Railways has spanned several decades finally culminating in the office of General Manager of the Western Railway. It must have been an exciting, a truly enriching experience.
        My career with the railways has been an enriching and rewarding experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed my thirty seven year’s active association with railways. Although initially some of my senior colleagues discouraged me about life in railways and I had trepidations in my mind, but I have never even for a moment regretted my decision to have a career with railways.
        Railways gave me an opportunity to work at and visit different places. I have had posting in several states. I have been posted in Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, J&K, and Jharkhand. In addition I spent about two years in West Bengal during my probation. I had varying spells of   continuous stay at different places—the longest being six and a half years at Ahmedabad and shortest being eighteen days at Jammu.
        The frequent transfers did affect the education of my sons. However once I got them admitted to Central Schools even this problem was taken care of.
        The posting which I enjoyed most were at Bikaner, Allahabad, Vadodara, and Chakradharpur (where I worked as DRM). Of course the last posting, as G.M. of Western Railway was memorable in several ways.

What made you opt for railways as a career?
        As a child I was fascinated by railways. The Howrah-Delhi trunk route used to pass very near the place where we used to stay in Allahabad. We often used to pass through the railway colonies nearby. The colonies with their beautiful and charming bungalows with lovely flowering gardens, tiled roofs and fences covered by the railway creepers definitely had a charm and attraction of their own. Many of my classmates at school were the children of railway men .I used to notice them wearing navy blue coloured coats and trousers, which they proudly used to tell ,were made from the spare uniforms of their parents. Perhaps the temptation of the dress stayed at the back of the mind.
        Opting for IRTS was a decision taken, after my selection for the central services through the IAS  examination, in consultation with several senior relatives who were working in government jobs and told me that IRTS offered very good career prospects. But perhaps the factors mentioned above also played their role.

Tell us about your boyhood days.
        I spent my boy hood in Allahabad. My father was a journalist and we used to stay in the housing area of the press from where the news paper used to be published. This was known as Leader Press. There were about fifty odd families residing, so there were a large number of children. We used to play ballgames and a lot of traditional games like hide-and-seek, gilli danda, marbles, kabaddi etc.  Now, I have lost touch with most of my boyhood friends except a few.
        At home I received lot of affection and love of my family as I was nine year younger to my brother and a sister was born when I was six years old.  My first schools were located close to our home and we used to walk down to the school. Two of my teachers I used to meet even after I grew up and worked with railways.

And you were of course fond of sports and games in those days.
        Yes. I used to play badminton and cricket, but I was not good enough to make it to the college team.

When did you first discover your fascination for trains?
        Back in Allahabad our home was close to the Howrah - Delhi line. Therefore the noise of the train particularly the whistles of different types of steam locos were a great attraction. I still remember one day we heard a strange whistle sound. We became curious about it and spent some time by the side of the railtrack waiting for the sound, Finally after waiting for an hour or so we heard the same sound and found that it was the whistle of a new type of loco hauling a fast passenger carrying train. Somebody said “It is a Canadian Engine”. We children used to call it “bhonpu wala engine” (later I came to know them as the WP class of locos). Perhaps this was the first time railways fascinated me.
        Allahabad Junction Station was also not very far from our home. My father used to often go to station to buy some magazine etc. from the Wheeler’s book stall and we often went on the platform. I still vividly recall that one day I saw the  Guard of a train, perhaps Kalka - Howrah Mail, on the platform. He was looking very impressive in his white uniform, peak cap, cross belt, and shining boots. I noticed that when he blew his whistle the train started moving. I was extremely impressed by his ‘power’ and decided that I will become a Guard, when I grow up.
        I liked to stand near the level crossing gate and watch passing trains. It was in late fifties that trains started to be hauled by diesel locomotives. Their appearance and their whistle sound was totally different. Diesel hauled trains were an object of fascination and I along with some other boys used to watch these locos almost daily.

Your parents were probably worried over this strange hobby of yours.
        When they came to know that we visit the level crossing almost daily, they were worried a little about my safety as it involved crossing two roads. They only cautioned me to be careful, but never discouraged me. 

So you finally joined the railways in the officer cadre. Your induction into the Indian Railway Traffic Service will have been followed by extensive training to familiarise you with the railways and its working.
Railway Officers Training Center,
Asansol 
        We had a training schedule of two years covering theoretical as well as practical training. When we were appointed, we were asked to report to the office of the General Manager, Eastern Railway at Calcutta. On the very day we joined, we were dispatched to Asansol. At Asansol a centralized training institute known as Railway Officers Training Center (ROTC) had been set up, due to the efforts of Mr M S Gujral, a legendary railwayman, erstwhile Divisional Superintendent of Asansol. The institute was located in a beautiful bungalow which used to be the residence of the DS. The building had been modified so as to be able to accommodate twenty odd probationers. We had been allotted different zonal railways, but had our training together.
        Our training started within a day with hands on training. In the first phase of training we learnt the job of a goods train Guard. Batches of two probationers were formed and they were required to accompany the Guards working different types of goods trains. We worked along with guards working ‘Cracks’, yard-to-yard goods trains, slow trains stopping and shunting at wayside stations, coal pilots, industrial pilots, and others.
At the Zonal Railway Training Center, Dhanbad.
Shri Jhingron seated 2nd from left ; standing 6th
from left is Mr K C Jena who rose to become
Chairman of the Railway Board, New Delhi
        In the later phases we learnt the working of yards, stations, signal cabins, goods sheds, parcel offices, booking office, etc. Initially we watched the working and later we also worked independently in these places. Some curious incidents took place during our hands on training. While working as the guard of a passenger train one of our batch mates was offered some tips (cash) after a few baskets of fish were loaded. He refused it with politeness. On the other hand when a similar situation arose with me while working in a parcel office at Raniganj, I reacted a bit strongly with indignation.
        We had theoretical training at different places. We participated in a three month long foundation course at the National Academy of Administration (now the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration) in Mussoorie, with officers of other all-India services, including senior batch IAS probationers. We also attended two training sessions at the Railway Staff College, Baroda. The foundation course was of three months duration with officers of other railway services, and a two and a half months induction course exclusively for IRTS probationers.
        We also attended a three months training schedule at the Zonal Training Center located in Dhanbad (Jharkhand) learning different parts of railway operations.
        The last stage of our training was office training which included learning the working of Division office for one month and then Headquarters office for three months. The training schedule was a little tough but it could make most of us thorough in our work. The training had lighter schedules as well, like a visit to Kolkata, Mumbai, and the course at the NAA, Mussoorie. As part of my HQ training, I also visited Srinagar to learn the working of an out-agency.
Shri Jhingron (center) with probationers at the National
Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, in 1972
        The training at Mussoorie was thorough and proved to be very useful. Besides developing officer-like qualities in probationers, it also led to the formation of lifelong bonds with our brother officers of other services which was of immense help in our service career.

You have been a heritage buff all along. What makes railway heritage an object of special affection for you?
        Even while young, I visited several museums along with my parents . Later on my own I
visited various museum but could not find any Railway artifacts there. Once while on way to Guwahati, at Jamalpur yard, I saw what appeared to be a graveyard of steam locos. There were dozens of locos lying in various stages of disrepair, perhaps waiting to be sold as scrap. At that time I felt the need for preservation of railway heritage.  When I visited UK in late
Shri Jhingron (left) beside the Patiala State
 Monorail at the NRM, Delhi
eighties, I saw at York museum and elsewhere the importance given to preservation of railway heritage.
        Early in the 1980s while on an inspection of a station in Bikaner division I came upon an antique wall clock, on the point of disposal, manufactured by John Walker & Co. of London. I was pleased with the discovery. I salvaged the clock and had it sent to headquarters office where it is now displayed. This was my first attempt in this direction. Later when I was working as DRM at Chakradharpur on South Eastern Railway I noticed an old Narrow Gauge steam loco almost buried under ashes at a private siding. We retrieved it and brought it the Divisional HQ, repaired it and put the ninety year old loco on display. Since then it has become a sort of passion with me and I have tried to do whatever little I could do to preserve the railway heritage of our country.

Overseas, in the UK, Australia and elsewhere, heritage railways are big business. It is a pleasure to read the brochures these railways issue, telling us of regular time-tabled steam runs, holiday specials, and mouthwatering cuisine served aboard. Something of a similar kind, and maybe on the same scale could have been done here in India. Pity we are left far behind in this area.
        Oh yes, the enthusiasm about rail heritage seen abroad is really great. Not only a large number of heritage railways are being heavily patronized but even things like a trolley  drive on an old abandoned railway line or a heritage walk on the alignment of an old uprooted line are extremely popular. In Australia such railway trail heritage walks are being promoted in a big way.
        In India I have not seen a great enthusiasm for heritage in general. We have seen that a large number of heritage structures are lying without any care and are gradually decaying. In Delhi several such heritage structures have vanished during last century.
        Whatever preservation efforts are made in India they are basically undertaken by either government organisations or such organisations which are supported by government. Whereas abroad generally the efforts are being made by voluntary bodies, being run totally with help of dedicated volunteers. Hence whereas  preservation efforts abroad, particularly railway preservation, is basically a  people’s movement, in India it is not so. Hence the apathy. In addition perhaps there are so many other problems that people hardly have time to spare for finer things like preservation.
        Another unfortunate factor in India is the sad fact that rolling stock heritage has been perceived as a source for generating additional resources by way of selling them as scrap. This has resulted in loss of historical rolling stock heritage. Sindh, the loco used for hauling India’s first train was sold as scrap. Similar fate was met by the special carriages in which the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru were carried to Allahabad for immersion at Sangam. 
        However the recent enthusiasm generated after grant of World Heritage status to the mountain railways and Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus has kindled new hopes and I see the movement picking up in India.

You have researched the heritage railways of Australia and other places. Did you come across any feature of remarkable interest on these railways you would like to tell us about?
        The best part of the heritage railways noticed abroad is that most of them are run totally
with the help of volunteers coming from all walks of life. The only common thread running with them is the fact that they all love and take pride in their railway heritage. Services are run based on the convenience and choice of passengers. They run specials exclusively for children too. On such occasions, the steam engine is given the appearance of a railwayman called "Thomas-the Engine." On Easter and Christmas eve, festival specials with lots of fun aboard are organized. In Australia I have come across Moonlight Specials and Dance and Dine Specials. They are extremely popular and are always full to capacity. Gourmet food served on board these trains is a big draw.
        In the UK and other places, heritage railways together with their souvenir shops, museums and the trains themselves receive a lot of publicity which draws people in large numbers. Unfortunately this is lacking here in India. How many tourists visiting big cities are aware of the railway heritage galleries in Churchgate and CSTM in Mumbai, or the Narrow Gauge Museum at Nagpur, or even the regional railway museums at Howrah or Mysore? We need to learn a good deal from the methods adopted abroad.

The Fairy Queen, Guinness record holder of being the oldest working steam loco in the world was in the news recently. It is tragic to hear of someone who comes along and carries off the shiny brass dome, the steam whistle and other parts.
        I could not agree more with you. Perhaps earning a few extra bucks was a bigger consideration for the vandal. However it appears to me due to the general apathy towards our heritage.

The Western Railway Heritage Gallery in Churchgate is a miniature museum in itself. How did you manage to collect all these exhibits?
The Western Railway Heritage Gallery
at Churchgate Headquarters, Mumbai
During the course of my earlier stints on western railway I had seen a large number of artifacts lying all over the system. On western railway there were a few spirited individuals, prominent among them being Shri Chauhan , a mechanical engineer, who had started salvaging them and storing them. Small heritage galleries were also set up at different places. When we decided to set up the heritage gallery at Churchgate, I and my team visited numerous places and selected and picked up heritage artifacts and requested the local authorities to send them to HQ for display in the heritage gallery and thus the collection was built up. In this direction the contribution by the DRMs of Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Bhavnagar and Ratlam was immense.

A close-up of an artefact in the gallery
Some initial hiccups were faced in setting the gallery which led two about three month’s delay in its inauguration. The renovation of the hall took more time. At the centre of the hall a pillar stood which had plastered surface. When the plaster was removed we found layers of paint below. The layers had to be burnt to reach the original surface. But the toil was worth it. Ultimately we found the steel pillar in its original form, with a shining surface and ornate design at the top and the bottom.
        For display the logos of the former railways which were merged in the erstwhile BB&CI and its inheritor Western Railway, we had to search for a die maker who could make metallic logos. This also took a lot of time, but this also was worth it.
        A special display in the gallery is a hand grenade used during 1962 China war. It was
A steam engine model at the gallery in Churchgate
 manufactured at Western Railway’s Dahod workshop. In fact Dahod workshop manufactured the grenades for a long time. The photographs, building plans and other models and equipments put on display deserve to be viewed with interest as they unfold the story of a great railway. My only regret is that the gallery has not received right kind of publicity and is not as popular amongst visitors as it should be.

You are a Post-graduate in History. Armed with this specialized background have you ever thought of working on a book on railway history?
        My book on Western railway’s heritage does cover the history of the railway. However this is a good suggestion and needs consideration. It has been my desire to update J.N.Sawhney’s great work “Indian Railways One Hundred Years” so as to cover the next fifty years development on the Indian railways. Incidentally my proposed book on Life in Railway Colonies will be covering an important aspect of the railway’s social history.


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