April 01, 2017

The Punjab Mail at Ludhiana




The following memoir is a work of fiction. 
Persons, places, trading agencies, educational institutions, 
and organizations named here are imaginary 
and have no connection whatsoever 
with actual persons, institutions, 
or government departments in existence 
bearing those names.

........................................


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






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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