July 27, 2013

160 years of Indian Railways

I went to a photo exhibition marking 160 glorious years of Indian Railways, and was overwhelmed by what I saw there. I realised that the railways are such an intrinsic part of the history of India.  There were beautiful black and white photos of the milestones in the life of Indian Railways. What an achievement it was, creating this amazing network of trains! How much work had gone into building this incredible institution that is one of the largest employers in the world!

I did not take my camera, but felt compelled to take pictures with my Blackberry to show Vijay, who is a big time train-lover. Here are a few images. Even now, each time I look at them, inside me, kuch kuch hota hai.

A steam engine bearing the national emblem, underlining the importance of the national transporter.
An 1860 photo showing a bullock-drawn train
Elephants being used to push wagons
A photo of a fireman inside a steam engine brought back memories of the smells, sounds and taste (yes!) of a train journey, and the soot in one's eyes and hands at the end of it. Also on display were old train guides and time tables from the 1940s, costing 2 annas and 4 annas!

 A 1947 railway time table 

One photo showed the construction of a bridge on a hilly terrain. There was a huge net below the construction area, which showed the immense dangers involved in the task. Another showed separate tea stalls for Hindus and Muslims. A note said there were also separate water points -- 'Hindu pani' and 'Muslim pani', although, apparently there were rumours that the same person served the same water to both, only changing his robe to suit the religion he was serving!

Mohamedan tea stall
Hindu tea stall
Ads of Murphy radio on the majestic edifice of the Madras railway station, and that of Capstan cigarettes on Churchgate station, the lack of crowds outside the railway stations, with rickshaws waiting for passengers brought back memories of a time long gone by.  

Rickshaws waiting for passengers at Patna railway station
Godrej ads on trains
I need to make a special mention of a sepia print of a train carrying refugees from Pakistan after the partition. There were people spilling out of the train, and a whole lot sitting on top of the train.
A monumental event in the history of India. Refugee special train from Ambala, 
overflowing with people who risked their lives, sitting on top of the train
This train brought construction material right to the site of construction of the Parliament House! One of the steam engines is the Fairy Queen, the oldest running engine.
Construction of the Parliament
I have to post this one...rain or shine, they'll take you, if not to your destination, somewhere!
No adversity has ever stopped the Indian Railways from being an all-weather transport system. 
There were precious photos of Gandhi, Nehru, Tagore, and other important people's train journeys

During one of his journeys across India
There was a series on railway stations from all over India, the ornate and classy ones for the important places, and the simpler ones in other places, but most of them reflecting the architecture of the place. Here is a view of the Srinagar railway station.
Srinagar railway station
These are just a dozen among the many gems that we saw at the exhibition, held in Salar Jung museum. It was thanks to a good friend that I went to see this well-curated show. I am so glad I did.

The thought I came away with was that if after every train journey, if we invariably came away with interesting memories, how many memorable moments must there have been in 160 years of Indian Railways!

My sincere thanks to the Railways for putting this incredible show together. Now, why don't they make a commemorative volume to mark the 160?

Please also see Deccan Chronicle's selection of photos here: http://www.deccanchronicle.com/130705/news-current-affairs/gallery/indian-railways-160-years-non-stop

July 21, 2013

Monsoon watch 2013

Rains began a week early this year. While the normal date for the onset of monsoon is 7 June, in 2013, rains started on 1 June itself. In fact, in the last several years the first rains fell only in August or September. We spent our days looking at the sky, worrying and praying for it to rain. See monsoon watch of 2012.

In June, there were devastating floods in Uttarakhand and parts of Himachal Pradesh. More than 5700 people were presumed dead and several missing. This was India's worst disaster since the 2004 tsunami.

 In Hyderabad and the rest of AP also, there have been copious rains. It has been cloudy and raining continuously since the last one week. Hussainsagar is up to its brim, and people in the low-lying areas (Domalguda, Ashoknagar, Himayatnagar, etc) have been warned about this.

Yes, this year it is different.

27 July 2013: The damp phase is now over, and it is now sunny. But it still rains on and off. Woke up this morning to see puddles everywhere.

17 August 2013: It is raining still. We have had many many damp and wet days. Yesterday's paper reported a tragic story of a baby falling into the swirling waters of the Musi. She slipped from the arms of her father (an NRI doctor) and was swept away. Now, we have never associated Musi with water before...if anything, all we saw was a trickle. Earlier, in July, Hotel City Light in Secunderabad collapsed killing and injuring several people...dampened by rain, perhaps, among other factors.

This year is certainly different.

26 September 2013: Finally looks like the rains have stopped. It certainly has been a heavy-monsoon year. Yet it is only now they are saying that the catchment areas are filling up.

17 October 2013: It rained again today. Last week, just before Cyclone Phailin in Odisha and parts of AP, there was a downpour like entire lakes were being emptied from the sky. Today's Hindu has this article on the delayed end to the rains in several parts of India: When the rains don’t go away