Indian Railways is reminiscent of holidays – the summer sojourns to grandparents’ place, engines chugging through hills and tunnels, the incessant call of the chaiwallah and happy conversations with co-passengers. However, this institution has played a much grander role in the life of India and its people, binding its vast length together, right from the period of the East India Company to the present times.
The Railway authorities are now rekindling those fond memories with a beautiful collection ‘160 years of Indian Railways: An exhibition of selected photographs.’ On view are rare black and white and sepia-toned shots of railway stations of yore, engineering marvels of bridges and tunnels, fascinating locomotive workshops and our national leaders enjoying train rides.
The photographs have been thoughtfully arranged in themes. ‘Indian Railways in the making’ shows large factories where coaches are constructed, wheels and axels manufactured and sheds where beautiful steam locomotives are resting. Also shown are railwaymen at work – a points man setting a track in order, a light man lighting the rear lamp of a locomotive and even an elephant helping move a large bogey!
The ‘Railway bridges and tunnels’ photographs are breathtaking. The three-arch open Renund Khad bridge stands dauntingly over the deep Kangra valley, Himachal Pradesh. The Yamuna Bridge in Allahabad is opened to traffic in 1869 and the Pamban Bridge – India’s first sea bridge connecting Rameswaram to Pamban island - is inaugurated in 1914.
Equally impressive are the pictures of railway stations. The New Delhi Railway Station, photographed around 1960, is cleaner and much less chaotic with a row of tangas neatly parked outside. The Madras Central Railway Station has large hoardings of Murphy Radio installed over it. The architecture of the Srinagar Railway Station is unmistakable with cottage like sloping roofs and the Guruvayur Station looks like an ornate gateway to the temple town.
The section on ‘Passenger amenities’ makes you wonder: ‘where did these disappear?’ The waiting room of the Lucknow Railway Station looks like a palace hall. The dining car attached to a train could be taken for an upmarket restaurant with chivalrous stewards serving aristocratic guests, and an efficient postal delivery system runs alongside the passenger trains.
The most enchanting photographs, however, remain those of our national leaders taking the Railways. Mahatma Gandhi on his way to Bombay in September 1944, Jawaharlal Nehru inaugurating the Children’s train at Bal Bhawan, Delhi and a tired looking Bhagat Singh squats at the Lahore Railway Station and Rabindranath Tagore – who wrote six poems of Gitanjali on a train – looks out of his train window, in a pensive mood.
Don’t miss this exhibition. It is on till June 2 at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, CV Mess, Janpath.