Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee

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National Train Day

In USA this year National Train Day will be celebrated on 13 May, Saturday (it is celebrated on the Saturday closest to May 10, details in http://www.nationaltrainday.com/about/). Hundreds of grassroots events would be held in communities across the nation. It is a celebration of trains and the different ways trains touch the lives of people around the country.

I strongly feel that we should also celebrate an Annual Train Day in India. Besides being one among few other national institutions which hold the country together, trains in India are more closely linked to an average common man’s life than any other mode of transport.

Consider the scale of operation of Indian Railways: it has 115,000 km of track length, runs 12,617 trains to carry over 30 million passengers daily – equivalent to moving the entire population of Australia – connecting more than 7,172 stations. It has the world’s fourth largest railway network after those of the United States, Russia and China. The railways carry over 3 million tons of freight daily that is like moving 411 Eiffel towers daily.

Besides the gigantic scale of operation- it is the pan-Indian character, that makes Indian Railways a truly national symbol. But interestingly it was started by the British rulers for commercial gain.

The plan for the introduction of a rail system was first mooted in 1832. However, no action was taken for over a decade. In the year 1844, private entrepreneurs were allowed to launch a rail system by Lord Hardinge, who was the Governor-General of India. By the year 1845, two companies were formed and the East India Company was requested to support them in the matter. The credit from the UK investors led to the hasty construction of a rail system over the next few years. On 22nd December 1851, the first train came on the track to carry the construction material at Roorkee in India. With a passage of one and a half years, the first passenger train service was introduced between Bori Bunder, Bombay (now Mumbai) and Thane- a distance of 34 km on 16th April 1853. The train with 14 railway carriages, carrying around 400 guests, left Bori Bunder at 3:30 p.m. that day. It was declared a public holiday then.  With that the journey of the Railways in India began.

In 1880, the rail network acquired a route mileage of about 14,500 km, mostly working through Bombay, Madras (now Chennai) and Calcutta (now, Kolkata), three major port cities.

By 1895, India had started manufacturing its own locomotives. In no time, different princely states including Mayurbhanj in Odisha assembled their independent rail systems and the network extended to the regions including Assam, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh. In 1901, a Railway Board was formed though the administrative power was reserved for the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. The Railway Board worked under the guidance of the Deptt of Commerce and Industry. Later it became a separate ministry and had the distinction of the only ministry to present its budget separately in the parliament.

When India got independence 42 independent railway systems with thirty-two lines were merged in a single unit and were acknowledged as Indian Railways. The existing rail networks were forfeited for zones in 1951 and 6 zones were formed in 1952. By 1985, the diesel and electric locomotives took the place of steam locomotives. The whole railway reservation system was rationalized with computerization in 1995.

Railways touch more lives in India in many ways than in any other country of the world. Therefore, a day should be marked for its celebration annually. It could be on 16 April 1853 when the first passenger train was run in India.

Hypocrite

We, human beings are basically hypocrites; Indians particularly so. As Craig Olson writes in his book The Casual Christian, “We are willing to believe that an inanimate, impersonal universe is more capable of producing human life than Almighty God, yet we freely offer prayers to God asking Him to shape events on our behalf and we hold firmly to a belief in the human soul and an afterlife. We embrace the notion of survival of the fittest, yet we ask for mercy for our weakness. We believe that a process called natural selection spawned life out of chaos, yet we depend on the world to be predictable and orderly every morning when we get out of bed.”

In this book the author takes a look at modern church practices and contemporary Christian ministry through the lens of apostolic practices. He shows how biblical teaching has simply been set aside in preference for the prevailing practices and values of a secular culture.

Similar trend can be observed in practically almost all religions, particularly in India. Rites and rituals have taken precedence over spirituality. Places of worship- small and big and of all major religions have mushroomed on government land, by the side of national and State Highways. In Odisha at Manguli Chhak, a major intersection of two national Highways, (NH 5 and NH52) where hundreds of commuters wait to catch buses, two new temples have been constructed recently; but nobody thought of building a toilet complex- which is a bare necessity there. We immerse our deities in ponds and rivers, polluting the water body. We worship river Ganga and Yamuna as goddess but do not flinch to discharge raw sewerage into it.  The tanriks and babas swindle us every day; and we allow ourselves to be duped. We have witnessed countless babas and swamis indulging in acts from sexual escapades to financial impropriety. But we seem to never learn. We swarm near them, allow them to take us for a ride. And when we are swindled we erupt in rage, ransack their ashrams and after a while again fall prey to some other swindler.

Tailpiece: Bahubali Effect

Biwi: Suno, aaj office se jaldo ana, Bahubali 2 dekhne challenge

Pati: Nehi aya to?

Biwi: Agar time se aye to BJP ke chunab chinha se swagat karungi. Aur late kiya to fir Congress ki symbol se.. Aur jyada late kari to fir AAP ka symbol darwaje ke pichhe hai… Dhyan rahe…

(Courtesy: Social Media)

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The author, a journalist turned media academician and fiction writer  lives in Dhenkanal, a dist. HQ town in Central Odisha. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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