26 July 2008

Tiruvannamalai Rail Work

Tomorrow have arranged to meet a retired Railway Station Master to get information about gauge conversion and electrification work being undertaken at Tiruvannamalai Railway Station and hopefully some interesting historical railway anecdotes. There will be information on this in the upcoming Arunachala Grace Newsletter (August, 2008) due to be sent out within the week. If you wish to receive a copy of this monthly newsletter please go to the facility at the left column of this page in order to sign up for a free subscription sent direct to your email inbox.

Idyllic railway station before work

First view of Arunachala coming out of railway station

Gauge work undertaken at Tiruvannamalai station last year

To get an idea of rail travel during another era, when it was the primary source of transportation in India, am posting a fascinating extract from Mahatma Gandhi's book, 'Third Class in Indian Railways' written in 1917, which revealed his experiences with the rail journey he took from Mumbai to Madras.

“On the 12th instant I booked at Bombay for Madras by the mail train and paid Rs. 13.9. It was labelled to carry 22 passengers. These could only have seating accommodation. There were no bunks in this carriage whereon passengers could lie with any degree of safety or comfort. There were during this night as many as 35 passengers in the carriage during the greater part of it. Some lay on the floor in the midst of dirt and some had to keep standing. There were two nights to be passed in this train before reaching Madras.

After reaching Raichur the pressure became unbearable. The rush of passengers could not be stayed. The fighters among us found the task almost beyond them. The guards or other Railway servants came in only to push in more passengers. On the way passengers got for tea tannin water with filthy sugar and a whitish looking liquid so-called milk, which gave this water a muddy appearance. I can vouch for the appearance, but I cite the testimony of the passengers as to the taste.

Not during the entire journey was the compartment once swept or cleaned. The result was that every time you walked on the floor or rather cut your way through the passengers seated on the floor, you waded through dirt. The closet was also not cleaned during the journey and there was no water in the water tank. Refreshments sold to the passengers were dirty-looking, handed by dirtier hands, coming out of filthy receptacles and weighed in equally unattractive scales. These were previously sampled by millions of flies.

On reaching the station I found that the 'ghari-wala' would not take me unless I paid the fare he wanted. I mildly protested and told him I would pay him the authorised fare. I had to turn passive resister before I could be taken. I simply told him he would have to pull me out of the 'ghari' or call the policeman. One of the Punjabis had already travelled three nights and was weary and fatigued. But he could not stretch himself. He said he had sat the whole day at the Central Station watching passengers giving bribe to procure their tickets. Another said he had himself to pay Rs 5 before he could get his ticket and his seat.

I have got down at Raichur, Dhond, Sonepur, Chakradharpur, Purulia, Asansol and other junction stations and been at the 'mosafirkhanas' attached to these stations. They are discreditable-looking places where there is no order, no cleanliness but utter confusion and horrible din and noise. Passengers have no benches or not enough to sit on. They squat on dirty floors and eat dirty food. They are permitted to throw the leavings of their food and spit where they like, sit how they like and smoke everywhere. The closets attached to these places defy description. I have not the power adequately to describe them without committing a breach of the laws of decent speech. Disinfecting powder, ashes, or disinfecting fluids are unknown. The army of flies buzzing about them warns you against their use. But a third-class traveller is dumb and helpless.

Compare the lot of the first class passengers with that of the third class. In the Madras case the first class fare is over five times as much as the third class fare. Does the third class passenger get one-fifth, even one-tenth, of the comforts of his first class fellow? It is but simple justice to claim that some relative proportion be observed between the cost and comfort.”


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to finding out more about whats happening at Tiruvannamala Railway Station.

Anna said...

It would have been wonderful arriving at Tiruvannamalai Railway Station in the old days.

Eileen said...

Gandhi's descriptions made me laugh out loud several times, brilliant composition! As I read I remembered my rail=traveling days in the 80s and 90s and recognized quite a few similarities. ;-)