From the first train which ran on 16th April 1853 which carried 400 people from Bombay (Bori Bundar to Thane) to carrying 9.2 billion riders in 2018, the Indian Railways has come a long way. Let me not bore you with statistics – enough to say it’s one of the largest in the world.
Indian Railways, right from the British days have built railway lines on some of the toughest terrains in the world. In the modern day one of the rare railway construction is Konkan railway which hugs Arabian sea and runs through Western Ghats – marvellous piece of engineering in the 20th century.
After many years, I took a suburban train in Chennai couple of days back and it was such a pleasure to see the changes that have happened to improve commuter facilities and I also remembered the words, ‘double discharge.’ When we were in school, Chrompet used to be a far flung suburb of Chennai, known for leather factories, Vaishnava College for women and a top class engineering school – MIT.
The first thing I noticed was the escalators built on either side of the GST road, a highway running parallel to the suburban line. Not only this helps pedestrians to cross the highway, these escalators provide access to railway station. I always wondered how metros in London and Paris have these huge escalators which must have got built many decades after the railway lines were built. There are obvious challenges like space constraints, thousands of commuters passing through the station every hour. But with some indigenous planning they are able to overcome this. I am happy to see these facilities are becoming part of our railway lines as well.
And then I saw a vending machine while standing in queue to buy the ticket for the journey. The machine offered a variety of services. You could renew your monthly season ticket, take a print out of the ticket you bought using your mobile phone, recharge your smart card.
I checked the price for my journey. It was 5 Rupees – about 7 cents, for an eighteen kilometre ride. I am sure this must be the cheapest in the world for a train ride.
It was noon time so there was not much traffic. When I was approaching Mambalam station, I saw passengers moving to the left side of the train to alight (as you stand in the direction of the train movement). I got bit confused as I knew the platforms come on the right side except in Park station where the platform on the LHS side help passenger to get down and walk towards Central station. As the train was coming to a halt, I saw platforms on either side of the train. The railways call it ‘double discharge’ as passengers can get down on either side. They can also board from either side. So why it is called double discharge and not ‘double board’ or ‘double get in?’ – beats me. May be double discharge sounds better.
I first saw the double discharge in Churchgate station in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1979. Churchgate is a suburban train terminus on the Western railway line. Children who played ‘trade’ game in those years can recall the station names like Marine Lines and Churni Road on the western line. While Victoria Terminus on the Central Railway had more platforms and catered to both suburban and long distance trains, Churchgate station catered to only suburban trains and used to look very sleek with just four platforms built on either side of the track. My uncle, a railway man, explained that this is called double discharge and plans are afoot to build similar platforms in VT as well. It took many years for VT station to get this facility.
Mumbai suburban trains are the busiest and most crowded in the world. I recommend readers to watch BBC documentary on Mumbai trains (available in Netflix). But to see double discharge facility in Mambalam was so heartening. I immediately shot off a message in the family group saying how things are changing in India and we don’t seem to notice it at all. I also explained to my colleague who was travelling with me that railways plan and execute these modification so well the passengers hardly get affected. Most of this construction work is carried out after mid night when the last train has left the platform and they stop before the first train in the morning is about to leave, a window of three to four hours.
Old timers of Chennai can recall how Tirisulam station got built (which gives access to Meenambakkam airport). An entire station was built in the late seventies without inconveniencing the passengers. One fine day, you saw the train stopping at a new station.
Hats off to the engineers and the construction crew of Indian Railways who produce amazing work like this.
Call me an incredible optimist or a sentimental patriot. I am sure India in the coming years will have some of the best of commuting experience at very affordable prices. I have not seen anywhere in the world, I could make a commute for 7 cents, a distance of 18 kilometres. Railways don’t charge the commuters more as they keep improving the frequencies and facilities. A similar journey in London or Paris or New York will cost you few pounds or Euros or Dollars. Even after adjusting all cost of living, earnings in real terms and PPP (purchase price parity), you would find this a fraction of what it costs in other in other metros of the world. For the same ride that day, Uber was quoting 560 Rupees and Ola 700 Rs (some crazy X factor due to auspicious day crowds).
I have already written about my knowledge of Pop/Rock music. My encyclopaedic knowledge on the subject can be written on the backside of a postage stamp. WHAM! And a Walkman – A Tribute to George Michael.
The first song I probably listened with some interest was ‘Rasputin’ from Boney M. I could not get most of the lyrics and it was like that for many years till the advent of Internet which enabled one to get the lyrics online. I always wondered why they sang, “he was big and strong in a size of flamingo?” Flamingo is not elephant or even or horse. So if he (Rasputin) was strong, why compare him to flamingo? It was only years later I found out the lyrics were actually, “he was big and strong in his eyes a flaming glow.”
I was listening to a Hindi song from Apple Music and was surprised to see the lyrics appearing at the bottom. So I checked the lyrics of few songs which I knew and I was always humming horribly wrong and stumbled on to Daddy Cool another famous one from ‘Boney-M.’ Rachna, my daughter calls me Daddy Cool, and sent me a message on Father’s day. I started writing this blog yesterday but the all important India – Pakistan Match took precedence over everything. As I am completing the blog, it still is Father’s day in some parts of the western world.
While checking the lyrics on Daddy Cool, I realised that it takes some special training or gift to understand what is being sung. I don’t know how many will get ‘whybaaa daddy cool’ is actually ‘what about it daddy cool?’
You either have it or you don’t when it comes to understanding the lyrics of POP music. Listening and reading the lyrics is not going to help one bit. I fall in the ‘you don’t’ category.
Rachna has sent the blog she wrote on Father’s day. At the cost of sounding boastful, I am tagging it here. https://artista2610blog.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/a-letter-to-my-father/
Happy Fathers Day.