The city’s salute to the railway station is triggered by a keen public interest in its history

On January 2, 2013, the Kozhikode Railway Station will celebrate its 125 birthday. Making it a special year ahead for this historic monument will be a chain of events — seminars, quiz competitions for school children and exhibitions on the way of life the railways brought. The celebrations mark a respect for the railway’s function as a people’s medium. They also testify to the people’s intense engagement with their city as they dug into reams of colonial history to get to the exact day on which the then Calicut – Madras line was opened. The trail began when Oliver Noone, a doctor and history researcher, bumped into snippets of information during his years in London. While he waited for photocopied papers relevant to his research on the Battle of Tarvananghurry in the British Library, London, he glanced through the almanac for 1889 and found, “Calicut — The Railway was opened to Calicut on the 2 January 1888, and this station is now the Western Terminus of the Madras Railway.”

Noone also found in the almanac of 1865 information about the opening of the line from “Beypoor to Tiroor, l9 miles”. Certain details of it appeared in the Calicut Heritage Forum blog, which then trickled into the mainstream through media reports.

Before long, the approaching milestone of the Kozhikode station and the neighbouring Railway Institute became news. The Railways formed committees with members of the public to decide how to make it a special affair. Shinoy Jesinth, a research scholar at the Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kalady, hailing from Kozhikode, brought in new dimensions to the details about the railway station.

“My research is on ‘Urbanity and Spatial Process — A Study of the Colonial City Calicut,” says Shinoy. The railway was crucial to his study of urbanisation and he scooped out information from the archives around the country, but primarily from the Regional Archives in the city. “I would have spent about two and half years in the archives department here,” he says. And it is here he found a range of documentary evidence on the railway in Kozhikode, including maps and data. “Railway traffic was opened between Beypore and Tirur on March 12, 1861, and it was after 27 years that the terminus was changed to Kozhikode,” he says. According to Shinoy, the significance of Beypore was understandable. “All the first stations in the country were port cities — Mumbai in1853, Kolkata in 1854 and Chennai in 1856. Beypore was an important port of yore. Even in the line between Beypore and Tirur, Tirur was close to Tanur, known as a fishing centre,” he says. As Kozhikode grew as an administrative centre and became the railway station, Beypore diminished in significance and was subsequently abandoned. Shinoy points out the technical marvels the railway brought, including the Feroke Bridge.

According to historian M.G.S. Narayanan, with the railway station came a change in the cultural milieu of the place. “It was the prime instrument of change,” he says and recalls that it was the norm in the early 20 century for youngsters to board the Madras Mail here and come back as lawyers, doctors and other professionals. What is platform two today was the first railway station in the city, say the experts. “I remember going to the railway station with my grandfather as a small boy in the 1940s and I always remembered it as a covered structure,” says M.G.S. He recalls how people in the neighbourhood kept time by the arrival of the trains.

With scattered information available on the railway station, Mohan Menon, Additional Divisional Railway Manager, Palakkad Division, Southern Railways, says the focus should be on bringing out a consolidated history. “There is lot of public interest in the railway station and we are planning to make the celebrations an inclusive process by bringing in people linked with it. For instance, we have come across a philatelist who specialises in railway heritage stamps and has even won a prize in the world philately exhibition,” says Menon. The celebrations to be pegged around the Railway Institute’s 125 anniversary will include exhibitions and seminars. A heritage square showcasing Malabar rail history is also being considered, and a model of the steam engine may be installed in front of the station. “The idea is to generate some interest in rail history,” says Menon.