Museums of art and culture, though neglected, are at least known.
The corridors of either the Egmore or the Fort museums might be deserted, but they at least exist in the collective imagination of the city's residents. However, there are some museums which do not even exist as location markers.
A case in point is the Regional Rail Museum, situated on the premises of the Integral Coach Factory, Perambur. It is a hidden gem for all those kids fascinated by trains.
Did you know that the first steam engine was used not for locomotion, but as a tractor in large English farms? Or that India exports locomotive coaches to Vietnam, Zambia, Angola and Sri Lanka, among others? Such interesting trivia abound at the Rail museum, which offers an insight into the history and evolution of the Indian Railways.
It has been in existence at its current location since 2002, but the sad fact is that not many know about it, says Sridhar Joshi of the Indian Railways Fan Club Association.
“Every time I go there, I find something new,” says Mr. Joshi. A museum must not exist in isolation, it must kindle the interest of people, he says, and this can happen only if a couple of people familiar with the history of the Railways are posted to help the visitors.
‘Poochi' Venkataraman, a frequent visitor, says that repeated requests have been made to the authorities to allow the public to paint the locomotives which are displayed out in the open. “They are left at the mercy of rain and shine. Allowing the public to help in maintenance would be a great start. Even if the public want to participate, the government has rules that make sure it does not happen.”
Despite the Indian Railways being an integral part of most of our lives, its history continues to remain far from the public gaze. The Railway itself is an amalgamation of 35 entities. In order to penetrate every square inch of the country, the British allowed every ‘Rajah' to have his own railway. Unification was a humungous process since each province customised its railway to make it unique. ‘Project uni-gauge' is an ongoing exercise by the Indian Railways, 63 years after Independence. The Rail Museum captures some of this spectacular history. “The attempt is to try and provide insight into how we are progressing,” says R.Mukund, the curator. “Real life stations have been faithfully depicted so that children might get a feel of it.” There is no other place where they can experience what it was like to be inside a British-era guard coach. Though a museum is a place where ‘dead things' are kept, enthusiastic visitors can still give life to its hallowed halls.