For 160 years, Indian trains, and their windows have tirelessly framed portraits in motion, of a nation’s evolving landscape, of historic moments and of personal epiphanies. But, on Wednesday, the gaze turned inwards — the Indian railways reflecting on its journey — with a travelling photo exhibition.
It was on April 16, 1853 that the first passenger train ran from Bori bunder to Thane, carrying 400 passengers on a 34-km stretech. The historic black and white photo taken by Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, of the train travelling on a bridge as three people look on, is the starting point for the thematic photo exhibition which traces the evolution of locomotives, carriages and wagons, railway stations, its architecture, passenger amenities, and railway bridges and tunnels.
The little idiosyncrasies and ordinary occurrences at the stations, which make even the black and white photos riotously colourful, are not left out. A railway station which had ‘Long live his highness’ prominently on its frontage, men doubling as advertisements for different railway lines, children queuing up outside a mobile reservation office near Delhi Public School to reserve tickets for holiday special trains and a man lighting a lamp at a railway station, offer glimpses of life around the railway stations. ‘Tongas’ and cycle rickshaws wait to ferry passengers and ‘Fairy Queen’, the oldest running engine, brings construction material for the Parliament House in Delhi.
The exhibition is also a treasure trove of trivia. A striking photo of Rabindranath Tagore looking out of a train, informs visitors that he penned six poems of ‘Gitanjali’ while travelling on trains. Bhagat Singh sitting at the Lahore Railway Police Station, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and Gandhiji greeting visitors at a station, Pandit Nehru inaugurating the Childrens’ train – each frame offers glimpses into poignant moments.
Emphasising the breathless run of the railways over the decades are overcrowded trains carrying passengers during floods, a special train for refugees at Ambala during partition, and elephants occasionally pushing odd wagons into small goods sheds. The magnificent waiting hall of the ‘Madras Egmore Railway Station’and the Central Station too find a mention.
The exhibition, which sources pictures from their archives, has already travelled to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Rakesh Misra, General Manager, Southern Railway inaugurated the exhibition on Wednesday. Principal heads of the departments and the divisional railway manager, Chennai Division were among those present. The exhibition is open to public till July 16 at Lalit Kala Akademi, Greams Road between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.