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An old giant, forgotten

S.R. Praveen
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Unsung:The Railway Institute, Railways’ recreational club, in Kozhikode:— Photo: K. Ragesh
Unsung:The Railway Institute, Railways’ recreational club, in Kozhikode:— Photo: K. Ragesh

Tucked away in a quiet corner near the rear entrance of the Kozhikode railway station here is a Victorian era building, which has quite a bit of history attached to it. But very few know about its existence. Rather ironic for a structure, which is a stone’s throw away the city’s major transit point.

For a recreation club, ‘Railway Institute’ is an odd name. Built in 1888 by the British at a cost of Rs.14,465, the place oozes old world charm. Right near the front corridor is a small library housing a few thousand books in various languages.

The main door opens into a hall, which once served as a ballroom for the British, and later the Anglo-Indians. “There were wine parties and dancing all through the night. It is said that the local people used to peep through the windows to catch a glimpse of the celebrations,” says K.S. Rajesh, secretary of the institute.

The high roof and the wooden floorboards add to the grandeur, though the floorboards have started making creaky noises. The ballroom is now used for the occasional cultural programme of the club.

In one room is a billiards table from the British era, still managed in pristine condition. A scoreboard hung on the wall bears marks of many close fights. Though the building has stood the test of time, the lack of maintenance shows. The villain is fund crunch. “The institute has around 500 members. Its only source of income is the monthly fee of Rs.20 we collect from the members. The annual funds from Railways are not sufficient to even maintain the building,” says Mr. Rajesh.

But more than the building, the sports amenities around in it are the ones in a true state of neglect.

There is a football ground and courts for badminton, basketball, and tennis, all encroached by weeds. The exercise bars of the mini gymnasium can be barely seen among the wild plants.

The football ground was witness to many tournaments till about 15 years ago. A cache of trophies are still visible in a dusty cabinet near the ballroom.

The ground was also used for mini horse races by the British. Later, it served as the venue for various plays and concerts, once by the late Baburaj.

Mr. Rajesh says that the ground and courts can be rented out to generate revenue. But they have to be renovated first.

A khadi unit also used to function in this building. The last of the Anglo-Indians left this place in the early 70s. Old-timers around the institute remember Ricky Brown, a signal inspector, as the last of those Anglo-Indians. He left for Australia in 1971.

As the Kozhikode railway station completes 125 years, this contemporary assumes much significance. It must be preserved and possibly developed as a heritage museum.

S.R. Praveen

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