A little after 4.30 a.m., the silence that usually descends on this quiet railway station after midnight was broken by the chugging of an incoming train. The sound of the locomotive was then drowned by the screeching of brakes, as the 50-wagon rake came to a stop. The silence did not return after that. The pre-dawn calm was overwhelmed by the chanting of mantras and political slogans.
The ‘water express’ had come in, after a 300-km journey from Miraj, carrying not just 5,40,000 litres of water, but also the much-needed hope for the parched city.
Latur’s station master had barely finished noting down the official arrival time — 4.40 a.m. — before the air was filled with mantras chanted by local pandits. Some had come along with politicians, others had made their way to the station of their own accord. Raj Joshi, who had come along with the local unit of the BJP, said: “This year, the panchang [astrological diary] shows good rainfall for the entire country, and it is not going to be any different for Latur.”
“The credit for [the train] goes to our Chief Minister,” said BJP city unit chief Shilesh Lahote. Within three hours, the train had decanted its cargo into a private well near the tracks, from where it was ferried to a local filtration plant.
The news of the train’s arrival spread fast. Local residents quickly thronged both sides of the track; some had travelled many kilometres. By late morning, the crowd had swelled, with many arriving to show their children the historic occasion.
The sense of relief was palpable, but there was also some sadness. As a local water expert said, this is possibly only the second town in the country that had water transported in by train, after Bhuj in 2001.