An anthology of well-researched essays from the big daddies of Indian history like Mark Tully and Ian J Kerr among others, India Junction also features some delightful (train) travel writing and a section on photographs, some rare and amazing; mixing up the information offensive with the travelogues comes like the much-needed kaapi after all the vegetable biryani.
Tip: Alternate essay with travelogue.
The essays: In the opening chapter Mark Tully while presenting wagonloads of rail history in his trademark engaging objectiveness, furthers the argument as to the true beneficiaries of the Indian Railways—from a historical perspective—being the school between the meliorists and immiserationists. Kerr, in ‘Imagining the Nation’ argues that railways was—and remain—an instrument of capitalist development; in a marked detour from the economics of it all presents some hard statistics favouring rail transport over road in regard to the environment.
Gillian Wright, partner and long-time collaborator of Mark Tully, talks about the heritage of both locomotives–most of which are now in either of the railway museums in Delhi or Rewari–and of the landmark railway terminuses spread across India and their architectural histories in ‘A 160-year heritage’. Her vivid descriptive detailing make you wonder how you missed them; the authority and passion with which the iconic bridges are brought to life make you want to ride over them, again, eyes wide open this time. Her second chapter ‘The Magic of Hill Railways’ presents some delightful nuggets like how the Z-shaped reverse stations, an engineering triumph, could have been inspired by the ballroom dancing lessons of the engineer’s wife. You can cull out a marvellous must-see list too from the chapter. The romance of rail travel is not lost on the fact-grinding, history-crunching writers who, at times, veer towards the sublime.
Everybody who grew up in the 70s can relate to Jerry Pinto’s ‘Railways’ Filmy Chakkar’—a nostalgic delight which starts with his own reminiscences of journeying with his parents and sister, buying film magazines and raucously ‘leaking’ the gossip stories to the roles train play in the movies. After some top-heavy chapters, this one comes like the first calls of ‘halwa’ as you near the Palakkad Junction when you enter Kerala from the arid plains of Tamil Nadu.
The travelogues:Ruskin Bond’s ‘When the train came to DeyraDhoon’ starts off like one of the author’s popular children’s tales but soon musters track and goes on to capture the various nuances of the Raj high life. ‘The most important thing when travelling by train in India is the size of your neighbour’s tiffin carrier’— Shoba Narayan’s opening lines sets the tone and pace of her sojourn from many years ago, a burp-happy juxtaposing of regional culinary delicacies over a more personal narrative.
India Junction is a sure-shot like the omnipresent station-staple poori-sabzi filling in varying degrees of delectability. You don’t have to be a trainspotter to fit this one into your collection, a passing interest in travel or history or even numbers will work just fine.
A Window to the Nation
Edited by: Seema Sharma
Pages: 296 Price: Rs 695