The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 7 (November 1, 1929)
The State Railways of India — An Interesting System
“Chiefly have Britain's engineers graven the mark of British rule upon the face of India. Their works stand forth imperishable monuments to accomplishment. No matter what changes the march of time may produce, the achievements of the railways, irrigation and trunk road systems, will stand forth pre-eminently; and of these three the place of honour must be accorded the railway system,” writes Mr. H. Collett in the following article descriptive of the State Railway System of India and of the quaint customs characteristic of the people of our great sister Dominion.
Following upon the suppression of the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the establishment of peace, Britain became directly interested in the economic welfare of a people newly come under her jurisdiction. As a consequence, many new activities sprang into existence: some—under the prevailing conditions of that period—being considered, not only extravagant, but open to ridicule as bordering upon the too paternal. These activities were developed mainly along technical channels entirely apart from the ramifications of the Indian Civil Service. So pronounced was their immediate success, so rapid their development and growth, that, in a very short time indeed, the employment of Europeans and natives by the Technical Department greatly exceeded that of the Civil Service.
Chiefly have Britain's engineers graven the mark of British rule upon the face of India. Their works stand forth imperishable monuments to accomplishment. No matter what changes the march of time may produce, the achievements of the railways, irrigation and trunk roads systems, will stand out preeminently; and of these three the place of honour must be accorded the railway system. The exigencies of wider travel greatly improved and ameliorated the lot of the poorer classes. Remote villages came into touch with an outer world and were no longer compelled to remain self-supporting; were enabled to enter into avenues of commerce hitherto closed to them. Moral changes, too, resulted; caste prejudices were forced to relax giving place to a wider and broader outlook.
As the railways advanced, stupendous difficulties were met with that had to be overcome. Great bridges—some “three decker” as at Cawnpore—had to be thrown across wide rivers such as the Ganges—the Holy Brahminic stream—the Jumna, the fiercely flowing Sone. Calculations had to be made to meet the emergencies against monsoonal flood waters. In bridging the Ganges moral obstacles also had to be diplomatically countered, to conform with a policy of non-interference with religious matters. The suspension bridge across the Sone is an engineering marvel. Slowly, immutably, irresistibly, the “iron ribbands” crept over treacherous swamps and quagmires, across the ever-shifting soil of the Gangetic delta on embankments of wonderful enterprise; negotiated the steep Ghat Ranges by means of spidery aqueducts and tortuous zigzags.
To-day India has a greater network of railways than any other portion of the British Empire; in fact, if a world comparison were made, she is third on the list, behind only Germany and Russia. On a “population basis” the teeming millions of India rank her low indeed. In round figures she has over 40,000 miles of railroad. Over this system about four hundred million of passengers are transported yearly; and about one hundred million tons is freighted. Cost of travel is remarkably low, and that of freightage correspondingly moderate. Travelling by “third class” costs about a shilling for sixty miles; yet, in spite of these charges, the Indian Railways, as a whole, produce enormous surplus profits.
The Railway Gauges.
As a result of the initial construction of the Indian Railways being left to private companies, there is a great diversity in gauge uniformity. At the earliest stages the English gauge was discarded for one measuring 5 ft. 6 ins. considered to be especially adapted to requirements of Indian traffic. This is the gauge in use by the three principal systems: and to-day their actual mileage totals as much as the other three gauges in use. Next comes the metre (3 ft. 33/8 ins.) system; and these two gauges are the main arteries of transport. The mileage totals of the remaining two gauges (2 ft. 6 ins. and 2 ft.), are comparatively small. When the Indian Government decided upon entering into railway building on its own account, the metre gauge was favoured for purposes of economy. This decision was accepted by other private companies receiving concessions after that date.
It is more than probable that, had the great capacity and regularity of present requirements been forseen, the capital expenditure saved in the construction of narrower gauges would not have received much consideration.
Transfer of merchandise from one system to another involves many difficulties. Not only are there heavy losses entailed, but opportunities for larcency are afforded apart from the continuous expense of transference.
This applies, of course, to all countries where-diversity of gauge exists, and it is a matter which even now is receiving the considered attention of railway executives. In India, particularly, there are many local conditions which tend to intensify the inconveniences attendant upon mixed gauges.
Railway Life in India.
The Railway towns of India are mostly situated adjacent to the cities. Howrah, the largest of these, may be considered almost as a suburb of Calcutta. Tundla a few hours run by rail from Agra; Mogul Serai near to the Holy City of Benares, and so on.
Amongst these, Mogul Serai may perhaps be considered the most picturesque as to environment and situation. Here, about 100 families are domiciled by the East Indian Railway. The town is built conveniently close to the railway station, locomotive sheds, workshops and offices. It consists of one long street lined upon either side by “Goolar” (a common and non-commercial native fig) trees, very umbrageous and completely arching over a cindered surface. Along this are erected spacious brick bungalows with deep frontages for the use of the married men and their families. Fronting the station is the school-house, children's playing ground and the gardens. Along to the right is the Institute (library and reading rooms) and dance hall. Near to this is “the barracks” for the single men, with a café and sleeping rooms attached for the use of employees visiting on duty. Midway and fronting the Institute are the Railway Co-operative Stores.page 36 page 37
The railway schools are really for younger children and are of a preparatory nature. From these railway schools the children are sent away to boarding schools and colleges to complete their education. These schools are under the control of school-mistresses who, whenever possible, are the widows of employees who have died in the discharging of their duties.
The staff of the stores is chiefly composed of Baboos (the colloquial name given to Bengalese) who are under the direct supervision and control of a visiting European comptroller to whom all supply requirements are submitted and disposal accounted for. Here all general supplies, such as rice, flour, tinned goods, drapery, furniture etc., may be purchased at special and reasonable prices.
About two miles distant is the original and native village whence most fresh food supplies are obtained. Great rivalry pertains amongst the vendors for custom, and competition is very keen as a consequence. To us, in New Zealand, the process of supply would appear strange and ridiculous. Everything is brought to one's doors regularly. The dood-wallah (milkman) makhan-wallah (butterman) toti-wallah (baker), kasai (butcher) and others all call round with their wares. Amongst all these the dood-wallah may be deserving of a special mention. He calls twice daily; between 5 and 7 a.m. and 3 and 5 p.m. are his regular visiting hours. He does not bring his milk round in cans as do our milkmen. To do so would be too great a temptation, for “watering,” to resist. He brings along the “source of supply.” You can see him coming along leading a cow—or she buffalo if you prefer that animal's milk—at the end of a rope passed through the nostrils. Under one arm he carries the last calf, stuffed with dried grass. Tying the animal to a post he places the “calf” alongside its dam and is ready for business. If you are in search of information and want to know the “why and wherefore” he is only too ready to gratify your wish.
“Sahib,” he will say, “all females are full of whims which a wise man humours, even so it has been from the very beginning! This female infliction of my life will withhold her milk unless given her calf to lick; and being femaler therefore a fool, she does not recognise the calf is dead! It is the will of Allah.”
He will then milk the animal into a “daikchee” (vessel) handed him by the khitmatgar (butler) collect his payment and depart on his round.
Recreational Side of Railway Life.
Frequent outings and picnics are organised by the Railway folk who receive free passes to the spot selected. These picnics are often on a page 38 large scale and provide, not only for the social enjoyment of the “grown ups” but are a source of instruction for the children: the rendezvous being an historical spot. The nature of India is such that most of these places are very beautiful as well. Friends may be invited and these outings often being on a very large scale indeed, invitations are eagerly sought and accepted by the outside public. On such occasions servants go in advance and attend to all the preliminary details such as getting refreshments ready and pitching a “shimyanah” (a tent somewhat like that of a circus, but open on all sides) where dancing and games are indulged in. Then, when the party is assembled the servants remain in attendance.
These Railway towns are small and self contained social centres. Rules of etiquette are faithfully adhered to, in fact they are rigidly observed. The ladies have their days-at-home for receiving callers and go visiting in proper style. Owing to climatic conditions there has been a general relaxation as to correct evening dress for men. It is permissible—even at Government House— to wear black trousers with a white Eton jacket and dark red cummerbund. If it is decided to give a dance during the warmer weather one of these “shimyanahs” is pitched in the open, and a dancing cloth tightly stretched over the ground. This cloth is very thick in texture with a highly glazed and polished surface well adapted for dancing.
Benares—The Holy Brahmin City.
From Mogul Serai picnickers as a rule go to Benares (pronounced Ba-na-ras) one of the most venerable of India's inland cities and today, the Holy Brahmin City. Originally Brahminic, during the zenith of Buddhist power, it was taken over by that Faith and held by them for eight hundred years. Then the Brahmins again occupied it. As a consequence of this and the Mahomedan Conquest of India, Benares has over two thousand temples and mosques, these in every conceivable variety of Indian architecture. On Holy days the City and River present an equally animated appearance, the temples and ghats being crowded with religious devotees. With the advent of dark the scene becomes absolutely beautiful. Thousands and thousands of chirags (small open oil lamps) illuminate the palaces, temples, ghats and boats on the Ganges, till it is all a scintillant blaze of shimmering light.
Hindu pilgrims come to Benares from all parts of India, journeying frequently over hundreds of miles to bathe in the sacred waters and receive absolution of their sins. The way in which the journey is made may be worthy of description as being singular. Unprotected against attacks of wild animals, scantily clothed, carrying neither food nor drink, they set out from their homes. They measure every yard of the distance with their bodies. Standing at the door of their dwellings they prostrate themselves on the earth, reach out and make a mark to which they walk and again prostrate themselves and so on to the end.
The two principal Brahmin shrines of Benares are the “Monkey” and the “Golden Temple,” both magnificent specimens of Hindu architecture. The former—hence the name—is infested by hordes of Bandars (the Sacred Brown-monkey) who must not be interfered with. So cunning have these animals become that they levy toll of sightseers and if the toll is not forthcoming they certainly make things most unpleasant. One has to purchase about a farthing's worth of chanah (a cereal grain) from the vendors outside the temple precincts, which is thrown to the monkeys inside. This, by some means is communicated through the colony and no hostile demonstration will be made, otherwise the sightseer will be continuously persecuted and no redress may be had.
The World's Architectural Gem.
From Tundla the City of Agra is the rendezvous. We all know of the Taj Mahal, India's architectural gem—in fact of the world—beggaring description. It is the mausoleum built by the Mogul Emperor, Shah Jahan (Emperor of the World), over the grave of his favourite Queen, Mumtaz Mahal (Honoured of the Harem). The building is entirely constructed of pink sandstone and pure white marble. Seen by moonlight no description can possibly convey the beauty of the sight. The marble lace work and carved pillars in support of the Burial Chamber are without rival or peer. When Shah Jahan decided upon building the Taj, he brought together the most skilled artificers of India and set them to work. When the building was completed, with the barbarous power of his day he had the eyes of all the workmen put out so they should never duplicate their work. He certainly pensioned them all for life, but what pension could recompense their loss of sight!
During the declining years of the Mogul power, when the Maharratas were at their zenith, Agra was ravished by this warlike and conquering people. The Taj suffered considerably from their greed of plunder and vandalism. Not only did they remove the decorative precious stones throughout the building, but they carried off the wonderfully chased and carved gates of pure silver; in fact, it appears strange, that, being of Hindu persuasion, and, therefore, inimical to all things pertaining to Mahomedanism, page 39 they did not completely destroy the whole structure.
Annual Railways Ball.
The annual railways ball at Howrah is quite an important function. Vice-Regal and Gubernatorial parties being in attendance, together with all classes of Anglo-Indian society. The ballrooms present a varied and kaleidoscopic scene, one peculiar to India, the conventional evening dress serving to set off and emphasise the glitter of uniforms, ambassadorial insignia, and the gorgeous be-jewelled costumes of the Indian nobility. No expense is spared that can make the function a complete success. Everything is done in the best of style, the music being provided by Regimental, Railway and De Souza's Bands.
The “Eton” of India.
General Claude Martin, a French soldier of fortune, entered the military service of the Hon. the East India Company, attained to high rank and died in September, 1860. He had become enormously wealthy, and built a palace which he named “Constantia.” Architecturally, this palace is unique in construction; a veritable hybrid of Italian, Hindu, and Persian modes; yet withal an imposing building. Under his will General Martin endowed three colleges, Lucknow, Calcutta, and Lyons (France), his birthplace. Of these the College of Lucknow is the chief, and takes for its motto, “Labore et Constantia,” thus embodying the original name of the palace.
Under the terms of the will it is provided that so many boys be educated “free of charge,” others paying “quarter” or “half” fees according to circumstances. These boys are termed “Foundationers,” “Semi” and “Semi-demi-Foundationers.” As the boys wear a uniform it is impossible to tell which is which, and no distinction in treatment is permitted. Where a man loses his life in discharge of duty, and leaves his widow and family in straitened circumstances, the College steps in as regards education. Every boy is a volunteer, the College having its own officers. The status of Martiniere may be gathered from the fact that, either the Viceroy or one of the Governors, attends at and helps in the distribution of prizes at “break up,” and the “guard of honour” is provided by the students. The College grounds are extensive, over a mile square, stretching from the Canal (Ganges Gumti) to the Gumti River in an opposite direction. The building itself is fully a quarter of a mile from wing to wing, and four storeys in height, centrally. At the extreme top are two crossed arches supporting the flagstaff, from which the Union Jack floats triumphantly, as it were, on all gala days.
“Tiger in Possession of Platform.”
The more responsible and executive positions throughout the different Railway systems are held by European officials. In the larger and important centres are European stationmasters with a mixed staff under their control; the small and isolated sidings, etc., are worked by a purely native staff, under, generally, a Bengalese in charge. Many of these are naturally situated in tiger and leopard country, so for the safety and protection of those operating such places, offices and living rooms have been provided, built high off the ground, and accessible by rung-ladders. This furnishes a degree of safety; for though the leopard is an agile climber, he cannot negotiate the slight, strong and open ladders. The tiger does not climb at all.
The belief in transmigration of the soul is very widely spread amongst the Hindu people. Amongst some it is held that if a man has led a good and virtuous life upon earth he is permitted to return after death in the guise of some innocuous or useful animal; on the other hand, if his life has been bad he is sent back as some predatory beast. As a consequence, Hindus are averse to the taking of any life, refusing to kill even under any circumstances, for the animal may be one of their own ancestors. They may send for some Sahibs, as a last resort, to do what they will not do for themselves.
The following incident, arising from this belief, occurred at an isolated station. A tiger had put in an appearance, and the staff fled to sanctuary. The Bengalese in charge there was in a quandary as to what should be done. He evidently must have got a brain wave for he wired to the General Manager, miles away at Calcutta:—
“Tiger possessing platform, wire instructions.”
Of course the General Manager could not do anything in the matter, his reply was terse and significant. However, a passing train settled things. As it hurtled through the station it scared “Stripes” back to the jungle, probably never to return again.page break
Workshops Apprentices’ Football Match
Lower Hutt Workshops Team.
Back row (left to right): J. W. Arnold, D. Churcher, L. E. Williams, R. Wickham, R. F. Beardmore, L. Benge, W. Blackwood, T. Boswell, J. Feeney, G. Carter (Instructor). Front row: E. V. Kerridge, E. G.Hancox, D. J. Ryan, B. R. Ross (Captain), R. Baker (Vice-Captain), H. Lane, C. Brassell.
Otahuhu Workshops Team.
Back row (left to right): A. E. Thomson (Instructor), L. Auckett, T. Walsh, R. Munro, P. Quirke, D. Cleverley, G. Pepper, D. J. Haining, R. Shipp, H. Spiller. Front row: T. White, A. Miller, F. Ford, D. Hill (Captain), W. Connor, E. Roughton, R. Hammond, C. Woodley.
The ever popular annual football match between teams representing the apprentices of the Lower Hutt (Wellington) and Otahuhu (Auckland) workshops, was played at Otahuhu on 24th August last, resulting in a win for the Lower Hutt team by eighteen points to eleven. The excellent arrangements made by the Otahahu apprentices for the match and for the subsequent entertainment of the visitors, were much appreciated by the boys from Lower Hutt.