The Indian Railways is a humongous system that caters to passengers and services across a massively vast area. Considering that the country is large in area coupled with the fact that almost half of its population is dependent on trains for commute at both local and national destinations, the railways inadvertently are a hub of social and cultural milieu.
A few facts about Indian Railways
- The Indian Railways began operating in 1853 and were nationalized in 1951 after Independence. It is the fourth largest railways in the world based on its size, route length and track length. It is the largest in Asia.
- It carries more than one billion tons of freight in a year and more than 23 million passengers daily.
- Due to its huge services, a separate budget is presented for the Railways alone. The finances of the railways were separated from the other budgets of India way back in 1924.
- The Indian Railways also connect international destinations, such as Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Samjhauta Express and Thar Express to Pakistan, passenger trains between Jainagar and Bijalpura in Nepal and freight trains between Raxaul and Birganj, whereas, the Maitree Express and Bandhan Express to Bangladesh.
- Indian Railways also runs tourist trains, such as the Palace on Wheels, Maharaja’s Express, Royal Rajasthan on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, The Fairy Queen and more.
- The Railways employs over 1.4 million people making it the seventh largest employer in the world.
Train Travel Memories and more
Railway stations and trains are an integral part of every citizen’s life. It is hard to not have an incident or memory that is related to train travel in India. Travelling with family or friends has its own share of fun when in the train. The bag loads of food and snacks that are passed around, the squeezing onto the seat so that more people can fit, the spreading of quills to play a game of cards or the sporadic songs that burst out as hawkers and beggars make their way through the isle are only a few memories that are etched in probably all our minds. Yet, due to the sheer range of people that board the railways makes it a perfect platform for social and cultural exchange. How many times have we struck a conversation with our co-passengers? And how many times have we learned something about themselves, their thoughts and perspectives, their traditions and relations? Enough number of times to know that this kind of a social exchange is also what enriches our own travel experiences.
Whether the long journeys that lasts for more than 24 hours or daily local commutes, the bonds that we form with each other, known or unknown faces make enough of an impact to mold and touch us in different ways. An intuitive teacher who starts a game of reading minds to a talkative aunty trying to offer food or advice every five minutes, the train journeys that I have made are cherished and always bring a smile on my face.
Yet, the Indian Railways, like most things Indian, divide and unify at the same time. Where the different classes give a peek into the economic stratification, the different sellers and hawkers throw light upon how the railways also impact the financial lives of people indirectly. Of course, a lot has changed over the years but many platforms are still buzz with stalls serving hot foods or packet goods. The stationery guy still finds his way to impress upon us the need to buy a pen or the local fruit seller sprinkles her delights with flavors that are irresistible to munch on. Books and magazine sellers inspire to read and tea and coffee vendors are the most awaited guests on board. A game of cricket makes friends, foes and informers out of everyone who whispers or shouts out scores and a game of antakshari no matter played in which corner of the compartment makes you tap your feet in unison too.
The discussions amongst passengers vary from politics, sports, traditions and personal sightings. And as the hills and fields roll past our windows we also feel a strange connection with regions and areas that we may never halt or stay put at, but they nonetheless tingle a sense of belonging and yearning in passing over. Long journeys bring out humor and talks even from the most quietest and reclusive of beings, whereas, daily commutes help form friendships with strangers for life.
In many ways the statistics of the Indian Railways though highly noteworthy, do not surpass the human and emotional strappings of what they accomplish in reality. The meeting and interacting of hundreds of strangers on a daily basis helps form an understanding that is hard to replace in any other form or mode of travel. The Indian Railways hence does what forms the bedrock of our democracy and nation. It helps to compress the melting pot substantially, making it tangible and real. And thankfully, no one seems to have any reservations about it!