Sunday, March 5, 2017

Book Review - Halt Station India by Rajendra B. Aklekar

Just finished reading ‘Halt Station India’ by Rajendra B. Aklekar. It’s a book on the nation’s first railway lines. Much of the book devotes on how the Great India Peninsula Railway (GIPR; now Central Railway or CR) was built, but the book also delves on Bombay, Baroda & Central India railway (BB&CI; now Western Railway or WR) and a bit on the many tramways that once dotted Bombay's (now Mumbai) streets. The book is a fascinating read for those us who love Indian railways and trains. Halt Station India starts- in a manner of speaking- at the Camberwell Old Cemetery London where James John Berkley’s grave is there and then going back in time to trace his journey from London to Bombay where he was sent to build Asia’s first railway line. He was appointed as the Chief Resident Engineer of the GIPR. Berkley passed away in England in 1862. His bust lies on the walls of the massive CST Terminus on the façade that faces Bazaar Gate and the bus depot at CST.

But our journey has just begun. Apart from carefully documenting and unearthing some very interesting tales of how the rail lines were laid (did you know that Sion was where the first construction of the Indian railways began?), Aklekar literally takes a walk on the tracks from Mumbai CST to Thane to spot relics and remains of the original rail lines. And there are plenty if you care to look. From original stone buildings, iron brackets, carvings of GIPR (although GIPR officially became CR in 1951) to platform pillars, fixtures and fittings that bear original inscriptions of the names of century old factories in the United Kingdom where they were made, wrought iron floral design brackets to hold name plates (Byculla station), what looks like- though I must confess I may have seen it myself but never paused to admire it- the stunning iron booking office with ornamentally carved iron logos of GIPR (again, Byculla station) and the original booking office at Matunga (CR) with original wooden brackets, the GIPR logos and the pitched roof. There are many such relics that Aklekar has taken pains to look out for and has unearthed all along the CR, WR and Harbour lines.

The book chronicles stations of the past era that are no longer there; Mazgaon station, Colaba station (which was once the last station on the BB&CI line…now the site where Badhwar Railway Colony at Cuffe Parade), Ballard Pier Mole Station and so on. Did you know that two of India’s oldest trains amongst those that are still in existence today, ran from Ballard Pier Mole Station? The Frontier Mail (now the Golden Temple Mail; WR) and Punjab Limited (Punjab Mail; CR).

It’s an easy read that flows well. It starts from Mumbai CST and as Aklekar starts his journey from there, he stops at every station along the way to give you a brief history of what they once were and what remains. I would highly recommend for those who are interested in Mumbai’s and Indian railway’s history.  

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