Publisher: Rupa Publications
Price: INR 395
“Rajendra B. Aklekar’s research – and his scholarship with enables him to interpret his findings – throws new light on the way railways were built.”
– Sir Mark Tully, author of Non-Stop India.
Bombay is famous for numerous things, but the perhaps most so for its remarkable railways system. It is the original railways of India – the pioneer of what is today the nation’s lifeline. Rajendra B. Aklekar goes right in to the past, to uncover the different stories that are now collectively called the Bombay Railways.
The book is divided as per the different lines in Bombay – the first Railway line (now the Central line), the harbor line, the BB&CI Railway line (now the western line) and various other small lines that are miscellaneous. The structure is akin to talking a walk along the railway line itself. The stations are examined in their order of being on the line, beginning with a small introduction about the each station, then historical background about of the line and ending with the remains of the station today. It ends with a connection to the present state of the railways, a kind of a wrap-up to pull us to reality.
The amount of research that has been put in to the book is beyond commendable. Drawing from journals, biographies, newspapers and railways accounts, this book is full of small stories that build up to make a great one. It has first-hand account of travelers, various folk-tales surrounding the trains, superstitions and love stories. It offers enthralling figments of a world that existed much before – a cannon near Masjid Bunder Station that is worshipped as a God; a watchtower overlooking Sion Station, believed to have housed a witch. There is just so much to take in, that one reading of the book is not enough!
On the other hand, there is much information about the various specifications of the trains itself – the sourcing of the raw materials, the manufacturing, the different types of engines and so on. Ultimately, there is a fine balance between the technical aspect and humane side of the railways. With so much research, it is easy to get lost and go hap-hazard in the presentation. But fortunately, Aklekar has ensured that is not the case. The structure of the book too makes it easy to read. There is a conscious attempt to give it a template, which is followed religiously.
This is definitely recommended for anyone who is interested in railways or history or history of railways. In fact, for anyone who even uses any railways in India, this book is a must-read. It goes to show how many small aspects are necessary to make the formidable structure that we take for granted today. The only downside of the book maybe that for a non-Bombaiite, it is hard to visualize the stations and beautiful descriptions given in the book. But that, I don’t think should be much of a deterring factor.
“The trains of yore live on – in reality, in our collective unconscious.”
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