Rare pictures of the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inside a rail engine or the first President Rajendra Prasad walking outside a station in south India provide a glimpse into the 160 years of Indian Railways.
Unlocking a treasure trove of archives, the Railways has brought on display over 200 rare black and white and sepia-toned images in an exquisite collection titled '160 Years of Indian Railways: An exhibition of selected photographs from the Indian Railways' that opened up for view recently at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.
"Railways have been so intrinsic to people's lives in India. And, through this exhibition we wanted to bring its inception and history closer to people's mind which may be getting lost in the annals of time," says Director, Information and Publicity, Indian Railways, Seema Sharma.
However, in a departure from a regular commemorative tribute, the exhibition is curated "thematically rather than sequentially" and celebrates the history and heritage, architectural and otherwise, while evoking a liberal feel of nostalgia.
So, pictures of a late 19th century image of Gothic Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) in then Bombay, one of Frontier Mail with its front decked up with British flags, royal guests being received at a makeshift station built in Delhi during the 1911 Durbar, as well as a rare old photo of Ranchi, Bilaspur and Colaba stations built in Victorian style, among others, are on view.
Photographs of Nehru, Indira Gandhi and a young Rajiv Gandhi have been captured together at a platform, neon signs of ubiquitous 'Murphy Radio' company over Patna Junction and the then Madras Central station buildings and the elegant Egmore station waiting rooms are rare views.
One photograph captures a narrow gauge train (Dabhoi to Miyagam) of 1863 which has bullocks pulling it instead of an engine.
The collection is divided into several themes like -- 'Station Architecture', 'Locomotives and Trains', 'Personalities', 'Carriages and Wagons', 'Men at Work' among others.
"The 'Station Architecture' has a special segment as many stations today look completely different compared to what their look was back in those years. The Ranchi station has changed a lot and the two pictures displayed here show the rare heritage look of the building in the colonial days," says Seema.
"But, I believe the part that lends more interest to the exhibition is the 'Men at Work' section whereby one actually sees the 'hands and feet' of the Indian Railway, the gangmen, the foreman, the light man who used to climb up a stair to light up the lamp in those days, etc are great pictures of human dignity and pride in one's profession," she says.
Apart from the Railway archives, the photographs have been sourced from the Press Information Bureau and the Railway museums from the 17 zonal offices throughout the country.
Explaining how the exhibition began taking shape over the last five months, Seema says there were "no pre-set themes as the themes emerged out of the collection themselves".
"We had sent out request to different railway zones to contribute from their own archives. And, after we sat sifting through the collection, ranging over 600, hours after hours, themes and patterns began to emerge, say architecture or marketing techniques, etc," Seema told PTI.
A very rare photograph is that of 'billboard men' standing in two neat queues in front of the Churchgate station in Bombay, showing the use of marketing techniques used at stations back then.
"It is only for lack of space and quality of the picture available that we couldn't accommodate all photos here," adds Seema.
While an old, heavy hand-bell from the Nizam's railway is kept on display, track lights and wrought-iron benches have also been placed around to recreate the old railway aura.
Asked about the impact this will have on passengers and people in general, she said it will help generate a "sense of pride and ownership" for railways and hence instill a better civic sense among them too.
"This has always been the motto of the Indian Railways -'Keep Station and Train Clean. Help the Railway Serve Better'. And, when you own something, you'll not spoil it. With this exhibition, we also hope to build that sense of ownership in people's mind," she says.
"Railway is a pivot of national economy and it has moved along the history of India. So, we may have taken it for granted now and, therefore the idea here is to exhort people to celebrate history as it was and take pride in it as all railwaymen do," she says.
The exhibition ends here on June 2 after which it will travel to Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Allahabad, Secunderabad, among other cities.
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