Friday, 8 May 2015

Chug we Go! - Halt Station India

Chug we Go! - Halt Station India

‘Halt Station India’, is a fascinating story of how the Indian Railways evolved and how it impelled the growth of India’s business capital. Rajendra B. Aklekar the author and also a veteran journalist has been following the Indian Railways very closely for over two decades. He narrates this story in his crisp 205 page book.  The book chugs into the past glory of Indian Railways, its humble beginnings and then trails into the current day comprehensive railway network which has mushroomed to accommodate the burgeoning population and many more railway heads. Rajendra borrows interesting anecdotes from letters, notes from past railway journals, personal diaries, newspaper reports and other sources along with extensive research across the length and breadth of the country. 

Overloaded and soaked with his love and passion for railways, Rajendra shares his experiences and trivia as he tramples upon the entire stretch of the railway track to uncover artifacts and hidden secrets. Halt Station India details the beginning of the railway revolution in India and how the city, Bombay was gradually knitted together, it actually shaped Bombay and drastically made the commute time shorter and safer too.


The railway network primarily helped the British fortify their position in India. It was believed that organizing and dispersing the growing native population and the quick deployment of troops could be best handled by trains, this stance was confirmed by Lord Wharncliffe in May 1846.  The railways were essentially a boon for both the British Empire and the local folk as it cut short the travel time, facilitated the swift movement of cotton and other essential commodities, supported job opportunities, helped in the influx of local artisans and all in all defined a new landmark for the city. With the newly laid railway line, cotton and other raw materials could also be traded with remarkable speed to the sea ports and this was a great achievement as it could be speedily sent by ship to the hungry textile mills in Britain. The demand for cotton actually spurred the growth of railways across India and because of which there was a progressive chart outlined as well.

Several English companies like Glenrock Iron and Steel, Dorman Long & Co, Frodingham Iron and Steel were contracted to supply and design necessary equipment. Girders, turntables, locomotives, stationery machinery for wagons and even assembled structures for bridges, booking offices and station building frames made their way to India. In just the first few years around 18568 tonnes of iron were imported, all in all more than 6000 ships were being dispatched every year from England with about 5,00,000 tonnes for various lines across the subcontinent. 

Back then the appointment of a firm and engineers to carry on the mammoth task of construction, laying of the first rails, the acquiring of land and working with the local labor force were just the initial teething snags that the lay before the British Empire. However, these were tactfully dealt with and swiftly fixed. Train coaches were designed just like to those running in England and imported to India. Despite superstations and locals believing that an evil force was powering the engine or how it could move so fast without medication the first train chugged off not only in India bit also in Asia. It sprinted from Bombay to Thana on 16th April, 1853 at 3:55pm, supplemented by a 21 gun military salute. Back then the path was deserted and ran through swamps which today is a dense urban landscape.

Halt Station further add that the railways were meant to symbolize the power and achievement of the British regime in India and the extravagant and decorative Victoria Terminus mirrored just this. 

Today few commuters stop and notice the intricate carvings of various flora and fauna that complement the majestic terminus building. Students from the adjacent J.J. School of Arts contributed to the architectural wonder, adding Indian decorative elements to the building namely the peacocks and tigers, tropical plants and reptiles. The building welcomes you with two stone sculptures of a lion and a tiger at the main entrance, representing England and India respectively. These were sculpted in Britain and were designed by Messrs Earp, Son & Hobbs and then shipped to Bombay.  It also important to note here that the architect Frederick William Stevens paid meticulous attention to detail and designed not only this gothic building but also accessories and furniture that accompanied it. While Stevens supervised the project, Indian officials from the PWD Assistant Engineer Raosaheb Sitaram Khanderao Vaidya and supervisor M. Mahaderao Janardan did the ground work. With all this grandeur, Victoria Terminus, now rechristened CST is actually one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

Today the Indian railways feature as the largest rail network in Asia, covering 65,000 kilometers and 7500 stations, the fourth largest in the world after the United states of America, Russia and china. In keeping with the legendary date and time since the first train chugged away, a train runs today as well at the same time.

In addition to the above, the book shares many more secrets, surprises and tidbits of history that Rajendra discovered over the years, for e.g. hidden secrets beneath bridges, the journey of the tamarind tree in India, how Hancock and Carnac bridges got their names along with their history, Kurla station’s position within the country’s water transport network then, the world's first ladies train that began from church gate,  an ancient abandoned British cabin with letters carved in wood at Dadar Junction North Cabin and even Ville parle station that carries an old signboard of third class booking window, almost forty years after the third class was abolished. These are just some of the many revelations that Halt Station India unfolds. 

It is available here on Amazon and is priced at INR 296/- within just few weeks of its launch it has been ranked first in the bestsellers in the transportation series.

Rajendra. B. Aklekar at the book launch

                                             Rajendra. B. Aklekar at the book launch

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Migratory Goan

The Migratory Goan

Bomoicar (Bombay Goan in Konkani), traces the life of the Goan immigrant from the susegad Goan soil to Bombay, the land of opportunity, between 1920 and 1980. 

The book, compiled and edited by Reena Martins, a Bombay based Goan journalist over the last eight years, takes a close look at these immigrants joys and struggles through their lifestyle, culture, food, drink, prayer and song that they carried from home and kept alive in tight knit ghettoes like Dhobitalao, Byculla and Mazagaon. It documents the stories of few Goans who worked strenuously and took up both skilled and menial jobs with the railways, hotels, colleges and government institutions. The book is quintessentially a peek into the Goa life and culture in Bombay and takes one on a cruise from Goa to Bombay and vice versa and details their travel journeys.

Bomoicar, is filled with charismatic and interesting stories of Goans who travelled via the old decrepit steamers, Konkan Shakti or the MV Konkan Sevak. Philomena Fernandes, recounts how her parents travelled via sea (Mazagaon to Vasco) around 1918/1919 via Konkan Shakti and it was indeed a very memorable experience. On board, some would open up their lunch boxes to a feast of roast beef or chicken sandwiches, fish cutlets, vegetable samosa’s or even chorizo pao.

In coping with a world so different from their own, the Bomoicar arrived at creative housing solutions. They strung together rows of single tenement houses in old colonial style buildings in South Bombay and formed the Goan kudd or club. Bombay was home to some 400 odd Goan clubs then. These functioned as meetings places and there was at least one club (named after the patron saint of the village) for immigrants from each Goan village. Huddled together on aluminum trunks that served as benches by day and beds by night, residents were well updated on news from back home, often peppered with gossip too. This helped reduce home sickness in a city of concrete that had replaced paddies and coconut groves.

The clubs also dished out desi cooked food available at reasonable rates, some served finger licking tongue roast and xitt-kodi (fish curry and rice), fried Bombay Duck or Mackerel, etc along with the traditional banana. The Goan enclave at Dhobitalao in particular was well known for Antons' fish curry rice serving and many feasted on this routine diet. The meal was had standing, quietly and hurriedly to make way for the next set of amchem Goenchem brothers.

Frederick Noronha Goa based veteran journalist and now an alternative publisher notes that migration has always been a large part of Goan reality. In an e-mail exchange, Frederick shares that data available, in 1960, indicated that when there were approx 600,000 living in Goa, there were around 100,000 Goans living in Bombay. Hazel Fernandes another Bomoicar, and Bandra resident narrates how her Great Grand Father came to Bombay when he was just a young lad and began working with the British Baroda and Central India Railway (BB & CI), Indian Railways now. He gradually moved up the ranks, married a pretty Goan girl in her mid-teens and moved in to a petite cottage in Bandra’s Waroda Road. He bought the place for just five thousand then and was already the nineteenth owner of the place.

Staying and praying together were always part and parcel of community life. Daily rosary was recited at every club and during the months of September and October, the statue of the Virgin  Mary made its rounds through the many Goan homes. The homes were festooned and prepared for the arrival of the statue, and yes every home had to be better ornamented than the next door neighbours. Bookings for the statue were made months in advance and near and dear ones were invited to little treats of chickpeas and some other light snacks over a cold drink. The older men usually stayed back for copachem- a shot of feni or beer, and extended family members were served pulao and chicken curry.

At Christmas time, a troupe of local Goan actors would be hired to perform the khell, which led to the tiatr or Konkani drama. The khell troupe lured people out of their homes and into the jam packed hall of the club, where they enacted the life of the average Goan through earthy dialogues delivered with a liberal dose of butler English by dithering men in drag- shadowy stubble dusted with talcum, flaming orbs above square-lined jaws and tobacco-stained lips painted in bright red lipstick.The Goan community also boasted of some renowned musicians like Anthony Gonsalves who contributed towards the Bollywood film industry during the 20th century. 

The Prohibition days however, did not dampen the Goan lifestyle of fun, food and drink. Prohibition was introduced by Bombay’s Chief Minister, Moraji Desai in the Fifties, against manufacturing, buying, selling and drinking of alcohol, as he was a firm believer in urine therapy and considered alcohol immoral. To drink at home during prohibition, one needed a permit and a doctor certifying that alcohol was for preservation or maintenance of health for three months only. One was allowed one up to 375ml of brandy or rum or 750 ml of champagne and only a single family member could avail of such a permit at a given time. But the prohibition which was at its peak right up to the Seventies, presented a great opportunity for many a Goan woman popularly known as aunty, who in a small corner of her house served hooch accompanied by chakna or spicy snacks. It was available at the many Goan, ‘Aunty Liquor Bars or Eddie’s Bar type mini restaurant cum bars that emerged in the Goan neighbourhood. It was often smuggled into the city too in tyre tubes or with leprosy patients whom cops were afraid to check as they feared contracting the ailment.

As the effect of prohibition got diluted, country liquor showed up on shelves of liquor shops and the Goan aunty was eventually edged out. Thus ended the role of the legendary Goan Aunty, who had inspired many a Bollywood director to portray the Goan girl as loose and the man as a tippler. But the Bomoicar was a hardworking and sincere person who was both Bombayite and Goan at the same time.

Bomoicar took quite some time to compile because stories had to be collated, from a diverse and far-flung set of people too. Though the book is illustrated with fine line drawings, it may have come alive with a touch of colour. Even though the book has not been officially launched yet, it has already been widely circulated and has received positive reviews too. To compile all these short stories, (Goanet, an online mailing list for Goans across the globe, now in its 20th year) served as the focal point, followed by a circle of friends and other online sources.

For copies of Bomoicar, visit Golden Heart in Margao, or order by email from or The book is prices at INR 200/-