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Connecting with Wheels

V. Narayanan

Edited by Roopa Srinivasan , Manish Tiwari and Sandeep Silas
Foundation Books, Delhi, 2006, pp. 253, Rs. 650.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 9 September 2006

With the book being dedicated to all those who love Indian Railways, the reviewer, who dreamt of being a railway man from childhood, was indeed excited. One cannot thus be faulted for looking forward to a series of articles that would take you through the evolution of railways in India breezily and positively. In the event one may be disappointed. Admittedly the editors could have a different opinion in this regard. They may argue that their effort is to address the serious reader/researcher/historian!   The pencil sketches that adorn the beginning of each article add a unique flavour to the presentation. Elsewhere it is mentioned that only a black and white presentation brings out the best in case of steam locomotives. One could easily extend this to the railway scenario too which these pictures attempt to portray. The lengthy introduction summarizes each piece carried in the book. Reference to 9.13 million employees in Indian Railways may be a typographical error. But to call 1857 uprising as anything other than the First War of Independence, so referred to since 1950s in independent India, is unacceptable. Indeed as this is being written there is a call in the Lok Sabha to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the First War of Independence, in 2007, jointly with Pakistan and Bangladesh! India has also been referred to as an independent republic in 1947 when it still had only a dominion status, becoming a republic only in 1950!   The initial articles are largely critical of the decision to build railways at all in colonial India. When one has witnessed as recently as 80s and 90s the tremendous objection to extending railways to parts of Goa, one ought not to be surprised at the vehemence with which railways were opposed in its infancy in 19th century India. With the reputation of the colonial power and its scarcely concealed effort to ensure markets for British products such antipathy from well-intentioned thinkers was to be expected. The book thus provides well-reasoned articles on the subject. Add to this the shabby way Indian unskilled workers were treated with hardly any concern for their well-being due to which innumerable workers died of diseases the strong feelings expressed in the first few articles are understandable. I have heard of an eminent railway man, while inaugurating a facility recently, dedicate it to the hapless thousands who perished in mid-19th century as they toiled in impossible conditions ...

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