04 July 2017

Trainspotting - box wagons

As an avid rail enthusiast, watching trains is fun. It was even more fun in the 80s and 90s, when there were no digital distractions and nothing much to do on long train journeys. One could see out of the train window and see vast swathes of this great country pass by, gradually but decidedly changing in contour, vast alluvial plains, dense tropical forests, arid undulating plateaus. Depended on the journey one was making. But one thing remained same, watching a parallel tracks and watching trains pass by. The passenger trains all looked the same in their red livery. But the destinations were different and it was fun to speculate where a train was headed to and then watch out for its name tally on the Guard's cabin. If passenger trains looked similar, goods trains were even less diverse. They were similar to each other, there was no destination written and they seemed to interminably long often with more than 100 bogies. They seemed to appear more frequently than the passenger trains too. One had to devise innovative ways to make the goods train look interesting. One way was to look at the markings on the bogies. To the uninformed this seemed like a curious set of letters and their hindi equivalents. I found पू सी  (NEF - North Eastern Frontier Railway - पूर्वोत्तर सीमांत रेल) to be the funniest. There was  the ominous म रे (or dead) (मध्य रेल Central Railway - later it was changed to म ध्य), पू रे (or complete) (पर्वोत्तर रेल Eastern Railway) and other less interesting ones like द म रे (दक्षिण मध्य रेल - South Central Railway), द रे (दक्षिण रेल - Southern Railway) etc. Since at time there were only nine zones, the characters became repetitive very soon. The other notes usually stamped on a box wagon was curious: "When empty return to _____" . This was followed by a depot name with which one was not familiar, like Wadala. It was puzzling that why so many box wagons would turn up at Wadala when empty! Years later when I came to Mumbai I realised it was referring to Wadala container depot! Another marking on a box wagon was "Return" followed by a date and a month. Like 08 - 94, i.e. Aug 1994. I presumed that it must be the date when the wagon has to be scrapped. The dates stamped were usually 8 - 10 years away. This allowed one to take an imaginary time travel in future. It became a good diversion (and a time taking one on long train journeys) in say 1987 to speculate what one would be doing while the wagon was being scrapped in Aug 1994!!! To break the monotony, there were other types of goods wagon too, open boxes carrying heaps of coal, cylindrical ones carrying petroleum products and a curiously shaped Guards Van right out of the movie Sholay! The most rarely sighted and exotic one for me were the cylindrical ones, carrying Milk, usually painted white with Amul written in large fonts!
With the coming of standard shipping containers in mid 90s, the hey days of the Box Wagons were over and these days one sees only Shipping Containers. Initially they seemed interesting, colorful in comparison to the drab red box wagons. The name of the shipping line, say Maersk, inscribed in an exotic font over them. But soon, one got used to the shape and then it was like a paradign of monotony. The numbers and letters inscribed on them were too complicated to make sense of and make games to play with. Last year while doing a rare train journey of 2 days, as I was looking out of the window, I couldnt see a single red box wagon, only containers were spotted. It was then I realised that I had grown fond of the boring red goods train box wagons!

2 comments:

e Das said...
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e Das said...

Very nice! Rohit Verma