I received The short history of Indian Railways by Rajendra B Aklekar as a review copy from the publisher and am thankful to them for the same.
His stories instruct and entertain, bringing the past of Indian Railways alive in the present. Did you know that India’s first steam engine never ran on tracks and was actually used to run driving mills in a factory? That the maximum speed of the first commercial train in India was 4.5 miles/hour? That the country’s first-ever steam locomotive could never be introduced commercially since it was destroyed in a factory blast? That the locomotive engine for the maiden rail run between Bombay and Thane was pulled by 200 coolies on streets? That there actually was a plan to build a rail network from the English Channel all the way to the river Indus? This is a people’s history of Indian Railways. Anecdotes and stories are curated from the time the first wagon rolled in India, up to the advent of bullet trains.
As kids, we would travel by trains from the extreme east of India to the extreme west. From Dibrugarh in Assam to Jodhpur in Rajasthan. And I still find travelling by trains more exciting than travelling by air.
When we travel by trains, how many of us stop to think as to how all this came about? We take trains and the railway system for granted as we have seen it ever since we were old enough to understand things. Even our parents for that matter.
I had taken offence once, when someone who had come to visit my husband mentioned, “so your trains still run on the tracks we laid” (he was a British). I was very upset, but when I was reading this book, I realised he was right but not totally, because the idea might be theirs but the workforce behind the physical labour, the people who made their ideas take shape were Indians.
This book, which has been written after a detailed research, talks about the history of the Indian railways dating back to 1823 till date. The author has used many books and references and also accounts from newspapers and even letters to illustrate many details. The pictures in the book are informative and interesting.
What impressed me was the detailed research that he has done and also how each and every information has been properly referenced. As we move from when the experiments started to when railways were considered a part of life.
The author also mentions that the Indian railway System has been mentioned in Jules Verne’s Around the world in Eighty days. He also mentions the incidents during the 1857 mutiny, how the Indian railways played a pert in the World War II, and India’s freedom struggle and also during the partition. He has mentioned about the different time zones of the Indian railways, the Matheran line.
He has talked about how platform tickets came into being, the various gauges and how they came into being, the regrouping of the various railways in India from April 1951 to April 1952 and the advent of the Rajdhani and Metro.
The narration is such that once the trains became a part of India, I could not keep the book down and wanted to read more of it.
Railways witnessed the partition, what came before it, what came after it and whatever India holds in its future will also be a part of the Railway history. Over the changing story of India with time, the Railways have also changed a lot. From the number of users, to the way it works in its core. The book helps you rewind and see the formation of what we can witness in almost every city of the nation.
I’ll recommend this book to everyone who has travelled by train, I feel it is important for us to know the history of Indian Railways. But one question arises, If the British had trains back in Britain, why did they have to start with experiments in India?
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in return for my honest review. I have NOT received any monetary compensation for the same.