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Thursday, July 15, 2010

In which a senior citizen takes a ride on Time Machine

The Chennai-Alleppey express was late by half an hour. I sat on one of the stone benches in Punkunnam Railway station idly watching the flotsam and jetsam of humanity and also some of it's dregs, drifting by. Meanwhile three goods trains went past without stopping. All the wagons in the first one,except the guards cabin, were green. The second one had the usual rust brown coloured wagons. The third had blue coloured wagons. The first and the last had double engines.It appears that the Railways have introduced some colour coding system to easily distinguish the goods being carried.I counted ,without consciously counting; 48 wagons in the first train 41 in the second and 48 again in the last one excluding the guard's cabin.

The sight of the trains transported me back in time some 55 years to what at that time was a quaint little village called Mankara.Chemmuka Kalam, the house Sir C. Sankaran Nair built was the second most imposing structure in Mankara after the Nair Veedu.It stood on a seven and half acre wooded compound, the land gradually sloping towards the "Ishana kon" as recommended by Vaastu shastra. We were the owners and residents.

On the East side, a small wicket gate opened to the Railway B Class land adjoining the rail track. The 'Home' signal was just in front of the wicket gate and you could see one of the 'outer' signals far away on the north where the railway track curves near Kalikavu temple.The signal posts on the south side were not visible as the rail track curved again and was hidden by a small hillock. Beyond the rail track, farther East was paddy land and at its fringe the burial ground of the Chetturs. Sir C's ashes were protected by a cement 'samadhi' under a banyan tree while the ashes of all the other dead Chetturs cremated there merged without a trace into the soil or were washed off by the rains into the Bharathapuzha flowing past the burial ground. The 'samadhi' and the burial ground are clearly visible, sitting in the portico of Chemmuka kalam. As children we have seen many a ghosts with flaming mouths traversing the burial ground at night!Unimaginative grown up people used to say that these were people crossing over to the other side of the river and using flaming torches to find their way. Of course, we children knew better.The grown ups were not very well informed about 'odiyans' 'kolli pishachu' and other sundry shadowy figures.

The signals used to come down in those days to indicate that the line is clear. It took the railways over seventy five years to realise that the signals could come down due to mechanical failure too which could cause accidents. The signals now go up to indicate that the lines are clear.

Very few passenger trains used to run on this line. The pride of place was taken by the Madras Mangalore Mail with the red coloured mail bogey in the middle. As the train negotiates the curve near the Kalikavu temple, the red bogey gives it an uncanny resemblance to a huge millipede.The other trains were the Cochin Express and an up and down ordinary passenger between Shoranur and Olavakkode.All trains are Up trains when going towards Madras and down trains when going in the opposite direction Madras-Mangalore Mail was 1 Up and 2 Down, Cochin Express 19Up and 20 Down. All trains had besides III class a II Class and a First Class. They were operated by South Indian Railway (S.I.R) The Mail/Express trains did not stop at Mankara.Local lore says that the trains stopped at Mankara when Sir C or Captain Kalidas came a visiting, courtesy the British Government.

Captain Kalidas joined the British Army on King's Commission. Field Marshal Ayub Khan was his colleague and when he became President of Pakistan had written a rather nice letter to Capt.Kalidas. Capt. Kalidas got out of the army when Second world war broke out by pretending that he was of unsound mind. And led a miserable existence thereafter till his death.He starved but he remained proud and uncompromising and all alone.

I do not know whether any passenger trains went past in the night.'Death's brother, Sleep' was a close friend in those days. We got the most fun counting the wagons of the goods trains as they chugged past. The wagons were a medley of covered wagons, flat beds and oil tankers. The engines were British made steam engines with brass bands on the funnel. The Chittharanjan locomotive with the pointed nose made an appearance shortly thereafter. The diesel and DC electric engines came decades later.
The most wagons we counted on any single train was 80 and they were half the size of the present day wagons and empty to boot. The 48 odd wagons I saw now were double the size and fully loaded as can be made out from the lock and seal on the door. The rail track is being made to bear a punishing load.This started during Nitish Kumars time and the mindless exploitation was continued by Laloo and now Mamta.

It was on this stretch of rail track in Mankara that I found the coal piece with the dragon fly's wings embedded.I would have thrown it away had my father not happened to see it.He knew that most of the coal deposits in the world was formed in the Carboniferous period, some 286-360 million years ago, when flying insects also made their first appearance. What I had found was a fossil dating back to the Carboniferous period. I might as well have thrown it away; a cousin took it for his school exhibition and that was the last I saw of my precious fossil find.

1 comment:

  1. Rammohan wrote

    Nice recall of old days, with such details ! Ram Mohan