Sunday, November 17, 2013

Saving the Brindavan Express


Dear Powers-that-be,

History was made on October 1, 1964, when Indian Railways (IR) introduced the ultra superfast Brindavan Express between Chennai and Bangalore. This was then the most prestigious train on Southern Railway (SR) – so much that even IR employees on free passes and PTOs were not allowed on board. Fare-paying passengers it had to be. When I was a kid, my ICF-employed dad did not have enough to pay for the fare for the family and our first trip had to be after IR allowed passholders to travel, though only after reservation. That green-yellow livery was a wonder to behold – whether you were seeing the train zoom past you or you were sitting inside seeing the stations zoom past. There was no question of even a single unreserved passenger on board this train till the mid-80s. This is a train that I still hold dear to my heart – probably it is time to let go, but it has not been possible, and may never be too. Why? An extract from this:

In those days, the Brindavan Express was perhaps the fastest rain on the Indian Railways and I remember driver Mc Gee (there was a write up about him in the popular Tamil Weekly 'Ananda Vikadan') once covered the distance of 140 Kms. from Jolarpettai to Bangalore Cantonment in 1 hour and 40 minutes. The Brindavan Express was known for its punctuality and the travellers waiting at Madras Central could set their watch at 19:45 Hrs. by the arrival of 40 Up Brindavan Express. One day the train was 5 minutes late. The Chief Operating Superintendent (COPS) Mr. Godferry Saldhana and Mr. E.S. Muthukrishnan, Chief Mechanical Engineer happened to be on the platform. When the train came to a halt, the COPS walked up to the engine and the following conversation ensued:
COPS: Mc Gee! you are late!
Mc Gee: So would you be, Sir, if you had to pass loop lines at five stations between Arakkonam and Madras.
Suffice it to say that the COPS called for the control charts and other records next day and ensured that the Brindavan Express would be given a line clear right through the main line. Such was his faith in Express drivers of the calibre of Mc Gee.

Slowly it started happening – the rapid decline of this most prestigious train. Stoppages were added at the whims of ministers, political sidekicks and only lastly on sheer commonsense. Unreserved passengers, mainly season ticket holders were allowed a free run of the train – only the locomotive was not theirs. If you are wondering about the guard’s cabin at the rear, there can always be a soul or fifty in his domain – the luggage area of the SLR. The quality of the food started declining, beggars of all kinds started soliciting alms on this train – with its reserved passengers jostling and begging for their seats, this crowd sometimes made me think I too chuck my job and start beggary on the Brindavan Express. Unauthorized hawkers who sold everything from pins to seedy CDs also had a free run, with more freedom than even the RPFs and the TTEs who manned this train!

A few years ago, I did this feature for a newspaper – comparing the Brindavan and the Shatabdi. But nobody except an officer listened to me. Heard me out. Promised me that he would do something – I know he sincerely tried, even as his biggest boss told he would talk to me only if I did not write anything negative about the train and SR. I chose not to talk to him.

The aggressive officers turned meek mice once the double-decker (DD) was introduced. They had to justify crying for this lollipop – justify by pretending that this was the best sweet they have ever had in their lives. I traveled on this and observed a lot of things that were not good. I am sure some good Samaritans have passed this on to you (powers that be) – all small things that will at least try to make the yellow pretender get a bit close to the once green-liveried original.

The powers that be did not believe in the dictum ‘live and let live’ and took steps to hasten the end of the Brindavan that thousands loved. Air-conditioned chair car (CC) coaches reduced from three to one. Result – no increase in ridership on the DD. How can CC help the DD? Next, remove even the lone CC, and hack the number of reserved second class sitting (2S) to six. Result – DD will not increase its ridership. If the powers that be think that herding 2S travelers to the CC environs of the DD will be easy, they are wrong. There is simply no comparison to the comforts that the CC can offer. DD lacks in everything from the loo to the seat – the two ends that have to be good to attract a passenger.

You have been very resourceful to avoid negative publicity. You have selected Sachin Tendulkar’s retirement hoopla to announce the Great Brindavan Striptease. At least you could have offered some solace by a separate press release. You have chosen to bury it deep in this press release. How poetic to be with announcement of UNRESERVED trains – which is what the Brindavan exactly is today, even the reserved compartments included.

I am not going to appeal to you restore its past glory – the world knows that it is beyond all of us. My only request is to retire the name at least. There are so many examples of such happenings – some of which are here. Please give the train that leaves Chennai at 0750 am a less fancy and a more relevant name – Chennai Bangalore Very Sadharan JanSadharan Express.

And, another one please – there are rumblings that ever since a previous minister proposed in a budget speech, that there is an LHB rake that is coming our way to improve the Brindavan Express. Please, please, introduce that train with as many stops and as many rule violations as you like, but don’t name it Brindavan Express. The very name seems to be jinxed! If you still choose prestige over pragmatism, please run this train from Kamarajar terminal of the Chennai airport to BIAL – at least you can avoid unreserved passengers crowding the areas near the toilet.

With regards,
A sad lover of the Brindavan Express.




9 Comments:

Blogger Muthu Kumar said...

A sense of frustration enveloped by helplessness

10:58  
Blogger satishpralhadrao kadni said...

Dear SJ. A nice write up and the glorious saddening fall of the most prestigious train seems to be in the final stages and maybe we (I) would remember it as a childhood traveller. I don't travel by Brindavan of late!

15:31  
Anonymous ramakrishna naidu said...

Let us see what else they can do to 39/40.

19:08  
Blogger Pawan Koppa said...

Well written saaar! I too remember my sole travel in Brindavan's once prestigious avatar in the mid-90s. Not a single passenger standing, neat coaches and the Green-Yellow livery which was also once on the SBC-MYS Kaveri Express. I remember my parents telling me the train would rocket after JTJ after a E loco was attached and I really loved the change then! There was a longish halt at some station post JTJ due to some problem in one of the coaches but post correction of the problem, boy did he race! Cut to 2010 when I next took the train again. Myself and Shishir were waiting to board it at BWT enroute to SBC. I was still thinking of the Brindavan of old days and lord, what did I see when it arrived! Almost tilted at an angle and overloaded...we were running from coach to coach to see if we could get inside anywhere, but it was so crowded that we could not get in anywhere. As the starter turned amber, we managed to barely get into one coach and had a terrible journey mashed up like potatoes all the way upto BNC! Only then did I realize that what you had been regularly talking about - the decline was for real! Sad to see this happening, heart goes out for the once prestigious train!

20:25  
Blogger SIMON said...

Excellent Joshi. Nowadays all old glorified trains lost their glory, for ex GT, TN, Pandyan, Vaigai. Brindavan is one among them.

16:43  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Same Verge now us another Prestigious train of WR I.e. 12933/34 Karnavati Express.
The Old Karnavati Yellow Blue Coaches and It's Stoppages only at Borivali, Surat and Baroda, led to It's Comparison with Shatabdi Trains.
But now....All that is History. It's ACC ate being decreased due to that Pathetic DD Train. It's Shatabdi livery gone.

10:44  
Blogger ZAFAR AHMED said...

Good work dear sir!!

Unfortunate that such once prestigious train is reduced to a Janatha Express!!

I would blame SR for Brindavan Express's humiliation - first they introduced too many stops,slowed down to 58 Kmph, then introduced DD just around the same time and forcing Brindavan loyal passengers to go by DD, delaying the departure to 07.50, removing CC and now, making it almost a unreserved train!!!

I bet, coaches of SWR & SCR are better maintained than stinking, dirty coaches of SR. Off late, even Brindavan rake was probably running at night as Deepawali Special!! turning around - just as it arrived at SBC and MAS

We will never be able to push the bureaucracy and bring back the sheen on Brindavan Express..SR officials will always justify their actions - as they continue to be...

It would be better, if the name " Brindavan Express" is removed from the T.No:12639 so that the lovely chugging Brindavan Express will continue live in our memories - to which once I walked down 2 kms to Ambur Railway Station to see the train pass by in high speed, 1970s.

T. Zafar Ahmed / Chennai



18:38  
Blogger ZAFAR AHMED said...

Good work dear sir!!
Unfortunate that such once prestigious train is reduced to a Janatha Express!!
I would blame SR for Brindavan Express's humiliation - first they introduced too many stops,slowed down to 58 Kmph, then introduced DD just around the same time and forcing Brindavan loyal passengers to go by DD, delaying the departure to 07.50, removing CC and now, making it almost a unreserved train!!!
I bet, coaches of SWR & SCR are better maintained than stinking, dirty coaches of SR. Off late, even Brindavan rake was probably running at night as Deepawali Special!! turning around - just as it arrived at SBC and MAS
We will never be able to push the bureaucracy and bring back the sheen on Brindavan Express..SR officials will always justify their actions - as they continue to be...
It would be better, if the name " Brindavan Express" is removed from the T.No:12639 so that the lovely chugging Brindavan Express will continue in live in our memories to which once as I child, would walk down 2 Kms to Ambur Railway Station to see the train pass by on time, in 1970s!!!


18:41  
Blogger gpk said...

Dear Sridhar,

A well written note. I am also a silent observer of all this decay. Let the SR make this as a regular fast passenger.

Atleast then, we need not grumble on this subject.

18:01  

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