G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Bloody Trail: Building Railway through the Western Ghats

Andrew Odlyzko:

"The British Railway Mania of the 1840s was by many measures the greatest technology mania in history, and its collapse was one of the greatest financial crashes..."


I really like following Marathi song describing a train journey through Khandala ghat between Mumbai and Pune:

Hirvya hirvya rangachi jhadi ghanadaat, sango chedva dista kaso khandalyacho ghat...

हिरव्या हिरव्या रंगाची, झाडि घनदाट
सांग्‌ गो चेड्‌वा दिस्तां कसो, खंडळ्याचो घाट

हिरव्याहिरव्या झाडीत हिरवीहिरवी पानां,
हिरव्याहिरव्या पानांत वारो गाता गानां
पुना-बाँबे हीच गो तुझ्या, सासरची वाट

खंडाळ्याच्या घाटात हवा थंडगार,
थंडिमधे लालि चढे गालि गुलजार
तोऱ्यामध्ये होऊ नको, उगी अशी ताठ

बोगद्यात गाडी जाता होई अंधार,
अंधारात प्रीत घेता प्रीतिचो आधार
इंजिनाच्या मागे जाती, डबे मागोमाग


[गीत - रमेश अणावकर, संगीत - सूरज, स्वर - शारदा, जयवंत कुलकर्णी व इतर चित्रपट - ती मी नव्हेच , १९७०]

Train has featured on these pages many times before. And why not? They were some of the brightest spots in my childhood.

Although I saw Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali” (1955) much later, we lived the famous scene of the film- children coming face to face with the train- many times.

Our favourite place to while away time was Miraj junction’s shunting yard. I still smell the rich cocktail of steam and coal fire.

I never knew that Miraj station once used to have a liquor bar. I learnt about its existence from Vishram Bedekar's (विश्राम बेडेकर) autobiography "Ek Jhad Ani Don Pakshi", 1987 (एक झाड आणि दोन पक्षी). These Englishmen sure knew how to live in style!

And even today I think like Paul Theroux: "Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it." (The Great Railway Bazaar, 1975)

I have still not pardoned George Fernandes for organising 1974 railway strike in India that lasted for twenty days (May 8- May 27).

In that summer, courtesy our neighbour Sharakka Joshi's daughter Shobha Kulkarni, we had planned to travel to many parts of North Karnataka serviced by South Central Railway.

Instead we got stuck in Almatti, a dam town, where Shobha's husband Suresh of Indian Railways was posted. (We still managed to visit beautiful pink Badami Cave Temples though.)

There hasn't been a railway strike of that kind in India since!

The Times of India reported on January 17 2010: "The razor-sharp mind feared by successive governments since the 60's lies in disarray, hobbled by a debilitating illness. An unconventional defence minister during a career largely spent on Opposition benches, George Fernandes presents a frail and defenceless picture, perhaps quite unaware of the family battle raging around him..."

Maybe I should condone Mr. Fernandes now.

Matthew Engel has reviewed "Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World" by Christian Wolmar for Guardian November 29 2009.

He says:

"...It is easy to forget just what the train did to and for the planet. No invention – forget the internet, not even a contender – has ever transformed the way the world travelled, worked, thought, fought, ate, drank, made love – you name it – the way this one did...

...The narrative takes on its most epic quality in the United States; its most stupid in Australia (where the different states set about building a charming variety of gauges without a thought about what would happen when you tried to link them up); and its most brutal in India, where maybe 25,000 workers died building the line through the Western Ghats alone..."

Lest we forget. Disaster struck not just British investors.



courtesy : Bettmann/CORBIS, WSJ Feb 27 2010

An illustration of the race on Aug. 25, 1830, between a horse-drawn mill car and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's Tom Thumb steam engine—the first used on a commercial track in America. Horse power won when the engine broke down.

Remember 'Naya Daur' (1957)?