Book: A Short History of Indian Railways
Author: Rajendra B Aklekar
Publisher: Rupa Publications India
Price: Rs 295
After reading a series of books based on dark comedy, I felt like reading a book that will be light in the mind. In that quest, I ran into a book titled ‘A short history of Indian Railways’ by Rajendra B Aklekar. I have never read a non-fiction on Railways before and it is a delight to have read such a literary work. The book starts off like a history publication with technical details on railway, but few pages into this book there are anecdotes that churn your mind—makes you imagine the journey of 174-year-old railway which was not less than a miracle.
It is interesting to read a book on railway that has romance, drama, comedy, tragedy, murder etc — all in one book. One can only imagine the pains the Britishers took in dealing with a culture that was alien to them while building the railways. And kudos to those Indian workers who decided to help the Britishers build a monster (railway) that was believed to bring ill-fate. Railways is one of the few things India thanks it coloniser for—in this book you will find reason for the same.
This book takes you through the journey of Independence struggle and role of railways in it. Many know about the large-scale protests Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, had taken during the freedom struggle. But the book talks about less know battle of Gandhi like giving Indians a third class treatment in railway journey and his fight against this injustice.
The author also writes about several assassination attempts made by haters of Gandhi which include attempts of derailing trains and putting not just Gandhi’s life at stake but life of hundreds of passengers.
Surprisingly, this book reasons the origin and monopoly of A H Wheeler & Co book stalls which can be found across Indian railway stations.
Another anecdote that is still a fresh memory in minds of many is the 2006 Mumbai train bombings. The author Aklekar pens down some details of that terror attack that shocked Mumbai. It brings back the horrendous memories of the blast and a nostalgia associated with it. The book ends with forward looking tales on metro lines and bullet trains.
This book is more like compilation of short stories which is factual in nature and is based in different time period. To be precise, this book is an acquired taste and also a light read.