In the Driver’s Seat

In the Driver’s Seat

The mention of Indian Railways conjures up images that embody quintessential characteristics of living and travelling in India.

An exhibition of rare photographs is a tribute to 160 years of the Indian Railways

The mention of Indian Railways conjures up images that embody quintessential characteristics of living and travelling in India. One is accustomed to the blue-clad berths,the ubiquitous pantry service,the classical music radio that crackles periodically with news announcements,and the vocal food vendors at stations. Now,an exhibition in Delhi aims to rekindle the past glory of one of the oldest and biggest enterprises in the country. Organised by the Ministry of Railways,“160 Years of Indian Railways: An exhibition of selected photographs from the archives of Indian Railways”,opens today at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts.

Over 190 archival photographs map the Indian Railways,from 1853 to now. Much like the prose and literature these locomotives have inspired,and more than being regarded as the carrier of history,the Indian Railways here assumes a personified character,of “a mute spectator to the unfolding historical events”. The photographs,sourced from the Railway Archives,Press Information Bureau and Railway Museums from the 17 zonal offices throughout the country,are categorised into nine sections. They showcase the railways’ evolution,not in a chronological manner but in its character. “The plan is to bring Indian Railways back into people’s mind and consciousness,” says Seema Sharma,Director,Information and Publicity,Indian Railways,who has organised the exhibition.

A section called “Locomotives and Trains” is an ode to never-seen-before models of varied kinds,steam and diesel. While one photograph is of a steam engine train bearing an Ashoka Chakra,another shows the engine decorated with British flags. The “Personalities” section shows leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru,Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri engaging with the railways.


Through the “Station Architecture” section,one witnesses station “sheds” during the East India Company. It was after the First War of Independence in 1857 when the British took over and stations became grand representations of power. “The Rajputana stations looked like fortresses. Hyderabad’s station reflected the Nizam’s architectural taste,and the Morbi station sees the Saurashtra-type architecture,” says Sharma.

The concluding section is dedicated to the workmen in the railways,now at its strongest with over 14 lakh employees. The archival photographs depict railways staff carrying out their roles — be it the caterer donning his old uniform from the British days,or a station guard lighting a lamp,a regal figure in uniform. “The photographs reflect simpler times,” says Sharma,who took six months to select the collection. The exhibition will travel to Mumbai,Kolkata,Sikandrabad,Allahabad,Bangalore and Chennai.