Time and tide wait for none. Who would know this better than the huge tower clock atop the Victorian CST building in Mumbai, the most iconic of the 27 UNSECO heritage clocks at the railway terminus.
A example of excellence in workmanship by the British timekeepers who crafted this masterpiece in 1888, the clock has been showing time to Mumbai for the past 127 years.
It stopped ticking only once, a decade ago, and it seemed Mumbai had been halted in its tracks. Enquiries started pouring in from people, organizations and the media. In a day’s time, the heritage clock was repaired.
However, B K Jadhav, the only man from Central Railway who has been tending to this clock for more than two decades, is now set to retire in March this year. And though CR’s timekeepers over the century always managed to pass on the knowledge of maintaining this clock to the next generation before retiring themselves, the transition may not be smooth this time since the railways have not yet found any replacement for Jadhav.
“These clocks are checked every day. Twice a year, on August 15 and January 26, all heritage clocks are cleaned and dials which get yellow are replaced with white ones so they are visible from a long distance. This year too, I have cleaned and changed the dial,” says Jadhav, who was employed as the clock repairer in March 1979 and learnt his craft from his predecessor and senior colleague Chaniwale, who himself retired 20 years ago.
Jadhav says the clock’s dial, nine feet in diameter and consisting of 36 pieces, was earlier made of glass, which has now been replaced with acrylic sheet.
The clock, made in London, is a reminder of the time when this heritage building of CST was constructed. Similar clocks can be found over the Lion’s Gate and the Rajabai Tower.
“The clock is still operated with the help of steel cables fixed on six pulleys supported by 170 kg weights, the same old technology that the British used. As the clock ticks, the weights go down. Once in a week, I have to wind it up with its key, which is as huge as my hand,” says Jadhav, who checks and maintains all 27 heritage clocks at the CST.
Recounting the day when the clock stopped ticking a decade ago, Jadhav says, “It stopped after a cable broke. It was as if the entire Mumbai had stopped. From the media to the public, everyone had the same question – when will it be repaired? However, it was repaired in a day.’’
“Repair of these heritage clocks is very difficult. Their parts are not available in the open market. So, spare parts have to be made on special order of the same design,” he says.
In all, there are 900 clocks at the CST, out of which 27 have heritage status. Apart from the most iconic one, six other heritage clocks adorn the booking office, star chamber and concourse hall at CST station. And 20 are old long-case clocks with pendulums in different officers’ cabins.
“I look after all these as my children,” an emotional Jadhav says, wondering if he would be allowed to do this work even after his retirement.