Waiting for Godot: Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has promised to end all train delays by 2020, though that may be a little late for these gentlemen. Credit: Shome Basu
“Anything is possible on a train: A great meal, a binge, a visit from card players, an intrigue, a good night’s sleep, and strangers’ monologues framed like Russian short stories.” — Paul Theroux, American travel writer.
Mass transportation systems have always been defined as the lifeline of the cities and countries that they inhabit, and the Indian Railways are no different. Built by the British, and still viewed as an Indian treasure, the 1,15,000 kilometres of track are used by millions of people from different walks of life.
Treasure or not though, the Indian Railways is currently cash-strapped and reported a loss of over Rs, 30,000 crore only in the passenger segment for the year ending March, 2014. To top it off, these losses haven’t been incurred as a means of investing in high-quality infrastructure and top-notch maintenance; dirt, delays, and foul smells are as much part of the Indian Railways as the trains themselves.
This photo story is an anthology of the many facets of India’s railways system that I captured over the course of a journey on the Imperial route (the main line from Delhi to Calcutta), which covers mostly the junctions of Allahabad, Mughal Sarai, Patna, Dhanbaad, Kanpur and Lucknow.
I focused my lens on the trains, its passengers and the surrounding mechanical apparatus of course, but also the ecosystem of the Indian Railways; the environment and the people that make a living off the system’s dysfunction.
What follows is a compilation of what I’ve witnessed: while many railway budgets have come and gone, the state of the railways hasn’t changed much. Today, railway minister Suresh Prabhu promises to modernise and reform the system with new economic measures and technology. My photographs aim to simultaneously reaffirm Theroux’s notion of the romanticised transportation system as well as point out how much work is still left to be done.
Evening snacks are served. The samosas aren’t crispy enough and the tea is a little watery; Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has promised in his latest budget that most trains will strive to serve high-quality local cuisine. Credit: Shome Basu
Safety First: A mother holds her child back from falling off the upper bunk. Credit: Shome Basu
A grimy circuit board. “Half the switches don’t work sir”, a grinning railways employee informed me. Credit: Shome Basu
Dirty and Rusting: While we talk of bullet trains and free Wi-Fi, basic maintenance of simple toilets and sinks is still lacking. Credit: Shome Basu
“Look outside the window at the scenic surroundings,” scolds the mother. “Why?”, asks the child. Credit: Shome Basu
A quick pit-stop at Allahabad station before passengers continue their journey. Credit: Shome Basu
Making money out of trash: A group of children at the station collects mostly plastic bottles. Any valuables that they might find, however are taken straight to the lost-and-found office. Credit: Shome Basu
A dusty construction site between Kanpur and Lucknow. Credit: Shome Basu
Engrossed. “BJP or Congress, its all the same,” she mutters. Credit: Shome Basu
Sweet Dreams: A child drifts off to sleep, unmindful of the noise coming from nearby bays and the train itself. Credit: Shome Basu
Blue freight wagons. With freight trains increasingly becoming unpopular as a goods transportation choice, the Modi government plans on expanding the type of commodities they will transport. Credit: Shome Basu
“We’ve been playing against each other for years. We’re currently tied in terms of wins.” Credit; Shome Basu
Largely empty coal containers. The government is looking to crack the e-commerce goods transport market. Credit: Shome Basu
Bharat Aluminium freight trains carrying goods. Credit: Shome Basu
Looking Outside: Untill passengers reach their destination, they have to make do with old, outdated news. Free Wi-Fi may change that. If it works. Credit: Shome Basu
Steaming cups of masala chai waiting to be handed out to passengers. Credit: Shome Basu
You gotta go when you gotta go: A lack of usable bathrooms forces this child to relieve himself on the tracks at New Delhi railway station. Credit: Shome Basu