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.