Railway station, in most of the societies, is an important metaphor of a person’s social extensions beyond his/her neighbourhood.
It is a regular place to visit, either leaving the city to keep the social obligations tied to one’s own social existence or to maintain and build on the sociology’s tenet that says ‘a human being is, essentially, a social animal’.
And it holds true to the core, even in the most modern societies.
Anyway, I come from a city that is ‘twice older that history, tradition and legend all combined’, in the words of Mark Twain.
Varanasi’s that ‘oldness’ is still a benchmark, hallmark – but is a sore point as well.
Any Banarasi is proud of its history, tradition, culture and existentialist ethos. And I am a proud Baranasi.
But a realist one. The city is a living mess now, pushed to a civilizational oblivion by policymakers. Its fame as being the spiritual-religious capital of India and one of the oldest living citadels of the Indian civilization has failed to catch up with the needs of the changing times.
And when we talk of ‘the needs of the changing times’, its not about its society or its spiritual-religious of cultural heritage or its academic legacy, its about its crumbling infrastructure. The unorganized growth has not yet met its balancing ‘organized growth’ counterpart.
And, often, the shabby state of affairs create interesting anomalies to pause, to look at, to stare at, to think, to muse, to feel bad, to feel satirical, to get irritated, to feel pushed to express, or to laugh it off with a frustrated smile.
Its railway station is one such place. Though catering to a much larger and historically important city attracting a huge influx of domestic and international visitors, the neighbouring Mughalsarai, with a sketchy road connectivity with Varanasi spread over 15 Kilometers, has all the important trains connecting to the other parts of the country.
Though Varanasi has many trains connecting it directly to the other parts of the country, it doesn’t have any of the so-called high-speed end-to-end ‘ivy league’ trains that don’t run late (usually), save time and offer a better travel experience. The city doesn’t have any end-to-end Rajdhani, Shatabdi or Duronto train.
With improved air connectivity and increased flight operations, the air-traffic from and to the city has seen an impressive jump. Also, people who can manage tickets and if it suits their schedule, they go for Mughalsarai railway station trains to save time.
My last Varanasi visit was after a long time, some 20 months. I was tied up here and there and missed the city I grew up in. But it was some four-five odd years to my last visit to the Varanasi Cantt railway station, the main railway station of the city. Obviously, the natural reasons were the better air connectivity and opting for some East or North-East India bound Rajdhani train having Mughalsarai on its route.
During my March trip there, I had a visit to the railway station there to see off someone. While I didn’t go beyond the platform number one, I noticed some changes in its front hall.
And the interesting aspect was their ‘half baked’ appeal, like the overall railways infrastructure serving to the city.
There happened to be a stairway going up through other floors that housed retiring room facilities, other office and one State Bank of India branch.
Now there is an escalator outside the grilled gate of the stairway, somehow crammed into the small area of the front hall. But true to the overall ‘half-baked’ nature of the ‘commitment to service’, it was not working. It was good to see the good old State Bank of India ATM right at its place.
Adjacent to the tourism department’s office was the station manager’s office when I had visited the railway station last. From inside, it opened into another hall that was anything but not the ‘Welcome Lounge’ that it is now. The front door of the manager’s office has been removed with plastered wall.
These stainless steel gates are another ‘value addition’. I don’t remember if gates were there earlier or if there, how they looked like. The good thing about these steel gates is that they pull your attention (if you are a Banarasi who knows the city), otherwise the gates that always remain open lose their visibility.
But overall, the front hall was as chaotic as it used to be some four-five years ago, thronged by people not only from the city but from the neighbouring rural areas as well. Anyway, even the New Delhi railway station is the same chaotic story, amply magnified. Indian Railways doesn’t find it apt to install chairs in spite of plenty of room available. And it only knows why.
The other elements like the ‘information-inquiry’ centre, the advertisements on all walls, ticket windows in the right corner were at the same place, with the same old glory.
Outside the station has changed as well, but with the same imposing facade. The Hanuman Temple outside is there but rebuilt/renovated with its surroundings replaced by a car-parking. The two-wheeler parking on the left of façade (when facing it) has gone, relocated to the extreme right wing of the campus, where the old one happened to be. ATM kiosks have popped up. There is a luxury public loo as well.
But the railway reservation centre is still there on the left exit point from the railway station premises. Also, I found the India Post centre at its place, adjacent to the front hall, on its left.
And on the immediate road outside of the campus of the railway station is as sorry a story as it has ever been. If passing through this road is not necessary or if the railway station is not your destination, no one would ever take this stretch of the road. Traffic is perennially clogged here, even if the cuts in front of the station periphery are blocked to prevent vehicles from making turns.
The half-baked, poorly thought changes that don’t bring any change in the overall situation. Though I didn’t go beyond the platform number one, I can say, with my experience of growing up in the city, that it would be the make for the similar expressions. If the front that has to carry the responsibility of being the face is so, we can rightly guess about the rest.
Good days not are yet here.
But the Banarasi spirit says – the day will come – till then, we will manage with it – with the ‘travel’ alternatives available.
©/IPR: Santosh Chaubey – https://santoshchaubey.wordpress.com/