Tracking the history of the railways is Rajendra Aklekar’s passion
28 Jan 2015
He is perhaps a man who knows too much about the Indian Railways. Meet journalist Rajendra Aklekar, an assistant editor with the English daily DNA in Mumbai, whose passion for railways gave way for the creation of The Bombay Railway History Group in 2002.
“Trains fascinated me right from my childhood, as I used to travel by train to school from my home in Kurla to Matunga in the early 1990s. After school I always hung out with a bunch of friends near the tracks watching the speeding trains. The more I saw them, the greater was the interest in them and I started reading books on the subject,” he says.
He collected a lot of information from the books. “I learnt that the railway in Bombay was not only the country's first railway, but also the first railway in this part of the world, in Asia. While travelling by train daily, I noticed many of the relics and monuments that had been mentioned in the descriptive journey of the first train, in the books. More than 150 years later, many things were still there... as if the ghost of the first railway still lingered there.”
Railway Tracked: Rajendra Aklekar, besides an old rail fire extinguisher (water tank) wagon at Lonavala
It triggered the interest in him to explore further and he decided to walk up the entire distance on foot between CST (Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus) to Thane and Churchgate to Virar. “It took several days and months. But station-by-station, I covered it all, discovering many stunning old relics in the process. The then general manager of Western Railways, Anoop Krishna Jhingron, included an entire chapter of the documentation in his book – an official publication of the Railways.”
Years ago, the now 36-year-old Aklekar used to write a column in a local newspaper on history and heritage of railway stations in Mumbai. In 2002, he formed the Bombay Railway History Group to research further on the subject and has since been independently involved in documenting and researching the history of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (GIP Railway), which is today known as the Central Railway with its head office at the erstwhile Victoria Terminus (Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus building), a world heritage site.
The Bombay Railway History Group began simply as a mailing list of group of people interested in Bombay's railway heritage in specific and railway history and heritage in general. One of the prime activities of the group is to inform and alert the concerned railway authorities about unnoticed relics lying along the lines, document them, and make appeals for their conservation.
Aklekar first began to share his enthusiasm for the railways in the media as a journalist with The Daily in 1997-’98, after he convinced Rusi Karanjia to let him run a column on the history of the railways.
To learn more about heritage activities and get involved in it, he took formal training in museology and conservation and restoration from the Chhatrapati Shivaji Vaastu Sangrahalaya (formerly Prince of Wales Museum of Western India).
“I have started writing a book. I have plans for setting up a book archive cum museum,” says Aklekar, who has helped in the making of some documentary films on the railways, including, ‘Tracks of Empire,’ by Johan Sergeant for BBC, and Bombay Rail.
In Hathitala, a village in Rajasthan, all girls go to school, bucking the trend in a state notorious for low sex ratio and early marriage for girls. Rekha Pal finds out how the village decided to make education compulsory for its daughters
The success of Milky Mist, a dairy company, is a story linked to the big dreams of T Sathish Kumar, a class 8 drop out. P C Vinoj Kumar tells us how a 16-year-old turned his father’s floundering business around by giving it a new identity
Winner of many awards for his social work in Mumbai slums, Jockin Arputham missed the Nobel Peace in 2014. But for people whose life he changed through his dedication, he is indeed an ‘arputham’ (miracle, in Tamil), says Kavita Kanan Chandra
Whatever job he was in, S M Venkatesh saved abandoned people from the streets. Now, his Agal Foundation works with Helpage India, responding to distress calls, quickly and efficiently, as P C Vinoj Kumar found through a snap sting operation
Starting with a night shelter for children of sex workers, Prerana has come a long way providing support to women stuck in Mumbai’s red light district. Kavita Kanan Chandra retraces Priti Patkar’s 28-year journey that has saved many a child
To counter ‘guns and drugs’, a culture that he saw abroad, Chetan Misra mentors children through football, which he believes is a tool for social and holistic development. Through ‘TheFootballLink’, he promotes the game, says Partho Burman
From behind the veil, a group of Muslim girls in Mumbra dreamt big and have realised it. First, they learnt playing football, against all odds, and have set up a club. Now they have plans for intellectual pursuits, says Kamayani Bali-Mahabal
Learning that his mother’s swollen legs were caused by mosquitoes, Ignatius Orwin Noronha always wanted to exterminate the blood sucker. Now, he has developed MozziQuit, which promises to make India mosquito free by 2019, says Partho Burman
From a school teacher in Gurgaon to a benefactor supporting 38,000 students in Ladakh, Sujata Sahu has trekked great heights. Partho Burman tells us about her 17,000ft Foundation that engages volunteer-tourists to help students in the hills
After losing her husband in an armed conflict in Kashmir, Subhashini Vasanth embarked on a mission to help war widows. A journey with twists and turns has now enabled her to make a difference in the lives of many women, says Tisha Srivastav