I SAW the Rohri junction railway station in 1962 as a seven-year-old when my father was transferred to Rohri loco shed from Karachi Cantt by the Pakistan Western Railways. The station was busy with three trains standing. It was brightly lit up, clean and was a happening place then. People were everywhere and coolies running around. Old newspapers were not flying around and plastic bags were not visible. All PWR employees were smartly dressed, busy and cheerful in their routines. They were helpful when spoken to. Passengers were taken good care of.
In those days everyone and his dog used to travel by train, including the president and the prime minister of Pakistan.
In 1980 my job took me to Rahimyar Khan and then to Daharki in 1986 where I lived till 1998. During this period I travelled extensively by train and had the chance to see this station over and over again.
Last week I had the opportunity of travelling by Khyber mail up and down and saw Rohri once again after a lapse of 14 years.
Old and used newspapers rolls, plastic wrappers , bags and trash were everywhere.
The paint on the buildings and structures, condition of the platform, the station master’s office and its furniture, the guard room, the waiting room, the overhead corrugated sheet roof, the benches, the water taps, tea vending stalls, the steel railing are just the way they were back then.
The guard, the ticket collector, the mechanical and AC technicians wear same uniform. The only difference is that it is now dirty and crumbled. They carry the same books and worn-out tools that they had earlier. Frustration was visible and they had a frown on their faces. The tea and cake pieces at the tea stalls appear to be the same too.
The train still stops at the station for 45 minutes to change engine and top up the water in toilets.
There are fewer lights, the water taps were leaking and the tea is more like super-heated water with brown colour. Fewer passengers were visible at the station. It seems that only few passengers use trains now.
Time has stopped there. I could hear Rohri Junction’s feeble heart beat, her heavy breathing and watery eyes. It seems that she wanted to tell me her story of neglect and despair.
It pains me the most as I have seen the glory days of Pakistan Western Railways during the 1960s. It used to be the pride of the nation.
Trains used to run on time, engines never failed and services provided by the staff and the food from the dining car was excellent.
Hordes of sweepers would enter every train that used to stop at Rohri washing each and every toilet. Services provided at the station were no different, probably the legacy of the British. Like my father and all other PWR employees, I too was proud of our affiliation with the railways. It seems that the current railway officials have no conscience. I fear that this 200-year-old organisation with 80,000 employees and its tradition of high-class service is about to die.
S. NAYYAR IQBAL RAZA Karachi