|Abdul Majeed, the engine driver, has been driving trains for about 40 years. “These are definitely better times,” he says, referring to the technological advancements that help him do his job.|
“Our body clocks revolve around train timings,” the station master says as he walks purposefully along Platform No. 3 of the Rawalpindi Railway Station. He keeps a brisk pace; he’s already behind schedule to greet a passenger train that is due at the station at any minute.
“My day starts at 2am when the Khyber Mail leaves for Karachi, and ends at half past midnight the next day, when I’ve seen the Rawal Express safely off to Lahore” he tells me.
|Every one at the station is caught up in their own lives. But the train is the centre of everyone’s attention.|
Rawalpindi Junction is one of the busiest railway stations in the country, and certainly one of the more striking ones. A beautiful building built in the colonial style, it has platforms that are scrubbed to a shine twice or thrice a day, friendly arches that lead out to the platforms and large clocks that welcome passengers to this bustling terminus. This station was built in 1881 by the British government to connect the Northwestern parts of India and Afghanistan with the rest of the subcontinent.
Train stations are usually bustling with life. Passengers waiting for trains; some leaving for other cities, some there to receive guests and loved ones; the long queues at ticket counters; burly security guards at the gates; the din of porters clamouring for wages or ferrying luggage from one platform to the other. There is always something happening.
|The pedestrian bridges, more than a century old, have seen multitudes of travellers pass their way.|
Atif Khan and Mohammad Javed, two friends from Rawalpindi, await the Awam Express to Karachi. “In times of crisis, like in the case of the recent fuel shortage, taking the train is the best option,” says Atif Khan. The train’s arrival sets thing in motion. An electric energy runs through the multitudes and people who were hitherto lost in their own worlds suddenly focus all their attentions on the arrival of the steel beast that, slowly but surely, comes to screeches halt in front of them.
|Idrees, the tea boy, has to deliver tea all over the station. “It’s a big station, it’s not an easy job,” he says with a grimace.|
“I have been in this profession for 40 years, and believe me, I’ve seen far worse times,” Abdul Majeed, the driver, says as he lefts the engine cool. “Technology is improving and its getting easier and easier to operate the trains and the railway system,” he muses.
|Allah Dad (L) and his fellow porters at their perch outside the station entrance.|
Like the station master and other railway workers, the lives and livelihoods of the people that eke out a living here are also dependent on the steady coming and going of people from this terminus. “Station life is tough”, says Mohammad Idrees, a waiter at a canteen. “I deliver anywhere between three to four hundred cups of tea all around the station. The porters are never satisfied either.
|Until the 1970s, self-winding clocks were used by the railways and every station had to employ special staff that would wind the clocks every day.|
Allah Dad and his colleagues tell me they have no fixed wages. “Getting a measly Rs500 per day is not enough to support our families, but we try harder every day,” he says with a sigh. “It is the only life that I know.”
Published in Dawn February 1st, 2015