CST, the headquarters of Central Railway deserved a birthday gift, just like the commuter who’s been a loyal survivor
The air-conditioned trains would have been a lovely gift to that famous survivor of the Mumbai diaspora — the commuter. But it wasn’t to be. It ended up being yet another summer of sweat and tears for this community that uses the local train as its lifeline, its succor. We can practically imagine the great Mario Miranda sketch out this misery in his inimitable style.
It’s ironic then, that over a hundred moons ago, in May 1888, to be precise, the Victoria Terminus (renamed later as Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) was completed, after 10 years of planning, design and execution. All of this was made possible under the watchful eye and able hand of Frederick William Stevens who wanted the “convenience” of the commuter to be top priority.
But recently, as we stepped into its hallways, both structure and commuter seemed to be in poor shape. The lack of civic sense will make you cringe – paan stains, graffiti and filth strewn near its exits. Its rapid neglect assumes a different dimension in the section for long distance trains. The lesser said about the punishing crowds, and the unclean, uncomfortable local trains, the better. It’s hard to imagine that we were standing inside a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an honour that’s seems to be fading away from public memory. Throughout May, we waited, hoped and expected that at least one celebratory event (news of a world-class railway museum, perhaps?) or a mood-upping scheme that would bring cheer to lakhs of commuters would be announced by the gods of the Central Railway’s headquarters. There was none. Unless of course, you consider the garish pyrotechnics that dance across its facades at night. But that is a different chapter altogether.
When the railways were being built across the length and breadth of India, it was meant to be an indicator of nation-building. Jobs, livelihoods and new promise were the catchwords floating in a newly-minted country, where such massive landmarks were viewed as citadels of this growth. Today, the railways, and iconic terminuses like VT/CST are regarded as stone-faced reminders of the days of the Raj. Ask a millennial whether s/he gets nostalgic while passing through the terminus, and you’ll probably get a blank, albeit rushed, stare back at you.
Sure, change is inevitable and one can’t keep harping about the past. But for a city that has been and continues to be intrinsically connected with the railways, the least that could be done is give the landmark or those who benefit from its existence, a feeling of inclusiveness. It’s high time.
mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org