Samosas, Jalebis, Rewadis, Chacha Chowdhary, Rajan-Iqbal, Choti Line

by Ashish Gupta


These memories are very fond part of my childhood and they have been etched permanently there and they were catalysts of my life-long love for trains. I wanted to relieve them and share with this community. So here I go.. Pls forgive me for all the grammatical and terminology mistakes I am going to make here.

I belong to Lucknow and grew up, studied and worked there till I moved to USA 10 years back…

My grand-father had (still has) railways food catering business at Sitapur MG station. And his house is sandwiched right between BG (Sitapur Cantt) and MG stations at Station…

So very often, vacation away from home, whether short or long meant visiting Sitapur… Including summer vacations.

I am re-counting my experiences from early to late 80s to early 90s.. Those were the days of hard-core steam action on both MGs and BGs.

Sitapur is a small dusty town, 88 kms from Lucknow and is on NH24 to Delhi. Visiting Sitapur anytime was equivalent to any rail-fan’s dream come true, including me… And I always used to look forward to going there. My home in Lucknow is very close to City Station which has MG tracks to Sitapur & onwards and BG tracks to East…

The Journey

Till early 80s, Lucknow City Station was just a MG station, and then BG conversion happened to LKO-GHY route and then electrification till Malhour in late 90s.

Often, we used to take morning MG express (RuhailKhand Express to BLY) or any of the passengers including MG rail bus from Lucknow City Station… Yeah LKO-STP also had MG Rail bus which used to take 2+ hours, quiet fast compared to passenger trains.

Mostly Steam Locos (YPs) were used for expresses and passengers. Diesels (YDMs) were not used between LJN and Sitapur till early 90s. It was a privilege given to Nainital Express or Mathura Express for journey from STP onwards. YGs were occasionally seen and on freight trains only or they were used for shunting duties only.

MG Journey from City Station to STP (2 to 3 hours depending upon the class of train taken) used to pass through the entire Lucknow city including the most scenic parts and Gomti River. The entire 88 kms stretch was lined up with 9-10 rural stations…Daliganj, Mahibullahpur, Bakshi Ka Talab, Itaunja, Ataria, Sidhouli, Kamla Pur, Barai Jalal Pur, Khairabad and the finally Sitapur.

All of these stations were non-descript stations with 2 or 3 loop-lines with essential crossings thrown in at least 2 or 3 times in the entire journey.

With electricity out, most of the evenings, we used to be greeted with oil-lamps and petromax lamps on food thelas. IT had its own charm when I remember now

The Home

As I said before, My grand-father’s house is sandwiched right between BG (Sitapur Cantt) (Badi Line) and MG (Choti Line) stations at Sitapur. In fact, one of the home/front-yard walls, backs up to MG station Platform 1 and there are several windows in wall on front court-yard which opened into GRP station. Through these windows, you could who was brought into the Police station:) and the train movements on CHOTI LINE station.

Looking north from the front of the house, in north-front, there was a large red-brick court-yard, on west (left) there were BG tracks may be 100 feet far from court-yard and BG station may be 500 feet south and on east (right), CHOTI LINE station was bang there..

The passage from the court-yard used to lead to Sitapur CHOTI LINE station and then with crossing on to BG track to connect to the LKO-DEL highway NH24 which was behind BG tracks/station. The high-way was the only artery to connect with both stations. Yes, for anyone to come to our home, one had to cross the BG tracks and CHOTI LINE station front first

Here are the cor-ordinates through which you see the front court-yard location on the satellite location: 27.558497,80.698662

The Food

Apart from this, in the front, there was the food/mithai shop owned & run by my grand-father (Still does). In the concrete court yard, on the corner close to BG tracks, there used to be a large Square table with wooden chairs and benches and some long-arm rest chairs for weary passengers and us.

The shop used to provide food service on both stations through food thelas and also used to function as a typical mithai shop provide desi fast food and mithais.

The menu at the shop has not changed for decades It consists of Samosas, Khastas (Kachori), Poori Subji (Spicy Aaloo Gravy and Kaddu), Agra Dalmoth and lot and lot of desi non- sophisticated mithais such as fresh milk pedas, milk burfis, milk cakes, balu-shahis, sohan-papdis, gulab-jamuns and rasgullas AND FRESH JALEBIS And yes, Rewdis of various sizes

Our lives and house-hold were dictated by train schedules and whistles of steam locos. There was always a palpable excitement in the air, for me, for trains expected throughout the day. There were several servants employed to cook & serve the food and service the thelas at stations. A servant’s job was to run to station-master’s cabins and find out about ‘line-clear signal’ from nearest stations from both sides for each in-coming train. Once confirmed, fresh samosas, Pooris and Jalebis were fried. Jalebies and Pooris were cooked only twice a day, in mornings and evenings And they used to be sold throughout the days.. Samosas were always always fried fresh for each incoming train except for 11ish PM arrival of north-bound Nainital express This train used to have lowest sales level due to its late arrival by which entire station and town had gone to a slumber

There were several thelas owned by us which used to sell food on the station platforms. So once food prepared, either the laden trays were carried to thelas on station platform or if the thelas were at the shop due to long inactivity at station, then they were re-filled & re-stocked and then marched to the designated platform.

There was an interesting daily event which I would like to recall. As Jalebis were made fresh in large quantity every day, there was a large left-over volume of jalebis at the end of the day. Every morning, My grand-father, after taking his bath used to come-out and distribute one huge platter of left-over jalebis to poors and another platter to crows and birds. The moment, he used to walk over to mound close to BG track with a servant carrying the platter full of jalebis, A huge group of black crows and birds used to appear from no-where. He used to throw one jalebi piece at a time in air and birds used to fly and catch it in the air Sometimes, I used to get the privilege to do this, which was F U N..

Badi Line Scene

Sitapur Cantt (Badi Line) used to be a terminal station then and each incoming train required a reversal. The Badi Line station used to have one main track and one loop track.

The station used to service only 2 Passenger trains (One day and one in evening) in the day with occasional freight trains creeping in the middle of the night. It was a luxury to see both tracks occupied ever.

So the morning Sitapur-Kanpur Passenger BG service passenger used to come with CWDÂ or WG loco around 9:45 AM with loco in correct direction and after reversal, the cab forward config used to take charge of the train 45 minutes later. The train hardly carried more than 7-8 passenger cars, all general class.

The Evening service used to be Shahjahanpur/Balamau Passenger terminating on Shahjahanpur/Balamau stations on LKO-Moradabad main line. This train also used to service Neemsaar, A holi place 50 kms from Sitapur. So the train was frequented by village folks doing their pilgrimage.

Sitapur station area used to be a hopping spot for rural passengers between areas served by BG and MG. This used to result into village folks using the station premises (outside) and our court-yard for cooking food in make-shift fires and under-the-sky sleep arrangements. And this was an everyday’s story.

Now a day, Sitapur sees more traffic including several express trains as well. Now daily, there are 6 pairs of express trains and several freight trains. And the amount of through freight traffic has risen exponentially as this route is a short-cut and allows freight trains to bypass Lucknow between Moradabad and Gorakhpur.

Choti Line Scene

Give or Take, Sitapur is generally considered a MG service based town It is a highly popular and frequented MG junction in UP. The station configuration consists of 12 tracks and 3 platforms. Platform 2 and 3 were island platforms with a FOB and a track level walk-a-way connecting platform 1, 2 and 3. The walk-a-way was usually closed right before the arrival of any train.

Platform 1 also consisted of a Giant Water Cooler, GRP Station, Jail, Couple of non-movable Chai Shops, several thelas including ours, few homeless guys and lots & lot of stray dogs and cows

Noteworthy express trains in this section were/are:

  • Nainital Express (Kathgodam) – Overnight Service
  • Mathura Express (Mathura) – Overnight Service
  • RuhailKhand Express (BLY) – Day Service
  • Century Express (To Dudhwa National Park) – Day Service

And there was an assortment of passenger trains, fast-passenger trains and a railbus too.

Nainital Express has always been the crack-train on this route except for a short while when MG Marudhar Express used to run through this route when LJN-CNB was being converted to BG.

Sitapur MG still exists, although on its last steps to extinction and succumbing to BG conversion. Although it still carries very heavy rural traffic. BG Conversion is on the plans (Conversion Survey is in 2011 Budget) but don’t know when will it actually happen. May be the heavy traffic is causing the delay in the conversion…

Actors/People on the Scene

There were several interesting characters from railway station whom I distinctly rememberSome of them were our employees, whom I remember very fondlyand some of them were associated with Choti Line Station.

There was Salig Ram Baba who was an old person employed with us with no family on his own. He used to man one of our thelas while he was physically capable.. He was very fond of me and used to make me sit on the thela while from home to station and I used to be spend some time while he sold stuff. When he got old, he stopped working and lived the rest of his life on the railway station platforms only.. And he died there too My grand-father and other folks involved took care of his needs and kept tab on him for the rest of his life.

Then there was Anand.Anand was in mid 20s.. He used to operate one of our thelas and he was my childhood favourite My grandfather was also very fond of him too!! In fact, he was more like a family member.. He had a family of his own including 3 children. He parted ways from us and opened his own chai shop nearbyEven then, none of my Sitapur trips were complete without visiting him or meeting him somehow I vaguely recall, he taking me on-board door-plating on one of those shunter YGs from station to yard.

In late 80s, he died a very tragic death in an accident with truck when he was going somewhere on NH24 near our home My grandfather was heart-broken and I was devastated

Shambhu Kaka was/is a hawker for cigarettes, beedis, pan-masalas, gutka stuff. Since Childhood, he has been very fond of me.. I always used to stop by and wish him and he always used to pat my head with affection and ask about updates in my life. Even now, when I visit Sitapur, I never forget to go and meet him and touch his feet and get his aashirwaad.

Pappu Tikki Wala is another guy, I have known since childhood. He has a thela, where he prepares fresh fried allo ko tikkis with spicy chutney Yumm stuff.. He has been running his thela with his younger brothers for ages. He must be 10 years older than me Like everyone else, he has been very fond of me as he has also seen me grow up there and spent time with all of them through my entire child-hood. I am never-ever allowed to leave the platform without eating one of his fresh concoctions. My grand-father and chacha are very fond of him and he participates in all family activities and occasions. There is another thing, I was so fond of Pappu. He used to get me latest hindi comics (Chacha Chawdhary, Rajan Iqbal, etc) from book stall on MG Station for free to read at home during afternoon.

Then there is Phool Ram who has been manning one of our thelas, I guess since forever. A gentle and jovial family guy who has always been around. I grew up going to station with him. Â

All these guys were/are very simple, humble and hard-working people, who earned their livelihood on Railway station through hard-work 7 days a week. They watched me grow through my childhood and mentored me and lavished their affection on me. And passed on their values into me and made me the person I am today.

Life living between railway stations

Sitapur also had a very active MG Steam Loco Shed…. I recall seeing 7-8 locos (YPs, YGs) in mornings there and it had a Wye for Loco direction reversals.

As soon as I used to get up, after all morning-rituals and break-fast in the early morning, I used to run to steam-shed to watch steam locos doing their thing. Fires were rarely taken out of a steam-engine when it was supposed to be on duty. And to be ready for any service use, engines were steamed up since early morning The morning glory was spent, looking at shunting engines and steaming engines in the loco-shed. Sitapur had couple of dedicated YG engines, if I recall correctly.

By the time, I came back from steam-shed, it was time for Sitapur-Kanpur Passenger BG service. The first tell-tale sign was the semaphore signal going to lower quadrant and MG station gates being locked. The events which were eagerly attended by me, were looking out for arriving train by the steam cloud from a turn of tracks, 2 km away, Steam Loco dis-engaging from the passenger train and coming to the front-end through loop-line and engaging with the train and finally the train leaving after 45 minutes. Then there was a defeaning lull till 4 PM in the evening on BG side till it was the time for evening passenger service. Mind you, in this trip, the train used to go with cab-forward configuration.

Once this CNB passenger had left, it was time to rush to MG to watch the trains.. Till 1 PM it used to very busy on MG side. There were trains arriving and leaving from both directions. Moreover, there was additional traffic on Sitapur-Burhwal branch line. Sitapur used to be the originating junction for this branch line. This line was converted to BG in 90s and Sitapur Cantt BG station was converted to a through BG Line station en-route to Burhwal.

I used to be with one of our thelas on the platform and used to watch the passengers buy food from the thela. Then there was an in-evitable call from home for lunch.. I used to rush home and eat lunch and then I was grounded at home for at-least one hour for taking rest. That meant reading comics at home, brought fresh from station by Pappu.. Once every one was down to enjoy their afternoon siesta, I used to sneak out to MG Station and used to head to only book-stall on the station. The owner of the stall was known to my grand-father and he used to allow me to come inside. I used to get inside and used to read the latest comics/novels right there to the content of my heart. This used to go on till 4 then it was time to get back to home to be present when everyone at home was waking up from their afternoon siestas.

4 to 5, was time to be in-side to have tea or sit outside in shop’s verandah in one of those lazy arm chairs, right next to grand-father.

Some days, in the relative cooler afternoons, instead to going to MG book-stalls, I used to put a charpoy under the tree shade and read novels/comics right there and doze off.

Then it was time for some BG action in form of Balamau Passenger. The entire exercise similar to morning BG passenger was repeated, except the passenger used to arrive with CWD in cab-forward configuration and used to leave with loco heading the train with head-light forward configuration. Once the passenger left, it was dead-still till on BG next morning till next morning 9 AM except the occasional freight train in the middle of the night, parked for few hours.

Evenings were usually dark as electricity was cut-off from 6 to 9. So I used to help with work at the shop like helping weighing Revdis and packing them or some other trivial work. There was not much to do at station as there was a lull between 6 and 8:30. Then couple of arriving and departing MG passenger trains. Then it was time for few arriving express trains from Lucknow. Century and Mathura Express used to arrive around 9ish from Lucknow.

It was also dinner time at home so I used to time dinner so that I could make an excuse of post-dinner walk as opportunity to do last rail-fanning of the day. This used to result into another trip to Choti Line Station and watch the arrivals and departures of last set of trains there. The walk included the entire stretches of Platform 1, FOB and Platform 2/3.

Then it was time for bed. Night-time was fun during summer days.. During winter, I was supposed to sleep inside under every one’s watch but summer time, it was time of freedom. In summers, we were supposed to sleep outside in the front court-yard under the sky on charpoys under mosquito nets. The Charpoys were set-up around 8 PM by servants and with Mosquito Nets. Sitapur Station Area was notorious for its mosquitoes due to heavy vegetation around.

By the time, we went to bed, the bed used to cool down because of moisture Sitapur used to be a cooler place in summer, compared to Lucknow, being close to tarai area and lesser pollution. So I was to go to bed around 9:30-10:00 as per instructions but it was either a short nap or a façade for a while. Crack Nainital Express used to arrive from LJN around 11:15 and used to stop for 5 minutes only. I don't recall the time taken when steam to diesel loco change was part of practice

I used to get-up in time to do a quick late-night trip to Choti Line Station to watch the Nainital Express come and leave. Although some days, I was taken to task next morning when someone had complained about me roaming the station in the middle of the night. But that never discouraged or stopped me from doing that.

Moreover, I clearly remember getting up either in the middle of the night to watch freight trains trains on BG. Even though they used to sneak in without any horn but one could not miss them as the track was right in front and ground used to shake Yes that was another thing. Anytime, a train was arriving or leaving on either of the stations, ground & walls used to shake to let us know what was happening.

This mid-night sneaking of badi line freight trains happened always happened after 2 AM. Few days, not all, I used to wake up and greet the returning Nainital Express around 4:30 AM on its way to LJN Then from the next morning, the whole schedule was repeated again.

How do I miss those good old days….

It was a wonderful world full of innocence and railfaning fun…

Thanks for having the patience to read through this long trip down the memory-lane.. I, on purpose, tried to stay away from technicality of rail-fanning and trains and wanted to show-case the sheer love & excitement for trains which we all have. So forgive me for any mistakes I made while writing this..

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