Ode to Sewagram and the Song of the Geetanjali

by Alok Patel


Sewagram is a lovely station for railfanning. I especially like the place at nights. It has wonderful railway atmosphere. The place is serene and has just the right amount of crowding. You can experience high speed action with the East-West bound trains. If that isn't your style, the sight of a 24 coach Tamil Nadu or AP Express negotiating the famous curve might catch your fancy. Even better would be the sight of a twin headed coal rake on the curve - nothing can match one for length. The effort of the twin WAG5s as they begin their sprint towards Nagpur the moment they clear turnouts, is also worth watching.

Whats more, the place has vendors who will happily fry up some delicious dal vadas should you ask. Nothing tastes as good on a cold winter night as dal vadas combined with hot tea - experience speaks!

But the sight to beat them all at Sewagram is the Geetanjali Express headed towards Nagpur in the evening. The train generally passes through as light begins to fade. I've been a delighted witness many times. The driver starts applying notches hard at Wardha itself - the mainline platforms are worth 50 kmph. So the train exits at a pretty good speed from Wardha.

Meanwhile at Sewagram, the home, the starter and the advanced starter switch to green one by one. An air of excitement and anticipation seems to permeate the atmosphere. But in contrast, a hush falls over the station when the horns sound in the distance. People quiet down as if in deference to the drama that they are about to witness.

As the train covers the 3 odd KM to Sewagram, the driver is busy going through 20 notches on the WAP4 with an eye on the voltmeter and the ammeter. The train nears 80 kph, the shunts go into place one by one. As several megawatts of electricity surge relentlessly through the traction motors, they begin singing their high pitched song. The whine becomes audible even in the first coach. The warners and the home signal for Sewagram go green. The driver pumps the horn lever sending a warning to the station looming in the distance. The assistant begins his vigil. But not even the signals are willing to stop 1000 tonnes of metal executing a fly-past through Sewagram.

At Sewagram, the Nagpur bound mainline is also the platform line. On the loop that goes around the same platform, stands the Amravati Nagpur passenger. Its regular occupants know their fate well. They experience the humiliation everyday. Having been presented with fait accompli, many have learnt to enjoy the sights and sounds. An opportunity to stretch their legs on the platform is not wasted. They know that the passenger is not about to leave for another 15 minutes. The vendors do roaring business selling hot dal vadas. The clientele is a captive lot, defenceless against the wonderful fragrance wafting from the Kadhai!

By this time, the train just a hundred metres away from the home signal, The driver presses down on the horn lever again. Only this time he doesn't take his hand off. The twin trumpets snap to attention and begin their deep throated, ear splitting duet. The speedo needle inches towards the 90 kmph mark, hesitating, as if worried of the consequences.

The train sweeps into Sewagram Yard - Horns, motors and the blowers screaming away to glory. The excitement seems to transmit to the driver. He applies the third shunt. The loco surges forward with a very noticeable kick. It is sadly lost on the passengers in the train behind, ensconced in cocoons with soft suspension and screw couplers.

The Geetanjali approaches the mainline platform. Frightened parents pull their frolicking kids closer, holding on to them tightly, bracing for the storm that is about to engulf the station. The line along the platform is bouncy. When looking out from the Nagpur end, the loco careens into the platform with the train in tow, bobbing up and down furiously. The roller coaster act is enough to make people worry if it will fly off the tracks. People instinctively shrink further away from the platform edge, even if they are at a safe distance.

Driver and Assistant peer out of the windscreen, eyes on the signal and the platform, hands on the horn and the brake. The assistant waves the green flag towards the ASMs office on the other side. The ASM's attendant responds with a cheerful flagwave of his own. Unstoppable loco approaches, still jumping up and down. The music reaches a crescendo and the WAP4 thunders past. Loco Wheels play their characteristic triple beat across every track joint only audible as the loco sweeps through.

Children on the platform are transfixed. So are their parents - oblivious to everything else. No one sleeps through this act. No one is watching anything else. The passing coaches begin their familiar rhythm. A stream of captive passengers rushes past. Faces peer out of the prison-like grilled coach windows. They have completely surrendered themselves to the whims of the red monster in front. So no sampling of the delightful dal vadas for them this time!

But just as quickly as it started, with last coach rattling past, the drama ends. The receding train leaves behind a line of red signals. The crowd of onlookers lets out a collective sigh. Stunned children regain their senses and run about with glee. The performance was worth the wait and interrupted fun.

Sewagram goes back to its business and the dust begins to settle - until the signal goes green again.

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