Railfanning Report - Chennai

by Ranganath Eunny

May 2004

Yesterday was a hot day in Chennai. After spending most of the day cleaning my apartment, I felt like I am going to explode if I do not do something. It had been more than 40 days since I landed here from SBC and I have not done anything beside going to office and cleaning the apartment (This place is a dust magnet). So at 17:00, I decided that I would do some rail fanning at least. The sky was overcast and I was somewhat wary of Chennai on a Rainy Day (due apologies to Sameena Ali). But the thick heat of the house was no comparison to the warm breeze outside and so I hit the trail -- but not before spending some unreasonable money on a reasonably prepared Chettinad Dosas at the nearest Sangeetha. 17:45, I drove to the parapet wall of Nungambakkam station and parked my vehicle in the long line of two wheelers belonging to multi-modal travelers. With due apologies to all Chennaiites, the residents here have a somewhat effective way of disposing garbage: Shove it out of the window. So, the surroundings of Nungambakkam station were a massive garbage dump through which I walked, gagged and suffocated, all the way across the MG line over to the platform, all the time wondering, if it rained, this place would stink like hell.

Once there, I drank in the scene -- it was a good decade since I had ridden a suburban in Chennai. The station was the same, the refreshment stall sold the same stuff and the man at it ate the Bonda Sambar in the same manner -- all mixed up by the palm of his hand.

I was at a loss to decide where to go -- Tambaram/Sanatorium/further or just Guindy/Saidapet or Chennai Beach. Unable to decide, I let two BG locals pass...one of them being the Hyderabad MMTS-type. An MG local too passed to Tambaram. Finally I decided to do a baby trip and visit Egmore two stops up -- maybe if lucky, I could come across a GOC DP2. I purchased a ticket that could enable me to use either BG or MG trains. I decided to stick to the MG side out of love, sympathy and plain common-sense -- why walk a long way backwards and across the tracks to the BG platform? An MG local rolled in with the familiar motor whine, swinging gaily on the diminutive tracks. The rake looked exactly like I had seen it a decade ago. Only the fellow seems to have slowed down with age. The insides were the same dull yellow drab, with umpteen handles clanging from the ceiling. It was not crowded and that was the only difference between then and now. Overall, I felt the fellow could run for another decade. I perched myself at the doorway, clutching the handles and the pole. The rake took off and I noticed that it had stopped longer than it used to. The acceleration was not up to the mark even though the motors were screaming like a 500 CC GP bike. The run was more or less comfortable and I noticed that the wobble and swing was lesser than the its mainline MG cousins elsewehere. The train ran along the curve between Nungambakkam and Chetpet and allowed me my moments of pleasure as I checked the track layouts -- 3 BG and 2 MG -- not bad for a rail fan.. A BG monster glided towards Tambaram -- it was big and bulbous -- outright ugly when compared to the MG. Chetpet was deserted. Hardly anyone interested in the MG towards a station just a hop step and jump away. Out of Chetpet, the pit lanes started -- this was my favorite area 10 years ago -- it was one place where I could check out the YAMs running in and out and the YDM 4. Now there were none of these quaint beasts. Instead I spotted a GOC DM2 idling. In the days of yore, the Egmore pit lane was a delicacy to the eyes; the MG rakes were always in bright vivid colurs. Today, there is just one livery for every train and as the MG local ran its last stretch, I noticed the newly extended platforms across -- they looked the same drab way as any station -- Egmore had clearly lost its charm.

Egmore MG section was a shocker. On the right was the old station, the covered portion still lovely, but with broad lines bearing BG suburbans (Big Gaudy suburbans) and BG long hauls. On the left was a major construction program consisting of more BG platforms. The little MG station in the center, a crowded area long ago. was now a small, deserted and forgotten place. Further shock awaited as I alighted at this place and laughed at the fact that it was the last stop. The MG lines dummied at the end provided the sorest site I had seen -- beyond the breakers were great gaps where once the MG lines ran all the way to Chennai beach. The BG ones continued, but the stretch reminded me of death and decay and not of change and prosperity. It was not raining yet. People crossed over the BG station or up the foot over bridge. I too crossed over to the BG side, bought a platform ticket, admired the architecture outside (the station is freshly painted), as I always did and went back in. The place was swathed in yellow sodium light like before, but the neons were beating it out. I spied the all familiar potato chips packets choking all the refreshment counters. Yuck! Et tu Egmore. The canopy was same as ever, every activity within merging into a distinct hum. Announcements were being made -- Tirukkural Express was announced as being late, with "deeply regretted" feelings (remind me of Alok's gags). I spied a Comesum (or was it another IRCTC stall) just outside Platform 1. I had tried one in Bangalore and was not up to it now. The Pearl City (PC) was due to leave from Pf2 and I walked out of the canopy to catch its power. Tragedy struck when the buckle of my belt snapped and fell. I had to pick it up, run into the PC's SL loo and fix up the belt and my jeans. As I did so, I found a bottle of Old Monk XXX Gold in a corner, with some of the heady stuff still contained in it. Now where was the consumer? Did a check of the loo hole to confirm. Someone had a ball (or planned to have it) clearly. The train was ready to move and so I hurried out with my shirt pulled out. As I neared the PC's loco, I found a GOC DM2 17699 pushing a VB rake into the 4th platform. This was a special train to Thirumangalm (that is what a stammering guy told). Funnily it was composed of SWR coaches in majority and some of WCR, SCR, CR and WR. I could not get the road number of the PC's power, as it was dark and right under the fly-over. Suburbans, both BG and MG rolled in and out. I wanted to chat with the driver, but my Tamil was currently at a level 1. I had been unknowingly speaking a mix of Tamil, Kannada and Telugu all these days, confounding the average waiter at the Sangeethas.

The train was due at 18:30 and only moved at 18:45. The GOC Diesel started out with a typical gurgle and ambled out settling into a strange kind of drumming shuffle beat that could be heard on a Pink Floyd number from their album Pulse (2nd cassette -- B side first song I guess). The shuffle beat mixed with the clackety clak of the BG rake, the clickety click of the MG suburban running in at the same time, the "mooo" horn of a BG suburban and the shrill one of a GOC diesel somewhere nearby. All at once, felt like a nice concert. Having had the pleasure of it, I walked back, passing the 17699. On the 1st platform, I saw another GOC -- dead one with an ominous number: 16666. It was at the head of the Egmore-Erode train. It was not raining yet. The Tirukkural was continuously being announced as late with "deep regrets". A couple of "White-and green" BG suburbans came in one after the other. Having never been on the Hyd MMTS, I checked out the interiors of these. Not bad -- in fact bright, nice, airy and spacious -- except that the floors were dirty. Somehow, the suburbans spent quite sometime here at Egmore. One of them spent 10 minutes, the time I took to return from the end of Pf2 to the canopied area.

The Thirumangalm thing was gradually getting filled and suddenly I felt bored. Purchasing a ticket till Saidapet, I returned to the platform intending to ride the MMTS types till Saidapet. One rolled in and a sudden urge stopped me from boarding it. I still felt a small tinge in the heart for the dear old MG. It was due to go someday. It was not as fast or efficient as its BG mates (do I hear another argument starting on this?), but it had its place in Chennai forever. I took the over bridge and crossed over, a long walk compared to what I could have done at Nungambakkam. The BG could wait -- maybe I would travel to Sanatorium next week on it, unless I succumb to the MG charm and terminate at Tambaram itself. The MG platform looked weather beaten, but still functional. There was a HPMC stall. I remember drinking apple juice here a long time ago. I paid for two classes and gulped them down -- they tasted like cheap wine -- heady. A local ambled in slowly. The crowd that left it was bigger than what I had seen at Nungambakkam. Maybe I was wrong -- the decision to use BG or MG by a passenger within Tambaram, I guess, rested on which side of the station the passenger wanted to get out of. A few old time beggars stuck to it, but I found many youngsters too. So the theory seemed right. Somehow, the hustle and bustle was replaced by more casualness towards these commuter trains. People were more relaxed, drivers hung a tad longer at stations, the acceleration had reduced and so had the speeds. Looks like the whole world had gone easy on them. At Nungambakkam, I cut short my ride. I waited until the MG from the other side cleared the platform and then crossed over the tracks to my bike. I did not know what to think of as I drove to my apartment, a kilometer or so away. Was it my perception that the MG is dying? What made the MG sad? What made me sad? I never know. I looked back and wondered how close I live from the station. I must come here more often, I thought. I reached home -- 20:00 hours. As I opened my balcony's door, it started to rain.

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