08 March 2014

Railway historians meet in Mumbai

A great week. Managed to meet two veteran railway historians. One is 72-year-old Dr Ian J Kerr from Canada and 90-year-old R Venkataraman...Had the honour of introducing both of them to each other..

Oldest living historian on Indian Railways on Mumbai visit

‘I’ve written about them; now I want to see’
Mumbai Mirror | Mar 5, 2014, 01.37 AM IST

Dr Ian J Kerr (R) with former railwayman R Venkataraman

Rajendra B Aklekar

The oldest living historian on Indian railways, Dr Ian J Kerr, is on a week-long visit to India and can't wait to see the Khandala railway line.

Mumbai railway, the lifeline of the city, has been one of the defining fixtures of the metropolis ever since its conception. Millions have availed the service daily while visitors hardly give it a miss while in town. Not many, however, would know details such as 40,000 workers toiled hard for years and more than 10,000 died during the construction of the Khandala railway line. But then Dr Ian J Kerr is no ordinary visitor.

The 72-year-old Canadian, the oldest living historian on Indian railways, is in India for a week on a personal visit. His large body of work, including a number of books and several dedicated academic research papers on the subject, has given the Indian railways' heritage and history a new lease of life. And now he is in Mumbai to see the 19th century engineering marvels that created India's first railways.

Kerr, who will be going to
 the Khandala railway line to see the massive piers, tunnels and bridges that ferry trains, said, "I have researched and written so much about them all my life. Now, I want to see them all. For the construction of the Bhor Ghat section, which is now known as the Khandala railway line between Mumbai and Pune, workers came from all castes and communities, from near and far, to work as per their expertise. The breaking of the barrier of the Sayhadri mountain range was an important milestone."

Asenior scholar with the University of Manitoba in Canada, Dr Kerr said railways are such a socially-connected subject that while researching on India, information about trains and rail lines kept cropping up during his various studies.

"That is how I gained interest in it. The railway museum at CST is a treasure house of information with crateloads of documents and archives. The last time I interacted with top officials at railway board in New Delhi, I suggested them to collect such archives and documents from various zones and centralise them at one place so that there could be a national railway archive," he said.

In fact, now many of the important documents have been shifted to the record centre of the national archives at Jaipur. "The enormous effect the railroads had on colonial and
 postcolonial India is indisputable," he added.Meanwhile at CST, a fan had come to meet Dr Kerr. A railway veteran himself,90-year-old R Venkataraman, with his child-like passion for trains, is touring India to write a book of his own.

A former railwayman, Venkataraman asked Kerr to pen down the foreword for his forthcoming book. "Every word that
 Dr Kerr has written is worth a million dollars," he said.