Railway History: Construction of the Assam Rail Link

One of the important chapters of post-Independence Indian Railways was the somewhat complicated task of building a new rail connection with Assam (and the rest of North-Eastern India) which had been broken when East Pakistan was formed. Here is the story pieced together and originally created as a ppt presentation in early 2011 at a convention of the IRFCA (Indian Railways Fan Club Association).

See what suits you best:

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction (Ppt)

Or you may prefer to see the presentation as a series of images: (Read left to right, row by row)

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-001 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-002 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-003 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-004 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-005 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-006 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-007 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-008 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-009 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-010 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-011 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-012 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-013 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-014 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-015 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-016 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-017 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-018 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-019 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-020 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-021 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-022 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-023 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-024 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-025 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-026 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-027 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-028 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-029 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-030 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-031

The stress is on what happened in 1947-50. Some mention has been made of subsequent developments but this is not to be regarded as a full account of railway construction in the Northeast after independence.

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Deaths of prominent cricketers in 2014

While this is not supposed to take the place of an obituary section, this is a full listing of all Test players who passed away during the calendar year 2014. It does include brief details of the players, but anyone wanting more details should look to sites like Cricinfo.

I should have got all the Test players (even if they played only one) and a few others who were significant to the game. These include Test umpires, writers and major first-class players. The last one tends to be subjective, as I am particularly familiar with domestic cricket only in India and England.

While the most mourned death was undoubtedly that of Phil Hughes, spare a thought for the South African bowler Norman Gordon who passed away at the age of 103 years and 27 days. He was the only Test player to score a century in this way.

Here is the table:

Deaths-2014-page-001

Down memory lane: the cricket calypsos of 1950 and 1971

Veteran cricket watchers would have heard these at some time or the other. Now they are easily available on the net.

The most famous cricket calypso would be “Cricket, lovely cricket” composed by Lord Kitchener and sung here by Lord Beginner.

A little background here. The West Indies was then a group of colonies firmly under the Union Jack, with the general conditions as well as racial discrimination being what you would expect from the British at that time. The West Indies had been playing Tests since 1928 and had shown a lot of improvement after a whitewash in their first series. By 1950 they had won a few Tests and even a series against England in 1948. But they had never won a Test in England.

The trend looked set to continue when the first Test was won by England by a big margin: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62709.html

Ramadhin and Valentine made their debuts, the latter taking 8 wickets in the first innings and 3 in the second (besides a pair). Ramadhin had a less impressive 2 wickets in each innings.

Then came the second Test-at Lord’s, no less. Now hear it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06P0RdZyjT4

and see the scorecard: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62710.html

Or better, still, see the scorecards of the whole series here: http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1950S/1950/WI_IN_ENG/

This famous picture was taken just after the end: http://caribbean-beat.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/style-1_0.jpg

Lord Kitchener is the one with the guitar. It is said that he composed the song within 30 minutes and led the troupe of West Indian fans dancing through London celebrating the victory. A more detailed account can be seen here: http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-100/triumph-calypso-cricket#axzz3Q7iVHLC9

Years passed and the West Indies team rose to greater heights. Most of the colonies became independent countries. But the team had its ups and downs – as in 1971. But there still was a calypso there. In case you need to refresh your memory, see the series scorecards here: http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1970S/1970-71/IND_IN_WI/

It was, in a sense, Indian cricket’s coming of age as it was the first time they had won a Test series against one of the big powers away from home. There was, of course, the 3-1 victory in New Zealand in 1968 which was not given much importance.

In fact, India had never won a Test (let alone a series) against the West Indies until then. And they did not win a Test against them in India until 1974-75 and a series against them in India until 1978-79.

Here is the calypso, composed by Lord Relator:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V2UUuKcIeA

and the lyrics:   http://andynarell.net/calypso/lyrics/1gav.html

(Note the PJ about Uton Dowe)

Do not pay too much attention to the visuals as they seem to have been hastily put together much later-you can see Roberts, Holding and Chandrashekhar and others (Alan Knott!) who were not part of the series.

There may have been other cricket-based songs later on, but these are probably the best known. There are a few famous poems as well.

Demis Roussos R.I.P.

Demis Roussos, arguably the second best known Greek entertainer in recent times, has passed away at the age of 68. By now you would have been told umpteen times that Sholay’s “Mehbooba” was lifted from his “Say you love me”. What is not so well known is that his song was lifted from a traditional Greek-Cypriot song “Ta Rialia”.

All three are given below in reverse chronological order:

The second copy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PCxTGZynpo

The first copy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssZTaqbsuTA

The original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgd72ismziw

Enjoy and decide which version is best.

Long names in different countries

If you have to cover news from India (particularly South India) or Sri Lanka, you may think you have an unfair burden in having to deal with long names. In cricket alone there are long single names (Venkataraghavan, Sivaramakrishnan) and several initials (VVS Laxman, CPS Chauhan, RMH Binny and MSK Prasad). Sri Lanka has some long surnames (where Sinhalese such as Wijegunewardene and Warnakulasariya score over Tamilians like Muralitharan), but they beat India hands down in initials, with the world’s number one UWBMCA Welegedera and number two WPUCJ Vaas. Worse still, this pair has played together in several matches.

But other states of India should not be neglected. Bengal has had CMs like Buddhadev Bhattacharya and other notables like Bibitibhushan Bandopadhaya.

India has had PMs such as Pamolaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao and Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, much to the dismay of foreign journalists. When Chandrashekhar flashed by as PM, the New York Times correspondent for India made it a point to always mention him as “Mr Chandrashekhar (who uses only one name)”. This became a sort of joke for Indians living in the US, so they referred to the correspondent as “Barbara Crossette (who uses only two names)”.

And if our previous PM used the normal Sikh naming system, he would probably be Manmohan Singh Gah which somehow doesn’t sound as impressive as, say, Prakash Singh Badal or even Harbhajan Singh Plaha or Kapil Dev Nikhanj. But for really long names we have to go a long way-first, to the ex-Soviet country of Georgia (not the place where Jimmy Carter grew peanuts). Here is a list of its Presidents after it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union: (from Wikipedia):

List of presidents of Georgia

# Name Picture Term Took office Left office Political Party
1 Zviad Gamsakhurdia Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg 1 14 April 1991 (Appointed) 26 May 1991 (Inaugurated) 6 January 1992 (Deposed) Round Table – Free Georgia
2 Eduard Shevardnadze Eduard shevardnadze.jpg 1 26 November 1995 (Inaugurated) 30 April 2000 Union of Citizens of Georgia
2 30 April 2000 (Inaugurated) 23 November 2003 (Resigned)
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 23 November 2003 25 January 2004 United National Movement
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 1 25 January 2004 (Inaugurated) 25 November 2007
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 25 November 2007 20 January 2008
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 2 20 January 2008 (Inaugurated) 17 November 2013
4 Giorgi Margvelashvili Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia.jpg 1 17 November 2013 (Inaugurated) Incumbent Georgian Dream

As you can see, the average length of their surnames is probably higher than that of any other country. As we will see, one African country does give them some competition. Georgia also had a long-time women’s chess champion named Nona Gabrindashvili. She was succeeded as world champion by another Georgian with the equally challenging name of Maia Chiburdanidze.

The first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia faced a revolt which led to him being deposed and finally to his assassination and suicide or murder. Comedians in the US show “Saturday Night Live” joked that the revolt was linked to the Georgians wanting a leader with a name which could be pronounced more easily.

Arguably, the most powerful Georgian ever was Joseph Stalin or Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин, pronounced [ˈjɵsʲɪf vʲɪsɐˈrʲɵnəvʲɪtɕ ˈstalʲɪn]; born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი, pronounced [iɔsɛb bɛsɑriɔnis dzɛ dʒuɣɑʃvili]; 18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) who was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Also note the Georgian script which is quite unlike the Roman or Cyrillic script, though it might remind you of South Indian scripts.

India still has a Stalin who, with a lot of luck, might become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu one day. He appears to have been born just before the original Stalin passed away.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin (Tamil: மு.க. ஸ்டாலின் Mu.Ka. Sṭāliṉ) (born 1 March 1953) is an Indian politician, better known as M. K. Stalin. He is the third son of famous politician of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, and was born to his second wife, Mrs. Dayalu Ammal and was named after Joseph Stalin (who died later that week).

Stalin serves as Youth Wing President of the DMK. On 3 January 2013 M.K. Karunanidhi named him as his heir apparent, thus ending a long time confusion about who would take over the party reins after Karunanidhi’s death.

Georgia, however, faces strong competition from Madagascar, which has sometimes gone under the name of the Malagasy Republic. Here is what their Presidents have to offer:

Presidents of Madagascar (1960–Present)

(Dates in italics indicate de facto continuation of office)

Tenure Portrait Incumbent Affiliation Notes
Malagasy Republic Autonomous
1 May 1959 to 26 June 1960 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD
Malagasy Republic
26 June 1960 to 11 October 1972 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD Resigned and handed power to Military
11 October 1972 to 5 February 1975 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F011092-0001, BPA, Generalstabschef aus Madagaskar.jpg Gabriel Ramanantsoa, Head of State Mil Resigned
5 February 1975 to 11 February 1975 Richard Ratsimandrava, Head of State Mil Assassinated
12 February 1975 to 15 June 1975 Gilles Andriamahazo, Chairman of the National Military Leadership Committee Mil
15 June 1975 to 30 December 1975 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
Democratic Republic of Madagascar
30 December 1975 to 4 January 1976 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
4 January 1976 to 12 September 1992 Didier Ratsiraka, President FNDR
Republic of Madagascar
12 September 1992 to 27 March 1993 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 1st Term
27 March 1993 to 5 September 1996 Albert Zafy, President UNDD Resigned
5 September 1996 to 9 February 1997 Norbert Ratsirahonana, Interim President AVI
9 February 1997 to 5 July 2002 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 2nd Term; from 25 February 2002 in Toamasina
22 February 2002 to 17 March 2009 Appl0405.loselesslycropped.jpg Marc Ravalomanana, President TIM In rebellion to 5 July 2002; deposed in the 2009 crisis
17 March 2009 to 25 January 2014 Andry Rajoelina 6 December 2011.png Andry Rajoelina, President of the High Transitional Authority TGV In rebellion from 7 February 2009
25 January 2014 to Present Hery Rajaonarimampianina 2014.jpg Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President HVM

Note the sad story of Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava who was assassinated just six days after taking over the presidency. But his successors have had even longer surnames. Only Albert Zafy (1993-96) is an outlier. They have French first names because of the colonial influence. There are several famous names in soccer like Didier Six and Didier Deschamps.

Let’s face it, we will have to be satisfied with our moderate contribution in the form of Narendra Damodardas Modi – and that is a triple only because of the Gujarati and Maharashtrian tradition of inserting the father’s name as a middle name. This is not generally followed in Eastern and Northern India, though generic middle names like Kumar and Chandra may be used. My father and his brother had middle names, my generation didn’t.

And I think that North Korea might as well follow a simple rule such as changing the current President’s name to King Kim III. Perhaps he will meet King Charles III or King William V one day-if no one comes from the US to interview him till then. But that trick did work with Ahmed Shah Masoud, one of Osama bin Laden’s rivals who was assassinated two days before 9/11.

(Thanks to Michael Jones, Abhishek Mukherji and others for more ideas. Some of them will appear in a sequel).

The real and the false Modinagar

As everyone knows by now, our present Prime Minister spent some of his youth (perhaps around 1960-65) at a tea stall at a wayside station in Gujarat. This is what it looks like now:

Vadnagar-main

And this is supposed to be the tea stall where he worked:

Vadnagar-TS

While we are at it, here is the school he went to. It is close to the railway station:

Vadnagar school

A report mentioned that Modi attended Bhagavatacharya Narayanacharya (also known as BN) High School, a co-ed Gujarati-medium school right next to the Vadnagar railway station. However Vadnagar probably sees less trains than it did in the 1960s. The reason is that most of the major routes in Gujarat (and elsewhere) which were on metre gauge have been converted to broad gauge. And if you are still on metre gauge, you are cut off from most long distance trains and may have to make do with local slow trains from the nearest junction with broad gauge. Here you can see the full timetable of trains at Vadnagar station:

Vadnagar TT

This tells us that it sees precisely 3 pairs of DMU trains daily (and 2 on Sunday) which run between the mainline junction Mahesana (MSH) and the terminus at Taranga Hill (TRA). In happier times (as in the 1976 timetable) there was one passenger train which ran all the way from Ahmedabad to Taranga Hill. Perhaps this forsaken route may be taken up for gauge conversion now, once their man is in the country’s leader. There are probably several less important metre gauge lines which have already been converted.

Here is one of the little trains which presently run on this route. This is standing at Mahesana.

Mahesana-Taranga Hill DMU

So much for the genuine Modinagar. The other one is here

Modinagar

This is a somewhat larger and better known place, north of Delhi on the way to Meerut and Saharanpur. It is on a semi-main line and some important trains do stop there, though not the Shatabdi, Jan Shatabdi and AC Express which pass this way to and from Dehradun. Neither does the Golden Temple Mail (earlier known as the iconic Frontier Mail). These are the trains at Modinagar: Modinagar TT Modinagar TT2 No less than 35 trains a day, though not all run daily. You can board a train here for faraway places such as Mumbai, Okha, Ahmedabad, Indore, Ujjain, Jammu and Bilaspur. There are several other express trains which do not stop there. Now, this town in Uttar Pradesh is named after Rai Bahadur Gujar Mal Modi (a Marwari unlike our PM) who was mainly responsible for setting up the Modi group of industries. He died in 1976. Most of the group companies are not doing well now. The younger generation may not have heard of him, though they would have heard of his famous grandson Lalit Modi. Incidentally he is said to have declined a knighthood and asked for an Indian honour instead-hence the Rai Bahadur title.

The station was renamed from Begamabad, which you will see in timetables of the 1940s and earlier. So now you know which is the genuine Modinagar and which one only has his name. There is another Modipuram on the highway north of Meerut, which also has some of the near-defunct factories of the Modi group.

Who or what is Amla?

If you ask this question to Wikipedia, you will be given various alternatives such as:

Hashim Amla

or

Amla fruit

or even

Amla station

The first probably needs no introduction.

The second (i.e. the fruit) deserves to be better known. In the West it would be known as the Indian gooseberry, though it has many other names as we will see below. It is a cheap source of vitamin C and anti-oxidants. For more about its benefits, see this: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/indian-gooseberry-amla.html and several other articles on the net.

It has many different names:

“Names for this plant in various languages include:

amalika (अमलिक) in Sanskrit
Dhatric (धात्रिक) in Sanskrit, Maithili
āmlā (आमला) in Hindi
āmla (આમળાં) in Gujarati
aavnlaa (amla or awla) in Urdu
āvaḷā (आवळा) (or awla) in Marathi
Bettada nellikaayi ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕಾಯಿ (ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕ್ಕಾಯಿ) in Kannada
āvāḷo (आवाळो) in Konkani
Aula (ਔਲਾ) in Punjabi
amloki (আমলকী) in Bengali
amalā (अमला) in Nepali
ambare (अमबरे) in Garo language
amlakhi in Assamese
anlaa (ଅଁଳା) in Oriya
Suaklu in Paite
sunhlu in Mizo
nelli (നെല്ലി) in Malayalam
heikru in Manipuri
halïlaj or ihlïlaj (اهليلج هليلج) in Arabic
sohmylleng in Khasi
rasi usiri ( రాశి ఉసిరి కాయ) (or rasi usirikai ) in Telugu
nellikkai (நெல்லிக்காய்/ ನೆಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಯಿ/ ಗುಡ್ದದ ನೆಲ್ಲಿ) nellikkaai or nellikaayi in Tamil, Kannada and Tulu
nelli (නෙල්ලි) in Sinhala
mak kham bom in Lao
ma kham pom (มะขามป้อม) in Thai
anmole (庵摩勒) in Chinese
Kantout Prei (កន្ទួតព្រៃ) in Khmer
skyu ru ra (སྐྱུ་རུ་ར་) in Tibetan
melaka in Malay, A state in Malaysia, Malacca was named after this tree.”

As you can see, it is important enough to have a state in Malaysia named after it.

And that is not all. Its other uses include: “Popularly used in inks, shampoos and hair oils, the high tannin content of Indian gooseberry fruit serves as a mordant for fixing dyes in fabrics. Amla shampoos and hair oil are traditionally believed to nourish the hair and scalp and prevent premature grey hair.”

However, it is doubtful if our South African friend would feel the need to use Amla hair oil. But a smart marketer like Dabur should have found some way of tying up their hair oil with him, especially when he scored heavily in India in 2010-11. One is reminded of the old joke when the bald man was presented with a comb; he said “I’ll never part with it.”

Finally, the town and railway station called Amla in Madhya Pradesh. It is a junction of some importance on the Delhi-Chennai route, but the town is little more than the station and an army base. Long ago the British decided that this was a sufficiently remote place to store ammunition for the army’s requirements in India and beyond. Thus the unknown place was named Amla after AMmunition LAnd. This might be true, unlike the contrived acronym Military Headquarters Of War for Mhow elsewhere in Madhya Pradesh. This is probably the result of a bored soldier making a joke, since it sounds too contrived and in any case the original place was named Mhow long before the British arrived.

Amla might have lost some of its military importance as several other large ammunition depots came up, notably one at Pulgaon which is close to the centre of the country and a somewhat larger place. In the 1980s, Amla station had a base kitchen which was to provide meals to the numerous trains on the main North-South route. It closed after some years.

Whether Hashim Amla’s surname has anything to do with the fruit or the town is doubtful, as it does not seem to be a common surname in India. Not even in Gujarat where his ancestors came from.

There are a few other stations which cricket fans are fond of photographing. One is quite obvious:

Sachin station

It is a little south of Surat in Gujarat. More recently another small station called Kohli near Nagpur may have started becoming famous. It is doubtful if there is any Punjabi connection here. So far no picture of its signboard can be seen on the net.

But one wonders at the incongruous names elsewhere on the Indian railway system. One could understand some relatively lesser known British officials having a small town or station being named after them. Special cases include Margherita in Assam’s Far East, which gets its name from the person who was Queen of Italy in the 1890s. That particular line was being built by the Assam Railways and Trading Company who had engaged a team of Italian engineers to construct it. Elsewhere in Assam, among names like Lumding, Langting and Haflong we come across the incongruous Kalachand. There must be some story behind this.

You will also find the names of Pataudi and Vizianagaram elsewhere on the railway map. But the places are indeed connected with the Indian cricket captains.