New Delhi Railway Station is on a fast track to get an artsy revamp
A peculiar whiff of mere mortals mixed with haphazardly-dumped garbage reaches one’s nostrils from meters away. Soon the chase by men dressed in brick-red shirts (coolies) — to help one carry the luggage — begins and then comes the entry of the New Delhi Railway Station. The childhood memories of the several vacations spent travelling in trains come back rushing, and are suddenly interrupted by an announcement of a delay in the arrival of a train bound for one of the eastern states.
No matter how you arrive — in a cab, auto or your private vehicle of transport — any experience at the station is bound to stay with you for a long time. That’s because of two things — first, the excitement that a train journey creates, and second, the usually dirty… er, filthy environs of the station. Watch out, stomping off mindlessly in any direction can dangerously lead you to a spot that’s brazenly used as a public urinal.
But this will no longer hold true once the detailed upgrade plan of the Indian Railways comes through. Expected to finish by this June-end, it will have loads of changes, from colourful walls to revamped toilets, to marvel at this station opened in 1926. “A lot of work has begun already. I have been working here since the last seven years, and it feels great to see the new display screens, more cleaning staff and other aesthetic developments now,” says Pankaj Tuli, assistant catering manager of a food stall at platform one near the Paharganj Gate.
Some passengers awaiting their train at this platform admire a leopard image created on one of the staircases. “Sher bahut achcha banaya hai (The leopard artwork is very well made),” excitedly says a coolie, Roop Singh. He has been working at the station for 15 years now, and feels happy to see that the station’s upkeep is improving. “Sab kuch badal gaya hai itne saalon mein. Pehle yahan itna ganda rehta tha. Ab safai karne wale bad gaye hain. Achcha lagta hai jab log aasani se aa jaa pate hain (everything has changed in all these years. Earlier it used to be too dirty here. Now the number of cleaners has increased. It feels good when passengers are able to commute easily).”
Nitesh Kumar, a bookseller at platform seven, who doubles up as an information provider for the many passengers, says, “Some people get themselves clicked in front of the peacock that’s painted on this staircase. And then, come asking since when has this been here.” He adds, “Do hazaar se zyada log puchne aate hain ek din mein. Kabhi gaadi ke bare mein, kabhi platform number, aur kabhi aise hi time pas karne. Par jab iss mor ke baare mein puchte hain to main kehta hun ‘Ek number platform par sher bhi hai’ (Some two thousand odd people come asking me about everything from the next train to the platform number on which their train will come. Some even come just like that to chit-chat. But, when a passenger asks me about this peacock painted on the staircase then I ask them to check out the leopard painted on the staircase at platform one). Then, they go to check out the artwork on staircase of platform one and come back to share their excitement with me. It makes me feel happy. But I would have felt proud had they not been dirtying the station. People don’t throw garbage in their homes, then why do they litter here?”
The question echoes in the premises of the station, and even outside. Rajesh Kumar, a PCO booth in-charge near the Ajmeri Gate entry — where the station façade radiates with a fresh coat of red and white paint — voices his concern against people’s careless attitude: “Why is it always the responsibility of the government to maintain cleanliness? And, even if it is, then the railway authorities are responsible within its premises. The minute you cross the boundary of the station, you witness so much muck that you feel repulsive. Isn’t it also the responsibility of public, in general, to keep public places clean?”
Though there are boards warning people to not sit/wait at the bridge that connects the two ends of the railway station — Paharganj and Ajmeri Gate — yet many flout the rule, and aren’t challaned. At least not in front of us! Nevertheless, the journey of those working, and making a living at this junction continues. And remains alive the hope that their place of work will look artsy and aesthetical in the months to come.
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