After 87 years, romance of Deccan Queen only grows
Mumbai city news: All these years, the Deccan Queen has retained its hold as a famous and fine train performing an invaluable service.mumbai Updated: Jun 02, 2017 01:23 IST
The Deccan Queen turned 87 on Thursday, having started its historic journey linking the two biggest cities of Maharashtra — Mumbai and Pune — on June 1, 1930.
Over the past eight decades and more, it has become part of popular folklore in the life of these two cities. I doubt there is anybody either in Mumbai or Pune who hasn’t heard - if not travelled on – the Deccan Queen. All these years, it has also retained its hold as a famous and fine train performing an invaluable service.
With Bombay’s growth as the mercantile capital of India in the early decades of the 20th century, demand for white collar workers, goods agents and dealers also increased, which Poona – less than 200 km away – was equipped to fulfill.
What was needed was an express train that could make this equation workable. The Deccan Queen made it eminently possible, cutting down on the then journey time between the two cities by almost an hour.
Starting around 7 in the morning from Poona and returning around 5 pm from Victoria Terminus (as CST was known earlier), it allowed people the facility of packing in a full day’s work in Mumbai and be home in time for dinner.
Of course, the Deccan Queen was not just for businessmen and office goers. It carried all and sundry: holiday makers, students, those visiting relatives, horse racing pundits and punters (Bombay and Pune have two of the best racecourses in the country) etc.
But the Deccan Queen is not just about convenience. Over a period of time, it became a statement: of tradition and continuity, and also a metaphor of excellence in its services and punctuality. Particularly the last named aspect.
In my formative years we spent several summer vacations in the Western Ghats hill station of Lonavala, and seeing the Deccan Queen chug in would be a daily highlight for holidaying families.
Mighty hoots a minute or so before the train came into sight would announce its arrival and would invariably prompt people to look at their watches: if it didn’t show 7.20 pm, the watch needed to be reset — or junked.
Such was my fascination for the Deccan Queen that it would frequently lead to arguments with cousins from Poona about which city the train belonged to. They believed since it started in the morning from Poona, their rights were stronger.
However, since my maternal ancestry traces to Poona and I was born and lived in Bombay, this soon became a no-contest: heads or tails, I won!
As I look back, it was (and still is) a lovely journey from Mumbai to Pune or the other way around. You leave the city, enter the countryside soon and then you into the ghats. The little stations you whizz past are picturesque, the view soothing.
The Deccan Queen enhances this experience manifold. Even after air travel became commonplace, the fact that the distance from airport to city centre (in both Mumbai and Pune) means that you save a great deal of time travelling by train.
Then there is the comfort and the food: Especially the latter for which Deccan Queen earned wide and deserved renown. Largely functional, but finger-licking good, setting a benchmark which other trains in India aspired to.
No matter the problems with rail travel in India (mainly to do with cleanliness) there is still a great romance about it. And even harder to beat when tinged with sentiment, as in the case of Deccan Queen.
As a matter of interest, she has run on electricity from Day One, with only an occasional shift to a diesel engine in case of a breakdown. In other words a modern train from day one. Much before the Rajdhanis and Shatabdis arrived, the Deccan Queen was India’s first deluxe train.
The look of the Deccan Queen has changed over the years -- from silver and red and blue and gold coaches in its early decades to a dignified cream and Oxford blue with a red line above the windows nowadays. But a great deal else is still the same.
The good news for old-timers is the return of the dining car, which was discontinued in December 2014. Its menu, I understand, has not changed – the famous French toast, omelets and cutlets are still available.
Even as I write this, I am swept by a wave of nostalgia. It’s been a while since I had the Deccan Queen experience. A fresh journey beckons.
First Published: Jun 01, 2017 23:39 IST