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An urban haven.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Except for the rattling of the pedestrian over-bridge, the British-built Delhi Kishanganj railway station in Central Delhi remains lifeless. The noisy non-stop express train has just left but the platform dogs haven’t raised their heads, the fakir on the stairs hasn’t awakened, and the young man standing at the railings hasn’t stopped staring at the space where the train passed a moment before.
In a city with 2,500 bus stops and more than 80 Metro stations, Delhi Kishanganj is not among its four main railways stations – (Old) Delhi, New Delhi, Hazrat Nizamuddin and Sarai Rohilla. At this station, the benches are empty at noon. No coolies are around. An off-duty guard is sleeping in the rest room. A few school children are crossing the tracks. A super-fast train is standing empty on the middle track, waiting for a turn at the wash yard ahead.
Although Delhi has 22 railway stations connected by a system of local trains called Electrical Multiple Units (EMUs), the impression is that that the Capital’s public transport relies only on buses and Metro trains. Not true.
“I always go to my office in the EMU. It takes less time,” says Ravi Kumar, an electric engineer who is waiting at Delhi Kishanganj for an Okhla-bound train. “There are no crowds, so there’s no pushing and shoving like what you have to suffer in buses and the Metro. Besides, the local trains are the cheapest.”
The minimum fare in buses is Rs 5; in the Metro, Rs 8. In the EMU, it is Rs 2. A journey from the suburban Anand Vihar to the New Delhi railway station costs just Rs 5.
“The number of people using EMUs has increased over the years and we have ticket sales worth Rs 1 lakh daily,” says Chander Prakash, Delhi Kishanganj’s chief train clerk, who has been working here for 20 years. Dressed in white, Mr Prakash, 48, talks in a subdued voice as he shuffles dusty files from the shelves. His office is a free-for-all. Passengers continually check in to ask for the train timings. You cannot imagine such liberty in, say, the Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station. “This station was built round 1890,” Mr Prakash says. “It hasn’t changed much since I first joined.”
You do not have to be a commuter to come to Delhi Kishanganj. Snuggled in a quiet zone, though close to the bustling bazaars of Karolbagh and Subzi Mandi, it is a city getaway. Come with a book and spend an entire day reading on the bench. The colonial building, the sound of trains, the platform scenes, and the trees skirting the tracks will be pleasant distractions.
Don't get it wrong. Despite the getaway-ish desolation, Delhi Kishanganj is a functional station. It is a stoppage for 10 long-distance expresses and 20 EMUs and passenger trains. It has one fast-food stall, one waiting hall, two platforms, four ticket counters, and four urinals. Its pedestrian overbridge has a separate track for bicycles. It has hawkers selling combs, wallets, leather files, bananas and Bollywood postcards. It even has beggars. What it doesn’t have is a presence in most Delhiites’ minds.
Lone man walking
Long hours to sleep before he goes
A face in the crowd
His train is running late
Checking the train timing
The platform world
Electrical Engineer Ravi Kumar waiting for his Okhla-bound train
A station employee
Chander Prakash, Delhi Kishanganj’s chief train clerk
This is bedroom
Long time, no train
A railway guard
The ticket queue