One by one, the entire community has deserted the scruffy junction. Well, almost. What else would you say if only four Anglo-Indian families trudge on in Mughalsarai from the initial 70? But even today, beneath the wrinkles and the existential pangs, a kiddish zest lurks inside ex-shuntman Ashley Reginald Wills. "Man, I'm here since '47 and will be forever. I'll take the memories to my grave." Those sepia-toned, musty recollections of weekend billiards sessions and live bands at the Barkley Institute circa 1955 and house parties by the river. The past has devoured all the splendour. The present? prosaic.
Even the 9-km-long marshalling yard—the largest in Asia and hitherto a key hub for the mineral rich 'Rurh belt'—wears a forlorn look. A shift in the railway freight policy from piecemeal to block rake movement has made the slow death inevitable. From a peak handling of 5,000 wagons daily, the numbers have dwindled to a mere 1,500 and with it the Up Yard has been uprooted. "Earlier, we felt the eight hours go by in a flash. Now the shifts seem inordinately long," says the chief yard master, Down Yard, P.K. Saini.
But with 200 trains, both goods and passenger, passing through this key portal of traffic transaction daily, Mughalsarai still typifies a rail bazaar. And a pretty busy one at that, being the intersection for four double-link trunk routes—two each from the Northern and Eastern Railways.
In critical retrospect, the place comes across as a town disjointed in time, a junction whose different ages lay suspended side by side. Layered, chequered and bustling.
The colonial remnants—the bungalows, the churches and graveyards at the European colony are somehow juxtaposed with the technological blitzkrieg—mobile train radio communication system, biggest route relay interlocking and even a homepage—that Mughalsarai has...