They say everyone has a distinctive aroma. Only dogs and Rajnikant have the ability to sniff the odour from a mile. If that freshly-whipped-up myth were true, what would be the fragrance of the Indian Railways? Let's see...103 Indians out of 100 would label the effluvium as Human Piss. Such are the sweet memories evoked by the largest employer in the country.
Stink they might, but the trains that snake across the rusty, rickety and tired tracks of our nation, do warm the cockles of our collective heart. To most of us, the Grand Trunk Express, Howrah Mail, Ganga Kaveri Express or any other long distance chugger is like a long-lost pal who triggers waves of nostalgia, by the minute.
And like all familiar friends, the trains seem to sport unremarkable names that one remembers because of frequent exposure. Or that’s what I thought till I came across the wonderful etymological compilation of train names by Dr. Jitendra Mulki.
His painstaking research has unearthed one little fact – the Railway Babus are not as boring as we think. They do have an under-appreciated, evolved sense of naming. Within the constraints of reporting to nosey netas, the top dogs have managed to push through several names that look beyond destinations, dynasties, rivers, hills and mountains. Here are a few samplers:
The Kaifiat Express is a train that plies between Azamgarh and Delhi. Not many are aware that it’s a surrogate for Kaifi Azmi, the poet-dad of actress Shabana Azmi. Likewise Vibhuti Express is a nod to the Bengali novelist Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay - the man who penned Pather Panchali. Legendary Hindi raconteur Premchand has been immortalized with Godaan Express. Those who know their trivia will know that Godaan was his last novel. Gitanjali, Kamayani, Thirukkural and Agniveena are other Expresses christened after epic novels and poems.
Another intriguing name is the Shifung Passenger. Named after the Bodo bamboo flute with seven holes it happens to the only train labeled after a musical instrument. Incidentally, Amritha Express (after Mata Amritananda Mayi) is the only tribute from Railways to a living person. I am sure many more will join the bandwagon soon.