Romance On Rails (Updated)

A Vignette

Thirupparaithurai, our village, flanked by an endless roll of lush rice fields on one side and by the river Cauvery on the other, is some miles (<10) from the town of Trichinopoly (Trichy) – a place we spent some part of our annual school vacation (the rest in nearby Srirangam).

At the back of the sprawling house, some 100 meters away, ran a single train track, straight as far as we could see, to/from Trichy from/to Kulithalai/Erode (for some reason the track is not doubled even today and the station, sadly, stands decommissioned, overrun by weeds and vines, for want of traffic).

The track served a few long-distance trains and a couple of local trains for office-goers from villages around.  Standing out among them, even today, is the Pilot that fetches the commuters to Trichy in the morning and returns in the evening.

In those days it was widely rumored how the powerful bus operators were pressing on the railways to schedule the Pilot in a way it did not draw the crowd away from them during the busy hours! It may not be out of place here to mention the state has excellent network of bus services – you could go from anywhere to anywhere any time of the day (of course, some restrictions apply!).

It was for us an eagerly awaited daily experience to hear the whistle of the Pilot in the distance. We ran through the back-door of the house , past the long and full cow-shed, huge hay-stacks, the water-well and the toilet – yes, in those days toilets were located far back outside the house – to reach the back-door of the property. Beyond, the ground dipped into a grassy ‘valley’ to rise on the other side bearing the track, all within about 15 feet.

Standing at a safe distance from the track, we kept our eyes peeled and hands free and ready. First it was the dadak-dadak rumble of the wheels on the rails, soon followed by the puff-puff smoke-belching steam loco, slowing down as it neared a road-crossing and then immediately the station. As the loco passed us, we would frantically wave and shout to the driver to get his attention; he always stood on the side and leaning out to look ahead for safe passage – there were always people footing it across the tracks in a hurry even when the gate at the crossing was down barring road traffic and the train was almost there.  

For a few seconds, he would take his eyes off and look at us, return our greeting with a wave of his hand, his coal-blackened face breaking into a smile – enough to get us thrilled high!

We wouldn’t move until the train, after a halt of a minute or so, whistled and slowly pulled out of the station. A sad moment it was for us as it slowly receded from our sight and we trotted back to the house wordless.

Of course it was all forgotten soon as other distractions kicked in…until the next morning.


For some reason, a railway train, particularly its steam, diesel or electric loco has been and is even now a sight that fascinates many, evoking awe at the machine and its brute power and speed. An enduring romance.

The Mumbai artist Biswas captures it on his canvas like it is!

From his profile:

Kishore Pratim Biswas lived near a locomotive workshop in Kolkata when he was a child. It was very easy for one to spot steam locomotives every now and then, and as an enthusiastic 5-year-old kid, he loved to run out and watch them go. He would then come back home and sketch what he saw. A giant locomotive surrounded by steam – the aura of that scene attracted him tremendously, and inspires him even today. The firemen and drivers at the workshop became his friends, and they would usually gather around to look at his sketches. He remembers listening to their stories and trying to sketch all their emotions on a piece of paper…

He graduated in Fine Arts from Government College of Art & Craft, Kolkata, spent a few years in his hometown, and then moved to Mumbai in 2009.

Here we go:


After Kannan’s idyllic description of the scene near IIT, Guwahati (see in Comments), I had requested him for a few snaps. He kindly obliged with the following:

Here’s the strange thing with Agthori, perhaps unique in the vast railways network: the lone platform – seen in the pic – is some 300 mts away from the main station and its entrance! It seems the Station Master’s office and the entrance would be moved nearer to the platform once the land needed nearby is acquired.

Also if the train were to stop in front the present Station Master’s office, it would be required to go back a good 200 mts at least before moving forward and picking up enough speed to go over the slope ahead.

A view of the Station Master’s office at the entrance 

A view of Agthori railway station from the road over the bridge near IIT entrance gate.
A view of IIT staff living quarters

The locals n and around prefer to commute the distance of 20 kms to the city by road and, yes, a ferry across the mighty Brahmaputra!




On The Streets Of Srirangam

It isn’t easy to capture all the charm of this temple town in a few snaps. All the same…

Selling Spinach’s – have you ever seen so many of them?
A typical house

Most houses have a kolam done in front.

A cow on its daily call steps in asking for vegetable left-overs!
Now going to the market for picking up more!
East Chitra Street on a quiet morning

The tallest of the innumerable gopurams
Another view of gopurams towering over the narrow shops-lined main street

What is late Shri Vajpayee doing on a market gate?
Many didn’t know who he was!


Stories In Stone!

An artist playing percussion (look at his face, eyes and cap)!

A Fibonacci spiral?

An elephant on rampage!

A celestial minstrel (wears a crown):

Like many other figures, anklet on only one leg!

Can’t make out what is the unusual piece around his cheeks and chin – does not appear to be a beard.

A female minstrel:

A vaanaram (monkey), tail up (an aggressive posture?), bending at knees, carrying aloft a heavy boulder? Or it is Hanuman with his tail on fire all set to torch Lanka? (the tail gets thicker with wads of combustible cloth towards the tip?)

Is this the maya maan, the magical deer, coveted by Sita?

On some, even a paunch can look good!

A picture of devotion:

Florals good for contemporary apparel design!

Mythical yaali?
Mythical yaali

Krishna and gopi’s on the left. Adjacent is a kama-sutra panel. Surely these panels are bunched together for a good reason – wonder why!


Srirangatthu Devathaigal (Damsels Of Srirangam)

A lady with an elaborate headgear (a deity?)

A cute pose! Is she standing under a palm tree?

Fertility goddess:

Their charms to no avail on this sage in penance!

This time it is four-faced creator Brahma himself doing penance!

The proceedings watched by a shepherd with mild interest (is he a way-farer?) – look at his protection against the elements!


PS: The story connecting the reliefs is fictional!

Srirangatthu Devathaigal (Damsels Of Srirangam)


The Untold Story About A Rearing Horse (contd.)

Part 3

‘So, there you are, just as I thought, wasting your time as well as Uncle’s.’

I turned around to see the voice belonged to a comely young lady clad modestly in a salwar-kameez. Her dupatta in disarray, locks of hair jumping their braid and playing on her forehead, the exasperated look in her kaajaled eyes – and she appeared to be addressing my master story-teller.

A moment’s silence – we all looked at each other. He was quite calm like he didn’t hear her or the words were not spoken to him.

‘I must be mad in my head to have fallen for him. Uncle, please tell him.’

She paused to catch her breath.

‘He doesn’t work anywhere, doesn’t earn a rupee. He does just three things – imposes himself on people like you, reads books or disappears for hours into some Internet Café. So how are we going to pull on? Doesn’t bother him a bit. I’ve even threatened him, one day I’ll just leave.’

For the first time since the arrival of this typhoon, I got my turn and I rushed to his defense: ‘You’ve with you an invaluable gem, a storehouse of immense knowledge, and you don’t see it, my friend.’

‘Uncle, tell me, how do we generate cash out of this invaluable gem? Sell him? Pawn him? Who’ll buy him? All in my fate. Now, come, let’s figure out for tomorrow.’

She took him by his hand and pulled him away.

‘Hold for a minute. I immensely enjoyed listening to him for the last hour and it cannot be for free. He said he won’t accept money. Please keep this. I wish I had more on me.’ I thrust the three hundred rupee notes into her reluctant hands.

‘Thanks very much, Uncle.’

In a few winks, they were gone by the nearest exit, the Vellai Gopuram.

Days later on returning to my base, I scoured the Internet high and low for corroborating sources. Surprisingly couldn’t find much. Came up with ‘A Forgotten Empire: Vijaynagar’ by Robert Swell, an oft cited classic, I learnt. It was mentioned by my master story-teller too, I remembered. Large parts of his amazing story were supported by this source.

Was the whole thing a clever scam? An incurable romantic, making it up? I don’t want to think so. If it was made up what then is the real story?

I regretted I did not find out more personal and contact details of him, not even his name, much less a snapshot; and fondly hope I run into him again in Srirangam or anywhere else.


The post, partly inspired by ‘The Miracle’ of Fredrick Forsyth, is not entirely fictional.

The photographs are taken with thanks from Wiki and

Thanks to Ms. Prema Srinivasan, my m-in-l, a post-graduate in History, for pointing me to Swell’s work, the chief verbatim source for Part 2.

The Vellai Gopuram has its own poignant story, a story of high courage, deceit for a noble cause ending in a heart rending sacrifice, with social overtones. The Kamban mandapam again in the same prakaram to the north has witnessed historic events of a different kind. More on these in subsequent posts.

The Untold Story About A Rearing Horse (contd.)

Part 2

The story begins here:

It was the year 1509 when the King Krishna Deva Raya was crowned – this is vouched by an inscription in the Pampapati temple at Hampi. He celebrated his accession by erecting the great tower at the entrance of the temple, and another large tower shortly afterwards.

Domingo Paes, the Portugese traveler, may have seen him in person; for in his account he describes the King at length: ‘The King was physically strong in his best days, and kept his strength up to the highest pitch by hard bodily exercise. He rose early, and developed all his muscles by the use of Indian clubs and the use of the sword; he was a fine rider, and was blessed with a noble presence which favourably impressed all who came in contact with him. He commanded his immense armies in person, was able, brave, and statesmanlike, and was a man of much gentleness and generosity of character. He was loved by all and respected by all. Gallant and perfect in all things.’ All southern India was under Krishna’s sway, and several quasi-independent chiefs were his vassals. These were, according to the Portuguese chronicler Fernao Nuniz, the chief of Seringapatam, and those of Bankapur, Garsopa, Calicut, Bhatkal, and Barkur.

At the beginning of Krishna’s reign, Almeida was the viceroy of the Portuguese settlements on the coast, but at the end of the year 1509 Albuquerque succeeded him as the governor. When he suffered a severe reverse at Calicut, Albuquerque dispatched a priest Fr. Luis as ambassador to Vijayanagar, asking Krishna to attack Calicut sultanate, promising himself to assault simultaneously by sea. The governor declared that he had orders from his master, the King of Portugal, to war against the Moors (Mohammedans), but not against the Hindus; he offered his fleet to assist the King of Vijayanagar in his conquest of the place; that as soon as Calicut was captured the Moors would be driven there from, and that afterwards the Portuguese would assist the King of Vijayanagar against his enemies, the Moors of the Dakhan (Deccan). He promised in future to supply Vijayanagar alone with Arab and Persian horses, and not to send any to Bijapur.

There is no record of the King’s response. The sultanate of Bijapur was then ruled by Ismail Adil Shah of Adil Shah dynasty.

Albuquerque next attacked Goa, then under the Adil Shah, and captured the place in March of 1510. Immediately afterwards he dispatched his emissary on a mission to Vijayanagar, renewing Almeida’s earlier request for a fort at Bhatkal for the protection of Portuguese trade. Krishna Deva Raya was courteous, but did not specifically grant the governor’s request; the reason, it was speculated, was that the King had then made peace with the Adil Shah, his arch enemy! Presumably this peace was made in order to enable the Adil Shah to retake Goa!! In fact the King in his congratulatory message to Albuquerque on their conquest of Goa, promised to help them against Adil Shah. But this aid, however, does not appear to have been given when the Mohammedan troops successfully attacked and regained Goa in May after a severe struggle.

Reminds you of the coalition politics of today?

In November of the same year, Adil Shah’s attention drawn away by internal dissension at Bijapur, Albuquerque attacked and retook the place in December.

So much action over Goa and the swing of fortunes within the first two years of Krishna Deva Raya ascending the throne!

Krishna Deva Raya was desperate for the imported horses, a key piece in his plans for the campaign against Adil Shah. In 1514 Krishna Deva offered Albuquerque 20,000 pound sterling for the exclusive right to trade in horses, but the Portuguese governor, with a keen eye to business, refused. A little later the King renewed his proposal, declaring his intention of making war against the Adil Shah; and Adil Shah, hearing of this message, himself sent an embassy to Goa. Albuquerque was now placed in a position of some political importance, and he wrote first to Vijayanagar saying that he would give the Raya the first right of refusal of all his horses if he would pay him 30,000 cruzados per annum for the supply, and send his own servants to Goa to fetch away the animals, and also that he would aid the King in his war if he was paid the expense of the troops.

The wily governor did not stop there. He called in Timoja, a Hindu who had befriended the Portuguese. Through him, he promised the Sultan of Bijapur also the first right of refusal of all horses that came to Goa if he would surrender to the King of Portugal certain parts of the mainland opposite the island. It was at this time Fr. Luis discovered Timoja was in secret liaison with Krishna Deva Raya for him to take Goa before the Portuguese could fortify their possessions therein; and he declared Timoja to be a traitor. A furious Albuquerque set an assassin on Timoja’s heels. The latter escaped from a botched-up attempt on his life and alerted Krishna Deva Raya to the Portuguese governor’s friendly overtures with Adil Shah behind his back. Though, soon afterwards Timoja succumbed to his injuries.

Krishna Deva Raya wished to honor Timoja suitably in public for his loyalty and courage. When he funded the work on Sesha Raya mandapam he had it done in stone to last until eternity. It is Timoja that you see here attacked by the assassin. Sir, look at the serene face of a dutiful Timoja and cowardice and deceit writ large on his assassin’s. Please notice how the dagger is awkwardly plunged into Timoja’s thighs, not killing him immediately.

It’s another matter that the governor Albuquerque died even before the matter could be resolved and…

At this point, a rude interruption – a voice from behind us – brought the story to a halt and us back to the terra firma.

End of Part 2

(To be contd.)