Thursday, July 22, 2010

Notes on Ian Kerr, Engines of Change

He has a little on Kipling, observing bridge-building:

A young and still relatively unknown Rudyard Kipling, then working as a journalist for an Anglo-Indian newspaper, visited the construction site of the Kaisar-i-Hind bridge across the Sutlej in February of 1887. He described a seemingly chaotic sight. 'Lines of every gauge--two-foot, metre and broad--rioted over the face of the pure, white sand, between huge dredger-buckets, stored baulks of timber, chupper-built villages, piled heaps of warm red concrete blocks, portable engines and circular saws. Toiling men swarmed everywhere. Riveting had started. A few hundred men, paid by the piece, worked like devils 'and the very look of their toil, even in the bright sunshine is devilish. Pale flames from the fires for the red hot rivets, spurt out from all parts of the black iron-work where men hang and cluster like bees....' The noise was startling from one hundred yards away but deafening within the girders where the noise bounded and rebounded. Earlier, in 1886, the piers had been sunk in a hurry to reach a secure depth before the flood waters arrived. 'Men worked in those days by thousands, in the blinding sun glare, and in the choking hot night under the light of flare lamps, building the masonry, dredging and sinking, and sinking and dredging out'

Kipling's real-life observations, transposed to an imaginary bridge across the Ganges, became part of his well-known short story, 'The Bridge Builders.' The imagined bridge was, with its approaches, 'one mile and three quarters in length; a lattice-girder bridge, trussed with the Findlayson truss, standing on seven-and-twenty brick piers' whose construction required 'a humming village of five thousand workmen.' The bridge and its builders were threatened by flood waters--as many real bridges were--enabling Kipling to create a dialogue among the gods of Hinduism overheard by a stupefied, nearly drowned bidge builder. Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed God, talks about towns drawn together by the fire-carriages; another speaks of pilgrims brough more swiftly and in greater numbers to holy places; Lord Krishna declares the beginning of the end is born already. The fire-carriages shout the names of new Gods that are not the old under new names.' Kipling has the Gods of Hinduism speak about the engines of change. (50)

Famine and railway construction:

The report of the Indian Famine Commission said India required 20,000 additional miles of line to assist in famine prevention and relief, of which 5000 miles were needed immediately. In this case, government's railroad policy--influenced by the Famine Commission but certainly not fully implementing the commission's recommendatins regarding new rail lines--responded to the needs of Indians. However, as early nationalist critics of colonial railroad policy pointed out, railroads were double-edged sword where food grains were concerned. Yes, the railroads could and did move food grains to famine-stricken areas. However, the same railroads more thoroughly commercialized and integrated the markets (leading to an increasingly singular national market with price convergence) for the same grains and vastly facilitated the growth of an export trade in food grains (notably wheat) from India to other parts of the world. Thus, in the closing decades of the 19th century India became a significant exporter of food grains at the same time as parts of India were stricketn by famine. The engines of change rarely moved unequivocally down a track unambiguously designed to benefit India and most Indians. (67)

Anglo-Indian railway employees:

The 'Anglo-Indians' --the Eurasian offspring of what initially had been Indian mothers and British fathers--had become, over time and to a considerable extent, a self-perpetuating, endogamous, that is marrying within the community, population. Anglo-Indian formed less than one half of 1 percent of India's total population but provided 2 percent of the railway employees; more tellingly, roughly 50 percent of all Anglo-Indians came to be supported by railway employment either directly or as a dependent of a railway employee. (81)

This brings us back to the Anglo-Indians who helped reconcile the need for economy and security. What the railroad authorities quickly recognized was that Anglo-Indians provided ideal substitutes for the Europeans. Anglo-Indians worked for lower wages, they were loyal to the colonial connection and, as India-born, they were better adapted to the medical and climatological conditions of the subcontinent. Thus, the railroads came to nurture the Anglo-Indian community whose members came to have an important presence in some of the skilled positions--especially engine drivers and guards--and the lower and mid-level ranks of the officers. As late as the 1990s an observer of the Anglo-Indians of Calcutta wrote: 'The fact that your family had worked on the railways is also taken as proof of your British lineage. It gives you access to a kind of British authenticity that non-railway Anglo-Indians do not possess.' In colonial times, rail authorities checked the antecedents of Anglo-Indians before employmen (82-83)

The Lahore workshop:

The Lahore workshop complex was large. Initially located in the area of the city known as Naulakha the workshops and the adjoining railway station covered an area of approximately 126 acres. Some 2000 men found regular work in the shops in the early 1880s growing to nearly 4000 men by the early 1890s. The continued expansion of the NWR eventually forced the Lahore workshops to move to a larger site. A bigger, better-equipped physical plant was required to repair the engines and to repair and reconstruct the rolling stock and other equipment of a railway system which exceeded 4000 miles in 1905; a system with 756 engines, 2399 coaches, 11622 goods vehicles, and more than 63000 employees. An area of some 1000 acres was acquired on the eastern edge of Lahore where, at the Moghulpura site, new carriage and wagon shops were opened in 1910 and new locomotive shops, begun in 1910, opened in 1914. (85)

No comments:

Post a Comment