Search This Blog

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

7th Annual Convention of Indian Railway Fan Club

Last weekend, I was visiting Kolkata. I went there to attend the 7th Annual Convention of Indian Railway Fan Club.

It is a fun event, where you go for a sanity check. The whole year, you keep hearing from your family and friends, how crazy you are. Sometimes you actually start thinking whether you should meet a counselor. But then the convention time comes and you meet other members of your community. It is a comforting feeling to know that you are not alone in this universe. After all, the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.

It is a difficult hobby to pursue, particularly if there is no one in your family working for Railways. As a kid, you are constantly told that memorizing Tables for numbers from 1 to 20 is more important than memorizing Railway Time Tables. Modern history is all about what politicians did and no exam is ever going to ask about the role that Railways played in shaping that history. When it comes to knowing the Indian cities, it is alright to just remember that Kolkata is the capital city of West Bengal. There are no bonus points for knowing that Kanpur lies on the path from Delhi to Kolkata. (What is interesting is that parents don't have the same concerns for hobbies like philately. In fact, if a child shows an inclination towards philately, the parents will tell the child how philately could help him learn history and geography better.)

The convention had some truly memorable presentations. The clips from Satyajit Ray's movies containing train related scenes were fantastic. The etymology of train names taught us not just why the trains have been given particular names, but we learned history, geography, languages, and many more things. The interview with a loco pilot gave us interesting insights into a job that many kids love, but they are brainwashed by the time they become adults. Interesting history about why there is no rail link between Indian subcontinent and Mayanmar, even though at multiple places the distance between the closest rail heads in the two countries is not too large. And how this lack of rail link allowed Japanese to occupy what was then known as Burma. What was the context for deciding the Unigauge project in 1993, or the context in which the Railway Strike of 1974 happened. There was a lot of interesting stuff to learn.

The worst part of the convention is the Quiz. It exposes your ignorance so blatantly. It is done in two stages. In first stage, everyone answers the 20 questions, and the top 8 scorers get to participate in the real quiz in the second stage. I have never reached the second stage, but I have not lost hope. I started with 0 marks in the 1st convention, have been improving my score every year, and this time, I had correctly answered 6 questions. At this rate, I should be in the second round in the 17th convention or so. This time, some of us, who have always been in the bottom few, tried to rig the quiz. We argued that people who were the finalists last year should not be allowed to participate - give chance to new faces to win the quiz. But soon we realized that this won't help us, and we started arguing that finalists of all 6 previous conventions should be disqualified. It probably won't have helped us either, but in any case, the organizers did not believe in equal rights for all. So, the effort failed, and I will have to wait for 10 more years to get to the second round (at the current rate of improvement).

I was incredibly lucky to find a room to stay at Howrah Station. The window overlooked the platforms, and I could see the train movement early morning and late night, that is, before and after the convention. The announcements kept me fully informed about all the train arrivals and departures. To drink a cup of coffee, one just came down to the platform, any time of the day or night.

We did a quick count of people who have attended ALL seven conventions so far, and we (myself included) are ten in numbers. By the way, I am one of the founding members of this fan club (in 1989) and we also organized one of the conventions at IIT Kanpur (in 2008). I am already looking forward to the next convention. The place will be decided in the next couple of months through voting by more than 5000 members who participate in the forums of the club.