Our Days in the Sun - Pre-independence life in Railway Colonies

Monabina Dasgupta recalls her life as the daughter of Superintendent in the South Indian Railways.

By Rail Enthusiasts' Society

Residence of the Divisional Rail Manager at Waltair, VisakhapatnamHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Memories of growing up in railway colonies in various small towns, during the 1940s to the early 1970s, are evocative of a well-ordered life.

The colonial style bungalows of railway officials during 1940s by Monabina DasguptaRail Enthusiasts' Society

The colonial style bungalows for the officials were set in acres of land with trees, lawns edged with flower-beds, lily pools and vegetable gardens at the back, which were safe from the intrusion of the outside world.

SR Institute by Monabina DasguptaRail Enthusiasts' Society

The railway colonies were built around the focal point of the railway station and the railway workshop, which was referred to as the “works”.

The European Institute at JamalpurHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

In a hierarchal fashion common to the British, there were the Senior Institutes and the Officers’ Clubs, well separated from the Junior Institutes for the blue collared staff.

The Railway Institute at the Railway Colony at Liluah, near Howrah stationHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

Above: The Railway Institute at the Railway Colony, at Liluah, near Howrah station.

By Hank WalkerLIFE Photo Collection

Friday evenings would usually be movie nights and parties that were well-attended.

By John DominisLIFE Photo Collection

The latest songs from the English hit parades, the latest dances and the latest sartorial styles were the talk of the evenings.

An Anglican church at KharagpurHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

There were churches of different denominations and local schools that were run by Anglo-Indians or Eurasian ladies.

A church at Dhanbad Railway ColonyHeritage Directorate, Indian Railways

The ladies of the churches were the backbone of most English style schools all over India. They were highly regarded for their English language skills as well as their commitment to discipline.

By Larry BurrowsLIFE Photo Collection

The railway hospital or dispensaries offered prompt service for all railwaymen and their families. Here too, the Anglo-Indian nursing staff was very valuable. The “Matron” was a figure of awe and reverence, deferential only to ‘The Doctor’.

The logo of South Indian Railway by Monabina DasguptaRail Enthusiasts' Society

The employees of the railways often carried interesting designations, relating to their supposed duties. A trolley man operated on the inspection of trolleys. The more generic peons handled messages and paperwork and seldom did much. The Khansamas were lords of the kitchen, who did the cooking while presiding over a host of menial jobs. The ancillary staff of the dhobi or washer man, the malis or gardeners, the watchman: all rounded off the community that cared for the official’s home.

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