Everyday Heroes: The veterans of the Indian Railways

Meet Balbahadur Majhi, Ganey Khawas, Deepak Das

By Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Ganey Khawas (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Ganey Khawas

Born in 1916, Ganey Khawas is a former British India soldier. He worked as a technician at the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's Tindharia workshop after returning from Batavia, where he served on a World War II posting.

Ganey Khawas (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Ganey Khawas worked in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's Tin Dharia workshop for 35 long years. He was 85 years old at the time of his retirement in 1985. He has been drawing pension for the past 32 years.

Ganey Khawas (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Khawas now lives with his daughter, Mamata, who has kept proofs of his stint in the British Army and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway tucked away in a safe.

Ganey Khawas (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Ganey Khawas is the oldest living ex-worker of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. At 102, he is hard of hearing and his memory is not as sharp as it used to.

But talk to him about the steam locomotives and the glint in his eyes return. He rattles details about the engine boiler and the cooper lining within. "It is important to keep them in shape to keep glitches away", he says.

Ganey Khawas (2018-03-22)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

"All my friends have died. I am like a child now. My memory is very poor," Khawas says. He credits the British for building the infrastructure in Darjeeling. "We have failed to build on what they left us," he says.

Balbahadur Majhi (2018-03-16)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Bal Bahadur Majhi

Balbahadur Majhi is 76-year-old former locomotive pilot. He joined Darjeeling Himalaya Railway (DHR) in the year 1962. Majhi commenced his journey as a casual labour tasked with feeding coal and cleaning steam locomotives. He gradually became a loco driver or loco pilot, a prestigious and responsible position in DHR. As loco pilot, he was entrusted to drive B-Class Steam Locomotives, one of the magnificent industrial beauties in the world.

Balbahadur Majhi (2018-03-16)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

In 1968, Majhi lost of two of his colleagues when a landslide swept a train they were shepherding to Rongtong station off the tracks, killing the pilot, Mane Gurung, and fireman Keshav Singh Gurung.

Balbahadur Majhi (2018-03-16)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Speaking of the steam engine he prefers over the train's diesel variant, Majhi shows a photo of a steam loco at a water pump between Rongtong and Tin Dharia stations

Balbahadur Majhi (2018-03-16)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Majhi used to sport dreadlocks when he was younger. Seventy-six years old now, Majhi turns misty-eyed when he goes through his family album.

Deepak Das (2018-03-21)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Deepak Das

Deepak Das, a former Senior Section Engineer with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, joined the North East Frontier Railway in 1983. After serving in different parts of Assam, Das, a Siliguri resident, was assigned to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 2006, when the heritage railway celebrated its 125th anniversary in grand style. Three steam locomotives--running on broad gauge (BG), meter gauge (MG) and narrow gauge--set off from Siliguri junction on July 7 2006 amid much fanfare. It was Das's responsibility to bring the three engines up to speed ahead of the event. "It was a memorable day," he says. "The BG locomotive had been hauled in from from Rewari in Haryana. We then got the meter-gauge locomotive, called MAWD, renovated for the event. You can now find that engine displayed outside the New Jalpaiguri station. B 780 was the narrow gauge locomotive used on the day. The BG locomotive went to Chalsa, the MG journeyed up to Bagdogra and the narrow gauge loco travelled up to Rongtong."

Deepak Das (2018-03-21)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Das maintained broad-gauge and medium-gauge locomotives that would be frequently hired by steam engine aficionados such as former India cricketer Farokh Engineer and Peter Jordan, a railway enthusiast from the UK. "Eventually the BG loco returned to Rewari, where it runs as the famous Palace On Wheels," he says. "The MG loco, which was taken over by other railway, suffered a blast in its boiler and had to be retired. I then joined the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway as a senior section engineer in Darjeeling."

Deepak Das (2018-03-21)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Retied now, Das remembers his days spent with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in Darjeeling with fondness. "Sometimes the staff would come up to me claiming a certain problem with the engine could not be solved. "'Hundaina, sir (not possible, sir),' they would tell me," he recollects. "I would tell them 'there is nothing called impossible; just tell me what you need to correct the problem. We have the Tin Dharia workshop supporting us. If it can't be done, it can be renovated and brought in two days later."

Deepak Das (2018-03-21)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Engine maintenance in the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway involves two key functions, according to Das. "Valve setting and motion components...these are two most important elements in maintenance," he says. "If their is a problem with either rises, the engine's hauling power suffers."

Deepak Das (2018-03-21)Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

By 2015, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway's performance was at a peak, Das says. "We would run six joy rides," he adds. "It used to get overcrowded sometimes. Most people preferred to travel by steam engine. We have run six joy rides in one day on a single line. Can you imagine!"

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