Railways & The Raj  by Christian Wolmar.

Pre-launch Launch!! Daunt’s Books, 83 Marylebone High Street.

Monday 30th October 2017

 

 The mark of the historian is the ability to see across the depth and breadth of a subject, to take in all the known facts, and then to present these in a narrative that does not worry itself with prevailing views.

The historian needs to be able to almost look down on the subject, and see the scope of the material, the interplay of all the individual parts and the external influences on the whole.

So, Christian Wolmar’s elevated position at Daunt’s Books on Monday evening (30th October 2017) was somehow fitting.

  

Christian Wolmar(with James Nightingale,Atlantic Books)

One of the first points you grasp, is that the early British railway investors were…er..grasping.

The 5% guaranteed return on their investment was to be made good by..the Indian people, via taxation..i.e. those least able to afford it, and treated worse than cattle when they did use the railway. And not trusted to look after the more technical and managerial tasks..at least, not in the early days.

This was not a railway system to benefit the people, but to support the military and commercial elements.. a strategic railway…

But the very thing that was used to bring the whole of India under the Empire’s control, was also the catalyst for the independence movement …

And the horrendous events of partition, and the indecent haste in leaving India by the Europeans left a legacy hardly worth crowing about.

Still, in more recent years, the Indian Railway network has flourished. And although the safety record (who would want to travel in Mumbai, where the “super dense crush load factor” is a daily occurrence, and around ten people a day die under the trains’ wheels?) is better than it was, much work on that score still needs attention.

Of course, there are plenty of aspects to celebrate, not least the engineering feat of the Konkan Railway, running down that most difficult of terrains on the west coast.

If there is one book that you should read on the subject, then this is it.