The year was 1982. Over 3,000 athletes were coming down to the national capital to participate in the Asian Games (Also known as Asiad Games). Inflated jumbo shaped balloons representing the Games’ elephant mascot ‘Appu’ were propping up across the city. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was being renovated to host the inaugural ceremony and 17 other resplendent stadiums, nine renovated and eight new, were awaiting occupancy. There was an urgent need to augment transport in the city. It was then that a germ of an idea gripped planners; electrification of the Ring Rail network.
In 1975, Northern Railways had started a service lane to help goods trains avoid passenger traffic at railway stations such as Old Delhi, New Delhi and Hazrat Nizamuddin. Subsequently, two lines were laid; one of 25.54 kms running from Patel Nagar till Nizamuddin and another of 19.45 kms from Nizamuddin to Patel Nagar. Also called the ‘Delhi Avoiding line’, it was on the eve of the 1982 Asian Games that the Railways decided to electrify the track and develop it as a passenger line. And so, the very first time passengers got into the Ring Rail, it was to witness international-level sporting events across the city.
The rail network, moving in a circular track around Delhi’s newly emerging colonies in the west and Central government colonies in the south, proved to be of optimum use during the 1982 Games. A former ips officer, Kiran Bedi, recounts how the Ring Rail was an essential part of the Asiad preparations. “We had perfect alignment with our sister organisations for commuting which were the Delhi Transport Corporation (dtc) and the Ring Rail, which is how nothing was at cross purposes,” she writes on her Facebook page.
The approach road is an empty narrow stretch save for stray dogs and wearied vendors. Barely a few meters away, the crowds bustle in and out of South Delhi’s popular market in Sarojini Nagar. The throng fizzles out as one reaches the alley. The glass panes of the new ticketing office stare back at the fickle stream of visitors. Hidden from sight, lies the old dilapidated stairway. Atop which, the weathered board reads “Sarojini Nagar station” in bright blue paint which has begun to peel. Climbing a few steps, the sight that greets the eye is sombre. There is no sign of life on the platform except for a man who lies on the bench, fast asleep.
A group of young girls make their way up the stairway. “We had come for shopping,” Nisha explains animatedly. She and her friends are waiting for the train that will take them to Inderpuri. The girls do not travel in the ladies compartment, which is reserved in every train plying on the Ring Rail. “We are more than capable of fending off unwarranted attention,” explains Poornima a first year college student. It is vacation time for her and the Ring Rail offers comfortable and cheap transport from her home in Inderpuri to Sarojini Nagar market. Costing a meagre ten rupees for a twoway ride, the rail helps her save substantially on expenses.
Outside the station, Madina sits under the shade of a banyan tree. “I have grown up with the station,” she says wiping off sweat with the pallu of her saree. Madina was a child when her parents moved to Sarojini Nagar. She has been a silent witness to the changes in the station since fifty years. “When we were kids, we used to play here, there used to be many commuters then. Now, there is but a trickle,” she tells Tehelka. The stall she has set up at the juncture of the road leading to the ticketing office is her source of livelihood. There she sells knick-knacks like bidis, bhutta and snacks. “The passenger numbers have reduced substantially but I mange to eke out a living,” she says. The railway network provides an opportunity for small-time vendors like her to earn a living.
Travelling on the Ring Rail is an experience in its own. The adventure ensues the moment the ticket with staccato font is issued. It is the first shift at day break and the platform is sparsely crowded. “I had come yesterday evening to visit my relatives in Lajpat Nagar,” Sareen, a commuter tells Tehelka. “Whenever we have to come here, we use the Ring Rail as it is convenient.” Sareen and her mother are waiting for the train that will take them to Nizamuddin. She picks up her bags as the distinct hoot is heard from miles away.
The train chugs into the station remarkably, before time. “It is almost always on time,” remarks Bholaram, a migrant who has been frequenting the line for over four years.