City Landmark – Delhi Junction Railway Station, Kashmere Gate Side
The junction’s other view.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The hapless citizen is wading through Kashmere Gate chaos, unable to find a way out of the bazar’s loopy labyrinthine. Suddenly—escape! The land ends into multitudes of intersecting railways tracks. The smoggy air crackling with the announcer’s flat voice declaring impending departures to Ajmer and Moradabad, Jammu and Ahmedabad.
Welcome to Delhi Junction Railway Station, the capital’s oldest rail station dating from the 1860s, known colloquially as Old Delhi railway station. But it is not all looking like the Purani Dilli station we are familiar with. The station’s archetypical identity comes from its majestic three-storey front facade (since 1903), which stands on the other side of the tracks, equipped with bastions and porches, and as red as the Red Fort. This is a little-known section on the station’s rear-side. Despite having a fairly spacious ticket hall, its character is militantly minimalist. (In contrast, the “backside” of New Delhi station, the so-called Ajmeri Gate side, is as elaborate as its frontside.)
A city’s railway terminus connects it to the worlds outside the city. Its very sight symbolises its detachedness. This part of the Old Delhi station is the opposite of such a perception—it instead muddles the boundary between the city and the station. One moment you are walking in the bazar, next moment, on accidentally turning right, you are face-to-face with the rail tracks, safely separated by a low wall. The abruptness is thrilling as well as disorienting—you are still outside the station needing no platform ticket to loiter, yet you are in the heart of station’s hustle-bustle.
This afternoon, Jammu Mail is parked on the tracks. The coaches are empty. Elsewhere on the adjoining tracks, a few rail engines are standing motionless, unconnected to any train.
Meanwhile, the station’s bazar-facing yard is only partly crowded with passengers. No one seems to be in hurry. A man is lying on the floor, staring grimly at his mobile. Others are seated along a long row with their suitcases and bags, silent. One of these men gets up, walks over to the rail tracks, parts of which are weedy with tall grass and bushes. He starts to urinate, the long wet arch of incivility falling towards the stationary Jammu Mail.
Unaware, another citizen is perched on a porter’s trolley, poring upon a large world map lying open in his hands, as if plotting an escape. See photo.