Trains- Tell this word to any normal Mumbaikar and the first sight that will come to his mind is of jam packed dirty brown and cream metal boxes that run up and down the city- yes, the Local trains of Mumbai, the Lifeline of Mumbai. But these locals are just a drop in the vast ocean called Indian Railways- an ocean consisting of thousands of trains, stations, bridges, tunnels, and what not. This is the ocean that I am passionate about!
I have no idea when did this passion actually begin because my first memories of love for trains goes back to as far as I remember.. right from the time when i was a little kid, I used to run every evening to the tracks to admire the Rajdhani Express blast at high speed. It used to give me a high! Not just this, every time i went to Valsad, my native, I used to spend evenings at an unused platform on the outskirts of the town, mostly used by people for evening walks, to sit and watch the trains of enormous variety- from the slow packed passengers to fast running Expresses and from heavily puffing mighty long goods and tanker loads to the colorful container rakes pass by. There was something mystical about it, something that cannot be expressed in words that used to bring me back asking for more. But my 'passion' was limited to just that- just seeing and admiring my favourite beasts and going back to normal chores at the end of the day.
That was until a couple of years ago when while surfing the net I stumbled upon this amazing site called the Indian Railways Fan Club or IRFCA which is essentially a group consisting of more than 6000 members having one thing in common- Love and Passion for anything and everything about trains and railways. Essentially a discussion forum, the site encourages its members to share their railway experiences, pictures and videos of trains and railway journeys which are then seen and appreciated by other crazy nuts! This site provided me a platform to converge two of my biggest passions- trains and photography. And this is what sowed the seeds of the desire to follow and capture trains and railways on camera- an activity that IRFCA calls "Railfanning".
It was only after coming in contact with IRFCA that I began to get more interested in understanding and appreciating the workings, operations, technicalities and other aspects of trains and railways rather than just admiring them as models walking down the ramp! It completely changed my approach towards my favourite trains. A small example will make this point clear. Till recently, like all other normal people even I used to consider railway engines (or 'locos' in technically correct words) as just a 'thing' connected at the begining of a train to pull it but after going through talks and facts at IRFCA, for the first time I realised that there is an amazing variety of locos in India, each having its own specialities, highs and lows, and interesting history associated with them, and also the fact that they are not randomly roaming creatures but well organised beasts very easily identifiable by simple 3 letter codes clearly written on them which reveal everything about them. Slowly and steadily, as I got to know more and more about them, I began falling more and more in love with them! And this is just the Tip of the Iceberg. As time passed, I began to click pictures of trains whenever I got a chance, began to look out for locos specifically and kept a tab on what's happening around, began to actively take part in discussions with other crazy nuts out there... I began to crave for more..
more pictures, more information and trivia, more experiences
And ofcourse, a very significant contribution of IRFCA was that it brought me in contact with people of various age groups-from 15 year old kids to 80 year old veterans, people from as far as bangalore and Thiruvananthpuram to as near as Borivali and Dadar but all with same passion and interest! And thus, after years of nameless wandering, my hobby gave me a new tag, a new identity- "Railfan"! And this is not the end. This is the begining! Begining of an exciting journey into depths of my favourite hobby and I hav miles to go......
And yes, one final point. I am not endorsing IRFCA nor does IRFCA give me any money for writing this article! This can be considered as my acknowledgment to the substantial role played by IRFCA in making me fully involved in pursuing what I love doing!