It’s 5pm at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus and there’s an almost festive air aboard the Deccan Queen: on June 1, Monday, the rani will enter its 80th year of ferrying commuters from Pune to Mumbai and back again.
Sixty-two year-old Ashok Patwardhan is comfortably seated in his chair, reading a Marathi daily. He has three hours to kill before he reaches his home in Pune, but there’s no hurry. This commute to Pune and back has been part of his routine for the last 42 years. “This is my home away from home. My morning journey starts with a light South Indian breakfast of idli, which I have here. I hope to complete 50 years of travelling in this train,” he said. And with more than a hundred regulars who have become his friends, there is no dearth of conversation, he says. Other commuters agree: they use the long journey to build lifelong friendships.
Raichand R Singh, an advocate who has been doing this route twice a week for the last four years, lists the unwritten code of conduct: “In the bogie I travel in, even if a commuter gets a call, he has to step out into the passage to answer it.”
Pune-Mumbai Railway Pravasi Sangh president Hemant Tapale, a daily traveller on the Deccan Queen, added: “Birthdays, anniversaries and festivals are celebrated on board.” But on Monday, commuters will cut a cake in honour of the Deccan Queen. Unlike with other trains, commuters – veterans and newbies alike – say they have a connection with the old train.
Meanwhile, S Sashi is busy in the dinning car. He has spent 32 years attending to the palates of the commuters. The Deccan Queen is the only train in its league that boasts of a diner. “The hot sellers are vegetable cutlet and omelettes,” said Sashi, pointing to the “Western menu” that boasts of fried fish with bread and butter. The walls of the diner are lined with pictures from the erstwhile Great Indian Peninsular Railway.
In the attached kitchen, cooks in blue-and-white uniforms are busy preparing evening snacks. With 10 minutes for the train to depart, there’s a frantic rush on platform no. 8, but inside the train, time stands still, as commuters settle down with their newspapers and hot chai.
A luxurious history
l The Deccan Queen started 79 years ago, on June 1, 1930. It was the first deluxe train introduced on the Railways
l It had 7 coaches; one rake was painted aluminium with scarlet mouldings, and the other blue with gold lines
l The under-frames of the coaches of the original rake were built in England. The coach bodies were built at the Matunga Workshop. A new rake, was pressed into service in 1966, and updated again in 1995
l A single journey first-class fare in 1930 was Rs 11 and 4 annas. Today, a one-way fare is Rs 267 (AC chair-car)