Train of Thoughts
The news of re launching the Yarl Devi train service triggered a train of thoughts with many carriages down the distant railway track, which is now non existent beyond Omanthai. The slipped thoughts of the sleepers surfaced at a flash.
The Yarl devi train service was inaugurated in 1956, very much later after the introduction of the train service to the then Ceylon by the, Britishers in 1864. It was initiated by the genius, generous General Manager of Railways Mr.G.D.Rampala; the master mind of the railway net work, seated in the nerve centre of the control room at Maradana maneuvered and manipulated the train service with precision. He was the wizard behind the wheels and the whistle of every station master. He was ably assisted by the Chief Engineers (CW) Mr. Vaithilingam and (CME) Mr. Rajagopal in ensuring an efficient, effective and vibrant rail service through out the country. A Station Master on the eve of the retirement of the G.M. said “rhythm of the trains could be heard in his pulse, he wanted railway to be an integral part of the people of the country and during his tenure as G.M. he achieved this goal”. The notable feature in the train service during his helm of affairs was the trains were the time keepers of the northerner. The blare of horn will indicate, exactly what the time is, they ran precisely to the dot. “Wimaladharmas” were not needed and Dharma and sanity also prevailed then.
The other notable Icons of the railway from the north were late Mr. M. Kanagasabai who was known as GMR Kanagasabai and was the predecessor of Mr. Rampala also Mr. S. Panchacharavel who was the Chief Engineer Way and Works and relinquished his service prematurely to accept the post of “Coordinator” Internationally Funded Projects for the Papua New Guinea Government.
The Yarl Devi train service made a huge economic impact on the socio economic aspects of the folks of northerners. It symbolized a bond between the two brother hoods and fostered racial amity and unity and established a link of unification thus preventing polarization. The brain child of GMR G.D Rampala opened the windows to the world by providing a gateway to the northerner, when at the time Bill Gates was not heard of with his micro soft windows, only the railway gates were known! The trains at the beginning brought brine stone to feed the cement producing kilns of the KKS. Later transported brains to the rest of the area Professionals, politicians, students, Business men and even layman started visiting the capital and made profitable progresses.
In the dialogue of the drama of “Weera Pandiya Katta Pomman” this question is posed “Who tapped and awoke the Tamils who were in deep slumber?” our teacher Mr. M.Karthigesan a ready witted humorous teacher of a rare breed, a die heard communist, founder member of the Ceylon Communist Party, who sacrificed his life by not accepting state jobs lived rigidly to the very principles and policies and the noble concepts of the party. He said it is the Sinhalese (passengers) who boarded the train at Anuradhapura at mid night when the train touched the station, the passengers invariably Tamils till such time stretch their limbs sleep and snore with utter nonchalance to the fellow passengers who keep standing until the Sinhalese passengers who boarded at A’pura awoke him!!
The irony of it is in 1977 after the general elections when there was an aftermath of violence which took a communal turn, our teacher was traveling by train from Jaffna to Colombo by that train, when it stopped at Anuradhapura, the passengers were manhandled by thugs and he was also a victim, a fragile man at that time had the ill effects of it telling on him later. The teacher who trained the minds had to mind his train and learnt a lesson. Well, he was at the wrong place at the wrong time and had to return Jaffna barefooted as the train did not proceed beyond for security reasons.
The train commuters were so high there was invariably a chock a block in the compartments; as a result passengers go to KKS terminus to get a corner seat that was a common feature to overcome the travel travails. During the time the Federal Party Stalwart Mr. Amirthalingam lost his election in his own constituency Vaddukoddai and re contested KKS seat rendered vacant after the demise of the chief of F.P Mr. SJV. Chelvanayagam in the bye election and secured a seat in the Parliament, for which our revered teacher said, he had got a corner seat from KKS and gone to the parliament.
At the outset focus of Mahinda mindset on Yarl Devi power set to the palmyrah land with A40 Somerset is indeed very welcoming. The common Murali factor in the development of both East and North is intriguing! It may be due to the extra mural activities of both the “Muralidharans” which resulted in the “Murali” munificence and magnificence in the “Nagennahira Navodaya” and the “Uthuru Mithuruwo”, it is another Mahinda magic and logic.
The once vice captain of the LTTE, battle hardened batting hard to bring back the battered Batticaloa to regain normalcy and the vice captain of SL spinning to extract a splitting turn with his googlies in the google WWW web site (Wisden Wicket Wisdom) probably the wizard may wean the northern youngsters from AK 47 to wield the willow. Both the spin doctors may be very soon conferred with a doctorate to add to the existing cadre with, mere wins and frenzies.
In fact there are some northern youngsters yet to see a train as the train service had been disrupted for the last two decades or more and there are no traces of the railway track. The property of railway reservation down the track had been encroached and permanent structures are erected including temples to which the relevant ministry had allocated funds for construction. What happened to the valuable sleeper and the mile long tracks? Initially the security personnel started by making use of same for their heavily fortified bunkers and subsequently all and sundry followed suit. However the mysterious disappearance of the miles long tracks without any trace of their presence when the A9 was closed and the train service was not there is questionable?
The mouth watering scintillating aroma that emanated from the restaurant car (buffet) of the CGR catered by UK Edmonds is unforgettable. The savoury smacking delicacy served by them especially the omelet, the scrambled eggs and the bacon on top of double gin indeed was on top of any menu in comparison, the present day KFC or Mc Donald’s is no match, not even a patch with all it’s hotchpotch varieties. The hamburgers were not heard of then but the alert active locomotive drivers in the engine were mostly Burghers and very accommodative. “Three Coins” beer which was again UK Edmonds brew and his crew kept the commuters in good spirits with three cheers and free brawls throughout the journey.
The northern man scattered all over the island employed in the govt. service and private sector never dared to uproot his family as it would upset the child’s education which was his primary concern because of the high standard of education there then and opted to travel from wherever he was stationed, by trains. The service provided by the CGR was a boon, with concessionary weekend train tickets at subsidised rates, thus enabling him to attend to his weekend chores and to have his regular quota of Palmyra toddy behind the almirah and for some behind the Cadjan curtain in the toddy booths in the traditional plas made out of palmyrah leaf.
The northern line was the major money spinner to the Railways. The Yarl Devi turned out to be Yarl Devil whenever some unfortunate jumped into the train without return tickets ending their lives. They were of different types, who failed public exams. As Milton too was helpless in saving their lives and extending their term in public exams ( not the poet those who had love breaks, and some for the slightest provocation at the spur of the moment jumping into it, as on either side of the tracks there were dwelling houses in good part of the city. Needless to mention it was an angel to many to whom the long journey had sparked love affairs which had happy endings, beyond their destination!!
Will the bandwagon put the derailed peace talk also back on track with full steam ahead this time? Given the track record of the long winding unending peace process; is it a sight of light at the end of a long tunnel or the beam of the head light of an on coming train?? Believe there will be no “Cassandra Crossing” en-route except protected and unprotected level crossings, fingers crossed.
by Mr.Sinnathamby Sivanandan...Sydney, Australia