Friday, 29 June 2012

Farewell, WDS4 locos!

Rest In Peace
The Central Railway recently condemned 20 WDS4 class of locomotives thereby sounding the death knell for them. The Chittaranjan Locomotive Works completed its first diesel shunting engine in December 1967: a WDS4 locomotive with 650 HP with 48% indigenous content and was commissioned into the Indian Railways network by Mr. C.M. Poonacha, the then Railway Minister on 5th January 1968. 

The demand for separate shunting locomotives was felt to improve haulage in longer trains. At present, there are four classes of WDS4 locomotives namely: WDS4, WDS4A, WDS4B and WDS4D. The WDS4C classes of engines are rebuilt from the previous WDS3 locomotives. In Mumbai, they were initially homed by Western Railway at the Bandra Marshalling Yard in 1979 in Bandra. The most common locomotives of this class are WDS4B and WDS4D which are frequently spotted in and around Bandra. 

Despite many employees from Central Railway requesting not to condemn the WDS4 locomotives, the Central Railway condemned them because the production of diesel hydraulic locomotives were discontinued from 1993-94. These engines have a rugged design and have hydraulic transmission. Hence, their initial tractive effort is very high which means that these types of locomotives can easily pull up to 30 coach trains during regular yard shunting. The condemning of the locos came about due to a new set of WDM2 locomotives being downgraded to the mark of WDM2S which replaced the WDS4 locomotives and the previous WCG-2 locomotives which were being used as shunters. 

Presently, there are just two WDS4 locomotives that the Central Railway has. One is being used at its home shed in Kurla and the other one for clearing the muck and silt along the tracks. Due to its sturdy and large wheels, these engines have a higher ground for clearing than normal engines. The Central Railway has traditionally been known for its low-lying areas and during the monsoons, the presence of these locomotives assumes more importance as these engines are fitted with coupling rods.

 In the wake of heavy rains, these types of engines were pressed into service. They were extensively used during the 2005 deluge and the 2006 train blasts to clear out the clogged suburban train system. In times of electric failure and when trains got stuck during the monsoons, these engines were called for and pulled the trains to the nearest carsheds or workshops for their routine maintenance. Indeed it is really unfortunate that we are deleting an integral part of history as these locomotives were the only engines in the Indian Railways today which had hydraulic transmission. 

The human race has been engineered such that our emotions have the power to connect with anything including abstract opinions or non-living things. The puny 600 HP shunters WDS4 locomotives which once gave a feeling of steam engines through their wheels will now fade into oblivion. As we brace ahead for bidding adieu to these puny locomotives as they lose their battle for survival, we can only hope to retain a part of these engines purely for posterity and heritage reasons. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Inflationary Heights

It is summer holidays and kids living in a posh building-- "Inflationary Heights" are having great fun. Their parents have filled their pockets with money and the kids now have buying power. There is an ice cream parlour down the street. The parlour sells ice cream to all the children of the area. The man in charge of the parlour is glad for making all the children happy with his different ice cream flavours. There is a steady balance between the joy of selling and buying ice cream. 

This summer, something happened which disturbed this balance. The kids from Inflationary Heights full of notes in their pockets start consuming double the volume of ice cream that they normally do. The parlour man realizes soon enough that the children from Inflationary Heights have a lot of money with them and even if he were to increase prices, they would continue to buy them. He then increases the prices and the demand continues unabated. While the parlour man gets richer by the day, the other children of the area see their smiles vanish. They no longer are able to afford the ice cream any longer.

They decide to meet the parents of the children from Inflationary Heights. During the meeting with the parents, they explain their problem. They request the parents to reduce the pocket money allowance of their children so that the price of ice cream drops. The parents are in a fix. They know that this will not be accepted by their children. While everyone celebrated when they had increased their allowance, the children may not be willing to accept a reduction. The parents do understand that if they reduce the allowance, their kids would have less money and consequently the demand for ice cream would drop. Thus, the inflation in ice cream at the parlour could be reduced by reducing the availability of money.

Just like the parents of the children of Inflationary Heights have the option to regulate the prices of the ice cream parlour by either increasing or decreasing the allowance money of their children, in the same way, RBI (Reserve Bank of India) has the option to regulate the flow of money into the economy and control prices. This is called demand side inflation that may get controlled by monetary policy measures. 

So, what is supply side inflation? Let us get back to the story. After the meeting, one of the parents, Mr. Idea Shankar, comes up with an idea that may not force them to reduce the allowance and at the same time may provide that prices at the parlour would come down. The next day, Mr. Idea Shankar calls on a few competitors of the ice cream parlour and informs them of the huge business potential in their area. He informs the competitors about how the children of Inflationary Heights have got a lot of cash to spend due to their higher allowance. Idea Shankar's idea works to perfection. Within two days, four new parlours open up in the area. Seeing this and fearing that he would lose business to the competitors, the parlour man immediately brings down prices. Now there are enough parlours and enough customers. In this scenario, the higher allowance does not impact prices in the parlours because there is adequate supply. In fact, some of the parlours who are new start offering discounts. 

All the children in the area are now happy because they can start enjoying their ice cream all over again. In fact, they can now eat more due to the discounts. Now they do not have any grievances against the children from Inflationary Heights. Some of them are even thankful to them because they now have wider variety at lower prices. 

The manner in which prices were regulated was by increasing the supply of ice-cream, in the same manner, the government may control inflation by making the necessary provisions for increasing the supply of products and services in the economy. This is the concept of supply side inflation. While it is easier to set up a few ice cream parlours, it is not as easy to set up many factories and services for the government as it would need land, labour and capital plus time to set up the supply.

However, controlling inflation from a supply perspective is more inclusive and sustainable. On the other hand, using monetary policy to stem inflation is short term in nature and not inclusive. Beyond a point, monetary policy ceases to be an effective tool for control of inflation. 

To some extent, the Indian economy stands at a cross road because of the role of RBI to control inflation is diminishing and the need for creating additional supply is getting imperative. Policies need to be drafted that attract entrepreneurs to invest in the economy so that they can create supply and demand by way of creating jobs. This could try and bring balance back to the economy.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Movie Review: Page 3

The 2005 Hindi movie "Page 3" by realistic filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar refers to the popular "Page 3" culture which is exploited by tabloids and newspapers alike. For the uninitiated, the Page 3 culture is the name given to the tabloid culture where India's partying upper-class from certain specific Indian cities get featured on the third page of a newspaper, even if it means doing nothing more than attending parties and shows. Through the film, Madhur Bhandarkar tracks the rich and glamorous parties and later moving on to the dark recesses of the glitterati.

The story is narrated through entertainment journalist Madhavi (Konkona Sen Sharma), who is a Page 3 correspondent for "The Nation Today", a leading daily. In parallel leads, we meet Pearl (Sandhya Mridul), an airhostess who has a fiery tongue and Gayatri (Tara Sharma), an upcoming actress. Being a journalist in the party beat, Madhavi is a Page 3 regular and most of the socialites know her by name. Hence, on one end, we have a cop (Madan Jain) who is more interested in attending parties and training film actors for police based movies than his job of policing. At the other end of the spectrum, we have industrialist Romesh Thapar (Nasser Abdullah), who is more interested in his business than his wife Anjali (Soni Razdan), we are then introduced to leading film actor Rohit (Bikram Saluja) and a rising model Tarun (Jai Kalra). 

As Madhavi begins to get disillusioned with her job, she works with fellow journalist Vinayak Mane (Atul Kulkarni) in the crime beat. It is here that she meets drug addicts, pimps, prostitutes, terrorists, bomb blasts and even comes across child abuse. She realizes that it is in such places where real stories take place. Her disillusionment with Page 3 is brought out well as high society spurns her. As her friends move out of her apartment and when she discovers her boyfriend's activities, her world shatters and falls miserably around her. The cinematography by Madhu Rao captures Konkona's emotions really well in an 'as-it-is' mode without romanticizing the situation further.

The film explores several important issues such as disturbed families, depression leading to suicide, cheating spouses, wife-swapping, drug peddling, child prostitution and casting couches. Each of the issues has been addressed through different protagonists who are regularly featured on page 3. Taboos like homosexuality and bisexuality come out in the open. Backbiting, bitching on the phone, networking at celebrity funerals and the Indian language press against the special treatment meted to out to English speaking journalists are other issues the film reflects on.

Konkona Sen Sharma is a thinking man's dream girl. As the journalist Madhavi, she is first rate as the lone moral voice in the film. She guides the viewers through the farce, disgust, betrayals and the shady deals of the world within and outside of Page 3. Sandhya Mridul as the fiery tongued airhostess is competent. Boman Irani as the editor who must do he must personal feelings and morals notwithstanding reflects the true state of most newspaper editors of today. Tara Sharma as the rising starlet is fit. The music by Shamir Tandon is also deftly woven into the plot of the movie. 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Movie Review: Ajintha

The 2012 Marathi film "Ajintha" begins with an rivetting recollection of a hunting expedition in 1819 when Captain John Smith accidentally discovers an entrance to the world famous Ajanta (Ajintha) caves, which date back to 200 BC during the Satavahana dynasty. It is following this incident when Robert Gill, a British official from the Madras Presidency is called to recreate the paintings and enlighten the world about Ajintha's rich history and glory. 

Ajintha is a period film set in the 18th century which revolves around the truth of Ajanta and the untold love story between the British officer Robert Gill who fell in love with Paro, a tribal woman from the Bhill community. Paro, the dusky Indian woman belonged to the village of Lenapur which is closest to the world renowned caves. The film goes on to explore the important role the village played to find the essence of Ajanta which later became known for its exotic paintings, impressive architecture and a forgotten history. 

When Major Gill grows anxious about the delay in getting the colours, the film beautifully explores how Paro chooses to get the colours made through natural sources and she busies herself in helping him out at the site. She ends up becoming his muse since he believes that he is unable to work without her presence. To the world Major Gill speaks in English but with Paro, he has his own language which does not involve words as she brings alive the world of exquisite paintings and Gill is steadily drawn towards her. 

The story written by senior writer N.D. Mahanor celebrates the spirit and soul of the heritage site and uses the tale surrounding the caves to depict a beautiful and untold piece of history of the 19th century. As a filmmaker, it is only Nitin Desai who could have realized and executed the true vision of N.D. Mahanor. The film is a visual treat and leaves behind a stunning cinematic experience. The beauty of the Caves and the nearby village has been captured gloriously by Rajiv Jain. The music by Kaushal S. Inamdar which is graced with the lyrics of N.D. Mahanor blend seamlessly in the film. An interesting choice of singers to sing each song in the movie also makes it a collector's item. Sonalee Kulkarni flaunts her body with tremendous grace despite wearing revealing costumes designed by Neeta Lulla. Yet, the costumes do not qualify as "vulgar". The way she moulds her character to become Paro is much appreciated and she delivers even in the emotional scenes. English theatre actor Phillip Wallace Scott also deserves praise for his commendable role as Robert Gill, who later went on to build a memorial for Paro. 

Ajintha is a visual treat with a rich cinematic experience. Though it is a Marathi film, a major portion of the film is in English. The way the paintings, images and the architecture of the Caves has been captured will leave you in awe of the art. The artistic cinematography especially during Holi sequences and the waterfalls is marvellous. The explanation of philosophy related to the Caves and the Indian mythology add depth to the film. In short, Ajintha is nothing less than a picturesque saga which defines the true and unadulterated meaning of love. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Deccan Queen Turns 83

The legendary Deccan Queen negotiating a curve
Pic courtesy: Deepesh Soni 
To old timers and railway chroniclers, the very name "Deccan Queen" brings back to memory a transport revolution that the Queen brought about in the Bombay--Pune sector. The Deccan Queen Express revolutionized rail travel in India cutting down the journey time between the two cities of Bombay and Pune from a whopping 6 hours under steam traction to an amazing 2 hours 45 minutes with electric traction. There had been a Poona Race Train which had been scheduled to do the distance in 3 hours 26 minutes behind steam traction in 1901. This was including three engine changes and one reversal enroute. The 2 hour 45 minutes of the Deccan Queen was therefore revolutionary for a day train providing a regular service, unlike the seasonal race special. 

The ad for the Deccan Queen in 1930
June 1, 1930 was a red letter for the erstwhile Great Indian Peninsular Railway (the forerunner of the Central Railway) which flagged off the Deccan Queen, India's first superfast deluxe train to run between the commercial capital Bombay and the cultural capital Poona (Pune). An archive from The Times of India dating back to May 20, 1930 reads: "the G.I.P. Railway administration is shortly making another stride forward in catering to comfort and convenience of the travelling public which constitutes a record in Asia. There has for a long time been a demand from the public for a really fast service between Bombay and Pune and it is proposed to meet this demand by the running of what is aptly called the "Deccan Queen"--a train which has no rival in the east for luxury and speed." 

The Deccan Queen has several firsts or 'among the firsts' to her credit. A few being that she was India's first superfast train, she was the first long distance train to be hauled by an electric locomotive. She was also one of the first trains to be connected through vestibules. The Deccan Queen is a symbol of pride for the both the GIPR as well as CR since it was also the first train to have exclusive compartments marked for ladies and also among the first to have a dining car. It is also the only train to have been featured in the 1988 iconic "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara" video for national integration. On 7th May 2010, she was also the first train to be banked by three WAG7 electric locomotives when the traction power on the Karjat--Lonavla stretch was changed to 25,000 volts Alternating Current from the earlier 1500 Volts Direct Current. These series of firsts make it an exciting train with a long chequered history. It was the first train in which passengers could carry dogs along and the royals used the train to transport officials to Pune for races while the common man used the train to commute between the cities. 

The Deccan Queen is the only train in India presently to have a Dining Car. The Dining Car offers table services for 32 passengers and has modern pantry facilities such as a microwave oven, deep freezer and a toaster. The Dining Car is tastefully furnished with cushioned chairs and carpets. The Dining Car had been fitted with grills, steam ovens, boilers and was one of the few trains to be introduced by the GIPR with an electric refrigerator to stack cold beverages when it was first introduced. Apart from the usual vadas, cutlets, patties, soup and fries, the Dining Car staff serves even cheese toasts, baked beans and scrambled eggs, food items which are unique only to the Deccan Queen.
The name plate of the Deccan Queen Express

From its inception, apart from providing high standards of comfort to passengers, the train has witnessed various improvements such as the introduction of coaches with roller bearings for the first time in India, replacement of end generating coaches to self-generating compartments with 110 volts systems and the introduction of first and second class chair cars thereby providing increased accommodation to passengers. 

The Deccan Queen is an incongruous part of the history between Mumbai and Pune. The story is inextricably linked with speed and luxury during the pre-independence days. The management systems of the Deccan Queen have been assessed by the International Services Ltd. and were found to comply with their requirements of ISO 9001:2000 under the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand in November 2003, thereby making it the first Indian train to find a place in the Limca Book of Records.