The Punjab Mail
One of the iconic trains that connected the Punjab province to the rest of the country was the Punjab Mail. Established in 1912, the railway line was one of the most famous and the fastest train that connected Punjab with India's major cities. Here's the schedule of Punjab Mail in undivided India. It took about 47 hours to go from Bombay to Peshawar covering a distance of about 2500 km at an average speed of 53 km per hour.
In their book Indian Railways: The Weaving of a National Tapestry, authors Bibek Debroy, Sanjay Chadha, Vidya Krishnamurthi write about the history of this iconic railway line which provided ordinary Punjabis the ability to travel vast distances using an inexpensive and relatively fast transportation mode.
The book also publishes travel logs by fellow passengers describing their journeys. One such story is from a passenger who wrote...
"... the compartment had an exceptional assortment of passengers. There were three stalwart Punjabi Mahomedans, two refined Tamilians and two Mahomedan merchants who joined us later. One of the Punjabis had already travelled three nights and was weary and tired. But he could not stretch himself. He said he had sat a whole day in the Central Station watching people paying bribes to procure their tickets. Another said he had paid Rs. 5 to get his ticket and his seat..."
The book provides a glimpse of a highly mobile country that, at the time, was fast becoming integrated and where the vast distances were being shrunk through the ever expanding network of the railways. Railways brought mobility and connectivity in an age when people hardly travelled few kilometers from their homes or villages in their entire lives. Railways connected Lahore with every part of India. Businessmen from Punjab were traveling and selling their wares in cities like Delhi, Madras, Calcutta and Bombay.
Timetables and railway routes became part of the cultural folklore. Songs were written on when the train will arrive in Lahore or when their loved one would reach Delhi. The connectivity of towns and cities allowed families to invest in other parts of the country. One could travel to Bombay to try their luck in the film industry, one could go to Shimla in the summers, one could go from Rawalpindi to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and all of this was made possible by the Punjab Mail.
Access to wider market was essential to Punjab's agriculture community and if
Partition had not happened, I believe that Punjab would have been the dominant
economic and political province in undivided India.
There are those who would argue that religious differences superseded all of the good that was going on in the country. It is remarkable that somehow it was better to lose all the benefits of national integration and choose a separate homeland limited by its geography and economic opportunities. And it is equally remarkable that somehow this poorly thought out demand for a separate homeland was not fully debated by the political leaders within the Muslim League.
Sadly the same railway network that could have been used to further
develop Punjab's economy became an instrument for executing the ill
conceived idea of Partition, enabling the macabre separation of millions
of uprooted, hungry and scared people, carrying the dead and the barely living.
It is now quite obvious to me that those who were advocating the division of the country by playing on people's worst fears were completely comfortable in governing the other but they rejected the idea of "living" with the other.
It was one thing to rule over them but entirely another to live among them.