In Lucknow, the very popular old Toy-train also known as Bal Bhavan Loco or Bal Rail was started for the first time in Lucknow Zoological Garden on 14th November 1969. This Toy- train remained the main attraction for the visitors both old and the young alike for nearly four decades.

The date 14th November which is also celebrated as Children’s Day in India was chosen for starting off the train because it signified the birth anniversary of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who was very fond of children and was lovingly addressed as “Chacha Nehru” by the kids across the country.

He was of the view that the children should be given utmost love and affection as nurturing them and raising them in the right way would determine the future of India. He was fully aware of the importance of education especially in the development of a child yet he also believed that knowledge and affection knew no boundaries. It could be attained in the most precarious conditions also. It was for the same reason that even though he remained confined behind the walls in the Naini Central Prison near Allahabad, he never ceased to love and educate his daughter through his letters. He wrote that on her birthday “the gift of mind and spirit that he wanted to give her could not be stopped by the high walls of prison”. In the letters, he spoke to his daughter on a wide range of topics, including languages, trade, history, geography, science, epics and evolution.[1]

The Toy-train which was introduced in Lucknow by the Railway Board carried forward the legacy of Nehru in the true spirit. As the train ran on the tracks, the term ‘train’ virtually found a new interpretation. In the conventional sense, a train transports people and goods from one place to another but with the introduction of Toy-train, the idea of journey got a new meaning altogether. For a child, it symbolized self-reliance. It brought into vogue the notion of ‘Learning on wheels.’ It helped develop a child’s sensitivity towards the environment and introduced them to the world of animals. Train pulled out both pedagogy and knowledge far beyond the confines of class room. The train also made knowledge accessible to even a deprived child who couldn’t ever dream of touching the threshold of school.

Arun Kumar with his wife Uma Sheel

Arun Kumar who joined the Northern Railways at Lucknow as a fitter, it is said was the man behind translating and making the idea of Toy-train operational. As per his manager at Carriage and Wagon’s Mechanical Department, he found Arun Kumar as mainly responsible for the undergear of the locomotive. He wrote in a letter of appreciation dated 3/2/1968 that Arun Kumar not only completed his work efficiently but effected some improvements in it also. He further wrote that Arun Kumar could be entrusted with the underframe work independently and the services rendered by him in the fabrication of Bal Bhavan Loco was highly appreciated.

The Toy-train was sent to different parts of the country like Pragati Maidan in Delhi, Chowringhee park of Kolkata, Allahabad, Gandhi Hill, in Vijayawada, Tripura and even as far as Andaman and Nicobar Islands as per  Uma Sheel, Arun Kumar’s wife in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi.

The train was gifted to the Lucknow zoo in 1969 by the Railway Board. It was launched by the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Shri Chandra Bhanu Gupta and the station was named after him as Chandrapuri Station.  Chandra Bhanu Gupta served three terms as Chief minister of Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He joined the Indian independence movement at tender age of 17, when he took part in anti-Rowlatt Bill demonstrations in Sitapur.[2] He was elected President of Congress Party for Lucknow in 1929. Shri Gupta was the main force behind the Motilal Nehru Memorial Society, which set up various educational, social welfare and cultural centres in Lucknow. These include Ravindralaya, Children Museum, Bal Vidya Mandir, Acharya Narendra Dev Hostel, Homeopathic Hospital, a number of Degree Colleges and a Public Library in Lucknow.[3]  

Uma Sheel seen standing at Chandrapuri Station and Arun Kumar is seen in the train

 The Toy-train was no less a work of marvel and for the same reason, the then President Mr VV Giri gifted it to the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi,[4] also known as Mohammad Reza Shah according to Uma Sheel. Shah was the second and the last monarch of the House of Pahlavi. Mohammad Reza came to power during World War II after an Anglo-Soviet invasion forced the abdication of his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi. His dream of what he referred to as a “Great Civilization” in Iran led to a rapid industrial and military modernization, as well as economic and social reforms.[5] In October 1971, Iran marked the anniversary of 2,500 years of continuous Persian monarchy since the founding of the Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great. Concurrent with this celebration, Mohammad Reza changed the benchmark of the Iranian calendar from the hegira to the beginning of the First Persian Empire, measured from Cyrus the Great’s coronation.[6] Mohammad Reza also introduced the ‘White Revolution,’ a series of economic, social and political reforms with the proclaimed intention of transforming Iran into a global power and modernizing the nation by nationalizing certain industries and granting women suffrage.

On receiving the Toy train from India, Shah was so impressed that he decided to invite Arun Kumar to Iran. Arun Kumar was all set to go to but due to certain disturbances that erupted in the country, his trip got cancelled.

Arun Kumar retired from the position of a Supervisor and died on 13th of February 2008 but ‘his train’ continued to chug on till November 2013 and ‘outlived’ him. Arun Kumar is survived by his wife and three daughters who are all well-educated and settled in their lives. At present, his wife even at the age of 74 keeps herself busy in social service. But every now and then a feeling of regret overpowers her that her husband’s work has not been duly credited. On her part, she left no stone unturned in getting her husband his due. Over the years, she relentlessly wrote letters to the Prime Minister of India, urging that her husband’s contribution should be duly acknowledged and be rewarded as per its worth lest it gets drifted away with the passage of time into oblivion.

Endnotes:

[1] https://www.scoopwhoop.com/inothernews/nehrus-letter-to-indira-gandhi/

[2] The Sunday Tribune, Retrieved 21st May 2014.

[3] Lila Dhar (2009) Bhartiya Charit Kosh, Sharma Rajpal & Sons. ISBN 9788174831002, Retrieved 21st May 2014

[4] Historic Personalities of Iran:Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi,www.iranchamber.com.Retrieved 19th February 2017

[5] Reza Gholami(2016). Secularism and Identity:Non Islamiosity in the Iranian Diaspora,Routledge.p.80.ISBN 9781317058274

[6] March,15,1976 AD:Iran Switches To Imperial Calendar.The Iranian History Chronicle.Archived from the original on 22nd  December 2016.Retrieved 16th  July 2015.

Prof. Shura Darapuri, Department of History, B. B. Ambedkar University (A Central University), Lucknow, (U.P.)


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