For the porters and passengers at the historic building of Lahore railway station, life is a metaphor of arrivals and departures
Lahore: Working as a porter at the Lahore railway station for the last 36 years, Tahir Khan, 53, has seen the ebb and flow of life at the transport hub. The place is home to him in more ways than one.
The lure of rail travel has endured from the time the steam engine was invented. For millions around the world, travelling by train has a charm that remains faithful to the legends and lore of journeys and destinations captured in a myriad takes of adventure and thrill and for Khan, the Lahore railway station is quintessentially a part of that legend.
Hailing from a village from Wazirabad, he eats, sleeps and works at the railway hub.
“This saves money,” says Khan. “I always find a corner somewhere where the police would not disturb me,” he says.
He has been doing this since the time he took up the job as a porter.
They were glorious days, says Khan, reminiscing about the 80s when, as a young man, his earnings as a porter still allowed him to run his household with ease.
“Back in the 80s, things were better. We used to earn very little but were happy and satisfied with running our households. All that has changed and things are taking a turn for the worse,” Khan says.
“We used to charge one rupee for carrying the luggage one way. Then after some years, the rate increased to Rs2 and then Rs3. Now, we officially charge Rs50 but we ask the customers to pay a little more than that as we from what we earn, we have to give a certain sum to our contractor and from what’s left, save for ourselves,” Khan says.
Khan explained that he has to earn at least Rs600 to Rs700 a day, over and above what he has to pay the contractor so he can make ends meet. “This is the reason I have not missed any train,” he says.
For Razzak, another porter employed at the Lahore railway station, the switch from working as a labourer has made it more lucrative for him. He took up the job as a porter two years ago because he believes there is more money to be earned. “People often give a good tip. It is better than doing labour all day,” says Razzak.
Different, yet the same
Mohammad Hanif runs a tea stall on platform No 2.
“A lot has changed over the years [in the city and in the country] but the hustle bustle at the railway station is the same as it was four decades ago. Everyone is in a hurry to catch the train or hurry home after disembarking,” Hanif says.
Talking of the fleeting acquaintances made at the railway station, Hanif says, “Life is made of hellos and goodbyes. Some people are regular travellers who move between the city and the suburbs and towns and we meet them quite frequently. But others come in from far off towns and we meet them once or twice in life.
The platform is a metaphor for humanity influx. The young and old, men, women and children, their faces flash past as they are either arriving or departing, says Hanif.
As if to corroborate his view, a beaming group of special needs youth, who are all basketball players, seem conspicuous in their excitement. The group is travelling to Karachi from where they will be flying to Abu Dhabi to participate in the run-up to the Special Olympics to be held in 2019.
The team headed by their coach, James Smith, would play in qualifying rounds in MENA (Middle East North Africa) competitions.
Rizwanaullah, 18, student of King’s College Abbottabad, hopeful of making it in the qualifying games, said he is fond of train journeys.
“I always like to travel by train. The fascination of a train journey lies in the opportunities it offers to see unknown places and meet strangers who have their own stories to share,” he said. Coach Smith said the children love to travel by train.
“Since they come from different cities, travelling together for a long distances helps them get to know each other and forge friendships,” he said.
“The Olympics will definitely boost their confidence working with hundreds of volunteers from across the globe,” James added.
Marvi Azhar, 15, who hails from Sargodha, said she loves rail travel because of it gives her a chance to take in the beautiful countryside.
“The morning and evenings moods of countryside are truly fascinating. I also love to read during a train journey,” she said.
Basketball player. 16-year-old Abdul Mateen, who is on the same team, said he has many experiences of train journeys and the initial act of getting to the station itself always reminds him of scenes from the Harry Potter films.