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Tracking the Luminaries – Famous Railway Men

Numerous figures in public and cultural life who brought laurels for the country and the community worked in the Railways, sometimes in ordinary positions. These employees dazzled the world in whatever field they dabbled. In the category of such fascinating luminaries are Jim Corbett and Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, the former synonymous with India’s wildlife and the latter as the Father of modern Hindi literature

Jim Corbett

The eighth child of a postmaster, James Edward Corbett, known to the world as Jim Corbett was born on July 25, 1875 at Nainital. His mother, Mary Jane Corbett married Christopher Corbett after the death of her first husband Mr. Doyle. Christopher, however, died when Jim was just four. Supported by his elder step-brother, Tom, Jim had his schooling at Philander Smith’s School at Nainital. It was here that he learned the use of firearms, which were to be his lifelong company in jungles whether in India or Kenya. Life for Jim was not all peaches and cream. The poor financial condition at home compelled Jim to look for a job when he was not even 17. He was much relieved when, in 1893, Bengal Railway Company offered him a job of Fuel Inspector at a salary of Rs 100 per month. Due to his affable personality and hard work, Jim attracted the notice of his superiors and was promoted as Transhipment Inspector on a salary of Rs 150 per month. He was posted at Mokamaghat in Bihar. Born and brought up in the woody vesture of Nainital, Jim could never for a moment forsake the call of the forests where he was more at home than anywhere else. The Railways interestingly offered him ample opportunity for jungle exploration.

Jim Corbett worked in the Railways for a considerable span of 20 years, the longest spell of any regular service he had in his lifetime. After leaving the Railways, he served in the First World War and led the 70th Kumaon Labour Corps in France. He was promoted as Major in 1918. But Jim was all wrapped up in Kaladhungi and Nainital, which were inseparable to him even in the wildest of his dreams. His experience with the Railways is traceable even as remotely in the books he authored. The popular among the eight books credited to him are: Man-eaters of Kumaon, The Man-eating Leopards of Rudraprayag, My India and Jungle Lore. Like most railway persons, Jim was ever keen to take up new challenges, and at the age of nearly 65, he ventured again into the army during Second World War and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

At the age of 71, Jim migrated to Kenya in 1946 where he died a bachelor on April 19,1955. Nine years before he left India, he had helped set up the country’s first National Park near Nainital, which has been appropriately named by the Government of India after the great wildlife conservationist as Jim Corbett National Park.

His deep love for wildlife and the tiger is evident from what he said. “A tiger is a large-hearted gentleman with boundless courage. When he is exterminated, India will be poorer by the finest of her fauna.” But Jim was also a great humanist and helped hundreds of people in distress. He once saved the life of an unknown person dying of cholera at Mokamaghat station. He not only nursed the ailing man in his own house for months but also helped him restart life by giving him Rs 500, a big sum in the first decade of the 20th century.

Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi

If railwayman Jim Corbett was a legend in his lifetime, his successor in the Central Railway (then G.I.P. Railway) was no less so. He virtually steered the course of Hindi language and literature to what we have today. He was the maker of Maithilisharan Gupt, the erstwhile poet laureate of India and the great nationalist, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi.

Dwivedi joined the Railways at an early age in 1882 in Ajmer at a monthly salary of Rs 15. He soon left Ajmer for Nagpur, and subsequently took training in Signalling in Mumbai. He was posted to different places on GIP Railway and to Divisional Superintendent’s office at Jhansi. He was promoted here as an head clerk.

It was during his railway service in Jhansi that Dwivedi earned wide fame as a writer and litterateur. He took the Hindi world by storm when he published his translations and the critical works including Sahitya Sandarbh and Vichar Vimarsh. He wrote extensively on Kalidas and Bharathari, and wrote Puratatwa Prasang and Vigyan Varta. No other writer in Hindi then had so prolific and authoritative a pen as Dwivedi. He was the ‘Dr Johnson’ of his time. And he rode to fame, toiling hard even after a day-long grill of attending to arrivals and departures of trains.

Dwivedi protested against the prevalent anomaly in Hindi. The authors then used Khariboli for writing in prose and Brijbhasha for poetry. Condemning this strange phenomenon, Dwivedi said: “To speak in one language and write poetry in another is contrary to the laws of nature. Domination of Brijbhasha in poetry now cannot exist for a long time.” Toiling relentlessly to resurrect Hindi literature from anarchy, he lent it a definite direction and created a new generation of Hindi writers.

All along, Dwivedi harboured a wish to devote his whole time to literature. Hence while working in Jhansi, when he found an opportunity, he took retirement from railway service and plunged into literary journalism and creative writing. This was around 1902. Dwivedi joined a Hindi monthly, Saraswati in 1903. Editing the journal with his rich background of classical and contemporary literature and apocalyptic vision, he exalted the provincial journal to great national stature. In it, he published the outstanding writers of the time including Munshi Premchand. The country was in the spate of freedom movement and Saraswati was not only adored by the freedom stalwarts but also feared by the British rulers.

Born in Daulatpur village of Rai Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh in 1864, Dwivedi’s name was changed from Mahavir Sahai to Mahavir Prasad due to an error committed by his school teacher. He had his primary schooling in the village, and for his high school education, he moved to Rai Bareilly and later to Unnao. He had no college education and for a large part was a self-taught scholar. The scholar died in 1938.

Jim Corbett and Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi are just two of the scores of giants, the Railways have given to the world. There are others such as sportsperson P.T. Usha, director Bimal Mitra (Sahib Bibi or Gulam) and other illustrious persons associated with the film world like Ramesh Bakshi (27 Down) Ram Lal (Ukhre Huye Log) and many more exhaustively chronicled by Bipin Jain of Northern Railway in his book Kahani Junction.

Jim Corbett and Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi are just two of the scores of giants the Railways gave to the world. The list includes sportspersons such as PT Usha and other illustrious personalities from filmdom.