How do 30-odd teenagers, with mounds of luggage and anxious parents in tow, manage to coordinate and catch a train at bustling Howrah station?
“We will assemble under the boro ghori (big clock), of course,” Deepabali, a second-year student of microbiology at St Xavier’s College, said on Monday evening.
But had the gang, headed for their annual excursion (to Shimla) noticed that time has stopped at their favourite railway rendezvous point?
“Really?” asked Shriya, looking up incredulously at the big clock with a white dial. The minute hand of one of the clocks stood at 12, the hour hand at 2. Its twin told the correct time: 6.25pm. “Actually, the boro ghori is used more as a landmark than to tell time,” smiled Deepabali.
In an age where seamless cellphone connectivity is rendering landmarks obsolete, the Howrah clock — built in 1926 by Gent’s of London — continues to be the most prominent meeting point at the 105-year-old building.
According to station employees, the clock facing platform No. 1 (its twin points towards No. 15) was first spotted giving incorrect time on January 16. “We found the clock was running slow and made the necessary adjustments. But the problem persisted. So, on Saturday, we put up an ‘out of order’ sign,” said an engineer of the signal and telecom department, in charge of maintaining the clock.
A BBD Bag-based watchmakers’ firm has been contacted to examine the clock on January 27. “They will determine whether it needs an overhaul or minor repair. If major work is required, it has to be taken to their workshop,” said a station official.
The mechanics is unlike modern clocks and it is tough to find technicians familiar with vintage clocks. “Finding spare parts is even more difficult,” he added.
Mounted on heavy wooden frames, the twin clocks are said to be designed after the Big Ben in London. The minute hand is 24 inches, the hour hand 18 inches (see box).
The clock is operated with the help of an electronic pulse master. “Every 30 seconds, the device sends an electronic pulse to the clock. Till nine years back, the electronic pulse machine was kept in the control room and the pulse was sent through a cable. But rats nibbled at the wires and the clock went out of order temporarily,” said the official. “It was repaired and the equipment kept in the wooden cabinet of the clock.”
For generations of Calcuttans, the clock has been lodestar or timekeeper. BCom student Payel recounted how the clock had helped her find a “special” friend while going to Santiniketan. “The station is so big and crowded that even with cellphones, we failed to spot each other. Then we decided to meet under the big clock and managed to catch our train in the nick of time!”
For travelling ticket examiner S. Ahmed, the ubiquitous TT, the big clock has defined time for decades. “I have spent 30 years in and out of Howrah station and always make it a point to check if my wristwatch matches the hands of the big clock.” Today, it tells him a half-truth.