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Jumbo dung turns toy train model - Ex-ias officer's paper dream picks up steam

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MRINALINI SHARMA Published 14.07.10, 12:00 AM

Siliguri, July 13: A keen lover of the Darjeeling toy train has moulded hand-made paper from elephant dung into a replica of the locomotive.

The former IAS officer, T.R. Raghunandan, had to spend only Rs 300 to make a difference of the sort.

What had begun as an experimental project in November 2007 to teach children “kitchen table modelling” — making models with simple household material — at the National Rail Museum in Delhi turned out to be Raghunandan’s most-prized hobby.

“I was posted in Delhi from 2004 to 2009. We were preparing for the museum weekend when Mayank Tiwari was the director of the Museum. I thought it would be a nice idea to get children introduced to kitchen table modelling. I set up a stall at the annual event and used the DHR ‘B Class’ engine as the subject for model making. Of course, I was unable to complete the work during the two-day workshop, but that’s when it started,” said Raghunandan, who also served as the adviser to the museum in 2007.

Although he had visited Darjeeling only once in 1984 and has never taken a ride on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), Raghunandan’s fascination with the heritage train started in the late 60s when he had watched Aaradhana. A coy Sharmila Tagore was peeping through the toy train window to see a youthful Rajesh Khanna singing Meri Sapnon Ki Rani Kab Ayegi Tu on a jeep as it sped alongside the tracks.

“Believe me the only time I visited Darjeeling was in 1984 and I’ve never stepped on the toy train. It still remains a dream for me. My fascination with the heritage railway, however, started with the song from Aaradhana. The shots and the song still make my heart beat faster whenever I hear it,” said Raghunandan in an email to The Telegraph.

The former IAS officer of the 1983 batch had served as the deputy commissioner for rural development and panchayat raj secretary in Karnataka. His last posting was as joint secretary of panchayati raj before he resigned in March this year. Currently, Raghunandan is based in Bangalore and works as an independent development consultant with the UNDP, the Swiss Development Corporation and an NGO.

A chance encounter with Mahima Mehera gave him the novel idea of using handmade paper from elephant dung.

“While at the museum, I met Mahima, who runs an agency that supplies handmade paper made from elephant dung and I thought it would be a good idea to use this paper,” he wrote.

At least 300 snapshots of DHR Class B 777 — displayed at the museum — taken from every angle were used by Raghunandan to draw out the basic dimension of the chassis and the wheels.

“It was a tedious job, because a lot of repetitive work is involved. I started putting together the basic shape of the super structure — the boiler and the cabin — when the proportion and shape were right. The work then proceeded to cylinders and driving levers,” said Raghunandan.

The smoke stack, the saddle tank, the side tool boxes, the pressure oiling system followed.

A shampoo bottle cap came handy for the headlight. A beer can cut into strips and covers from notebooks and files were used for stiffening some parts of the engine to get the shape right. A bottle cap formed the steam pressure gauge and an empty ball point refill was used as the whistle. Asphalt gravel pounded to bits served as coal for the steam loco.

“I had difficulty in getting some compound curves right, because paper tends to bend and wrinkle. But with slight wetting of the paper with dilute adhesive, I found that the paper could be shaped over curves with some nudging,” said Raghunandan.

“The consistency of the paper varied from batch to batch. While the first batch must have come from a health freak elephant that consumed a lot of fibre, the second was obviously from a rather more laid back one, which seemed to have had a preference for heavy milk shakes,” he joked.

And with a cost of only Rs 300 but with a tremendous effort spanning 1000 hours, the DHR paper model was completed in March.

The ex- IAS officer said the former DHR director Subrato Nath and Adrian Shooter, who owns a DHR locomotive in the UK, had provided “useful technical advice”.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society — a UK-based association of toy train lovers — is all praise for the model. “The model was spotted by the DHRS technical and modelling co-ordinator, David Churchill. It is a very delightful model and very, very accurate,” David Charlesworth, the editor of the DHRS quarterly magazine, wrote to The Telegraph.

What next? Raghunandan plans to add DHR carriages to the model and replicate the Sukna station.

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