Railway Humor – Anecdotes from the British Raj era

I’m someone who can’t see a drooping face. It pains me no end. If I come across one such face, I am hell-bent on lighting it up. And I am told, I am at my best doing this. I attribute this quality in myself to my innate ability to laugh my cares away. Making people laugh with jokes comes naturally to me. People say humor runs in my blood.

I have three incidents to narrate – all of them from the British Raj era Railways.


 This is a letter (Courtesy: Railway Museum, Delhi) written in 1909, by one Okhil Chandra Sen, a railway passenger, to the Sahibganj divisional office of the railways.

Railways letters
Image Source : http://daak.co.in/dhoti-one-hand-lotah-okhil-chandra-sens-letter-indian-railways-2/

The impact of his letter led to the installation of toilets in the train carriages for the very first time.

The moral of the story: No idea is stupid. You have to speak up; the manner of your expression hardly matters.

And, the next time you use a lavatory on a train coach, don’t forget to pay your tributes to Okhil Babu.


My friend’s grandfather, a Bengal-Nagpur Railway employee, was engaged in a heated argument with a colleague. He was being reprimanded for reporting late to work. Hearing the uproar, their boss, an Englishman, came rushing to find out what the matter was.

One Mr. Ghosal, who he knew to be a thorough gentleman, was at the receiving end.

“Mr. Ghosal, how come you are late to work? I always considered you to be a gentleman, who was still on time, sincere to his duty, had a cordial relationship with colleagues…”

To this, my friend’s grandfather very innocently replied, “Sir, I am late because I am not on time, and I am not a gentleman.”

The boss questioned, “Then please define who a gentleman is?”

“Sir, suited, booted cane in hand, dog behind is a gentleman. I have none of the characteristics. So how can I be a gentleman?” Mr. Ghosal had seen the official, an Englishman, well dressed and cane in hand walking along with his dog in the morning.

The bemused Englishman let Mr. Ghosal go.


During the pre-independence days, even sons of zamindars and nawabs would work for the Railways. A landlord, who happened to be the station master at Howrah Junction in Bengal was on duty. It was a lean day for him, and he was itching to while away his time. Suddenly, it struck to him that he hadn’t had a hair-cut for some time. So, he summoned the barber and went to the anteroom, and the barber got down to his job. As is usual, a hair-cut in India is considered to be the most leisurely activity. It allows one to catch up with gossips doing the rounds.

Suddenly, the divisional superintendent, an Englishman, happened to enter the station master’s room. There was none. But his ears caught voices coming from the anteroom. He barged into it and was taken aback by what he saw.

“How dare you have a hair-cut during office hours?” the furious official said.

“Well! Sir, if my hair can grow during office hours, why can’t they be cut during the office hours”, pat came the reply. The station master was a cool-headed guy and took the reprimand in jest. The Englishman, who had a penchant for humour, appreciated him for his wit.

Ashok Tomar


The above article is by Mr. Ashok Tomar, Media Consultant, IIM Indore.

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