How a new train was named ‘Vishwa Manava’ in these insular times


Fifteen years ago I wrote my obituary—all right, the first draft of my obituary.

I wrote it, not after I received an intimation of impending mortality, but after I read about how it helped to clear a vain mind of delusions of its value and self-importance

(The fact that I admit to it here perhaps underlines the futility of the exercise, for which my apologies in advance.)

I have updated my obituary a few times over the years to make sure nobody gets it wrong when the time for the real obituary comes, as it will, for all of us, later if not sooner.

Only two people have seen the said obit, but one line in it that I am particularly proud of is the role ‘Churumuri’ played in ensuring that R.K. Narayan was not forgotten in the city where he lived all his life.

In step one, T.S. Satyan, Ramachandra Guha, Sunaad Raghuram and I took the suggestions of ‘Churumuri’ readers to retain RKN’s legacy, to the then governor of Karnataka, the very learned T.N. Chaturvedi, in Bangalore.

In step two, the equally erudite former chief minister S.M. Krishna (in his final days as Union external affairs minister in Delhi) stepped in, through his Man Friday Raghavendra Shastry, to give our campaign a decisive leg up.

Together, these moves by ‘Churumuri’ helped urbane Mysoreans to save RKN’s house in Yadavagiri from being torn down, to push the state government into turning it into a museum, etc.

More importantly, the ‘Churumuri’ campaign resulted in the christening of a train between Mysore and Bangalore as ‘Malgudi Express’.

I thought a small contribution in getting a real train named after the imaginary ‘Malgudi’ was good enough to brag about in an obituary till….

Till ‘Vishwa Manava Express’ rolled out yesterday evening.

My friend and esteemed colleague, Pratap Simha–now proudly Mysore’s Member of Parliament—whose untiring efforts to help daily commuters made the new train possible, had called yours truly recently, for suggestions.

His own picks were Kapila Express (after the river which supplies much of Mysore’s drinking water), Nalwadi Express (after the maharaja Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar), and Ambari Express (after the Dasara motif).

One possibility we considered was ‘Mysore Mallige Express’ in honour of our famous jasmine. But because some punster might call it ‘Mysore Mellige’ if the train was running late, we quickly abandoned the thought.

Because the train also went up to Hubli, I was inclined towards Samskruti Express (to underline the culture in our two cities), but a dipstick survey showed that it might be difficult to announce and pronounce.

Eventually, we went literary and zeroed in on ‘Vishwa Manava Express’.

First, as a tribute to the poet K.V. Puttappa, known universally as Kuvempu, who gave flight to ‘Vishwa Manava’, the citizen of the world who rises above narrow identities of caste, class, creed; region, religion, rituals.

Second, because Bangalore and Mysore as magnets of India’s science, tech and startup institutes and industries, exemplify the well-travelled global citizen—‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ and all that.

‘Vishwa Manava Express’ is not breathtakingly original, of course, but it is easy on the ear and has a lovely, welcome ring to it, in these increasingly insular times.

For me, personally speaking, it is a nice way of saying thank you to the stately Kuvempu, into whose long, black car (probably a Mercedes Benz) I hit tens of tennis balls as he drove past our home on 5th main road in Vontikoppal where he lived.

And, of course, it is another “train” in my obituary!

You read it here first—and it beats ‘Track Two’ diplomacy hands down!