#REFORMING AND #REVITALIZING #INDIAN RAILWAYS’ by Sandeep Silas; strategy paper presented in 2014 to High Level Committee on Railway Restructuring chaired by Dr. Bibek Debroy


Sandeep Silas

Dated: June 9, 2014

Presented before the High Level Committee on Railway Restructuring chaired by Dr. Bibek Debroy

Executive Summary

Nowadays we do not need a framework, which acts as a fortification against the public aspirations, but on the contrary one that is responsive, sensitive and attached to the public needs. What we have today is a traditional and control oriented organization. What we need is a learning and efficiency oriented organization. We have to get Railways out of its captivity of “skilled incompetence”. We should be brave to try out a new world order—“The fact is that every company, has a business diamond. Re-engineering can be thought of as replacing a diamond that has lost its luster and brilliance with a new one”. (D Aprix, Roger; Communicating for Change).

In this short paper I bring some new ideas, which are required to be implemented to have the Railway’ back on rail! I shall give the bullet points here briefly as an overview and at-a-glance!

  • Reframing the Organization— Star Model approach rather than the top-down management we have today
  • Amalgamation of the 10 different services we have today to form one single senior management level service, to prevent the silo growth pattern and heavy departmentalisation, which is suffocating the organization and preventing it from getting the best
  • Strategy Planning, HR Management and Independent Director-Generals for Safety, Public Relations, and Commercial Publicity
  • One Nation, One Budget
  • E-Governance initiatives and Accounting Reforms— today we do not know what is the cost of running “a” particular train service!
  • Set-up a Tariff Regulation Authority and a professional Disaster Management team (stop sending relief by Accident Relief Trains which take hours to reach, instead fly relief team by choppers)
  • Mapping of assets by GPS
  • Develop International Class Railway Stations with lease of space to commercial/business organizations
  • Business orientation in decision making
  • Project Management to be done professionally
  • Double Decker Shatabdi’s to be introduced to bridge demand supply gap and increase revenue

Bold decision making is required to govern effectively. I submit a short paper on the reforms Railway’ require to pull itself out of the quagmire it has slipped into. What I will place below are reforms— short-term and long-term (which need to be set into a process now to get the desired results).


The Railway administrative structure is governed by the Act of 1905 through which the Railway Board was set up as the decision making body for the Railways. This suffers from a self-limiting factor of the full Board, being on board, for a proposal to become a decision. Very British! And may be correct for the past times, but now become a major obstacle for progress and development as Railway works with a heavy departmental bias. Each Department has a Member, those who do not, have their Department vested into a Member. Each Member guards his Department like his kingdom, and contests every proposal, unless it is supportive of departmental interest.

To understand an organization very simply let us see what an expert writes: “The structure is the total of the ways in which labor is divided and coordination achieved among those tasks”. (Mintzberg)

How we coordinate these tasks is our expertise!

The most limiting factor of the present system is the boundaries it places on the political executive to give a direction and move the system. You just cannot go past the Railway Board, should it decide to be unanimous and engage the Minister in a confrontation. Even if it doesn’t, it adopts the go-slow approach to make a mess. Now, this can be a safety mechanism in times like we have seen in the past with different Parties being in seat, but the safety mechanism went into the waste paper basket as individual Member’s were willing to oblige in return for a position above or, from ranks below, to be elevated as Member.

I am suggesting a legislative reform to bring the Railway’s in sync with the rest of the Union Government. The reform is, “Break The Board”! Replace it with the system like that in any other Ministry, a Principal Secretary, and individual Secretaries, reporting to the Minister.

Advantages, those flow, would be quick decision making, sense of urgency in follow-up, clean-up of departmental bias in decision making, more emphasis on implementation, and easier monitoring and evaluation by the Minister. Of course, the thrust towards decision making based on the ideology of the ruling Party and manifesto guidelines would improve Railway’ tremendously. The amalgamation of the Railway’ into the rest of the Government of India will be a big achievement as today it functions as a separate Government within Government, insulated from outside, unmindful of the demands of the time and concerns of the Prime Minister. We have had instances in the recent past when an ally of the ruling coalition did not follow the tradition of Parliamentary democracy but assumed to itself the role of an independent satrap.

The Railway Budget is a relic of the British times, when it was found necessary to adopt an approach of a separate Railway Budget. Now, the times have changed and in order to make Railway a buoyant part of the Indian economy, we have to adopt One India, One Budget policy!

Nowadays we do not need a framework, which acts as a fortification against the public aspirations, but on the contrary one that is responsive, sensitive and attached to the public needs. What we have today is a traditional and control oriented organization. What we need is a learning and efficiency oriented organization. We have to get Railways out of its captivity of “skilled incompetence”. We should be brave to try out a new world order,—“The fact is that every company, has a business diamond. Re-engineering can be thought of as replacing a diamond that has lost its luster and brilliance with a new one”. (D Aprix, Roger; Communicating for Change).That is what I propose as a new order world with my “Break the Board” scheme!

The Star Model, which follows, could be adopted rather than the top-down model approach of governance we have today:

star-model-picture1As a beginning a short Consultancy can be given to the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (#1 ranked in the US) to suggest ‘reframing of the organization’.


At present the Railways is organized into 10 services of the Government of India! IRTS, IRAS, IRPS, RPF from the Civil Services Examination and IRSE, IRSS, IRSME, IRSSTE, IRSEE, from the Indian Engineering Services Examination, and the Railway Board is staffed by the RBSS, a secretariat service.

Each reports to its Member, who virtually is their King. The 60 positions of DRMs, 16 of Zonal GMs, 9 GMs of Production Units are distributed as per a quota system distributed amongst the many services. This has imposed rigidity upon the system and a mind-set of being in a department, belonging to a department and fighting for the survival of a department. Where is the organization and the organizational interest? Of course, that is a casualty of this present structure of the organization.

I suggest amalgamation of all services into one Indian Railway Service, after every civil servant has rendered minimum 12 years service in his/her parental department. This amalgamation should come about as a result of a qualifying performance review held by the UPSC and those who do not qualify should continue within the technical streams. Those who qualify should be placed on positions of DRMs and GMs and Members / Secretaries.

Some amount of merit based selection is necessary in the emerging times as India is passing through a very important phase in its development. If we do not recognize the currents, which are flowing towards us from all across the world we shall end up as the story of the frog that got baked in a glass, the one who was baked to death, because it did not pay heed to the rising temperature of the external environment. It missed to see the hot air currents coming from all around! It thought the rise in temperature was gradual and started rather enjoying the hot water, till the water boiled and baked the frog.

I place before you the web of inclusion, designed by Helgesen. In a system where inclusiveness is the guiding approach in policy, planning and implementation, this model deserves to be adopted in governance.


The biggest advantage of this above approach is that we shall convert the Railway into an organization that thinks and acts as one and harness all resources for development according to the needs expressed by the public not as governed by respective departments for survival and expansion of self-interest.


The Railway Minister’s priorities could be:

2.1 Status Papers

  • A Status Paper from each Member on the functioning of his department.
  • A White Paper to be brought out in Parliament on Railway finances, which shall set the ball rolling for reframing the organization as suggested above.
  • A Status Paper on the Projects in hand (Railway is one of the worst Ministries with large time and cost over-runs of projects). It often keeps projects alive on marginal funds to maintain establishment and is adept at shifting timelines five times over!
  • Ask for a Business Plan from each Member of the Board indicating the results his/her department is going to produce in 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 1 year!

2.2 Member Strategy Planning

Create a Member, Strategy Planning in the Railway Board who shall oversee all development of strategy. This should become the pre-cursor to having national activity thrust at the heart of Members, not departmental Members. “Strategic Planning is the heart of strategic change”. It is a “process by which the guiding members of an organization envision its future and develop the necessary procedures and operations to achieve that vision.” Pfeiffer, Goodstein, Nolan. So how can we have such a big Railway, without strategic planning?
2.3 HR Management

HR Management is a big question mark in the Railways. Again we see an ad hoc approach visible in handling the vast human resource. As a result officers (11,000) do not give their best to the system, and the staff (14 lakhs) have an unending list of grievances.
To begin with all service record, Discipline & Appeal cases, Pay Sheets, Career Profile should be fully computerized. Officers to be posted as careful thought of a well-rounded career rather than pure pick and choose approach that we see today. Actually, the ones who can gratify by other means are posted to lucrative positions ignoring merit and standing in the system. Professional acumen and specialization does not matter in the system today. We need to manage HR professionally.
Merit based selection should be introduced for Board Members, till the new system as proposed in my first point comes into effect by way of legislative reform.
Culture of subordination to be replaced by respect for work and expertise of an officer, not just hierarchy based behaviour. Actually, corporate culture should become the management culture.
2.4 E-Governance Initiatives

Set in pace E-Governance interventions immediately for transparency and reducing corruption. An E-Governance Team can be formed to suggest applications matching the requirements of the people of India, which the Railway transports. For example, Freight Booking by internet interface, D-Mat RRs, RRs to be made negotiable instruments, E-payment of parcel traffic, free sms alerts for those who book on-line with train running position updates.

Form an IT Solutions Team to report directly to the Chairman.

2.5 Accounting Reforms

Accounting Reforms- costing of all services should be done and all decision making to be business like. Today, if you ask the Railway Board Chairman what is the cost of introducing a new train service and the recurring cost to run the service daily, you will draw a blank!

2.6 Developing International Class Railway Stations

The Station Development Authority has been formed, which is a welcome step. It should be asked immediately to identify and go in a big way to make plans and develop major stations, T-3 Terminal style, to generate more revenue from commercial activities and providing to the public better stations of international standards.

2.7 Standardization

Standardization of every identifiable service and product.

2.8 Tariff Regulatory Authority

Set up a Tariff Regulatory Authority rather than having a totally non-professional “Rates” department. Why can’t we have dynamic pricing of tickets as per the season?

2.9 Disaster Management

Creation of Disaster Management Units at different points in the country equipped with expertise, technology and air rescue support in times of major train accidents. We have the system of Accident Relief Trains in every Division, which means effectively handling a train disaster by the relief team coming in a train. This is often many hours away as every ART has a defined beat. Where in the world do we handle railway accidents like this? People cannot be left to die on the tracks just because we have a rudimentary way of handling emergencies, which require speed and attention within the golden hour.

3.0 GPS Mapping of Assets

Introduce GPS mapping of assets. This will produce a paper showing how unproductive many assets are! Whys should the system carry burdens unnecessarily?

3.1 Open Lateral Entry

Allow lateral entry at different levels from the other civil services especially finance, land amenities, and Rates, as encadrement of posts promotes mediocrity and denies the organization its right to benefit from specialization. Vice versa encourage Railway officers to move more in other Ministries to gain from the experience of serving in other Ministries. At present Railway’ is very insulated and continues in its drift of a slow stream.

3.2 Formation of independent Director-General office for Safety, and similarly for Information & Publicity, and Commercial Publicity

Safety of trains should become one of the priority factors in governance. Of late major accidents have happened killing innocent people even in slumber. Formation of a system of a Directorate under Director-General, Safety reporting only to the CEO is a must. Accordingly, the Safety officers down the line should take directions from this Directorate rather than the local General Managers. Place Addl. DGs in Zones.
Director-General, Information & Publicity to be created like above to deal with the subject of publicity professionally rather than the present ad hoc approach adopted by Chairman in Board and General Managers in Zones, who are only interested in their photograph appearing in the media rather than placing the organization ahead of themselves.
Director-General, Commercial Publicity to be created to find out more opportunities and generate additional revenue. It cannot continue to be an activity of the established routine red tape, but has to be a function, sensitively and imaginatively handled. Railways own prime land at prime locations and this is lying waste or encroached. Should there be a Directorate to oversee and enter into Public Private Partnership models with full authority Railway’ can generate revenue equal to what it generates from sale of tickets.
3.3 Business Orientation in Decision Making

Business orientation in decision making to be adopted. Today all decision making is technology based. History is witness that organizations who follow this route take decisions for the sake of technology and not the people. The people’s interest should govern the technology to be adopted. It shall also have the added advantage of making the organization lean, and not fat with the burden of unwanted technology or technology desired for it brings benefits in purchase to pay its master.

3.4 Project Management

Separate classification of projects justified on social and strategic grounds for which the financing pattern should see flow of budgetary support from the Union Budget.
Project Teams should be in place for each and every project. At present the General Manager distributes the big projects to the CAO (Construction) under him and passes on the petty projects to the Divisions. It is not a professional approach and the Government loses a lot in cost over-runs, the people lose in time over-runs.
Development Radar concept should be adopted for better monitoring and evaluation of projects with financial and physical progress indicators.
Projects should have a fair regional distribution rather than be on the mercy of the chance of having a Minister from your State to hope for some railway project. In any case the development of the North-east deserves special mention by giving those states railway projects, which would help them come faster into the mainstream.
3.5 Outsource Peripheral Activities

Peripheral activities should be outsourced rather than the do-it-yourself approach. Today an activity like linen supply management is in-house with the Government spending tax payers money in building mechanised laundries! Why can’t it be given to the private sector to manage rather than involve huge expense of this management upon the finances and the much essential “time”? Officers who should rather concentrate on core activities of train operations are busy in linen management, that’s why safety activities become a casualty! Railway’ has to identify core activities, which it must do itself and peripheral activities, which should be passed on to the private sector.

3.6 Use of I-Pads for Ticket Checking

Introduce ticket checking with I-Pads linked to the charting base. All tickets to have a bar code and the I-Pads to have bar code readers. This shall be a people friendly decision and reduce heavy corruption on trains. Today, on TTE of a Rajdhani train takes home almost Rs. 20-25,000 per trip by way of selling berths illegally and surreptitiously!

3.7 Think Tank

Set up a Think Tank with advisory panel drawn from Universities and IITs. This can be a body for the Railways to advise and direct policy formation. The Railway’ is in the grip of a mind-set that policy is what we think the people want, not what the people actually want. In my paper above I have earlier brought out the fact that technology is dictating policy, not the public demand. Where are the stakeholders, those who are so vital to policy formation?

3.8 Annual Conferences

Annual Conference with State Governments, Ministries like Transport, and one technical international Conference to appreciate new useful technologies emerging internationally which can be adopted or customized.

3.9 Wagon Leasing

Introduce Wagon Leasing. Today Railway’ manufacture and own wagons. This activity can be passed on to the private sector, which has the capacity and financial prowess to do this.

4.0 Cash Less Transactions & Service Improvements

Promotion of cash-less transactions on physical sale points, which shall drastically reduce corruption. It is the petty everyday life corruption that bothers the general public as it affects a person directly. If we can evolve systems to reduce corruption faced by the common man in everyday life we would give the people immediate personal relief.

  • Set up a Billing Department for Sundry earnings.
  • Booking of Public Retiring Rooms on the internet.
  • Escalators for the public at major railway stations.
  • To stop the Rs. 30/- charged on every credit card transaction to the passenger by Railways.

4.1 Art of Analysing and Thinking
The whole problem of Railway’ is that today much of the the top executive have not developed the art of analysis and thought. They keep themselves immersed in taking “train running” position 24 X 7, the job they first learned as probationary officers attached to the Chief Controller in a Control Room. This is true of all departments as hierarchy subdues talent. Is this the CEO should be doing and expecting others to do? True, it is important, but cannot be allowed to occupy the total management time available. There has to be a system and process approach encouraged in the organization rather than the ‘dog under the engine’ approach (the dog started moving when it saw the engine move and then started thinking that he is making the engine move).

“What is the vision of Indian Railways?“No one has ever done the visioning exercise for IR till today. And so no one down the line is aware of any shared vision. How do we expect the 14 lakh employees to give their best to the organization? This is the fate of a huge and public need organization today.

4.2 Introduce new Double Decker Shatabdi trains

Last, but most important and visible decision should be to introduce a new genre of Double Decker Shatabdi trains. Proposal about increase of more trains would be met with a line capacity constraint, so I feel, if you cannot go horizontal, go vertical! These could be viewed as a gift to the people from Hon’ble Prime Minister who has shown the courage and determination to give good governance to the people. In our country one has to keep doing, keep doing, and keep doing, for the challenges are so immense and public demand insatiable. I think if the challenges are many, so are the opportunities!

In our country the most unfortunate thing is not to recognize talent till the west has appreciated it. A friend of mine with less experience, less skills, less maturity, much less contribution, who studied with me in Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, NY, was placed on return as member in the National Security Council in Afghanistan, but here we are captive of imposed situations unless something dramatic happens to us for our skills to be used for much more advantage for the people than in the present circumstance.

I submit this Paper on Reforms required by the Railway’ for kind consideration, with humility and my personal respect for this great country.

© Sandeep Silas, Delhi, India





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Who Can Tell… by #Sandeep Silas



Who Can Tell…by Sandeep Silas in Rainbows Don’t Last Forever (2012)

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God is in His Heaven… by Sandeep Silas

God is in His Heaven… by Sandeep Silas

View from the top is always satisfying despite the chaos, inequality, poverty, terrorism, prejudices and violence unfolding below!

So true today…


(The Sunday Observer Nov 14-20, 2000)

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Ummeed by #Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in #Ranai-e-Khayal




Intoxicated with the wealth of your beauty am I

Mirthful is the dawn, dew is spread all around


I remember you sweetheart every day and night

You are the utmost of grace, my playful light


That the lamp of hope, be not extinguished my lady

Therefore ‘deep’ dwells in poetry and is on the rise


Ummeed by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal (2012)

Translated Book in English available on Amazon Kindle:


BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS by [Silas, Sandeep]

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#Fall by #Sandeep Silas

Fall by Sandeep Silas



Fall by Sandeep Silas in Borough in the Mist (2007)


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An enchanting village by #Sandeep #Silas, published in #The #Hindu

#Yvoire One of the most beautiful villages in France, Yvoire is full of flowers and cheerful local population, writes Sandeep Silas


A VISUAL TREAT A charming village house, with lace curtains, flowers and enveloped in greenery form a real romantic setting

G ive me a choice to choose a place to live the rest of my life. An idyll by the lake, amidst flowers livening up my window; stone houses those seem to have travelled back in time; thin pedestrian lanes without any machine monster emitting black smoke; spires surprising you at the end of a street; a village market that comes up informally in the square; laced window panes; lazy boats in the lake; and great food. Yes, I am talking of Yvoire, a village in France, a member of the most beautiful villages of France.

Barely 45 minutes from Geneva, creeper roses welcomed me at the entrance. Flowers seem to be the passion of every inhabitant. Each window was like a beautiful vase distinctive in colour and presentation. Ranked in France as one of the “Four Flowers”, Yvoire is full of flowers – lilies, gourdon, iris, roses, daffodils, gerberas, poinsettia, wisteria vines and the rosemary bush.

Yvoire is located in the Rhone-Alps region of France under the department of Haute-Savoie. This small village, just 3.2 sq km. with a population of 810 only, has access to two faces of Lake Geneva, as it separates the “petit lac” from the “grand lac”. The village just celebrated its 700 years of existence in 2006. Set in the 14th Century, as usually done then with fortifications, a castle, ramparts, mansions, and stone houses, the village continues to look the same. The St. Pancras Church that dominates the village heights dates to the 11th Century but has been rebuilt and attended many times. Its slender green-onion like dome is representative of Savoyard and Piemontese religious architecture of later centuries.

Homes were not homes, they were more! Some had portions running as boutiques selling designer garments, locally made souvenirs, cheese and cakes, and a lot doubled up as restaurants. Survival had placed the village between the horns of “character” and “commerce”. It obviously gets a lot of tourists who come to dip their souls into the sponge of delight for a day.

From the square, under the church steeple, you can buy things you may not need, but would like to take back. Though each window here was very beautifully done, one particularly caught my attention from the square. A vivacious green Boston Ivy creeper half encircled it, with purple, pink, and red gerberas raising their sprightly heads from the pot placed on the window-sill. Each leaf of the creeper had three tongue-like lobes, one each to taste the sweet, sour and salty breeze, I thought. Behind the glass window-panes was a beautiful lace curtain. Only a face, like that of Helen of Troy was missing. A perfect window for a Romeo and Juliet conversation!

The turrets of Savoy Castle still hold intrigue within their bosoms. Tiny windows, more for watch and ward and breeze rather than views characterise the castle. Jardin des Cinq sans is now a leisure garden with the five-senses theme – fruit and vegetables for taste, flowers for sight, herbs for smell, and aviary for hearing.

A village surviving since 1306 AD in the same time warp is an amazing spectacle to visit and see. In its earlier years it was on the trade map through the Alps and along the Lake Geneva. In the 16 {+t} {+h} Century fishing became a primary occupation for the residents.

Now, in the 21s {+t} Century it is heritage that makes the place important. Actually, I felt that the place has been blessed because its importance over the centuries never diminished despite changing times and trade preferences.


Past paper boats hanging in the air I moved to the lakeside. Walking down a stone paved path beside yellow lilies was invigorating. Once beside the water I sat down to look at the mountains. Across the Lake Geneva (Lake Léman) are visible the Jura Mountains. A pair of ducks frolicking in the water accentuated my loneliness. Couples sat, walked and boated enjoying every moment of togetherness. I resumed my walk and halted at a letter-box made in cast iron, fixed on the outside wall of a home. It had a rider on his horse, embossed on the front face. Its letters – “ LETTRE”, and its stylisation immediately transported me back to the medieval ages when horses served as car, train and plane. Another wooden door to a godown carried a pasted poster appeal carrying instructions, with this slogan at the end of the page – “Vive La France! Vive L’ Empereur!” This was how official orders/notifications were communicated to the public in those days. Lunch was freshly caught fish from Lake Léman, what else!

The faces I recall from this trip were unusually charming – a woman with two spaniels under a signboard, the boy at the cake shop, the woman who entered the boutique hurriedly, the man making a straw hat, and the girl who served us food in the restaurant. The names, those people gave to describe their homes and themselves – Les Murailles, La Maison Fleurie, La Maison d’ Historie, La Gangière, La Bentellière and Coup d’ Coeur, continue to stay in my memory. Especially Coup d’ Coeur, as between the suspended flower baskets from the balcony, at the entrance, were hung many red coloured hearts made of round pieces of wood glued together. I left my heart amidst the wooden ones in France, beating for someone.

(Published in The Hindu, December 27, 2010)



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#Memories from the #September of 2003! #First-ever #Commemorative and #Currency #Coin on ‘#Railways in India, made by Sandeep Silas!

#Memories from the #September of 2003! #Finance #Minister, #India, Shri Jaswant Singh and #Minister of #Railways, India, Shri Nitish Kumar had released the #First-ever #Commemorative and #Currency #Coin on ‘#Railways in India’ in its entire 163 years history so far!

Idea, design and making by Sandeep Silas!

September 1st, 2003!

Some pictures to bring those moments alive!

recounting-railways-glorious-pastSandeep Silas speaking at the Commemorative & Currency Coin Release Ceremony!sandeep-silas-speaking-at-the-coin-release-ceremony

honble-minister-of-railways-shri-nitish-kumar-speaking-at-the-coin-release-eventHon’ble Minister of Railways Shri Nitish Kumar delivering his Address! Proud to have served under you Sir! Truly, you are a visionary, great, fair & impartial administrator with a sound grip on the system! A statesmanlike person who respects his talented officers and works as an exemplary team leader! You taught me many important lessons of life, Sir!

honble-finance-minister-india-speaking-at-the-ceremonyHon’ble Finance Minister of India, Shri Jaswant Singh addressing the audience!

releasing-the-commemorative-and-currency-coin-on-railways-in-india-1-sep-2003The Release of the Commemorative & Currency Coin!

First-ever on ‘Railways in India’ in its entire history so far!


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Do Kadam दो कदम






Do Kadam (Two Steps)

Two steps I desired to walk in companionship

Someone to be with, on the sweet road of love


I searched for a youthful beauty like you everyday

I believed I was on way to become a statue of stone


Some conversations, some meetings is the desire now

I have found the reason of my incomparable existence


Let the word be spread, let there be celebration

I am alive, let this be known to all with respect


Half of my life I have lost in the years of darkness

Let me dedicate the rest to your name, my precious


Happy is ‘deep’ that you have come of your own

I don’t know, I feel, but my companion has come


Do Kadam by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Ranai-e-Khayal 2012


BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS by [Silas, Sandeep]

Translated Book in English available on Amazon Kindle:








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In the heart of the mountains by Sandeep Silas, published in The Hindu

In the heart of the mountains by Sandeep Silas



Man has been building in statuesque, grandiose and ornate architectural styles since the time stone was quarried and bricks fired. Imagination, force of will, ornamentation and sheer celebration is visible in what he has built the world over! And, that is what I saw in the Blue Mountains, 110 km. from Sydney.

As I sped towards the Blue Mountains, the whole atmosphere changed and Nature started speaking in hushed tones. The road wound its way up through dreamy villages wrapped in slumber. At Glenbrook came the gateway, and Wentworth Falls was pretty. Charles Darwin, who laboured to unravel the mystery of the origin of species, once stayed here, and a walk commemorates this association.

The village of Leura romanticises candles and clothing. In October, Cherry blossoms line the streets of Leura, and gardens are filled with butterflies sipping nectar. We halted at bohemian Katoomba, and I particularly remember the sloping drive through the village. Homes are old fashioned and the boutiques bright. The post office, the bank and the church remind you of temporal and spiritual connections.


Gavin, my chauffeur, mentioned the Three Sisters. I presumed he was recounting a fable, bringing back to life the days of the Aborigines. Till, I I realised the Three Sisters is a prominent feature of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area, which celebrates Nature.

There is an Aborginal legend associated with the three sisters The beautiful sisters, Meenhi, Weemala and Gunnedoo, daughters of the Katoomba tribe’s witch doctor, fell madly in love with three brothers of the Nepean tribe. Ancestral law forbade marriage outside the tribe. The brave warrior-brothers engaged in battle for the maidens. The witch doctor turned his daughters to stone using his magic stick, intending to restore them to life after the fight. But, he was killed in battle and his magic stick could not be found. They say the Lyrebird instinctively scratches the earth even today, searching for the magic stick.

The Blue Mountains, belonging to the Narrabeen Group of layers, have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. The Three Sisters were once seven sisters. Four have been lost to the Valley, the weather and Time!

I saw a wooden signboard; ‘The Three Sisters’, and took the path. At a view point, I was amazed at the vastness of the range and the Leura Forest in the valley. The forest reverberated with birdcall. Inching further, I was face-to-face with a mountaintop, the edges of which were jagged — victims of wind erosion.

A bench in a cavity of the cliff invited me to solitude. Touching the cliff, I wondered where the ‘Three Sisters’ were located. All lookouts were blocked by the heavy mist. Disappointed, I rose and took to what they call ‘The Giant Staircase’, which takes you deep down to the forest.

I trudged back to the starting point, I followed some visitors to Echo Point to share a glimpse of what they saw — the three lovelorn sisters, captives of fate, stood a little to my left in storybook silence. For a brief moment, the majestic sun illuminated their dormant sensuousness.

And, to think that all this while, I had actually sat and brooded on the waist curve of one of the three!

(Published in The Hindu May 2, 2010)



Keywords: Blue MountainsThree Sisters

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Jazba (Passion)

Like nectar rises my passion to the flower

Whosoever tasted said, ‘sweet like honey’


Like deep lines etched on snowy mountains

I lie silent on the rocky bed below the snow


Give me some sun, let me melt and reach you

My core is water, give me favour of your mercy


I halted thinking that the road was my destination

In a magic like grip I was, my life was in a bind


Touch me and wake me, let eyes not get dimmed

Hold me, pick me up, silent is all congregation


Give me some laughter, give me some smartness

Wish me a prayer to rise and blossom next season


Jazba by Sandeep Silas ‘deep’ in Saada Khayal (2009)


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