Friday, January 11, 2008

To doubt is to rebel...

This absorbing report ( courtesy, Google Books) written by a British Railway Engineer in the year 1847, was in the nature of a ‘project viability study’ for the construction of railway lines in India, involving private capital and Sovereign guarantees..

It makes an evaluation of the potential for passenger and freight traffic, the fares that could be reasonably charged, the competition from conventional bullock carts and waterways, the likely return on capital employed, the inhibitions of the natives while accepting anything new, the availability of timber, the problem of white ants eating into the timber, the caste prejudices and the need for earmarking separate carriages for Mohamedans, upper caste, lower caste Hindoos and ladies, etc. It even addresses the concern whether “pilgrims in India would avail themselves of a railway, as the act of going on a pilgrimage was an act of mortification which required the pilgrim to walk on foot” and states confidently that “no pilgrim walks out of choice; all of them would take advantage of a cheap and quick conveyance if offered to them”

The report concludes with this grand vision:

…” In all probability, the line will not stop at the frontier, but will pass on into Persia, and perhaps eventually into Turkey, until at last it reaches Constantinople; and then we shall be able to pass from London to Calcutta in less than a week.”

Conscious of the disbelief that such a wild and reckless statement could cause, the author adds:

We know that to most persons this would appear a visionary expectation, but in everything relating to the achievements of steam, the visionary people have been far oftener right than those who plume themselves so much with their practical sagacity. It was visionary twenty years ago to talk of a speed exceeding ten miles per hour on a railway; it was visionary to expect steam vessels to navigate the open ocean; it was visionary to maintain a steam communication with India by way of the Red Sea and the Egyptian desert; it was visionary to connect Ostend by railway with Constantinople, which is now doing or done; and until the other day it was visionary to project a railway from Delhi to Calcutta;

Every great step in the world’s progress has at the first been visionary; but the rapidity with which steam works its enchantments, confounds the arithmetic of practical stolidity. Practical men, it appears, have yet to learn that in such anticipations, “to doubt is to rebel” and that in resolving the question of the probabilities of human progress, rashness lies in scepticism than in faith.


Usha said...

wow very interesting.
Was it not bernard Shaw who said:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."
That bit about the pilgrims had me thinking: after all ends justify the means:

Usha said...

and yes you are indeed the bloggest!

Raj said...

usha, true, Somebody in some generation needs to take some risks, in a pioneering spirit, for things to happen. Today, it all looks easy. But someone had to even think if the Indian pigrims would get into a train.

And, thanks for endorsing the fact that I am the bloggest!