(Times of India, 26th of Nov. 1998)
VADODARA: Fifty six years ago, his father had bought him a train, real in all sense and full of steam, for his fourth birthday. Now at 60, Raja Ranjitsinh Gaekwad wants his favourite birthday gift back, and he is adamant.
The steam engine, with three compartments was handed over to the Vadodara Municipal Corporation in 1956. It was kept in Sayaji Bag and parts of the track the royal family had laid were utilised by the VMC to run a service for the children.
In 1994. the engine "went out of steam".
"It had become very old, its boiler got destroyed. But we replaced it with a diesel locomotive because the children of the city love the train ride and we simply couldn't discontinue it," VMC's director of parks and gardens, Mohan Patel, said.
Since then the steam engine has been kept under a shed for people to come and see the world's "smallest real locomotive engine".
"Since they cannot use it anymore, I want it back. My father had given it to me and it is of great emotional value to me," the Raja said.
"We were eight brothers and sisters and all of us used to go to the palace school. three km away, in this train." he said.
"Before the train had arrived. servants used to take us to school, and I would always trick them and run into the fields and orchards. I hated going to school…" smiles the 60 year old, with a twinkle in his eyes.
Maharaja Pratapsinh Gaekwad had got the train specially made by Royal Locomotives, London. When the train arrived, initially it was fun. It was a tiny one with a seating capacity of under 13. It took the workers about six months to lay the tracks. "There were three compartments and eight of us, along with a servant, would begin our journey. The train would take us through he the orchards and gardens. The roof could be opened and we used to stand up to try and catch branches of trees or pick fruits," the Raja said.
But after sometime it seemed like a prison. "I couldn't trick the servant anymore as the train started right from the palace portico and stopped at the school's porch."
The children loved the Sunday ride however, "When the train was all ours and we used to ask the driver to take us to where my grandfather had kept giraffes and other animals.
In 1956 the royal family gave it to the VMC, "because we felt that all children should be allowed to enjoy this train. But now that the steam locomotive is not in use anymore I want it back."
Mr Patel said the VMC had tried hard to repair the engine but in vain. The boiler of the engine was declared unfit by the boiler inspector of Gujarat. Repairing the boiler would mean a thorough overhauling of the barrel and engine also, which would cost a pretty penny.
"lf they give it back to me. I might be able to bring the manufacturers here to repair it…", the Raja insists. "It is the smallest of its kind in the world and is a collector's item."
Municipal commissioner G.R. Aloria sympathises with the Raja.
"I have sent a proposal to the VMC's standing committee. If they agree we will hand it over to him. It is an important item, no doubt, and if Ranjitsinhji is able to get it repaired there is nothing like it."