Dilip Surkar, director of city-based Vikram A Sarabhai Community Science Centre (VASCSC), is a busy man these days as he ensures that the work in Gandhinagar on the Science Express is on schedule, training for science communicators who will stay aboard the Climate Action Special (SECAS) train is organized and that publicity material is printed with final corrections.
As the October 15 deadline for the flagging off of India’s largest and longest running moving exhibition approaches, staff members at VASCSC and Centre for Environment Education (CEE) are burning the midnight’s oil to ensure that the latest version of the train outshines its predecessors in impact and outreach.
“Climate change is the buzzword today, primarily due to the recent announcement of India’s stand on it and high-profile COP 21 meet scheduled for Paris in December, where India is one of the stakeholders. Through the train, we expect to reach to lakhs of visitors and give them a peek into the concept of climate change, its impacts, mitigation, adaptation and how an individual can help reduce its ill effects,” said Surkar.
Making of a train
Science Express, the 16-coach AC train, is a train like no other. Custom-built by the Indian Railways for the Department of Science and Technology (DST) as a mobile expo, the train was launched in 2007 and ever since has traveled over 1.22 lakh km in seven phases and covered 391 stations in 1,404 days attracting 1.33 crore visitors. It already has six national records to its credit, a tally which will likely get extended with the current run.
Officials said the train is designed from scratch on the theme. The planning for the current run started less than a month after the end of the last run of the earlier avatar, the ‘Biodiversity Special’ in February this year. Along with DST, Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change also came aboard, after which a broad outline was decided. Soon after, experts from VASCSC and CEE started work on the concept.
“Every coach has at least two exhibits in addition to LCD screens and informative banners and graphics. The challenge was to keep the subject lucid and engaging while covering all major aspects of the subject. Thus, this time, the role of communicators is more important,” said an official. A team of over 50 persons are presently working on it at Gandhinagar railway station, to give final shape to the exhibits.
Two major changes for this run are the exhibition of 64 drawings on the climate change theme by students – one for each halt town/city the train will make — and solar panels on the roofs of three coaches.
Communicating the concepts
A total of 35 science graduates and postgraduates from across the country joined the SECAS team. Interestingly, one of the prerequisites of the job was knowledge of at least three languages to cover a wider demographic. One-third of the team (12 people) already have experience from the previous legs.
Divya Pande, 27, Uttarakhand
“This is my third year aboard the train and I can say that if given a chance, I don’t want to do anything else in life. Where else can you travel across length and breadth of country and communicate with thousands? The first journey was a life-changing experience, as I understood how education is revered in rural India. One experience I will never forget was how two toddlers from the lowest strata of society explained almost all the exhibits to me rather than vice versa.”
Suchitra Sonwane, 27, Maharashtra
“During the previous leg, I explained the importance of planting trees to a group of students in Rajasthan. To my surprise, one of the students turned up the next day with a few plants and gifted them to me. He had narrated his experience at home, after which his mother suggested the gift as the learning had touched him. Likewise, once in north India a group of women in their fifties boarded the train and were so fascinated by the exhibits that they visited the train not twice or thrice but ten times!”
Tirumala Reddy, 27, Andhra Pradesh
“If we can even touch a few lives by imparting knowledge, I think our mission will be served. What I like about the train is how it puts you on a pedestal for students. I would never forget how after a session in Bihar with kids they started touching my feet. I was speechless for a while by the experience and promised myself that I would do better. I learnt a lot about incredible India and understood that one can also communicate perfectly despite language barriers.”
Amalendu Maji, 27, West Bengal
“I was always into science communication and this is a dream come true. Our team is already like Little India with so many diverse cultures and backgrounds coming together for the cause of science. The subject is surely a bit difficult but our trainers are insisting on narratives and hands-on experience to take the concepts across. This is my first run and I can’t wait to go aboard.”
SECAS will travel across the country for seven months, halting at 64 locations in 20 states, covering about 19,800 km. From Udhampur in Jammu and Kashmir to Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu and from Hapa in Gujarat to Tinsukia in Assam, it will cover all major broad gauge routes in the country. The organizers try to choose a different route every time so as to reach the maximum population.
As far as Gujarat is concerned, the train will arrive in the state on April 20, 2016 at Valsad. Before ending the journey at Gandhinagar on May 7, SECAS will cover Anand, Patan, Hapa and Junagadh.