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Lady’s of the Night

Festival Night Photo copyright Vijayay Sundaram

In their black dress you could almost be forgiven for not noticing them, but tonight was the Festival of the Desert. The Desert Queen would lead her remaining consorts into Rajasthan.

Likened to living prehistoric flying reptiles, tonight they would be washed and polished, then dressed with objects of adoration. This would be the last such procession so Last Star would bring up the rear.

Nigam was proud of his charge, he had cared for her for over twenty years, he had dressed the Desert Queen beautifully for tonight they would both retired. A new era had begun diesels had finally ousted  the steam train.



Both the Desert Queen and Last Star were steam locomotives in India. In 1998 in India the last regular steam locomotives were withdrawn from service replaced by diesel and electric locomotives. In India locomotive drivers were often paired with their steam locomotive for many years, these drivers took pleasure in decorating their engine. The Desert Queen worked in Rajastan. The Last Star was the last mainline engine built by Indian Railways in 1970.

This Post Has 29 Comments
  1. Dear Michael,

    And all good things do come to an end, don’t they? Poignant piece.

    Grammatical note..diesels is not a possessive. No need for the apostrophe (diesel’s) 😉



  2. Wow what a wonderful ode to the steam engine – can still hear it chugging trailing smoke. Thank you for a lovely write rekindling old memories.

  3. Sweet and wistful, and utterly surprising in terms of characters and setting.


    (Sorry about my late response to your story! My computer is kaput, and I’m borrowing my husband’s. The Apple Store Genius Bar will be happy with my upcoming expenses!)

  4. I liked this story, Mike. I understand how the engineers revere their engines in India as we live here and there was a TV program. I was born and raised until 9 years in a house in a blue-collar neighborhood in the U.S. where the coal-burning steam locomotives thundered through behind our back yard causing the house to vibrate. I missed that and the lonesome whistle in the night when we moved to the country. Good writing. 🙂 — Suzanne

    1. It sounds like we both have fond memories around the steam trains. For a while I to lived next to the railway. Every night I would hear the wheel tapper checking the wagon wheels for flaws.

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