Jamalpur Gymkhana

Jamalpur Gymkhana

The Jamalpur Gymkhana, often referred to as just Gymkhana (or merely Gym) by its members, is primarily a hostel for young apprentice officers of the Indian Railways. It is also a club like any other Gymkhana. A club to which the membership is limited entirely to those who spend their formative years in its corridors. It is difficult to talk about Gymkhana without quickly moving on to the anecdotal history of its members - current and past. However any serious study of the Gymkhana would have to start earlier.


In the early 20th century, India faced a shortage of mechanical engineers in running a fast growing rail system. The Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (IRIMEE), started in the year 1888 as Technical School. In the year 1927, the training of Mechanical Engineering Officers for Indian Railways commenced. It is the oldest of the six Centralised Training Institutes (CTIs) functioning for training of Officers of the Indian Railways. IRIMEE is located at Jamalpur in the Munger (spelled Monghyr, during the British rule of India) district of Bihar, on the Patna - Bhagalpur rail route.

IRIMEE conducts short term courses for Indian Railways Service of Mechanical Engineers (IRSME) Officers and other Organisations, 18 months training for IRSME Probationary Officers and four years undergraduate programme for the Special Class Apprentices (called SCAs or SCRAs for Special Class Railway Apprentices).

The 'Special Class Apprentices' stay at the Jamalpur Gymkhana during the four years spent at IRIMEE. As they have been since 1934 when the Gymkhana was built.

Why Jamalpur?

Jamalpur is a small railway town. The name literally means beautiful (Jamal-) town (-pur). And that is a literal description of the place. Picturesque and secluded, the verdant landscape has its share of hills, lakes and seasonal waterfalls. The climate is temperate and people hospitable.

Legend has it that the British, trying to prevent their train drivers wasting themselves with liquor in the bars of Calcutta, saw Jamalpur as a salubrious alternative. The workshop followed the drivers. Not any workshop. This was the first full-fledged railway workshop in India, set up in 1862 by the East Indian Railway. The Jamalpur site was chosen for its proximity both to the Sahibganj loop (which was the main trunk route at the time), and to the communities of gunsmiths and other mechanical craftsmen in Bihar, who were adept in the skills required for a railway workshop. Today it has foundry and metallurgical lab facilities, extensive machine tool facilities, etc. This workshop where the Gymmie gets first hand experience of Production Technology and Industrial Engineering.

It is this often berated workshop that sets apart the Gymmie from other theoretical engineers.

The technical school attached to the Jamalpur workshops eventually became the Indian Railway Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. And the hostel, the Jamalpur Gymkhana.

While IRIMEE trains a whole gamut of personnel from the Indian Railways and outside organisations, Jamalpur Gymkhana is exclusive to the SCAs. Barring a short period when serving officers of the Indian Railways shared the premises while undergoing training in diesel locomotives, only SCAs have stayed here. Erstwhile SCAs, called SAMs, have formed an association called the Jamalpur Association.

The Gymkhana way

Life at Jamalpur Gymkhana is a healthy blend of academics, practical workshop training, sports, cultural activities and travel.

The spirit of the place is embodied in the 'Armorial Bearings and Code of Conduct of the Jamalpur Gymkhana'.

The wings of progress are placed prominently on top with a pair of calipers passing through them indicating a practical measuring instrument symbolizing control by measurement. The shield is equally between the tiger representing strength and proud leader among living creatures of the world and an assembly of a shaft running through the boss of a spoked wheel which typifies design, machinery and production.

The scroll above the shield carries the motto “Sapientia Et Labor”, Latin for wisdom and labour. The free translation would appropriately be through theory and practice.

The colours are Maroon, White and Green. Maroon for strength and depth of learning, white for purity and balance of approach and green for nature realism and practice.

The Gymkhana is a mini society; isolated from the rest of the town by a stark contrast of lifestyle. Gymmies, as its inhabitants refer to themselves, learn quickly that a society can thrive only if it establishes guiding principles and cherishes its values. The member elected Management Committee upholds a Code of Conduct that is widely respected by the Gymkana

  • Self discipline is the most important discipline
  • Give to others freely and deserve to receive
  • The most valuable assets one could hope to acquire are the qualities of a gentleman
  • Traditions of an institution are held in trust by its members
  • Neglect not a sacred duty''

Even though the institution is more than the brick and mortar that has gone into the building, the abode that special class apprentices spend 4 of their formative years and the environment deserve description. First the environment. Nestled amongst lovely hills with seasonal water falls, Jamalpur is an ideal place for a young person to pursue his vocation. Just following the monsoons and in winter the place has a picture post card quality. And before you enter Jamalpur Gymkhana you pass via a golf course adding a flavour to the place you are about to enter.

The building itself is situated in some 20 acres of land and has some 60 large rooms. Play facilities abound and the young person who is fortunate enough to enter the portals sporting challenges abound. As to academic pursuits one has to only experience the healthy rivalry to realise why some of the brightest sparks in Indian Railways have come out of the institution.

Although the total number of SCAs thus far (till 2006) have been less than 1500, the Gymkhana alumni have a very strong old-boys' network. Nothing exemplifies this better than the Annual Club Day celebrations, held every year on the 14th of February, when the alumni have nostalgic get-togethers at more than two dozen places worldwide.

Jamalpur Gymkhana alumni have carved out a niche for themselves all over the world, on Indian Railways, other Ministries of the Indian Government, Pakistan Railways, Private sector enterprises and institutes of higher learning.

Life after Graduation

Officers are assigned a Home Railway on completion of the course. This is the regional zone that will usually be where the officer will spend 15 to 18 years of working life.

The young officers go through a 18 month training and Bharat Darshan (Tour of India) to better understand:

  • The span of the country and rail operations
  • Functional breadth of the IRSME job role
    • Motive Power Availability
    • Train Operations - Scheduling
    • Production of Locomotives, Coaches, Wagons, Wheel sets, etc.
    • Repair and Manufacturing workshops
  • Laws and rules governing the Railways
  • Business Processes and Standard Operating Procedures

On successful completion of this phase the officer is posted as a junior officer, usually in a small town. Given the wide variety of roles in the IRSME, this phase is very different for each person. However the attempt of the administration is to ensure that everybody gets a well rounded exposure to all aspects of operation.

Personal lifestyle options can be very different for the same reason as above. Smaller towns offer a listing in the town's prominent citizens. Cities offer a greater variety of entertainment and cultural activities.

Professionally speaking, as compared to other engineers at that level of experience, the scope of responsibility and professional leeway is perhaps the broadest in the country. The number of people and amount of money impacted as a course of duty is probably unmatched. However, the quality of life can be less than desirable; more so when contrasted with the service sector boom in India. This has been a source of discontent in recent times with retention rates dropping in the cadre. Till recently the turnover has been largely in the ranks of junior officers, but of late this has been affecting mid-career officers as well.

Distinguished alumni

International Honours

Batch Name Award
1958 R K Pachauri, on behalf of IPCC Nobel Peace Prize

National Honours

Batch Name Award
1938 K L Bery Padmashri
1941 A C Chatterjee Padmashri
1944 P C Luther Padmashri
1945 M M Suri Padmashri
1947 M L Khanna VSM (1971)
1947 P S Chaudhuri VSM
1957 N C Sinha Mentioned in Dispatches (1971)
1958 R K Pachauri Padma Bhushan

See also

  • SCRA - Special Class Railway Apprentice - the official name by which a Gymmie is known
  • IRSME - Indian Railway Service of Mechanical Engineers - a cadre of the Government of India

External links

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