Bhau Joshi’s obsession with trains began in his childhood. Like his peers, he was interested in making miniature models of the kilas, or forts, of Shivaji — but the difference between the young B S Joshi and his friends was that Joshi aimed for perfection. His kilas had miniature streets and houses and were famous in his neighbourhood.
Along with forts, Joshi began to construct working models of machines, like fire engines that actually put out fires and cars and trains that actually moved (pulled by hidden strings and pulleys).
The hobby grew with the hobbyist. If you are new to Pune, add a visit to Joshi’s Museum of Miniature Railways, at the Soudamini Instruments compound in Kothrud, to your to-do list. For years Bhau (brother, in Marathi) Joshi had tried to take his model city on tour. But getting permissions and venues and ensuring the safety of his exhibits were a severe hassle.
So he decided to give his collection a permanent home on the premises of his factory, Soudamini Instruments. A hall was built in 1991 and the Miniature City opened to the public in April 1998. It had cost nearly Rs 50 lakh to make this possible. If you are not a rail enthusiast, after visiting here you will be.
Joshi’s hard work and dedication are plain to see. The model city has trains ranging from the steam engine to the latest bullet trains. There are 65 signals, and fences, lampposts and flyovers, all of them hand-made, some using chemical etching techniques. The entire layout can be operated manually or controlled by computer. The trains and cars actually move; in a swimming pool the tiny human figures really swim.
Soudamini Instruments now builds train models under the name of Josh Enterprises. The company has manufactured models for Australian firms as well as Jungfrau Railways of Switzerland, and even the Indian Railways.
It will soon come out with Indian Railway models, to be marketed in India and abroad.
At an in-house facility, engineers design, make moulds, do plastic injection and painting and printing, etc. The company also makes customised models.
“In October 1998, my father died after a short illness, only six months after the museum was formally opened for visitors," says Ravi Joshi, who is Bhau Joshi’s son and now handles the museum, in a letter on the museum website. "After that, I made several changes in infrastructure.” In 2003, he added an airport in 1:500 scale."
“What you see in the premises," Ravi continues, "is to me a legacy, a dream fructified by my father. For me to carry forward. [...] From the first Diwali that I can remember, we used to set up a layout in one room of our house. For the duration of Diwali this room was given over to the railways. We worked late into the night after I had finished my school and homework. Never did he say that I was too young to handle any of his precious collection. He trusted me completely, and in turn I ensured that I would not let him down.”
Ravi’s education in electronics “helped in planning the wiring”. He has more plans for the museum. "In 2002 I travelled to Germany to attend an exhibition on toys and railway modeling. I was amazed to see the extent to which the Western world has developed this hobby and the seriousness with which it is pursued. While there, I decided that railway modelling must become an option for Indian children to have as a hobby." Some 400 companies in Germany alone, he says, manufacture toy trains and accessories, and one out of every three German families has trains at home.
So there is room to grow. Ravi hopes to create a "mini-India" — this, however, will require a few acres of land!
Pune Municipal Corporation includes the Joshi Museum on its Pune Darshan bus route.
Joshi’s Museum of Miniature Railways, Kulkarni Road, near Sangam Press, Kothrud, Pune. Open every day (except March 15-31); entry, Rs 80