My article was recently published in the special Railway issue of the unique magazine called One India One People.
MARRIED TO THE RAILWAYS…ER, RAILWAY MAN!
By Shail Raghuvanshi
When I religiously and playfully took my rides in the toy train of Cubbon Park ages ago in Bangalore week after week and, enjoyed it thoroughly, I did not really understand the significance of railways as a medium of travel and transportation. Again, when my family headed north for our annual winter vacations and I loved every moment of our train journeys in the non-AC compartments, I knew not how the Indian Railways was becoming ingrained in my mindset so to say.
Everything fell into place (as far as the railway part of my life was concerned) when I got married to a railway man! It was as if the last jigsaw puzzle had finally fallen into place in my life. Though the importance of it did not strike me then, over the years, being part of the huge railway fraternity has made my life complete! And, when the realization dawned only then, did I realize that I wasn’t just married to a railway man, but like a newly married woman who doesn’t just marry her husband but his entire family, I was being absorbed into the entire railway family!
For a civilian who’s only connection with railways had been toy train rides and the yearly train journeys to Calcutta, Varanasi and Delhi where my relatives resided, this sudden surge of railway ambiance gushing into my life was albeit initially unwelcome! Honestly, I hadn’t taken into account the vast legacy left behind by the British to chug into my life without my permission. To top it all, my husband turned out to be one who lived, and loved the Railways. He practically breathed railways! If the smell of perfume aroused me, it was the smell of heavy metal (pun intended) that energized him. Watching a steam engine chugging into a station gave him a kind of joy that I just could not fathom. Train, tracks, passing scenery – all made my husband become philosophical about life. My childhood train rides came nowhere near the ecstasy that my husband felt while going ‘on duty’ (‘on line’ in railway parlance) every other week.
Train accidents which had been viewed as unfortunate accidents by me in the past now began being seen by me in a completely different perspective only because I now belonged to the railway family. Added to this was the fact that my husband’s role in the railways involved procuring a first-hand account of such incidents. So, compared to the time when my view was more objective and less personal, I was now slowly and steadily forming subjective and personal opinions about the railways.
I remember the time when I almost lost my husband in a railway accident in the year 2001. The train in which my husband was travelling on duty had plunged into a river bed crashing through the Kadalundi Bridge somewhere near Calicut. The seriousness of the incident dawned on me only when I saw the images on television while I sat huddled with my 3 year old son. Fortunately, my husband survived the accident and except for the call that he made to me sitting below the broken bridge asking me to not worry, I did not hear from him for an entire week. The fact that he was also a railway officer seemed to overrule the reality that he was a victim of an accident too. So, because he was miraculously alive he had to assist the rescue operations too! When he returned home (clad in the same dress for an entire week) he was in a real mess. After having heard wails of families, of seeing bodies of children, women and men he was like, “Good Lord! Why should such a tragedy take place? How had I survived this disaster while the next compartment passenger had plunged to his death caught between metal and water?” It took my husband a long time to overcome the inner conflicts and the nightmares of the accident.
So, did this unnerve my railway husband? If I had been in his place it certainly would have brought me down to my knees. And, I would have switched jobs. But, railway men are made of sterner stuff I discovered just like the innumerable ones working in the railways all over the country. For somebody who vaguely believed in the law of karma and hardly knew anything about mass karma, this accident was indeed an eye-opener.
There have been times when I have wondered as to how life would have possibly been had I not been connected to the railways. Well! Lots of images popped up in my mind but nothing equalled the joy of being part of such a unique system, an institution in itself. It is not as if all is hunky dory in the railways. There are times when professional dissatisfaction does seep into family life leaving the inmates of a railway household as unhappy as the railway man himself. But then, that is part of any job!
All I can say is that my knowledge of railways that had been limited to treating it as merely a medium of travel and transportation has today, been transformed into a more humane perspective to the extent that I have become biased. Unlike before I got married, now I can judge or sympathise both, railway travellers and railway employees in the same manner. Suddenly, the T.T.E. looking smart in his railway coat, the tea vendor on the platform, the porter – all speak of stories waiting to be told. Train drivers, guards, clerks, peons, officers – all breathe, live and love their railway journeys as I become an unseen spectator in their everyday lives.For good or for bad, the railway is part of their lives and they carry this emotion into their graves. Each one’s experience is a saga in itself.Yesterday, I would not have even given it a thought but today, because I am married to a railway man, it makes one hell of a difference!
The intricacies of railway life, work and culture can push you or bend you and sometimes can even break you. But there is no running away from it as I realise that I am not just married to a railwayman – I am married to the railway in him as well!