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, I loved every moment of our train journeys.
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 realisation 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!
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 Indian Railways. He practically breathed railways! If the smell of perfume aroused me, it was the smell of heavy metal (pun intended) that energised 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.
I remember the time when I almost lost my husband in a railway accident in the year 2001. The train in which he 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 threeyear- 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 lamented, “Good Lord! Why should such a tragedy take place? How did I survive this disaster while the next compartment passenger plunged to his death?” 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 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. There have been times when I have wondered as to how life would have 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!
Unlike before, now I can judge or sympathise both, railway travellers and railway employees in the same manner. Suddenly, the T.T.E. (Train Ticket Examiner) 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 a huge 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!