There were days when Indian Railways was a male dominated play field with testosterone levels hitting the roof and trains chug chugging pushed by sheer grit and determination of the men at work. Women were as non-existent as patience in the customers and even the available few were happy to be booking clerks and office clerks. Other than those clerical cadres, you could find them nowhere, as they were supposed to be so good in accounting- they can count 99+2=102 in two seconds and they can put a note in a file that says- ‘submitted for your orders please’ in a record five seconds.
The 90’s saw influx of so many young women into the stream who were forced to follow the path not trodden. The working environment was so male that there were only unisex restrooms where the men managed to ward off the ladies by whistling and the women were often flashed! Looking down upon women as second citizens and treating them as fragile dolls was in fashion. Grooms of Railways all the way from Mysuru entered the Ghat section of Arsikere in search of Railway employed brides. Young women were bombarded with proposals and rewarded with tummy bulging, hair receding Casanovas who petted engines and polished tracks.
Being a woman employee in Railways is not a joke, I bet. You have to stick to a strict schedule of sign on and sign off. Your child may be sick, yet the wheels must move on. Your back may ache, yet the wheels must move on. Your neck wrapped in belt, the wheels must move on. Your over sensitive bladder may be crying for release but you will be waiting with bated breath for the whistling canary in the restroom to finish off and move out, without washing the hands, of course. Your body and its condition never matters. The wheels must move on.
Night shifts are a curse of sleeplessness. Neither can you sleep crawled on the floor, lest you risk exposing your torso like a KFC stripped strip, nor can you sit in your so called chair that knows the right time to topple you- the moment you shut eye. You would be a walking zombie the next day at home. You would be left to issue tickets at forbidden stations where the number of snakes exceed the number of passengers served. You may even end up with guarding a corpse or warding away stray dogs. There would be days when you feel like throwing everything down and crying your heart out in frustration, yet the wheels must move on.
Enter the new century. Enter the women of the country in hither to unforeseen fields starting from operating, signaling, engineering and every other field. Looked upon as a safe employment that offers a solid pension, women became Loco pilots, Assistant Loco Pilots, track women, gatekeepers, gang-women, RPF women force, nurses, teachers and what not.
Sitting in a forlorn place where there is a railway gate and a desolate road, with few cows for company and munching peanuts, there are women today who await the choo-choo of a train. Carrying the sleepers and blocks hand in hand with the men, there are gangs of women who sweat it out. Pushing and pulling the levers and piloting the trains, women march on. There are ticket checkers, TTEs who work over night trains pulling out inebriated men, and RPF women, controlling crowds in trains. There are station masters who handle trains as if they are toys. There are women who file in and file out of their officers’ cabins, with trial of perfecting a note and trying to create history, beating the records of Ghazni Mohammed and Robert the Bruce! Alas, they know not the World’s Deepest Deep is their officer’s heart, so unfathomable and so unpredictable!
There are MBAs and B.Tech techies who work in counters issuing five rupee tickets and there are professional engineers who guide trains. The workforce of women these days is of the highest quality and caliber, not many are mere tenth pass or matriculate. The lady reservation clerk who clicks away tickets in record time seldom knows typing, yet she is a professional, putting professionals and their typing speed to shame. Lady loco pilots are equally attentive and careful as their male counterparts. The next time you look at a woman behind the wheels or near the wheels, do know that she is professional, head strong and has probably spent half her life with snakes and corpses, waiting in queue for the male canary to end his song. She has a family to support, a child to care for and a life apart from the wheels to live on. The wheels must move on…choo…choo‼!