Saturday, 21 March 2015


Whenever someone says to you the word 'travel', what comes to your mind? Long train rides? Noisy stations? Or just the fact that you can now relax during the journey?

Indian Railways.....  The arteries and veins of India. The lifeline of a billion people

It has been praised worldwide for its efficiency and its sheer amount of work. The surveys know better. I have been fortunate enough to watch it from close quarters. Close enough to say that for people who work in Railways it is not just a job, it is a way of life. 
To start the narrative from somewhere, I'll tell you this. Both sets of my grandparents worked in Railways, my parents also do. So we have a closer association than you can imagine.
Our house was situated less than 100 meters from the train station. We were so habituated to the horns conking that we actually missed it when we moved out.

The Railway station was and still is a very fascinating place for me. I don't know why but I never get bored whenever I'm there. I love to see those booksellers, the chaiwalas crying out loud in their iconic style 'chai chai', people waiting for the trains with their bags and the announcements in three languages.  The majestic arrival of the train, with its famous horn and the sudden hustle and bustle. Some might call me crazy but it sometimes proves to be nostalgic.

The thing about Railways is this: they can take you anywhere you want, at a subsidized cost and with the basic comforts. If you have ever been on a long cross country ride you will definitely enjoy cutting across the states, and passing through those numerous stations; meeting people from various walks of life and just watching how the language and the food change with every few kilometers
The terrain is rugged and difficult at places, but it makes things all the more beautiful. It adds an unknown yet attractive aesthetic value to the ride. The mist and chill of the Kalka Shimla Railway,  the Palace on Wheels and its hospitality and the Darjeeling toy train. This is what makes Railways a favorite tourist destination ( I said destination only for the lack of a better word!)

But what people seldom know is the amount of work it takes to keep this whole institution in proper functioning. People see what we call the 'tip of the iceberg'. An operating department, an electricity department to ensure no power cuts on board, a finance and a medical wing to care for the employees. Did I mention the Rail Traffic wing, and the public relations team?  Not surprisingly, people crave for a job in Railways and it is the largest employer after Walmart. 

All the above mentioned things are enough to understand why there are innumerable documentaries based on the largest public sector undertaking in our country. And it has an equal societal value too. (No? Please check how many Bollywood scenes have been shot!!!!)

People complain all the time. About the pantry food,  about the cleanliness (without realizing that it is they who have to be hygienic first) and that the trains sometimes run late. But for me it is about running so many trains in one day without a single accident. It is about those hundred thousand people working at the signals, at the manned level crossings, and at the ticket counters just waiting to serve you.

Coming to the social life of Railway persons, you won't be disappointed.The best part about it is the Pan-Indian feeling everyone gets while working. Each and every place, no matter however small has a myriad of cultures.  You will find people from all communities. All languages. All religions. Everyday is a festival. And it is celebrated with equal pomp and show. As I close my eyes, I remember squealing on finding Santa Claus at my door to wish me a Merry Christmas! !!!! And splashing the colors of holi on each other!!!  The settlements made just for us, with playgrounds and clubs remain unrivalled in many aspects.

You must be wondering what made me tell you this all of a sudden. Well.......actually nothing in particular. Just because I felt that way. These were my memoirs of growing up with an institution.
Now its your turn. If you smiled more than a couple of times while reading this, I am sure you had a similar childhood. So if you feel that this article tugged a few strings underneath your left ribs, do tell me.

I would love to hear from you.