Saturday, August 12, 2006

Those magnificent men

The Raichur Thermal station loomed large on our left, lit up brightly as its four smokestacks towered into the sky, red lights blinking. Rising columns of steam eerily reminded us of the Titanic when suddenly the cabin lights were switched off and the assistant had his nose pressed to the windscreen infront of him. The Chief too was peering ahead in rapt attention and for a moment there was pin drop silence in the cab. The rumble of the V16 behind us grew tenfold and we couldn't see much ahead as the view was block by a road bridge. Suddenly a green speck came into view and Chief's finger went up in his inimitable style when the assistant cried "Raichur home - caution!!"

Cut to the cab of the WAP5 at the helm of the Rajdhani to Mumbai. Roaring along at 130kmph, the Chief and his assistant are discussing the upcoming wedding of a colleague's daughter when a buffalo, munching contentedly by the tracks decided to choose that very moment to get up and cross the tracks. The assistant, a pucca Bramhin could only get up and fold his palms when a resounding thud sounded a hit. Another hundred or so kilometers down the track, we run over an unlikely species - a peacock !! Unheeded - the Rajdhani went on as it was just another day in the life of the loco pilots of the Indian Railways.

Those unnamed, unheralded heroes about whom, hardly anyone knows or cares. They are the men, who spend Diwalis and Chirstmases in Running Room Dormitories so that you could have been home in time to spend it with your families. They are the men who brave 45° C plus temperatures while you lounge in air conditioned comforts of your coaches munching Puri Subzi your momma packed.

The next time you are at the station, try looking inside the cabin of a locomotive. You would find an apology of a seat - barely adequate for resting half a bum, but even then they would invite you to share it. I know of a Chief - as we call the senior drivers (or pilots as the Railways likes to call them) who as a fireman spent 16 straight hours on the footplate of a freight train to cover 250 kilometers due to a strike. 16 straight hours shovelling coal into the firebox, 16 straight hours in a place where temperatures make the Sahara look like Siberia. I have personally been witness to drivers - staunch Bramhins drink out of the same cup as a Muslim while in the cab. Seen Jains, pull out the severed hand of a young boy that got stuck in the undercarriage as he got run over.

Try and imagine the nightmares these guys must be facing, try and imagine the responsibilities carry on their shoulders each time the signal turns green for in the palm of their hand rests the fate of 2000 lives. They carry the food you eat, the fuel you burn - through endless winter nights and blazing summer days. Their children missed their father on the first day of school, just because he was ferrying someone else's children.

How many of us even know that it is not in their hands to drive fast or slow. Or that the train does not get late because of him - but because of a stupid section controller who puts a slow moving freight ahead of a fast express or a careless loco inspector who couldn't even screw a few nuts tight !! The driver drives just as he sees the signal. Green means go, yellow means slow and red means stop ! They will perhaps be the only people in India who follow this religiously - unlike the morons on the road.

So the next time you are in a train - spare a thought for the man up ahead. He is not driving slow because he is lazy, just that the signal is yellow. His children too wait for him to turn up at the dinner table.

9 comments:

The Smokin' WDM2 said...

AWESOME!! extremely awesome... Just loved the beginning(wasnt that out of ur report of ur Rajadhani footplate? - SBC Raj, i think).

Well said... btw, a flash of memory occurred to me... I remember, when I did the Quilon-Tenkasi MG section, the driver reverently touching the loco to his eyes(dunno how else 2 express it, but u got it, right?) I felt a warmth in the heart when i saw that...

Yeah, just like u said, the moment he sights the semaphore drop, the lives of hundreds of people rest in his hands....

Mridula said...

I have enjoyed all your train posts. I wonder if you ever explored the possibility for trying to publish writing some of the stuff?

I have published a few of my travels with the site www.gonomad.com and if you are interested you can check it out. They pay a token amount for all the articles pblished and are always looking for unusual stuff.

Macabreday said...

nice post. enjoyed reading

thetrooper83 said...

great stuff dude!

nomad said...

** Smokin DM2 - yea that part is from the SBC Raj trip. Thanks for your comments.

** Mridula - will surely check it out. Thanks for the thumbs up

** Macabreday , Tropper - TY :o)

Akshay said...

Superb post on the loco pilots. None of the ppl understand these aspects of their lives.

Sidhusaaheb said...

I wonder if you have had the opportunity to ride in the driver's cab on a running train...

Sounds like good fun...

I hope the Railways will take good care of its staff, financially, now that it is making good money.

nomad said...

Sidhusaaheb: Yes sir, have been there and done that. And I too hope that Laloo and his cronies start thinking about the men who matter.

soundara said...

great posts