Saturday, 21 March 2015

MY TRYST WITH RAILWAYS

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

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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
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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.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

ISN'T SHE YOUR CHILD?

You know I was wondering all these days what to write. Something trivial enough to be missed yet significant because it taught me something. The other day, I was sitting in front of the TV and my mom came back from work. Instinctively I asked her a question. And then it came to me. What to tell you.

My mom is a gynecologist.  Needless to say, she has to go to the hospital at all the odd times for deliveries and cesarean sections. Middle of the night, lunch time.....so many times. That is a sacrifice she made. Her peace of mind. My brother and I are habituated to this.
As kids, wait......we still do it!!!- one of our favorite games is guessing whether that family had a boy or a girl. We would even place bets. That is one standard question we always ask as she returns home. Boy or girl?

And since welcoming a child into the family is always a great event, my mother usually becomes a part of the celebrations. I love it. I love how people distribute sweets, and their laughter.  One fine day, my brother was 4 years old, and when we were playing something there was a knock on the door. My brother went to answer it. There was this man who brought a packet of sweets for us. My brother asked; "Uncle, did aunty give birth to a baby boy?"  *ROFL*
                The man looked pleasantly surprised and said, "Yes, How did you know?  Did your mother tell you?" To this question my bro replied; "People usually don't give sweets if it was a girl child."
I was a witness to this whole conversation and this simple meeting was infact bewildering. My brother was 4. He was blissfully unaware of the world. I bet he didn't even know his alphabet.  But he observed a social thing. He could make out that there has been a discrimination; even if he didn't understand it.   Maybe through these kinds of small insignificant gestures, kids know a lot about the society from a young age.

That was a first for me too. I have grown up oblivious to these discriminations and differences. To be honest, it wasn't totally unexpected but for an educated family it wasn't proper either.
The sex ratio of some regions in India is alarming. Trust me, I have seen posters saying if you spend 500 INR for sex determination, you’ll save up to 200K INR (Two hundred thousand) worth dowry. This whole idea is sickening. It is as if being a girl here is a crime.

There have been several awareness campaigns on saving the girl child but I don't think they have made an impact. Satyamev Jayate's 'O ri chiraiyya' might have broken the internet on the day it was released,  but things still remain the same. A boy is expected to be the heir. It doesn't matter if he doesn't stand up for the responsibilities.  It is just because he was born a boy. This mentality has to change. The whole system is related.  You don't want a girl, and she grows up feeling neglected. Then, too worn out to protest against so many traditions, she simply throws away her life to the society and after a simple and selfless life she becomes a memory. Often thankless.
Other times she protests, and her life is cut short. She dies several thousand deaths in the form of insults, character assassinations and sacrifices before her heart finally stops. All this because she was unwanted. Her parents didn't want her. They wanted a boy.

These grim details sometimes happen to cause a gut-wrenching pain. Heart goes cold on listening about a new born girl being found in the garbage. Ironically enough, the centre of power in Hinduism is Goddess Durga.. 


The human mind is conditioned to see the good things first. Or atleast I think it is. That is why we always say, "Hold on, things will get better". Likewise, I think the society might change. Maybe there are some people who stand up against this. And I'm not being delusional. Just yesterday, I had been to my mom's hospital to visit her and someone gave me a sweet.Almost sure of the answer, I asked- "Is it a boy?" 

"No", he replied full of smiles......."It's a girl."