Indian Railways. One of the largest employers in the world. And he was a part of that.
He was a typical South Indian by any standards. Long and gaunt by stature, he was respected by everyone in his circle. He had started off as a class IV employee in the Indian Railways at a very tender age of nineteen and through his dedication and hard work, had risen to the position of Station Master of a class C station.
He was 8 years old when tragedy struck. A small family consisting of his parents and a younger sibling other than himself, it was further shortened when his father and brother were killed in a stampede at the local temple utsav. That was nearly half a century ago. He had to abandon his studies and opt for menial work as his mother was taken paralyzed a few weeks later.
Yet, he survived. Because he believed he could.
The mounting medical bills on his mother’s ever deteriorating health didn’t deter him. Instead, it motivated him. To work harder. He was a person who believed that one shouldn’t compromise, at least on primary education. So side by side, he attended night classes and went on to pass his matriculation as well.
It was around this time that his mother too succumbed. In fact, she, in her later days, had frequent and acute attacks of psychosis that he often prayed that she be “relieved of her pains quickly.” And he, till date, didn’t know the answer to the question as to what the emotion in his mind was when he first saw her lifeless.
He went to Hyderabad. Sarkari naukri was the objective. And with his determination that seemed to please even the Gods, he got through into the South Central Railways. Class IV job, but nonetheless a job.
And he was a devout employee. One having a credo putting organizational benefits ahead of personal ones. He even receive a Best Employee award for South Central Railway from the Railway Board. With periodic promotions, he was now the Station Master at Tangkuttur, a remote station in Ongole district of Andhra Pradesh.
Meanwhile, his life was prospering on the personal front as well. He found his life partner in Radha, a beautiful daughter of one of his colleagues. They had two sons. And this part of his life, he often reflected, would be called prosperity. Or maybe the pursuit of prosperity.
Though his elder child was a little weak in studies, his younger one was different. A mature father he was, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of his children, he helped the elder one setup a shop with a part from his savings. And he encouraged the younger one to study. And he studied. Completed his graduation.
This is when problems arose. A country with lakhs of graduate degree holders and with under one tenths of them lucky enough to find a job, unemployment was often a villain in many middle class Indian family contexts. He could sense the pulse of his son as the latter frantically searched for a job. Almost an year and a half had passed since he completed his studies and he was still unsuccessful in hunting out a job for himself.
The whole mood of the household too turned downcast as a result of this. It seemed as if a pall of evil gloom had descented. Rather destined to descent.
Until that day when he had a “brainwave.”
That very evening, when he reached home, he had a long talk with his son. His son was actually surprised to find the unusually composed tone of his father.
The next day, he went to the Vinayaka temple, after a long hiatus. He offered a dozen coconuts tro the Lord. He knew, from inside, he was a lot relieved. Because he believed, he had found a way out of this predicament.
He had evening duty that day.
As is the case with a lot of railway employees, he too was emotionally attached to a lot of trains. Quite a bunch of them which he used to show the green light to almost on a daily basis.
2615. Chennai-New Delhi Grand Trunk Express. Was a train he was seeing almost on a daily basis for the past decade and a half. At this time of the year, the train would be filled with students going home for vacations. The overall mood in the train would be one of joy, enthusiasm and expectation.
He didn’t know what was the word that could describe his state of mind at present.
The telephone in his cabin rang. He lifted it. The train had left the previous station. It was on time. Tangkuttur was just under 15 minutes in sight for the Grand Trunk Express.
He took out the green flag. As if driven by someone other than himself, he found himself going towards Krishna’s stall in the station for a cup of tea. The tea seemed all the more delicious tonight.
At a distance, he could hear the increasing rambles of 2615.
“Siren of prosperity hopefully,” he thought.
He moved to the centre of Platform No. 1. Now the train was in sight. And as the custom, he started waving the green flag.
When the engine was under 200 metres from where he was, he closed his eyes. Images of his family and Lord Vinayaka came rushing to him like a flash.
He didn’t open his eyes. And the flag was still in his hands when he leapt onto the track.
The letter that was found in his office drawer the next day read
Divisional Railway Manager,
SUB : Application for job in your organization on compassionate ground.
My father Ch. M. Thanappa was an employee with S. C. Railways of the Indian Railways for over 35 years. He was unfortunately killed in an accident that occurred in Tangkuttur station on xx-xx-xxxx.
I request you to intimate me the proceedings for applying for a job on compassionate grounds.
The green flag, still lying on the track, had long turned blood red.