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Some Memories..
Prakash Tendulkar


Life of M/man in Mumbai may appear to be a glamorous one to commuters. The reality is different. There are many close calls such as poor brake power may result in possible overshooting corrected at the last minute by applying emergency brakes, passing signal at danger, etc. But the incident that results in invisible scar on them is knocking a trespasser.

No scientific study has been conducted by here are some figures that I know.

M/man Vilas Veerkar committed suicide. Age mid 40s.
M/man Ashok Jadhav died of heart attack. Age mid 40s.
M/man Edward Fernandes died of heart attack. Age mid 40s.
M/man Kulkarni died of heart attack. Age 55.
M/man Hardikar, suffers from irregular heart beats, assigned to shunting duty only, age 55. (Now retired)

You may draw your own conclusion.

One fine morning, I was traveling with M/man Ashok Jadhav in a fast train from Virar to Churchgate. The rake was brand new so traction power and braking were fabulous. We approached Malad at a speed of 90 kms, the starter was green, advanced starter was invisible due to left hand curve ahead. Few hundred feet ahead was Malad south level crossing and many pedestrians used railway tracks to reach station, a common site in Mumbai. Although there are four tracks, rarely all were occupied by on-coming train so it was easy to dodge the trains by changing tracks. All the M/men would sound horn (or hooter) to warn trespassers. The track is covered by fence and walls on both sides leaving no room for additional maneuvering.

That particular day was no different, or that's what we thought or expected.

A young boy, 8 - 9 years old, wearing school uniform and carrying a school bag was trying to reach Malad station by walking on up local track. Few seconds before we reached Malad, up local had started, M/man had sounded his hooter, the boy looked at down local line, but a train was arriving so he jumped quickly to down fast tracks. When up local had passed half way from where he was standing, down fast local sounded the horn. In split second, the boy jumped to up fast track, right in front of our train. We were hardly 30 feet away. Hooter was sounded again and emergency brakes were applied. It takes at least 650 feet for loaded local to stop from 90 kms. We could see the fear in those little eyes.

Then we heard the familiar but deadly thud.

We slowed at Goregaon cabin and asked cabin man to inform Malad stationmaster about the accident. At Andheri, both of us got down to inspect the cow guard. A school bag was hanging on buffer beam. Ashok stepped down on track, picked the bag and came back silently, with a face full of agony, closed the door and settled on guard's seat. He did not want to drive that rake. The journey towards CCG, normally full of chats, a wave to incoming trains' M/men was totally silent that day.

Few days later, Ashok and I attended the coroner's court at J.J. Hospital. Coroner Shri Malkani asked the routine questions, did you sound hooter, did you apply emergency brakes, was the boy facing a train, etc. Ashok answered them in a composed manner.

Before leaving, Ashok met the boy's parents, expressed his sympathy. The mother was in a shock but the father understood that the sympathy was genuine. When we came out of coroner's hall, Ashok asked me to get the bag and handed it over to the father. A tear rolled from all the eight eyes.

Soon after, Ashok had fully recovered and was back to his pleasant life style. We almost forgot the incident.

Six months later, I was traveling with Ashok in another fast train with a DI in the cab. When we approached Malad, Ashok shut off the master controller even though starter was green. As we were passing the starter, he applied brakes and slowed down to 40 kms. I looked at him, his eyes were telling me, you know why I slowed down. I nodded. DI Shri Mendonca looked puzzled and asked what is happening. I explained the background. He understood. He himself was a 30-year veteran M/man, too.

Another invisible scar was discovered.

But not all the invisible scars can be discovered. Take M/man Nicholas Fernandes for example. He and his younger brother Anthony worked as M/men. Anthony, a jolly, laughing person had many friends among the crew. Nicholas, on the other hand, was a loner. Rarely, one would see any colleague traveling in his cab. His wife was exactly the opposite; she was a social worker, had many friends and was a wonderful host and fabulous cook.

Anthony told me many times that his brother was not a loner when he joined railway. A football player, he hosted many parties those days, during one such party, he met his would be wife.

I traveled with Nicholas in his cab and our conversation was limited to greetings only. My other M/men friends called me a nut for traveling in his cab. I tried initiating conversation with him but never succeeded. At the most, he would inform me that his wife has invited me for a party.

Well! Nicholas had the worst record of knocking trespassers. He would apply brakes and sound hooter for no apparent reasons, like an absent minded person.

His secrets went with him in coffin when he died in early 80s, soon after his retirement.

Or may be he shared them with St. Peter?

Same with M/man Vilas Veerkar. He was a jolly, happy person with lots of friends; wore one wristwatch on each hand, one for Indian standard time, and the other for Railway time that runs a few minutes ahead. I traveled with him a lot and he came to airport the day I was leaving for US to wish me good luck.

He lived in railway quarters at Vile Parle and many times, I waved him from train when he was standing in the balcony. His family was known to be a very happy one.

Two years later, he committed suicide right in front of his railway quarters. My cousin, Ratnakar Gavankar a.k.a. Shivaji Maharaj, was pulling in up local at Vile Parle late night, he saw Veerkar standing by tracks, waved him. He thought Veerkar was on his way to stationmaster's office.

M/man of the following train found his dead body. That was the last CCG bound train of the day.

May the souls of these friends rest in Peace!