Book Reviews

Railu Kathalu (Rail-based Stories): A Review

Railu Kathalu: A Compilation of Rail-based Stories in Telugu
Sahithi Prachuranalu, April 2018
Pages 280 | Rs. 100
Sahithi Prachuranalu, 33-22-2, Chandram Buildings, CR Road,
Chuttugunta, VIJAYAWADA, Andhra Pradesh, Pin 520 004.
Ph. 0866-2436642/43, 8121098500. Email:

A kaleidoscope of representative stories in the railway milieu

The Engine Whistle

The resonating whistles of the trains and their choo-choos, chug-chugs and the clackety-clacks, heard even from a long distance, and their gliding movements along the straight cum curvaceous tracks… are all part of our daily audio-visual lore. As the train slides into our view, we involuntarily get alert to count the number of bogies tucked between the engine and the guard’s cabin. 

Most of us must have used the trails along the rail tracks or the platforms for our evening strolls. We stop by the railway refreshment stall to munch some snacks and sip our favourite  beverage; we also survey the reading stuff at the railway bookstall and buy one or two. 

I, for one, always prefer a train journey; and love longer travels even more; it is like being a part of a mini-India on the wheels. The moving panoramas through the windows, the passengers, the interactions, the bonhomie, the vendors with their trade-mark cries within the train and on the platform, the various stalls of food, books and knick-knacks, the waiting rooms, and the amenities  – everything is fascinating about the railways. With almost everyone in the country having to travel by rail, with goods of every requirement transported by trains across the country, with everyone of us having a relative or friend working in the vast network of railways, and with a number of rhymes and songs on railways sung and heard everyday, the railways are an inseparable part of our lives. 

The lively lore of the vast Indian railways has such an allure that all of us have our own unique experiences and maze of memories. And there are thousands of people who indirectly owe their livelihood to the railways. A lot of unceasing action happening in the railways, many a writer has bestirred themselves into penning stories revolving around the railways ever since their inception. The railways – abuzz with gang-men, points-men, drivers, guards, porters, TTEs, station masters, engineers, and supervisors – are next only to the defence services in staff strength and also in terms of varied units – operations, engineering (civil, mechanical, communications), administration, catering et al, working in perfect coordination. 

That’s why “Railways in India are not just the lifeline, but also deeply entrenched in everyone’s heart, carrying indelible memories. Each rail personnel are involved relentlessly in keeping the train-wheels moving, no matter rain or shine. Each of the stories inside may be fiction, but is quite attached to factual life, with a subtle connect to the railways,” as is succinctly put by Vinod Kumar Yadav, General Manager, South Central Railway (SCR) in his Message to the book. 

The SCR which has completed its golden jubilee owes it success, in a large measure, to the gang-men who keep a daily watch of the tracks by trudging miles and miles, the drivers who keep alert day and night to ensure that we the passengers ease into a sound and peaceful slumber on the berths, as also the other staff in various categories and at various levels who discharge their duties conscientiously and meticulously, says Uma Shankar, Chief Public Relations Officer, in the Foreword, invitingly titled ‘On reaching your destination, share your feelings with me too.’

And it is this idea that has inspired the SCR to come up with an anthology of railway-centric Telugu stories as a tribute to its staff, adds Uma Shankar, And he rightly observes that the ‘Train is a symbol of people’s trust, a yardstick for the country’s progress, and a major means for the people to transcend parochial feelings and achieve national integration.’ 

The Coaches & Compartments

The anthology contains 39 stories by competent writers – including 17 by railway staff or those connected with it – each already published in various newspapers/ magazines. The selection was made by the editorial committee – Kasturi Muralikrishna, Kodihalli Muralimohan & Sadanala Venkataswamy Naidu, all rail personnel – by sieving and sifting hundreds of stories. The cover picture is by Bijay Biswal, a former TTE. 

The stories happening in trains across the country appeal to readers of every age-group and walk of life. As the railway staff, passengers, vendors, beggars et al form the characters, and their mutual interactions provide the fibre, the stories mirror the functioning and perception of railways and the common human relations, feelings and experiences in all their hues.

The themes present the plight of the precarious lot – needy vendors, beggars, poor orphans, destitute girls (Challa Sarojini), physically & mentally disadvantaged, highlighting at the same time that they are not devoid of self-respect, honesty, kindness and some merit (Krishna Mohan Gandhi/ Gundana Joga Rao/ MVSS Prasad/ KK Raghunandana/ Gummanuru Ramesh Babu/ V Rajamohana Rao/ Gundu Subrahmanya Deekshitulu). The stories also show the ways of alcoholic employees and irresponsible husbands (M Venkateswara Rao); expose the armchair intellectuals who act contrary to their own ideological claims (N Ananta Lakshmi); yearn for altruism and communal harmony (Bandaru Prasada Murty). There is also a tickling story satirising the common rung of Telugu movies, but which finally ends in a cinematic way (Sridhara). Regional dialects employed in some of the stories add a native flavour, but the one with a 100% rural dialect, not just dialogically but even narrationally (Nalla Bhumaiah), is apt to put off a large number of readers unfamiliar with it. And there is a refreshing one with children’s lingo (Bondala Nageswara Rao). There is a story, rather a humorous essay, on what routinely occurs in a sleeper coach (Balabhadrapatruni Ramani); and another one on how younger children should not be left to themselves (Sriganga).

The stories show that while most of the friendships aboard trains are ad hoc and fleeting, a few can be abiding and long-lasting (A Jayalakshmi Raju/ Mukunda Rama Rao); while trains and stations could unwittingly separate some from their families, or may not reunite them at all (Geo Laxman), they can also epiphanically unite or reunite them (Ganti Bhanumati). The idiosyncrasies of certain passengers abhorring the side-lower berths near the door (Bhimaraju Venkataramana) or those with a fond attachment for the third class who are firmly reluctant to travel by a higher class though an opportunity presents itself sometimes, in order to remain grounded to their social reality (Madhurantakam Rajaram); the crassness and bullying nature of some of the passengers (Amballa Janardan); highhanded ticketless travel by political goons (N Ananta Lakshmi); cruelty to animals transported for meat (Ghandikota Brahmaji Rao); the repercussions from the neglect of rules of safety while travelling (Saggu Rajaiah); robbers or terrorists sneaking in, in the mask of innocence and causing havoc (Somaraju Susila); and journeys with hilarious romantic interludes (Vedantam Sripati Sarma) – form part of these stories. 

How the railway realm is a queer breeding ground for the intricately epiphytic, parasitic, carnivorous and symbiotic elements, the stories effectively show, since there are instances where the trains or railway properties are exploited for illegal & unlawful purposes with a collusion between internal and external cabals (AN Jagannatha Sarma/ Madhurantakam Mahendra/ Vempalli Gangadhar). 

The stories depict the railway staff in a wide spectrum of attitudes – lazy to diligent (Oleti Srinivasa Bhanu), negligent to meticulous, gentle to highhanded, honest to venal, callous to helpful (M Venkateswara Rao/ Ayachitam Spandana). In one of the stories, a father takes his son (a railway officer recruit) along, in the general coach of an ordinary train to subtly draw his attention to the woes of the ordinary passengers (Saleem). An uncompromisingly duty-conscious driver, though humiliatingly cheated by his colleague to death, comes to the rescue of the same person and averts a disaster – in his ghost-form (Kasturi Muralikrishna)! There are some unfortunate employees who for no fault of theirs, come to be coldly victimised (Madabhushi Rangacharyulu). 

The multi-tiered railway staff from the gang-man to the engineer work day and night, braving any odds to see that the services are efficiently run; and they sweat and toil on a war-footing in the case of accidents and emergencies, mindless of their own personal emergencies and discomforts. Aspects like this are also covered in the stories (Swaralasika/ Pothuri Vijayalakshmi/ Yerramsetty Sai).

Let’s bear in mind the overall diligence with which the railway staff strive for our comfort and satisfaction (Yerramsetty Sai). Wise to the fact that nobody is absolutely perfect, let’s not be uncharitably critical or dismiss their hard work with our frivolous remarks, a tendency that is generally rampant in our present day holier-than-thou media (Pothuri Vijayalakshmi). 

The Guard's Whistle

On a personal note, I have so far been declaring my admiration, respect and gratitude to the soldier, the teacher and the postman – for in them a spirit of selflessness & sacrifice, a certain simplicity, and a heart to go a little out of the way to serve the society. There could certainly be a few bad apples among them, but then which walk of life is absolutely free of them? Relatively, the negative elements are far fewer in these three categories. And from now on I feel like engendering the same positive feelings for the railway staff as well and greet them with a hearty ‘Thank you’ whenever I come across them in the course of my train journey.  

The stories tickle us to laughter, make us teary, touch the depths of our hearts, melt the stony hearts, cause goose-bumps, question the system, pave the way for introspection, enrapture us, and provoke our thoughts. In short, they hold a mirror to our experiences in the train journey, and leave an indelible impression in our hearts, as crisply summed up by Uma Shankar. 

A suggestion. Let the SCR arrange to sell this book in every train through IRCTC (maybe at a discount) so that on reading them the passengers may develop an empathic and a more balanced view of the railways. The stories could also be translated into English and other languages and produced as short TV films and screened in the waiting rooms.


More by :  U Atreya Sarma

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