Indian Railways: More About the Beginning

My post Indian Railways - The Journey Begins drew such an encouraging response that I felt impelled to add to the article, including some of the issues raised by readers.

Most TT & CD (IRTS now) probationers had experiences akin to what I mentioned, but some were lucky enough to get a warm welcome and comfortable living conditions. Our seniors used to tell us that in the old days, probationers met the General Manager of the railway to which they were posted, and field officers were advised to take care of them. KK Das, who retired as Chief Commercial Superintendent Eastern Railway, wrote a delightful reminiscence in 1993 of his early days on East Indian Railway. In the article titled On the Rails of Memory published in Statesman, Calcutta, KK Das mentions that he went to see the General Manager, Rai Bahadur Nibaran Chandra Ghosh OBE but his Secretary CC Moir told him that the GM was on line (railway jargon for being on tour – not to be confused with the modern-day computer term) and took him instead to see DGM(P), the Deputy General Manager (Personnel).

D Hariram, who retired as General Manager North Eastern Railway and later, as a consultant with the World Bank, inspired Indian Railways to adopt a single gauge system, told us that when he joined the Eastern Railway in 1952, the General Manager and the Chief Operating Superintendent were not in the office. So, he met CT Venugopal FA & CAO, the Financial Adviser and Chief Accounts Officer. At that time the Eastern Railway included the whole of the present South Eastern, South East Central and East Coast Railway zones. It was almost closing time when Hariram’s orders for training were issued, leaving no time to get the free pass issued for his travel to Waltair. CT Venugopal scribbled a note authorizing Hariram to travel anywhere on the railway, signed it and appended his official stamp. He also called up NC Jerath DTS Waltair to receive Hariram and look after his needs.

These traditions had disappeared by the time we entered the Indian Railways. Nevertheless, in some zonal railways, probationers were welcomed by their seniors, provided residential accommodation and facilitated in their training. In others, most seniors either ignored probationers or were downright rude to them. In an extreme instance, a senior officer who was unhappy with the replies of a probationer during a routine test, threw the Rule book on his face.

Probationers had to learn the designations and their short forms and understand the hierarchy and their own position in it vis-à-vis others in the organisation. Sometimes this led to bizarre situations as the debutants were either overawed by the setting in which they met someone or were misled by his sartorial get up. In my earlier post, I had mentioned how my batchmate mistakenly assumed that the person in a suit was the COPS ignoring the more modestly dressed GD Khandelwal.

KK Das mentions that when he arrived at Howrah station and met the Station Superintendent, he met an “impressive looking liveried peon who ushered him into the presence of an even more impressive Station Superintendent” and assuming that he was a very high dignitary of the railway administration, “nervously mumbled the reason for intruding into his privacy.” The SS stood up to shake hands and introduced himself, “Ritchin at your service, Sir.” Das learnt much later that he had joined a cadre superior to the SS.

One probationer with orders to report to the Chief Controller, entered the Control office dressed in a suit for the occasion and found an Anglo-Indian official wearing a jacket and tie sitting at the head of a large table and a dark young Indian in a bush shirt sitting opposite him. As he approached the table, the probationer ignored the young man, taking him for an underling, bowed to the man at the head of the table and introduced himself with due humility. As he approached the table, the probationer ignored the young man, taking him to be an underling, bowed to the man at the head of the table and introduced himself with due humility. He was flabbergasted when that worthy shot up from his seat said, “Sir, welcome to the divisional control” and introduced him to the young man who was the Assistant Operating Superintendent, a couple of years senior to the probationer. From the latter, he learnt that the Chief Controller ranked lower in the hierarchy, despite his imposing designation.

We learnt that, following the traditions set during the British regime, officers in the same scale could be on first name basis but those in a higher scale had to be addressed with a Mr prefixed to their names. Since we were in Junior scale, it meant that we should address all senior scale officers as Mr so and so. Those in higher grades had to be addressed with a Sir. (Actually, the British officers observed these formalities only during office hours. There was much more bonhomie on the tennis court or in the club.) We tried this protocol for some time but as time passed, we found that even officers a few years senior in the same scale expected to be Sirred, at work or otherwise.

KK Das recounts an incident like the one RD Saklani and I experienced when were sent to POT by the sentry at the entry gate of Fairlie Place, the headquarters of Eastern Railway. When Das was taken to meet the Chief Operating Superintendent, his PA told him that corpse was busy with the “morning position”. Das did not approve of this disrespectful reference to the boss. Maybe he was a thin, anaemic person but, surely, he didn’t deserve to be nicknamed corpse for that reason. He discovered the next day that his concern for the boss was misplaced because the PA had said COPS, short form of Chief Operating Superintendent. Incidentally, I was the last one to retire as COPS, Eastern Railway. The post was re-designated in 1991 as Chief Operations Manager (COM) and in 2018 as Principal Chief Operations Manager (PCOM), reminding one of PG Wodehouse’s character Rupert Psmith spelt with a ‘p’ which is silent, as in pneumonia, phthísis and ptarmigan.

KK Das also mentions the obsession of operating officers with bridge that I mentioned in my last post. When a senior officer learnt that Das did not play bridge, he remarked grumpily, “Then what the Hell are you doing in the Railways?” Das remarks wryly that social life in the railways mainly consisted of numerous bridge parties.

Formation of linguistic states had been an avowed policy of the All India Congress Committee before India gained independence. A committee consisting of Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and Congress President Pattabhi Sitaramayya (JVP Committee) had strongly recommended formation of such states as soon as possible. After Independence, Home Secretary KPS Menon put up a note to Home Minister Sardar Patel for orders on the implementation of the report but Patel placed it on the back burner, perhaps with good reason. When AP state had to be created, in 1953, after the martyrdom of Potti Sriramulu, the question of linguistic states once again came to the fore and the Government appointed a three-man States Reorganization Commission (SRC) to examine the matter. Among other things, the Commission recommended, in the report submitted in 1956, that officers appointed to Central Government Services should be posted away from their home states in the interests of integration of the country. Following this recommendation, new recruits were posted outside their states, barring a few who could wield influence in the corridors of power.

Many of us who joined Central Services between 1956 and 1959 were thus faced with the additional problem of grappling with the local language. Our attempts to learn Bengali would often lead to hilarious situations. One day, I was on the platform of Dhanbad station when the Transportation Inspector (TI) with whom I was attached for training told me that the bhestebul express was expected to arrive shortly. Judging from the activity round me, I guessed it was an important train which was somehow connected with vegetables. It was only after the train arrived that I realised the TI was referring to the Air Conditioned Vestibuled Express. The confusion arose because, although Bengali alphabets are derived from Devanagari and include the alphabet ‘va' used in words like van (forest) and var (bridegroom) in most Indian languages, in Bengali they are pronounced as bon and bor. We would try to read movie posters and try to decipher their meaning. Saklani once read a poster and said it was Chauya Pauya. It didn’t seem to make sense until we discovered that the absence of a Bengali letter to pronounce ‘w’ forced Bengalis to produce the sound by combining the sounds of ‘u’ and ‘ya’. Thus, Cornwallis is written and pronounced as Cornuyalis. The movie in question was Chawa Pawa meaning Desires and Deserts.

There was no centralized training institute for Traffic officers, so we had to learn everything on our own, complementing the lessons we had learnt in short courses at the Traffic Training School at the zonal level and Railway Staff College Baroda. The Traffic Training School Sealdah where we had the first part of our training had poor facilities. The original training school of East Indian Railway at Chandausi had gone to Northern Railway after the Indian Railways were regrouped in 1952. The Zonal Railway Training Institute (ZRTI) was set up at Bhuli, near Dhanbad in 1965. During the halcyon days of Eastern Railway, Railway Officers’ Training Center (ROTC) for traffic officers was set up in 1968, but it was wound up in 1971 due to law and order conditions then prevailing in West Bengal. Traffic officers’ training was centralized in Railway Staff College Baroda in 1981. It was only in 2003 that an independent institute exclusively for IRTS officers, designated as Indian Railways Institute of Transportation Management (IRITM) was established in Lucknow.

Another bugbear that bothered new recruits was the need to clear the test of proficiency in Hindi conducted by the Defence department for all Central Services. It was mandatory to pass the test to earn annual increments and promotions to the next level. Many officers unfamiliar with Hindi struggled with the tests, making multiple attempts and some of them had their annual increments and promotions delayed. Their task was further complicated because the questions, primarily meant for defence personnel, had overtones of army terminology that the examinees found difficult to cope with. I escaped the ordeal because I had passed a similar test conducted by the state government in my previous job and got an exemption, but not before the authorities were provided with details of the syllabus for the test.

To end this post on a lighter note I recall an amusing incident that happened soon after I shifted to Dhanbad in January 1958.

PC Matthew a senior TT & CD officer was posted as Divisional Superintendent, Asansol Division early in 1958. Soon after taking charge, he planned a visit to Dhanbad which was then a subdivision of Asansol division. At Dhanbad railway station, there was a sense of expectancy among the crowd of people gathered on the platform waiting for the arrival of Sealdah Pathankot Express in which the new head of the division was to travel. It consisted of some minor officials, union leaders carrying bouquets and garlands to welcome the dignitary and curious onlookers. As the train slowed to a halt, the crowd positioned itself opposite the first-class compartment and waited eagerly. None of them had seen Matthew before, but they had learnt that he was of medium stature. A person answering to that description soon appeared at the door and stepped on to the platform. The nearest union leader moved forward to greet him with folded hands and garlanded him while another handed him a bouquet. The crowd shouted in unison, DS Saheb zindabad (Long live the DS) while the officials and union leaders garlanded the guest in quick succession leaving him breathless. When he regained his breath, he whispered something to the official standing next to him. The word quickly spread around the crowd. After a short, stunned silence, the crowd dispersed faster than it had gathered, leaving the guest holding the bouquet and thanking his stars that thy had not ripped off the garlands around his neck.

Lt Padhye was an ex-serviceman who had joined Asansol Division just a week ago as Assistant Personnel Officer having been selected by UPSC for recruitment as a temporary officer in the Personnel department. He was asked to accompany the DS to Dhanbad but after he boarded the train at Asansol, he found that the DS had cancelled his visit due to some unavoidable reasons. A message was sent to Dhanbad about the cancellation of the visit of the DS but apparently the union leaders had not heard of it.


More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

Top | Memoirs

Views: 3406      Comments: 6

Comment Another Gem from Annavarapu Rama Rao Gaaru.

Sri K.K.Das was the Chief Public Relations Officer when I joined service in 1963. He gave us a delightful lecture on Media Relations when he visited Jamalpur.
I was working in Southern Railway when Sri P.C.Mathews was General Manager.
Sri P.C.Mathews daughter is married to Sri P.M.Joseph, IRSE (retired as CAO/Konkan Railway)

Venkateswaran Anand
24-Oct-2019 03:16 AM

Comment Dear Shri Rao
I don't know how to laud your very absorbing nostalgic notes I among other things admire your patience , legendary elephantine memory and last not least sense of humour and espirit de corps My heartiest felicitations One of fellow officer suggestion to compile such write ups in a format of a book is welcome but who will doi it as it needs time energyand above all editing skills etc I guess MT may be requested to give this task either to CTRAM or to IRITM .
kind regds

BMS Bidht
23-Oct-2019 21:11 PM

An interesting reading with comprehensive details of a TT&CD
probationer's first exposure to the Railway hierarchy. Things did
not change much even later on. A probationer who came with high
hopes and ambition soon felt disillusioned. Though looked after by
immediate seniors, he went almost unnoticed by Officers at senior
level,e.g., G.M.& PHODs. who hardly had any time for probationers.
Of course during service on regular postings things changed.

D. P. Tripathi, IRTS(1965)
23-Oct-2019 08:48 AM

Comment Very happy to get and read this article of Sri A Rama Rao. I had the privilege of knowing him in 1990-91, when I was CRSE in Eastern Railway. Did not know then his articulation. Eagerly looking forward to the next article.

M G Sripathi
23-Oct-2019 00:47 AM

Comment a delightful narration.
as regards linguistic issue, andhras get the blame for setting the rot.the maharashtrians(shiva sena) held mumbai to ransom in early 1955.
the practice of posting probationers to posts away from home province started even earlier.our batch of 1953 exam had such postings.

22-Oct-2019 06:31 AM

Comment Thoroughly enjoyable reading. Is it possible to collect the memoirs penned by other senior railway officers from time to time and publish an anthology of such memoirs? I am particularly interested in Mr K K Das' reminiscences as brought out in Mr Rama Rao's article.

S Chattopadhyay
22-Oct-2019 01:44 AM

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