Life is in constant motion here. Shrill train whistles keep going off, engines chug, waves of humanity surge in and out, and as if lording over it all, an announcer’s voice guides the madness.
So iconic is the tone and delivery of the announcement that it has come to represent a railway station and is often a stock item with mimicry artistes.
In his modest ‘watch tower’ office at one end of platform eight at Bangalore City Station, the enormity of that voice seems to diminish. Here 50-year-old K Venkateshwarlu sits before a standard microphone with an open ledger where he records all the announcements he makes. “Train arrivals, delays, thefts, people gone missing, departmental alerts..., “ he says describing his work as a manual announcer. Automated announcements, here in a woman’s voice, inform of train schedules. Venkateshwarlu looks after the extras and the unforeseen. “12509 Guwahati Express is usually late, though today it came in before time. However, most trains from Chennai are punctual. Other than that, every day there are two to three cases of missing persons - sometimes it’s children, the elderly, the infirm or the mentally ill and sometimes it’s people who are perfectly okay,” he says, hinting its not always as straight-forward as it looks.
It has been a year and a half since Venkateshwarlu took on his present responsibility. For twenty plus years before this he worked at the reservation counter. “That’s where I picked up some fluency in Hindi. It can get pretty crazy at the counter. You meet people from all over the country and of all kinds of personalities. They don’t always understand you, you don’t always understand them. It used to be tense and hectic. When I moved here, I carried over that tense feeling - for a day. Then in a week’s time I settled in and by the end of a month, I got into the routine. I miss the buzz of life at a counter, but this is good too,” he says from his desk overlooking a criss-cross of railway tracks warmed by a December sun. The quaint quietness of the room, adjacent to another where a team tracks train schedules, is broken every time a train whistles. It’s uncomfortably loud and the faces of Venkateshwarlu and his colleague Chanakeshva, general inquiry in-charge, contort with discomfort. “This is a problem, the decibel level is way too high,” says Chanakeshva. Several more whistles interrupt our conversation time and again.
The whistle may not soften in a long time, but Venkateshwarlu has seen many changes that make him proud of Bangalore City Station.
“Like the metrorail that will better connectivity to the station, the battery-operated cars that the old and handicap can use to reach their platforms, this is the best station of all I have visited,” he says before excusing himself to make an announcement.
“Passengers, kind attention please, 12976 Jaipur-Mysore Express will arrive at platform 5,” he says through the mic and repeats in Kannada. “I can accurately tell you about 30 per cent of all train numbers and stations names,” Venkateshwarlu says coming back to the interview.
“Earlier the office used to be on the ground floor and it would get too confusing to work with all the noise. Since they moved us here, we get a view of trains as they come and go like a military watch post,” offers Chanakeshva.
Venkateshwarlu’s 7 am to 3 pm shift is coming to an end. He goes home to a working wife and their two children. “My son (23) is a mechanical engineer and will be doing his masters soon. My daughter (21) is headed for Delhi where she will attend an IAS coaching class,” he says. For sure, she will be booked on Karnataka Express to make her journey. The train gets Venkateshwarlu’s vote for being the best.
As the year 2013 is all set to, City Express is moving away from the normal year-ender stories. Instead we present some unseen faces of Bangalore, who have been excelling in their respective fields, to make a living. In the next one month, we will bring stories of lesser-known people through our series 'Unseen Faces - 2013'.