CHENNAI: I was two years old when I was diagnosed with polio. The virus attacked my motor neurons and my right leg was affected. But my disability was never a limitation. My father was a Railway employee and he persuaded me to join the system. Though initially disinterested, I decided to give it a try. In 1984, two years after my mother died, I wrote the Railways recruitment exams. If I remember correctly, I ranked second. After a two-month training programme in Tiruchy, I came back to Madras and was posted as a ticket collector at the Mambalam railway station.
Within a few months, there was a recruitment drive for railway announcers. Since I had a voice suitable for the job and was fluent in English, Hindi and Tamil, I was offered the opportunity at Madras Central Station. I’ve always wanted to do something different, and this was an offer I couldn’t pass.
The station was always buzzing with activity. I used to sit in the front cabin. A big panel with the details of all the trains entering and leaving the station used to be in our view and we used to make the announcements based on that, as well as from instructions by the station master. Different platforms had different lines — we had multiple knobs and switches to turn on a specific line. We made announcements of arrival, departure and delay.
But the job wasn’t just that. Information about special trains, missing children, alerts on unattended luggage, slogans that included ‘avoid crossing railway tracks’, helping senior and/or injured passengers, lost and found, and other bulletins that would help travellers were made.
Every day by 6.30 am, I used to take an autorickshaw and go to the All India Radio station and submit a written statement, which consisted details of trains that were to arrive late. These details were curated and recorded by the station controllers. I loved my job. I believe that only when you love your job and are passionate about it, you will be dedicated.
Once, our senior manager and asked me to record a one-minute announcement on a cassette. There were no computerised systems back then, so everything had to be done manually. I recorded the announcement of trains expected to arrive at Madras Central — that probably marked the beginning of automated announcements. I vividly remember going to the Southern Railway Headquarters building to record the audio. I was thrilled!
I went on to join the ticket collection squad in the 90s. From Villupuram to Renigunta, I had to travel to different stations during my tenure. From passengers to my superiors, everyone was impressed by my managerial skills and ability to interact with people from all walks of life. I was recognised as the Best Performer for many years. I also took it upon myself to educate travellers about Railway rules.
After 32 years in the Railways, my career came to an abrupt end. In 2016, after Sunday church, I fell and broke the femur bone in my left leg and became immobile. Since then, I have been using a wheelchair. I took an early retirement...I never thought that day will be my last in the Railways.
However today, I am a happy and satisfied man. I am part of multiple Railways’ WhatsApp groups. I keep myself updated with new rules. Passengers who’ve become acquaintances and friends in the last 30 years make it a point to call and consult with me about rules — both old and new. My former colleagues tell me that commuters ask, “Where is Varghese Mathew?”. What more do I need?
Though the early retirement did shake me up, I am undeterred by adversities. I have always been an energetic man, and I have been taking part in all the initiatives of my apartment’s residents’ association. I am also looking for a job that I can do from home. A voice-over artiste, maybe? I have a thirst for knowledge and extraordinary will power. I want to achieve more. I was the guiding voice for many; now