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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Woman Indian Railway Driver

One expected to see a tall, strapping, bold woman. At least that was the vision conjured up by the mind when one thought of India's, nay Asia's,first woman train engine driver. But the lady who appeared for the interview was a far cry from it. A thin, extremely soft-spoken woman, who bore no traces of victory at having crossed over into so male-dominated a domain.Nonchalance and calm marks the make-up of Surekha Shankar Yadav. Dressed in trousers and a silk shirt, 35-year-old Yadav is a picture of understated confidence. "I have never thought about myself as a novelty. Though the fact remains that women train drivers are a rare breed, when one gets down to the work at hand, it is like any other job. At least it is not something thatonly a man can do," says Yadav matter-of-factually.

Feminism must be a word that rarely crossed Yadav's mind. "I love the job i am doing. I did not take it up because I wanted to prove anything to myself or the world. It was a job that I qualified for or rather one of the only jobs that I was called for. I had given up on it as it took a long while to be confirmed, but when I got it, I was thrilled. For it meant a career tome."

Yadav, who hails from Satara in Maharashtra, is the eldest in a family of five. Her father, Ramchandra Bhosale, is a farmer. After her schooling,Yadav joined college and opted for a diploma in electrical engineering as she could not get a seat for the degree course. "I think way back then, in college itself, I got used to being the only woman in an all-male class. It used to be a little odd at first as the Government Polytechnic is located at Karad and Karad is a small place. But one got used to it over a period of time. After I finished my diploma, I found that the degree course was available to me at Aurangabad, where I did not want to go. So I opted to do my B Sc as I had plans to go in for my B Ed and take up teaching."

Fate had other things in store for Yadav. She began doing her degree course in Science, but also applied for a host of jobs. One of those happened to be for an assistant train driver. "I applied for it for they said a diploma in engineering was a prerequisite for the job. I received a letter from the Railway Recruitment Board, Mumbai, in 1987. When I went in for the interview, I was asked by the other applicants if I had come to the right place for again, I was the only woman in that room. I appeared for a written examination. After, that there was no response. So I forgot all about it and after a year, I was called for my viva. In 1989, I was called for the medical examination and was finally selected for the job that year.''

A six-month training and Yadav was conferred the post of assistant driver in a goods train. "I remember vividly the first train that I was sent on. It was the L-50. You know trains are numbered alphabetically. That goods train was to be taken to Wadibunder from Kalyan and then back. The driver and i had to be on the train an hour and 15 minutes before the actual departure.It was my job to see the train's engine was in order, the signals, the entire works."

Was she excited? "I was trained to be calm in all situations. Excitement must have been there, I am sure. But I have never been nervous," Yadav recalls.From taking trains to yards, Yadav went on to become a ghat assistant on the Igatpuri sector. That was memorable for the peace and lush greenery, she says. "The ghats are a tough terrain, but the quiet is unbelievable. The scenery is so soothing to the eye. The only thing that bothers one is the cattle ambling to and fro on the tracks. Luckily for me, there were no accidents."

After going through a number of postings, Yadav was put in charge of a good strain as a full-fledged driver in 1998. And for a change, she had an assistant driver to help her. Did any of her colleagues mind that she was a woman in a male bastion? "If they did, they never let me know," she says."Everyone was cordial. Where my job is concerned, my only grouse is that I cannot have a hearty talk with my male colleagues. But I am now used to that, too. We are all professionals doing a highly responsible job. So there is really no room for small talk."

Did the shift to being a motor-woman in local trains make a difference? "Not perceptibly. It is a promotion. One realizes that there lies a huge responsibility on one's shoulders as one has a trainload of passengers. And the problems of people crossing the tracks are also there. But it is different as at least one can honk and the person in question will move away from the tracks, unlike animals."

Yadav receives her quota of gawkers who look at her as she hops into her chair in the motorman's cabin. There are autograph hunters and men and women who want to chat her up. But Yadav is unperturbed by the fuss. "I am here to do a job and if I stop to answer these queries, though they all mean well, I will bungle up my job. And that is the last thing I want to do."
Yadav's husband, Shankar, is a police constable. The couple have two sons."We have no ambitions for our children other than that they should be educated and make something meaningful out of their lives."

Does Yadav nurture any dreams? "I would like to drive a long distance passenger train. But that is in the distant future. I began driving the local train only in April. I would prefer to enjoy what I do. And when the opportunities come in the form of promotions, I am only too glad to seize them."

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