Signals

15 10 2007

Chai was sitting by the Signals Cabin window, getting some much needed sunshine. In the extreme Air Conditioning, it tickled him more than warmed him. Chai looked up from ‘Railway Ki Duniya’, and caught Alfa mooning M&M down on the tracks. He smiled, and said, “They’re gonna come for him one of these days…” 

“Hmm..ya.” said XL, part-DBA, part-signals, without looking up from his monitor.  

Chai sighed, tossed the paper on his desk, and walked over to XL’s side. Sure enough, he was watching a new movie, a potboiler no less, ‘borrowed’ from the local pirate just outside the Junction. Irritated, Chai yanked the headphones off XL’s ears, took a step back, leaned on his monitor, raised an eyebrow, and looked at him amusedly. XL started to get up and protest, caught the question in the eyes, then slumped back, paused the movie; and looked up: ‘Whaaat…?!’ 

Chaimey Kampani, or Chai in short, was the running canteen joke of Bhikshapore Junction. Tall but slightly stout, genial but sharp, and a fucking polyglot, would start to describe him, thought XL. Chai was an odd case, born of a Thai mother and a Sindhi father; his name reflected his mixed lineage, but more pertinently, it reflected their sense of humour. He was famous for being the only signals guy in the entire Indian Railways to spend his holidays on Thai beaches. Generally good-humoured and efficient, he told people he was “waiting for the train marked Destiny.” 

“Well, today is Thursday, men; aaj tera number hai, men; aani chaar vaajley aahe, men; so switch the signal as per the schedule, men; kâo jâi mâi, men?” knowing full well that he didn’t. 

“Okay, okay, I didn’t forget……bloody racist!” XL smiled. Xavier Lobo, a Goan Christian, was not going to take the bait again. Being a pavwalla, he had faced this derogatory appellation all his life. Quite perversely, now he enjoyed it. 

The door opened, and the SysMaint babes from ImprovTech, the outsourcing company, walked in. The signals cabin, unlike the ones in the great Indian Hinterland (as Rathore named anything which was not a Metro), was pretty well equipped with three dozen mainframes, and a network infrastructure to kill for. The system was mainly used to monitor the signals, tracks and shunt schedules in real-time for 100 Kms in every direction; apart from handling the Junction’s requirements. A huge wall-mounted plasma screen, 20 feet long and 12 feet high and fondly named “Pondy”, basically showed who was doing what where on the rail network, all the while glittering with bright yellow, blue and green pixels. Signals was constantly manned by two railways persons for operational stuff. The maintenance of both the software and hardware had recently been outsourced to ImprovTech, to much opposition.  

The babes scowled at them and proceeded to one of the mainframes. Babe#1 opened the secure access panel. She inserted a minidisc in the slot and started to upload some code, while the other alternately checked the cables and XL’s expressions. 

Just as XL was trying to grin back, Chai turned to him: “Do it, men.” 

XL jumped, grunted, and then proceeded to press a sequence of keys.

“There, done! Happy?” 

Babe #1 had closed the secure access panel, while Babe #2 had finished messing with some cables. They started to leave, Babe #2 giving a parting wink to XL. Chai turned to the sun, now beginning to set in his window. 

“What the…?” XL exclaimed. A red light was flashing on Pondy. Chai turned, walked back to XL’s terminal, looked at the garbage running across the screen, and cocked an eyebrow: “What the fuck did you two lohns just do here?” he asked the two departing damsels. Just as the anger and indignation in #1’s eyes rose to her lips, an engine horn shook the cabin. 

“Oh Shit!!” Both Chai and XL ran to the window, shielding their eyes, as the two babes slinked away. A goods train was staring in their direction. Chai turned to XL: “Do you know how the manual override works? Tokhe eendo aaye?” 

XL got the gist. “Ya.” 

“Well, get to it, fatso! I’ll get Rathore! Jaldi! Move!” and Chai took off towards the phone. Which was a very fast walk, the guy never ran. XL ran as fast as he could, towards the door leading to the tracks, narrowly missing the babes standing outside the door.  

Chai got on the horn, “Sir? Those SysMaint bitches…server 14……signals is screwed. …Pondy’s a Christmas tree right now….the signal changed, track is stuck….chala!” He flung the receiver down and ‘ran’ out. 

Alfa, still hammering at the hook, felt the shudder as the goods train creaked to life behind him. Good, he thought; he was getting provoked by all those suggestive noises coming from the cargo. Suddenly, he saw XL running and leaping across the tracks. He stopped and stared, at what was admittedly a funny sight. XL, after all, was like a bean bag loosely filled with melted jelly, jiggling all the way. Seconds later, he saw Chai running out of the cabin, when Rathore ran past him shouting something. He decided to follow. 

‘Grab the lever…Press and Pull in one motion…it’s been so damn long!.. Lord, if I pull this off, no more chai-pakodas! (huff!) I’ll jog a mile everyday! No, two miles! Ple(huff!)ase!!!’  XL thought, as he wheezed towards the manual override lever. 

They reached the point where the track changes and veers to the left, seconds before the train, just as XL reached the lever on the other side. Too late, all of them saw the rail, which was stuck to the side, meaning the train would turn left. The driver, thinking he was going straight, had already accelerated to 30 Kmph. With a look of horror, he yelled and dived for the brake. 

XL grabbed the lever and pulled……..*Click*

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One response

11 01 2009
eye-in-sty-in

its turning into a pot-boiler…! 😀

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