The flagging off of the last metre gauge EMU in the country was to start with a function on the platform. Hundreds of people had assembled, most of them railway employees whose lives were linked with the metre gauge section. Of course, there were many other nostalgic Chennaites too.
As speaker after speaker, and that included Union Minister of State for Railways R Velu, droned on about how the MG line was going to be history, two retired motormen (engine drivers) came to one of the compartments and sat there quietly.
"We want to sit here for the last time," they spoke in a choked voice. Soon, there was a downpour of stories from the past. At times the words stopped coming and the men turned to hide their tearful eyes.
E Anban, 55, who worked as a driver for 25 years before opting for voluntary retirement owing to an eye problem had driven only MG trains. Anban travelled in the same train as a school boy and a collegian. His life continued to be a part of the train when he joined the railways as a motorman in 1969.
"You can imagine how attached I am to this train. For 33 years, this was my bread and butter. This is what gave me life," he said emotionally.
Anban has won several awards for driving the train without a single accident in his career. But he had to go through the trauma of watching more than a hundred men and women end their lives under the train.
"It was such a painful experience. I still remember how a beautiful young girl of 18 or 19 committed suicide right in front of my eyes... even today, that face has not disappeared from my mind," he said.
"It is after 10 at night that most people jump in front of the train," he said. "You know, we are supposed to stop the train, get down and remove the body from the tracks. If there is life, we have to take them to a hospital, if not… Sometimes, the body would be so mutilated that we had to collect the pieces that were scattered. On such days, we couldn’t eat or sleep," he remembered.
From 1957 to 1995, C Subramanyan worked as a motorman in the same section. "I feel I have lost my mother." He couldn’t say anything more.