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S Venkataraman's visiting card says it all - Railwayman, 93 years, retired from service in June 1982, author of four books. The card then crams in the names of the books, the number of pages and the number of pictures, the biggest of them being 'Railways: The Beginning' at 534 pages.
There's no doubt Venkataraman is proud of his work, and there's not a reason in the world he shouldn't be. The nonagenarian has just published his fourth book - The Southern Mahratta (Goa) Railway "at 250 pages and 150 pictures", which details the history of each of the lines of this route, how it was built by the Portuguese and handed to the British, the bridges, culverts and tunnels they passed and the cost to maintain. Venkataraman, who was 91 when he began researching the track, has taken a series of pictures at each of the railway stations along the route with tidbits on their current state. The book, says Venkataraman, who lives next to Mylapore Railway Station, a place he likes to visit almost every day, has spurred him on to write his fifth book on Puducherry Railway history.
"I started writing at the age of 88, when my wife died," says Venkataraman, who hopped on to his first train - from Madras to Vijaywada -- in the 1920s. As a child of five, he was captivated by what he saw, and then joined the Railways as a materials manager in 1942, right out of high school. "My wife was the writer more than me... she even had a PhD, and so writing is my way of honouring her," says Venkataraman.
While Venkataraman's books are more of a collection of letters, contracts, and documents from the offices of the railways, dating back to the 1800s when the railways were first set up in India, the salaries of the employees, you also have lighter sections with information that tells you the history of railway catering in India (you learn for instance, that Quaker oats was on the breakfast menu and mutton chops and fried fish a staple at lunch time).
Now, onto his fifth book, Venkataraman is being aided by a team of two -- his nephew and a secretary, so he can slip in and out of his home evading the watchful eye of his son who has forbidden him from travelling by himself to Puducherry. "So I just lie and say I am off to the market and then get my nephew to take a detour to Puducherry.," he says.
This article first appeared on timesofindia.indiatimes.com
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