E Sreedharan at the ripe age of 85 is the poster boy of Indian Railways. No other name comes to mind when it comes to building railway lines like Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro. He is known for his no-nonsense approach to work where no one is allowed to interfere. He delivers and his work speaks more about him than the man himself. We only know small tidbits about him. We hardly know the man himself and what makes him stand out in this time and age. So, when this book came for review, I was more than eager to read it.
The book reiterates all that we know about him. The middle-class family values delivered through a disciplined approach to life. What we probably not know about him is his spiritual inclinations and his mission to make India a better country. I enjoyed reading the early career of Dr. E Sreedharan. While we know of his later success stories, we do not know that he was also responsible for restoring in Pamban bridge that connects Rameshwaram after it was swept away in a storm. We do not know that his first job was at Mumbai Port Trust on an island that was then called The Butcher’s Island.
About the book – it reads like a long resume of Dr. E Sreedharan. The first part that focusses on his professional journey has some interesting bits. But most of the times it is a chronicle of letters exchanged or government orders. They sure are written in the most boring language possible. There is a lot of emphasis on the Rs 1080/- salary story – it has been mentioned time and again through the book. It highlights a very important aspect of Dr. Sreedharan’s work ethics and his dedication to work despite not being paid what he deserves. However, author’s over-emphasis on this takes away the very essence of this aspect of the subject. It makes the reader feel that it was the most important part of his story while it obviously is not.
A large part of the second half of the book has been written by the spiritual Guru of Dr. E Sreedharan. Now, I admire that he is so driven my Indian values and ethos that he has even set up an NGO to work towards preserving and maintaining them. However, when his Guru speaks about him and does not forget to mention that in each and every decision that Sreedharan took, he had a hand – again you feel a bit uneasy. I think this chapter could have been avoided. It was like making a parent speak for the child & justify his every action even when it has not been questioned.
What I also missed is a storytelling aspect in the book. It is written like a newspaper report. Not like the story of an inspirational life. Even the inspiring incidents come with the dosage of official letter and rebuttals. Life lessons that I thought would be a great learning from his life came in form of bullet points and that too as they were implemented in his favorite projects. As a writer, I understand that not much material may be present and Dr. Sreedharan many have been available for a limited time to the author. I also understand that a technocrats life is not as entertaining for an average reader.
My biggest takeaway from the book was that the 2 biggest achievements of Dr. Sreedharan happened, post his retirement. This means his best projects were done past his retirement age of 58. This makes me think if we really need to think about the new retirement age for people who still want to work past that age. I also wonder if it is the post-retirement phase that gave Dr. E Sreedharan the freedom to both demand, and execute his authority. For he has nothing to lose, he had already served his term as a Railways officer and had his pension to depend on. Another aspect of this phase of his work is that he was able to use all his knowledge and experience that he gathered in his 35 or so years of service.
Are we not letting go of that when we let go of good officers just because they have reached a particular age. Do the retirement age or the concept of retirement needs to be reworked given that our average lifespans have gone up? Do we need to have a formal framework to tap the knowledge & experience of those moving out of active service?
If like me, you are intrigued about the life of Metro Man of India – E Sreedharan, read it.
You may buy this book India’s Railway Man, Biography of E Sreedharan by Rajendra B. Aklekar at Amazon.