India March 9th, 2023: redRail – the rail ticketing platform by redBus, has launched a content property for its social media platforms, that takes audiences through the inspirational journeys of unique travellers in an interview series, known as ‘Window Seat’. redRail by redBus has interviewed Surekha Yadav, who is Asia’s first loco pilot, in the launch episode of the series and has released a 10- minute interview with Surekha, that captures her journey from her childhood to her education, the challenges faced and her role at present. The conversations are intended at inspiring hundreds of thousands of people who seek motivation and advice from those who have made a difference.
redRail by redBus roped in Juhi Sharma, a filmmaker working in documentaries, fiction films, music videos and branded content, to interview Surekha. Below are excerpts from their informal conversation.
On being asked about how Surekha came by her profession and why she chose trains- She never thought or dreamed about becoming a motor woman or a loco pilot, though she was fascinated by trains since childhood, but after completing her education, she applied for the job and the criteria was to have a diploma in any stream and be over 18 years of age. She cleared the 3 steps- the written test, the viva and the psycho test. And from there, her journey began. Before the selection she didn’t believe she had the calibre for it, but once selected, she was determined to be a train pilot.
A bit about her family background and childhood- Surekha’s father was a farmer and they lived in Satara. She received good encouragement on the education front since childhood as her parents and relatives were supportive of her yearning to learn. That gave her the confidence and the foundation to make it to her position.
What people say and about being judged for making her way into a male bastion- Surekha states that people judge and comment, no matter who you are and what you do, that’s how society is, but what we need is a mindset that allows us to focus on what we do. Then people are compelled to change their mindset about you. She believes there is no job or area that is male dominated, it is just that women have not entered that field yet and once they do, there is no question of dominance. At the beginning of her career, there was certainly a mindset that women could not manage or drive trains, but all it took was a bit of determination and confidence, especially since the criteria for the job did not require the candidate to be a man or woman in particular. Surekha did not look at her job or role through the lens of gender, but only through competence or the aptitude for it. There is enough and more encouragement that comes once the person is successful in his or her endeavour. She thanks Indian Railways for giving her the opportunity of a lifetime to pursue her dream job.
Turning points in her career as a loco pilot- The first train that she operated was a goods train and as an assistant driver. She worked under the observation of the driver and after about 5-6 years, she herself became the driver. In 1999, she was appointed to operate one of the Mumbai local trains, which is the lifeline of the city. She has been extra careful not to let her seniors and peers down as she is the centre of attention and more so because she is responsible for the safety and punctuality of so many people.
Surekha’s favourite route to operate trains – She loves all the routes she drives on, especially the ghat sections and Kasara to Igatpuri is her favourite, for its greenery. She takes trains on those routes even now, where they couple a banker engine from behind to take the help of two engines to climb the gradient, once they reach the peak the banker engine is uncoupled, while the train keeps moving. She remembers piloting the Deccan Queen train and when she set up the engine on the 8th of March in 2011 at Pune, there was a grand ceremony organized, which included taking her arthi, and welcoming her with a dhol and a massive crowd had gathered. Surekha was overwhelmed and there were tears in her eyes. She also has fond memories of piloting the Ladies Special Express from CST to Kalyan in Mumbai
The interaction culminates with Juhi asking Surekha if she uses online booking on her phone to book train tickets and Surekha asserting that online booking has made things extremely easy for people as it saves time, with bookings now possible in seconds and on the go.