10 employees at CST canteen have trudged war-torn areas, guided platoons, nursed wounds and seen atrocities up close. They now wash utensils, serve food, cook and clean
At the bustling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, close to the outstation terminal where long distance trains arrive and depart every other minute, is one of the outlets of Jan Ahaar, the IRCTC's food chain.
Milling inside the animated eatery, you'd find a crowd of commuters, served briskly by its employees in casual clothes.
Madhukar Mahadik (49), who nursed injured jawans, and
Dharma Kadam (52), who worked extensively in Naxal-hit areas
in Assam, work in the kitchen at Jan Ahaar at CST
Merging effortlessly with the workers is a relative newcomer, Dharma Kadam. He is 52; he joined the CST canteen in July.
You wouldn't think twice of him. Unless, you ask him what he did before he took on the chores in the railway kitchen.
"When serving the Indian Army, I was posted in Assam and was responsible for giving directions to the infantry," Kadam says nonchalantly.
Kadam had served in the army for over 25 years, working extensively in the Naxal-hit areas.
His job was to guide foot soldiers across territories and paving ways for them. The man had headed platoons. "I joined the railway canteen here in July," Kadam adds.
At Jan Ahaar, there are nine others like Kadam onetime army soldiers who have battled enemies, braved rough weather, endured harsh war zones, fixed weaponry and sustained prolonged or episodic conflict involving militants and insurgency.
They do all sorts of jobs in the railway kitchens preparing food, serving passengers, waiting on tables, doing the dishes, clearing counters, cleaning and coordinating.
After age caught up with them, making it difficult for them to cope with the rigours of a defence job, they were posted at the CST canteen.
It might be hard to fathom for many, but these former servicemen bear no grudges to their current jobs and employers. Past their prime, they had to quit the army to find a suitable means of earning a livelihood.
Madhukar Mahadik and Dharma Kadam at the CST railway canteen
They were chosen by the Indian Railways (IR) after they filled a form, underwent medical tests, and supplied details of what jobs they could perform.
It's a worthy job
Another jawan, Madhukar Mahadik (49), now coordinates the food orders served to commuters who drop by for refreshments at Jan Ahaar.
This Badlapur resident's job in the army was to nurse injured jawans fighting at the warfront.
"I have seen many severely injured and dead soldiers in the war. I was in the medical department and used to assist doctors," said Mahadik.
For reasons of age, job security and sustenance, these ex-army men have taken up the chores they were allotted by the IR. But they do not think any less of what they do.
"I feel that in the IR kitchen, I am doing a worthy job by serving people." He was based in Secunderabad before he retired from the army.
Most of these ex-servicemen have joined the Class IV category of employees, in the pay band of around Rs 12,000 a month.
Ramesh Shinde is a cook now at the canteen. In his prime, he was in the engineering department of the Indian Army where he worked as a mechanic.
"It was a huge team and we were involved in tending to ammunition and repairing gadgets," said Shinde. He served the country for nearly 24 years.
There are no signs of regret or longing in the tone of these men. "Many people come to the canteen during the day. I am happy with the work I'm doing now.
After all we are working in the public sector and there is some sort of job security here," said Ramesh Kharat, who used to transport jawans from point to point, especially in the ULFA infested areas.
He now waits on tables, serving food and water to customers. A resident of Vithalwadi, he joined the railways in June.
Working six days a week, these former men-in-uniform personify the tenet that no job is too small, those working with them feel.
"They are ex-servicemen who are working in different departments in the railways," said V Malegaonkar, chief PRO, Central Railway.