8 MAY 1974. I was in my last year of College. Senior B Com. Our final exams were to start this day. A week ago, railway strikes had started across many places in India. However, news was sketchy and word of mouth. We did not have televisions and radio was owned by the government of India.
8 May, 1974, Bombay railway men were to go on indefinite strike. The Bombay University refused to officially postpone the exams, since it would have meant that they recognise the possibility of a strike. Indira G was in full form. Emergency was not yet declared, but there were rumors of arrests, confinement of people like Jayaprakash Narayan, Subramaniam Swamy, George Fernandes etc.
I had to go for my examination from Goregaon to Andheri. I think the examination was scheduled for 11 am. A group of us left Goregaon at 730 am. We went to the railway station. No trains. None of us knew anyone who had a car. Autorickshaws were not yet invented. We walked to a bus stop. Crowded. The railway station used to have three or four taxis and none of them were available. Finally, we found a truck that gave us a lift till Andheri. We got down and walked for half an hour to the examination centre. At 1130, it was said that exams are ‘postponed’. Fresh dates? Keep checking we were told.
All our preparations, momentum for the exams just vanished. Stress. And the uncertainty of when the exams would resume. I think the exams had started a day or two earlier and we had written one paper. There were a few more to go.
The strike went on for almost three weeks. In the meanwhile, trucks were put in to use for daily commute. From Goregaon, to Churchgate. After a week or so, the Army started operating some diesel trains on the local lines between Borivli and Churchgate. Office goers somehow managed to show their face to their offices, do some work and return.
Every day we would call our friends near our college to check if there was anything on the notice board. Then someone found out a distant connect in the newspaper. And he was our source. Every night, we would call and check. Finally, I think around 27th or 28th, train services were resumed after Indira G had unleashed terror and broken the strike. Exams were rescheduled and held. We were morning college students and those with jobs had problems with losing momentum on studies etc.
Today, it is all a distant memory. But I am sure that the Railway Strike cost a few students their valuable marks which would have meant a shift in career paths.
The three weeks of the rail strike saw Bombay commuting at its innovative best. Trucks, tempos, diesel engines, goods train .. Army vehicles.. A skeleton BEST
This is a piece of History that I was part of. We came out of an emergency after that. Life was easy and not so easy. But we took it all in our stride. If anything, it toughened us for the remainder of our lives.