FAMILY MEMBERS of Sushma Hondeokar (42) often feel they are listening to a railway announcement while talking to her. For Hondeokar, an announcer with the central announcement system of the Railways for nearly 13 years, it is a professional hazard. There is one sentence that she has said more than any other in the past decade: Namaskar, hum kendriya soochna prasaran kaksh se bol rahein hain. Ek vishesh soochna ki or dhyaan dijiye (I am speaking from the central announcement department. Please pay attention to an important announcement). Her family believes that while she may not bring work home, she definitely brings home the announcer’s tone she uses at work.
Hondeokar, along with six men, form part of the central announcement office located at CST. This is different from the announcement system that every railway platform has.
“If a train is coming to a particular platform on a railway station, the announcers at that station make the announcement. If a train is going to be late at all railway stations, we make the announcement. Basically, anything that will impact things on all stations across central and harbour lines is announced by us,” Hondeokar explains, seated in a 10X5-feet cubicle at the first floor of the Train Management System (TMS) building.
Apart from train delays, Hondeokar and her colleagues make announcements about missing children being found on particular stations, information about special trains, and ‘slogans’. Slogans include those asking people to keep an eye out for unattended luggage, desist from crossing tracks, allowing people to get off trains first.
From Saturday evening, they also make regular announcements about the number of hours on Sunday that the mega block will be operational. Most of the slogans are pre-recorded. Including both manual and recorded messages, the team makes nearly two announcements every 10 minutes.
While the announcements are meant to help commuters, ironically, the announcers have received complaints too. Residents of buildings close to the Guru Tegh Bahadur station have complained that the announcements cause noise pollution.
“All railway stations have different decibel levels. Dadar, for example, has so much noise that we have to keep the volume high, or commuters won’t get to hear anything at all. GTB Nagar is quiet and hence we keep the volume low. But if the volume is very low, people could miss out on important announcements,” says S A Parashare (52), an announcer.
Most announcements are made in Marathi, Hindi and English, and the announcers had to take a test in pronunciation before they were moved to this department. “So many people depend on what you say. The pronunciations have to be accurate. We were asked to read in all three languages before we got the job,” Hondeokar says.
She adds that sometimes, after announcements such as a particular train that has arrived at CST will go to Kasara or Karjat, she peeps out of her window to see the effect it has caused. “In a minute, the crowd of office-goers disperses,” Hondeokar says.
Things have not always been easy for the announcers, says Parashare, who has done this job for 25 years. “Now we have the train management system on the computer, where we can have a live feed of where the trains are. Earlier, we had to call up railway stations individually to find out what had happened. A lot of running around was involved.
Also, earlier, there was a wooden box with a switch mike. Nothing was pre-recorded. So you had to make the same announcement nearly 50 times.”
For the announcers, there is a looming threat of privatisation. An announcer says, “Youngsters with lower pay packages may replace us soon. But for us, making these announcements has been a passion. While they may get the job done at cheaper rates, will they get the same quality?”