The Railway Man

Why do some stories stay with us while others slip away? Why shed tears? I guess in a way it is because these stories touch us and associate themselves with our feelings in the same way that trees spread their roots- ever so slowly, but persistently going deeper grinding even the toughest rocks to their will. Water and air can do this too but they do it without purpose whereas the trees do so to exist- like these stories.

And if books had to be written only so that they could convey a message to mankind then no book would qualify faster than ‘The Railway Man’ by Eric Lomax. A few days ago I happened on a news article talking about the author’s death and how he had died just a short time before a movie based on his life could be released. Sometimes you need an impulse to spur you to action and so it was that I searched out this book which lay in a soft corner in my bookshelf.

The story is no secret and I will briefly paraphrase it. Eric Lomax describes his life- from his childhood to how very early on in his life he gets caught up by World War II and how as a POW he is tortured at the hands of the Japanese. Even though it seems incredulous Eric Lomax survives the tough period and rediscovers physical freedom while he is still in agony over what had happened. Eventually though even after decades of pent up hatred, Lomax manages to meet and make peace with one of his tormentors Nagase Takashi who himself has been repenting all the cruel actions over the decades and had done much charity work to right at least a few of the wrongs.

Eric Lomax- The Railway Man

One book combines the worst of human nature- needless war and torture with the best- forgiveness and compassion. Need I say more?

The book written by Lomax is entirely from his perspective. And I did feel bad for Takashi. It is not easy coming to terms with the wrongs from your past. At times it is not easy not to do wrong. How could one man- without losing his life, liberty or both have said ‘No’ to his superiors and walked out of torture? Who has the courage to do this? So he did the best he could which was the work he did after the war was over. He may not have suffered physically but his mental anguish must have been all the more greater, having been riddled with guilt.

All this is recommendation enough to read the book, but the first part of the book (especially) reads like poetry and is definitely an additional incentive to consider putting it next on your queue.

“Railway stations have always attracted me, not just because trains are there, but because they are also ambivalent places, echoing with completed journeys and shrill with the melancholy noises of departure. …And we have never created any sound so evocative of separation as the whistle of a steam locomotive, that high note of inhuman relief as vaporized water is blown off and meets the cold air.”



5 Comments Add yours

  1. Syed says:

    The words on the first pages of the book quoted by you takes me back to my fond memories of 25 years. While at Annamalai University, we use to spend at least 3 hrs a day at the Chidambaram Rly station. It was great fun to see Trains go past you, the imposing whistle of the steam engine, People and more importantly, the special Omlette and tea at the Railway canteeen. Ask any one from Annamalai University, Chidambaram Railway station would have been an Important and refreshing part of their University life.

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Hi Syed, that is indeed so nice. I didn’t know the charm of steam engines much but used to love the journey from Egmore to Tambaram when I was quite small! Thanks for the comment!

  2. Nirmala says:

    I agree with the sentiment connected to railway stations. I have pleasant memories of waiting in stations watching steam engines go by and the key being exchanged while the train flashes past!!!

  3. Lav says:

    i read the exact same article and have plans to hoard this this book…

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Hoard, Read what difference does it make huh?

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