Had it not been for his brother-in-law, Delhi Metro Chief Elettuvalapil Sreedharan would probably have missed his deadlines. And that includes getting the Delhi Metro on track. “If your foundation is sound, you get on with life easily,” his brother-in-law had advised him when young Sreedharan was in school.
Not very academic, teachers had warned Sreedharan that he would lose a year if someone did not take charge. His brother-in-law did. “He felt children must be glued to books,” says Sreedharan. “He made me revise and re-revise lessons. He drilled in me the importance of discipline and schedules.”
Another lesson learnt was that life comes a full circle. “Your acts take a toll on you. Harm someone and destiny will strike back,” he says. An incident which still haunts him relates to his tenure in the Indian Railways when he suspended an officer during an inspection. Within hours, Sreedharan got the news that his wife had had a miscarriage. He linked this to God’s way of punishing him. Since then Sreedharan has tread cautiously to the extent when a contractor came with a wad of notes to bribe him, instead of shouting at him he simply told him to take it back. That was “the first and the last time” that Sreedharan was offered a bribe.
Try locating Sreedharan on Thursdays and the chances are he’s at the Swami Bhoomanand Teerathjee’s ashram. He became a devotee some five years ago after he heard the Swami’s discourse in Delhi. Since then, he joins the weekly congregation and spends a fortnight every year at the Swami’s headquarters in Kerala. While his wife visits temples, Sreedharan is content with his puja room at home.
Sreedharan’s brush with astrology had something to do with what then seemed an unbelievable prediction. He was due to retire from the Railways. Then an astrologer told him that he would continue working till 75 years. “I thought he was joking but he was proved right.” Following his retirement in June 1990, Sreedharan was given charge of the prestigious Konkan Railways, following which he joined Delhi Metro Rail Corporation as its first Managing Director.
Today Delhiites bless him for making travel easier — a far cry from the days when as a student, he had to push his way to get a foothold in crowded buses or jam-packed compartments of trains. “It was hell,” he remembers. It was only after he joined the Railways that he had a taste of comfort, entitled as he was to first class travel. “Each time I travelled in a salon, I thanked my stars.”