People acknowledge that I'm a normal person on first glance and first conversation. By and by the talk drifts to what I do, and finally to my passions and hobbies.
Someone: So Sriram, what are your interests?
Me: uh.. you know, books, music, computers, linux..
Someone: Ah.. geek eh?
Me: Well if you think so.. :D
Someone: And what else man?
Me: And.. trains.
Someone: Er.. what did you say? I thought you said "trains"
Me: Ye got me right. I did say trains :)
By this confirmation of the whole matter from my own lips, the person mentioned above begins to seriously doubt my sanity. That is one of the reasons I chose to write this post. Instead of blabbering about my craze for trains, or to answer 'what is railfanning' and 'why do you have such a lot of people in your friends list who talk weird stuff like WDP4, WAG9 etc with you'. No people, I am no secret agent :D
All of us have loved train journeys as kids. A lot of us do so even now. The scenery outside the window, the cool breeze rushing through your hair as you stand at the door watching the world go by... As any kid would, I was fascinated by the whole thing... the huge brown "engine", the long array of "bogies", the rhythmic clickety-clack from the wheels, etc. We travelled a lot when I was small. Many a times my dad or mom would take me to the end of the train to show me how the locomotive was being attached to the rake. (No, mom and dad were NOT railfans... they were just usual people :D ). Later, I observed what caused the clickety-clack, why the signal always was red and my train was going past it without stoppping, etc. There was also this book "The train: how it works" which my uncle bought for me at some point of time when I was still a kid, from that I learnt how the whole thing worked (obviously).
At almost every journey, I used to watch the locos(please, it's not an "engine".. the engine is within the locomotive). The locos were the very epitome of power, the sounds emanating from within only highlighted the power of the beast. (Yes, those were the days Kerala was un-electrified and diesel locos ruled the rails).
It was in early 2004 that the biggest step happened. I had chickenpox, was confined to bed. In the initial days, though I was strong enough to walk about. I searched on the internet for stuff relating to Indian Railways, just by serenendipity. I then stumbled on a site, which led me to the biggest base of Indian Railfans - IRFCA.org the Indian Railway fan club. Imagine my joy at realising that I was not the only one, and that there were thousands of people in the country who felt the same and knew cartloads more things that I did. Then there was no stopping... seriously, that site is a real good one even for non-railfans. Then I moved on to railway photography, snapping a ripping WAP5 or a screaming WDG4 as it roared past with the force of something beyond imagination...
In the US, railfanning ("trainspotting" as it is called there) is a rather recognised hobby. In India it's rare. I love bikes, cars, jet planes... but most of all trains. So much that my love for locomotives (especially diesel locos) influence my taste in other vehicles also :) I'd rather own and ride a Royal Enfield Bullet than suck off some Pulsar's ass. No offfence, but the Bullet SOUNDS better, and gives you the impression of the POWER that's in it. It's the same with diesel locomotives. They give you the right impression of the power that's within them - listen to the heavy-metal chugging of a WDM2, or the jet-plane-like revving of a WDP4 and you'll see what I mean. Today, I can identify a loco from its number or from its horn. My house is like one and a half kms from the Trivandrum-Quilon mainline and I can hear the horns during most of the day or even the chugging of the diesels when the loco pilot clears the speed restrictions and lets the beast rip through the night, throttle wide open. And thanks to me, my sister is already a railfan :)
I guess it's time to wind up 'cos I'm boring you already.. Its a big relief to have written this post, for I can always point people to this one when the inevitable question is asked :D And of course I'm not the only one. Besides the 5000+ people in IRFCA, a couple of bloggers in my blogroll list are also IRFCAns - Shanx, Vrij, Ranga, Macabreday, Naren.. Their recent blogs might not give it away but dig their archives and you'll find compromising material ;) Oh, and coming back to the title, I guess the word ferroquinologist would make sense by now. (google it if you want, but try to work it out yourself!)
In short, people like cars and bikes. What's wrong in liking something a hundred times more powerful and a lot more times bigger?