Veeramuthu Kalimuthu heard screams as he waited for his subway ride home from Columbia University March 14, then spotted a man lying face down across the tracks. That is when the school mechanic turned into a superhero. "I put down my bag and jumped," he recalls. "I didn't think about anything. I didn't even think about my family. I just wanted to get him to safety."

Hopping over the tracks to avoid the high-voltage third rails, he reached an "unconscious, lifeless" man. "I put him on my shoulder like a fireman," says Kalimuthu, 46. Two bystanders helped pull the man onto the platform five feet above. "I kept screaming, 'Guys, you have to get him up.'" Notes Ed DiJoseph, a Columbia official who witnessed his actions: "Everyone was nervous. You don't know when a train might come."

Mission accomplished, Kalimuthu scooted back across the tracks. Trains roared into the station a minute later, and he boarded one for home in Queens, N.Y. Later, over dinner of leftover red snapper in curry sauce, he told his wife, Samita, "Guess what? I saved a guy today." She said, "Yeah, right!" (The victim, treated at a local hospital for fractured vertebrae, rib and coccyx, identified himself as Daniel Crilley, a 46-year-old recovering alcoholic on his way to a detox session. "I felt bad that I couldn't say thank you," he tells PEOPLE. "The man risked his life.") And while his bosses at Columbia plan to honor him with a plaque for his bravery, Kalimuthu, a Guyanese immigrant, says, "I'm just happy I got the job done." Even with a sore shoulder after the rescue. "I put some Ben-Gay on it, so it's okay," he says with a laugh. "It felt nice to save this guy."