Railways and I - Part II

On to Secunderabad in October 1973. Mr. Varadachari, a very popular officer was the head of finance and accounts department. He was a friendly soul and would help anyone who came to him with a problem. Once the Chief Security Officer came to Mr. Varadachari seeking his help for replacing the RPF band at an approximate cost of Rs. 15,000/-. Immediately, Mr. Varadachari rang up Chief Engineer on the intercom and told him,’Reddy, I want you to make an estimate for water supply arrangements.’ Mr.Reddy with a puzzled expression, asked him,’ Where?’ Mr. Varadachari said,’You decide everything, but provide Rs. 15,000/- for drums and pipes.’ Well. RPF got its band (drums and pipes) before the Republic Day. The major memory is the railway strike of May 1974. All senior officers were sent from headquarters to the divisions as liaison officers. My boss was sent to Guntakal. He had to be on leave for three days and I went there for three days. The liaison officer was the GM’s representative and expected to assist the DS (Divisional Superindent who was later called Divisional Railway Manager or DRM). But since the strike was total only the officers attended the office. The few trains that moved were managed by Territorial Army and there was not much work for any officer. And Guntakal was a one-horse town and all we (my wife and I) could do was to walk a few times every day from Rest House to the bus stand. I was very relieved when my boss came back from leave to relieve me.

My son (Harish) was born in Railway Hospital, Perambur, Madras when I was posted in Secunderabad. But since Emergency had been promulgated, there were restrictions on sanction of leave. So I was able to visit Madras only at the time of delivery. I was shocked when I was transferred to Chittaranjan. But since I always carried out transfers without demur, we got ready to move to Chittaranjan. It was a hectic ten days – Secunderabad to Chennai and then we three moved to Secunderabad to pack up, then Secundrabad to Bhubaneswar to spend a couple of days with my brother-in-law and finally reaching Chittaranjan via Howrah. The memorable train journeys were first to Chennai with our eight-month old son. I remember this journey since it was the last time that I traveled by the old wooden-bodied first class where the coupe was occupied just by the three of us. It was the best way to travel with a small child. The next journey I remember is the one to Varanasi and Gaya with my parents who came to Chittaranjan for our son’s first birthday. We were in first class and my parents in second class. Before we were to go to sleep, the attendant told us,”Bolt your compartment and do not open it till 6.00 AM even if I call you.” That was Bihar for you. To be on the safe side, we bolted the compartment, tied the handles with a chain and kept our suit-case near the door (for the dacoits to trip on them). After doing all these, we did not sleep till morning as an additional precaution.

All things, good and bad, have to end. And I got my promotion and a shift from Chittaranjan to Bombay. It was an unforgettable journey. There was an unwritten rule in CLW that an officer on transfer would be relieved only when his reliever physically reached Chittaranjan. So you can’t do your reservation. Like a kho-kho player, you start running away from Chittaranjan as soon as your reliever ‘touches’ you. So my wife, 3-year old son and I with 22 pieces of luggage boarded Howrah-Bombay Mail (via Allahabad) at Asansol at 10.00 PM without reservation. We had to sit on our luggages near the toilet till Allahabad when we got berths. But thereafter it was a good journey. My batchmate Sneh received us. I occupied a house at Dadar. Harish was very happy as our flat was just adjacent to the track. He knew many trains and would have all his meals according to the passage of the train – breakfast was with Simhagad Express, Dinner was with Bombay-Howrah mail and so on. After a couple of months I was sent on training to Hyderabad and Chennai and then transferred to Kota. I left my son and pregnant wife in Chennai. Unfortunately the child that was born in Railway Hospital. Perambur did not survive. And the three of us again had a long journey from Chennai to Bombay to vacate the flat and then to Kota.

We spent only 22 months in Kota, but it was a happy and productive period. Our bungalow had a large open field and we were able to grow two crops of rice and one crop of wheat during our stay there. There are many other pleasant memories of our stay in Kota. The rail-related memories are receiving my mother and sister (on separate occasions) in Bina at midnight and bringing them by carriage on Chambal Valley (Bina-Kota) section which was supposed to be dacoit-infested. Of course I never told them anything about dacoits. We traveled by carriage all over the division. I also accompanied my engineering colleagues on motor-trolley and covered the whole division by motor-trolley. Another major memory is the visit to the site of the breaches near Bharatpur where two spans of a bridge were washed away. Rajdhani Express from Bombay to New Delhi was introduced in 1980 and it was the only train that did not stop at Kota. On the days when it was running, we would stand near the gate of our house and watch it speeding past at 130 kmph. Mr.R.B.Mathur was the Divisional Railway Manager at Kota. Once he was receiving a VIP at Kota Junction. The VIP alighted from the train and asked Mr.Mathur, "Where is the town?" He replied that it was about 8 kms away. The VIP then asked "Wouldn't it have been better to build the station near the town?". Mr.Mathur replied which was typical of him,"Yes sir, but the British thought it better to build it near the railway line."

After a very pleasant stay in Kota, it was again time to move. This was to Railway Staff College, Vadodara as a Professor. I resisted the shift and met Mr. Poulose who was Directot, Accounts in Railway Board. I told him my two objections to the transfer – one that I was not sure I could teach and two that I had just spent two years in Kota after having seen six states in 13 years of service. To the first, he said smilingly,’If you are not able to teach, it’s the probationery officers’ problem, not yours.’ To the second, he said,’I know you’ll be happy in Baroda. If you are not, meet me after an year and I’ll transfer you to a place of your choice.’ Of course I never went back to him for a transfer out as I was happy (and I hope the trainees were also happy) with my teaching assignment. Personally also it was a happy period as our daughter (Aarthi) was born in 1984 in Railway Hospital, Vadodara. And there were a lot of travels in the six years that we spent in Vadodara. I’ll restrict myself to just two rail-travel related memories. The first is the most embarrassing moment of my life. I suffer from occasional bouts of allergy. When this happens, I sneeze a lot. Once I was traveling alone from Vadodara to Chennai to join my family who had gone ahead. The other three berths were occupied by a lady with a son aged about 10 and a daughter aged about 8. When the train left Surat at noon, I got my attack of allergy and started sneezing. The two children who were playing, stopped it and started counting my sneezes loudly - …. Four, five, six….’ After about a dozen, I stopped and both the children looked at me accusingly as if to say I’d deprived them of entertainment. I’d never felt more embarrassed in my life. Fortunately the mother felt guilty and offered me good Gujarati snacks. For those snacks, I didn’t mind the embarrassment. My first visit abroad was in 1983 to UK. Eighteen of us from IR were sent on training to Derby. Each of us was given a card-pass which we could use to travel anywhere on British Rail. At that time Sealink which was running the ships was also part of BR. So we could go to Europe or Ireland by paying the port charges which was just 1 or 2 pounds. So I’d made 4 trips during my training, once each to Amsterdam, Dublin, Brussels and Paris. After the training was over, I made a long trip by trains covering Brussels, Cologne, Copenhagen, Malmo, Vienna, Zurich, Venice, Rome and Paris. Though there are a lot of memorable train journeys, I shall narrate just one. We had planned our trip to Paris in May 1983. When we planned the trip, we never thought India would go beyond the initial stages in the Prudential Cricket World Cup. But when we left Derby on Friday evening, we regretted that we could not see the final on 29th May, 1983 (Sunday). Anyway we had a good time in Paris, but had no means of knowing what happened to Kapil Dev and his team. As soon as we boarded the train at the English port for Derby, we saw an Indian-looking guy and asked him,’What happened to us in the World Cup yesterday?’ He said,’I’m a Pakistani. But you guys won’ and gave us the scores and all the other details during the journey. Of course we later saw a rerun of the highlights as well as the presentation ceremony. But the journey became unforgettable.

After spending over 17 years as a railwayman, I became a gentleman in 1987. In case you wonder whether it is possible, let me assure you that many railwaymen have turned gentlemen during their career. If you still wonder what I’m talking about, I went on deputation to a non-railway organization. I joined Bhabha Atomic Research Centre in Bombay as their Internal Financial Adviser. During the three years that I was there, I traveled a lot by flight and road on duty. The train journeys were mostly to Chennai. There were not many memorable long distance train journeys. But I distinctly remember a journey on a suburban train. Once I was going from Andheri to Churchgate. It was dusk and two gentlemen who were obviously new to Mumbai had no idea which station had been crossed. As one asked the other, a veteran Mumbaikar who was half asleep, glanced out for a few seconds and muttered,’Mahim and Matunga Road ke beech me hain (we are between Mahim and Matunga Road) and went off to sleep again. If we had hats, we would have taken them off to the fellow. Years later, I could also say that thanks to the display of the location on cell phones.

I returned to the railways (Centarl Railway) for about six months before again going on deputation as Member (Finance) in Khadi & Village Industries Commission. We moved our residence to Juhu and my office was in Vile Parle (West). Here again most train journeys were to Chennai. But we made a few other journeys when I had combined business and pleasure. I shall narrate just one unforgettable incident. We had gone to Jodhpur, Bikaner and Jaisalmer and had planned to return to Mumbai via Delhi. Despite my best efforts, we could not get the reservations and we were forced to stay back in Delhi for a couple of days. As we were returning from New Delhi station after failing to travel by Paschim Express, the driver said something and I became angry and shouted at him. This was the only time in my entire life that I had become angry. My wife and children were shocked to see me so angry and so was the driver who fell at my feet. I was ashamed at losing my temper.

After a memorable five years in KVIC, I was back as a railwayman to western railway. For about 4 months, I commuted from Andheri to Churchgate. After spending eight years in Mumbai in Anushakti Nagar and JVPD, we moved to South Mumbai (which is the real Bombay). We got a 12th floor flat with an excellent view of the sea on all sides. But my stay in Mumbai was short. By this time, my son was studying in Pune and daughter was in 8th standard. So when I was asked by Mr. Sivakumaran whether I’d go as Divisional Railway Manager, I said I’d go to any place where I can retain my Mumbai flat. That meant a posting to Assam. But I’d no problem as I was going there of my own choice. The only train-related memory of that year is that I was traveling from Andheri in the motorman’s cab and used to return from Churchgate with the guard. I could see how difficult it is for motormen to drive with the crowds constantly spilling over to the tracks and the two-wheelers crossing the tracks even when the gate was closed..

To be continued

October 2007

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