The accommodation in Bilaspur was arranged in the New Satpura ORH. It was a revelation. The rooms are commodious and well furnished. Room No 201, where I was parked, would serve well as transit accommodation. It has a small kitchen, a drawing cum dining, a large balcony, a huge bedroom, a dressing area and a toilet; there are enough cupboards too. The rooms are air conditioned. Most importantly, the outsourced maintenance contract is working well. In many places the ORHs are not well maintained, despite the good layout and construction – the Moore Market Complex of Southern Railway is a case in point. The contractor of the ORH volunteered to get my car washed; he was probably not happy with a shabby car in the well maintained premises! It suited me fine, anyways.
When I started the car in the morning to leave for Bishrampur, a couple of incidents involving Mr. RS Thakur, another mentor in SE Railway, came flooding into my mind. A few weeks into my assignment at Bilaspur – while still very much wet behind the ears – an accident occurred on the Urkura-Sarona section, which is a chicken neck on the Nagpur-Calcutta route. The accident happened around 1900 hours and the entire traffic had come to a standstill on the critical section. Lalit Lal, the Sr DOS, left the Control Office in my charge and retired for the day. Mr. Thakur was the Additional COPS in the SE Railway HQ in Garden Reach, Calcutta at the time and an old hand of Bilaspur Division. He called me up to enquire about the restoration arrangements – I must have made the right noises for he asked me to proceed as planned to restore one track by 0100 hours. He signed off with the order that freight trains will be given priority. However, the Area Officer Bhilai had other plans – he thoroughly messed up the restoration work and not even one track was restored by 0600 hours. Mr Thakur came on the phone at exactly that hour. I had to confess to him that the section remained closed due to certain problems encountered during the restoration work at night. His response still rings in my ears: “Your posting as DOS (ML) is greater disaster than the accident itself”. That minute he must have regretted the role he played in my transfer from Khurda to Bilaspur!
Not very much later, Mr Thakur took over as the DRM of Bilaspur Division. When he was in the Headquarters he used to insist on Bilaspur Division stabling rolling stock that had no demand on any other Division. After he took charge as DRM his priority changed – to improve the operating indices and the financial health of the Division he wanted all immobile stock to be cleared out from the Division. However, the pundits in HQ would have none of it. When the matter was snowballing into a crisis the Chief Operating Superintendent got through to me with a definite order that HQ orders on rolling stock stabling will be followed, since the stations on Bilaspur Division had enough loops to accommodate them. I conveyed this to Mr Thakur. His response was another classic: “Tell your COPS that if the loops in the Division are meant for stabling idle stock, we will surrender all the loops in the Division.” Talk about being caught between the devil and the deep sea!
With these thoughts replaying the scenes of the times gone by I left Bilaspur by 0630 hours. I stopped a few times for direction to enter the highway – none was as conclusive as this one: “Aap seedha chale jaana, kissi se math poochna” (you keep going straight, don’t ask anyone). Beyond Pali I stopped for breakfast at the local ‘fast food joint’. A few rickety tables and benches fully occupied by the early birds gave an indication that the food would be ‘taza’ (fresh). I ‘ordered’ two samosas, chana and Poha. The owner cum cook put the samosas in a plate and asked me, “Daba doon, kya?” No clue as to what he meant since “dabana means push”, as far as I could understand; so I said, “nahin” (no). While feasting on the samosas and chana I heard another customer being asked the same question. As the customer gave his consent, I saw the samosas being violently taken apart and chana being mixed with it! Now I will know what it means when someone asks, ‘Daba doon, kya?” But my response will remain the same – no.
There is no indication en route of the Bilaspur – Ambikapur road being part of the NH network – the maps indicate that it is the NH 111. About 70 kms of the Katghora-Udayapur section is a bone shaker. My accommodation is arranged in the SECL GH at Bishrampur. I reported to the Station Manager of Bishrampur, who directed me to the GH.
When I was having lunch at the GH I remembered the absolutely fabulous lunch I had at Bilaspur yesterday. I initially went to the Neela Food Court at the Station; but left soon as the standard response was, “sahib, yeh nahin hain” (Sir, it is not available). It tested my patience and I decided to explore the road leading to the legendary market in Bilaspur, the Budhwari Bazar. There were numerous Bhojanalays along the road – one dirtier than the other. The Ajanta Bhojanalay was no different, but it was full of customers. I ventured in; got a reasonably clean bench to sit on and savored the aromas wafting around. The menu displayed on the wall was exhaustive, and interestingly the rates were for half plate and full plate. After a close look at the menu I decided on a half plate of rice with dal and half a plate of chicken curry. Immediately after the order was placed the items were before me. The aroma and taste of the rice – Dhubraj – was special. Hot rice and dal is my favorite. The chicken curry was very exceptionally good. All the food and a Pepsi cost me Rs. 67. The fact that I enjoyed the food was evident from what happened to my shirt – I had to get back to the ORH, change my shirt and wash it.
I will turn in early today as I have nearly 400 kms tomorrow to Ranchi – and the route is known to be sensitive.