Kundan Sinha is the Chief Operating Manager of SE Railway. Two batches of IRTS probationers were trained almost together and that is how I met Kundan in the Railway Staff College in Baroda in late 1981, a year senior to me in service. The probationers of the two batches bonded very well. While classroom training occupied the entire day, the evenings were exclusively the preserve of games and movies. The facilities for games at the RSC were quite good, particularly, badminton, squash and tennis. These games were indulged in for over 3 hours daily – the squash duels with Ajay Mehta and Bhanu Tayal and badminton doubles games with Kundan and his partner Sharat Misra were what helped retain a 32 inch waist during probation. Kundan and Sharat were a deadly combination on the badminton court. Their generously proportioned looks deceived the opponents; deft placements and cat like reflexes took everybody by surprise and they were more than a match for most. Kundan is a great Shammi Kapoor fan and I had not seen even one of his films when Kundan ‘motivated’ me into watching ‘Teesri Manzil’ (which he claimed is one of the best suspense thrillers made in Hindi). Ever since that second show in Baroda I have been an ardent fan of Shammi and Rafi.
Up until 2004 the National Library in Kolkata was housed in the iconic Belvedere building, reportedly annexed by the English East India Company and residence to many a representative of Her Majesty. The building, which is nearly 400 years old, is today in virtual ruin. The heritage site has been taken over by the ASI. The renovation work is expected to take another 10 years or more. Even in ruin, the magnificence of the building cannot be missed. The high ceiling and long corridors, the hallmark of British architecture in India, make the building stately. The new ‘residence’ of the NL is the Bhasha Bhavan, a four storied modern structure. The staff at the NL are courteous and helpful. What I liked best about the NL is the writers’ gallery, where you can get a private corner to do research and make notes. Besides, there is a section devoted to Indian writers of all languages – the works of Mahakavi Vallathol are displayed along with those of Rabindranath Tagore, Munshi Premchand, et al. The pertinent law stipulates that two copies of every book published in India should be sent to the NL. As a senior railway colleague remarked: ‘Without a proper mechanism to select the books for the NL, a lot of junk gets accumulated, resulting in the loss of precious older works.’ Moreover, the ‘modern’ NL is in many ways antediluvian – the catalogue of books is still manual, the system of lending is archaic and the number of computers in the library is woefully inadequate. Despite all this, it was heartwarming to see a large number of users at the NL.
Lunch was an unforgettable experience ‘on board’ the Floatel, which is arguably the first floating hotel in India. Situated a stone’s throw away from the ER HQ at Fairlie Place and bang opposite the fantastic SBI HQ, one has to cross the Circular Railway track to get to the Floatel and is almost equidistant from both the Hoogly bridges. One has to walk a gangway to get to the three storey anchored ‘barge’. The Upper Deck houses the restaurant and the views of the Hoogly River are majestic. The buffet was quite good – the highlight was the sugar free ‘Sandesh’. The lunch was organized by Ambrish Gupta, my batch mate and the CCM, ER and hosted by Biswas, the GGM of IRCTC. I got the opportunity to meet with the Commercial HoDs of ER.
After lunch I headed for Belur Math, the HQ of the Ramakrishna Mission, was established by Swami Vivekananda, the foremost disciple of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, on the banks of the Ganges. The building housing the meditation hall is architecturally unique and is one of the finest specimens of temple architecture in India. The bedroom of Swami Vivekananda, the place of his Samadhi, the Samadhi of Sarada Devi – the spiritual consort of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa – the relics of the Saint, etc are housed in various buildings in the Math. The Math affords a panoramic view of the holy river Ganges. On the opposite bank is the most important Hindu temple in Kolkata, the Dakshineswar Temple, another architectural marvel. It is reported that over 40,000 devotees throng the temple daily, which houses a lot of memorabilia of Ramakrisha and Sarada Devi.
The Indian Railways is the largest employer in the world and this makes the railway fraternity in India very unique. As a railway person you will never be far from your extended family in this country. This was reinforced at the dinner hosted by the COM SER and organized by Gopal Mohanty in the BNR Club. 14 senior IRTS officers of SER and ER got together and made it one of the most memorable evenings of my life. The love and affection of these brothers of the extended family make my life meaningful.