Monday, December 20, 2010

DAY 79 – Lucknow to Ramnagar

Dr Jacob Thomas IAS was the Chairman of the Cochin Port Trust for five years till July 2005. He had demitted office and moved over as Project Officer of the LNG project in the Puthuvype SEZ in Cochin when I joined DP World in Cochin. I had come to know him when I was heading CONCOR in Chennai. In the first instance itself he came across as an honest, well meaning and hard working professional with an abundance of humaneness and goodness of heart. As a new business proposition in CONCOR we worked at handling ‘Less than Container Load’ consignments at the Cochin Port, for which we need allotment of space in the Container Freight Station. The enthusiasm with which he pursued the proposal and made it happen was very unlike the normal ‘government’ response.
Upon my repatriation to the Railways in 2003, after the stint in CONCOR, I lost touch with Dr Jacob Thomas. On 30th March 2005, while working as Chief Freight Transportation Manager in Hubli, I chanced upon a short newspaper report in a leading English daily about the successful signing of the Concession Agreement by Cochin Port Trust with Dubai Port International. The report mentioned Dr Jacob Thomas as the Chairman of the Cochin Port. Having known, to some extent, the passion with which he had worked to award the CA of the International Container Transshipment Terminal at Vallarpadam, I thought it right to congratulate him. After the exchange of greetings and the congratulations he chose to treat me to a few choice expletives of the refined variety. He told me that I should be working on the project since DPI was scouting for senior talent. I was skeptical about the lead he gave me as I had no exposure to the functioning of a container terminal nor people who shepherded the fortunes of DPI. However, God dispelled the skepticism and charted a new path for me. I went through a few personal interviews in India and Dubai before being given a proposal to head the DPI Business Unit in Cochin. And thus, I came to work in DPW (the transformation from ‘International’ to ‘World’ came about with a string of global acquisitions) and partner Cochin Port Trust to operate the Rajiv Gandhi Container Terminal and build the Greenfield ICTT at Vallarpadam between July 2005 and 2010. During the meeting with Mrs and Dr Jacob Thomas at their residence last evening I jogged the latter’s memory on his role in my being part of the corporate world for five years with the opportunity to do something completely different and challenging.
Dr Jacob Thomas hosted me to dinner at the Mahomed Bagh Club, which was established in 1899 and still retains plenty of colonial charm. He also invited his batch mate and Secretary to the Government of UP, Jagan Mathews, to sup with us. Over a few rounds of Spirits and short eats that included Boti Kabab and fish fingers, we discussed and debated a wide range of subjects which also encompassed some that may require a visit to the Confessional before Christmas.
The SH25 via Hardoi to Shahjahanpur was a pleasant 170 km drive. Compared to this the NH24 was poorly maintained and congested. Despite reaching Bareilly in 4 hours I took nearly another 3 to reach Haldwani due to the congestion caused by trucks carrying sugarcane, mostly overloaded. At Haldwani I was tempted to take the Nainital route, which would have taken me to the Kumaoni hill resort. While seeking directions at Kaladungi to Ramnagar I chanced upon the Jim Corbett Museum. The Museum is housed in the winter home of Jim Corbett and his sister, which he built on a large property in 1922. He sold the house in 1947 when he relocated to Kenya. In 1965 the Forest Department bought the house and converted it into a memorial of Jim Corbett. He was revered by the locals who had come to depend on him to save them from the ‘Man-Eaters of Kumaon’. Corbett had bought 40 hectares and resettled some families on the ‘model village’, which is even today known as Chota Haldwani, the name given to it by Corbett. The land was distributed free of cost to the villagers when Corbett moved to Kenya. The Museum also has a souvenir shop stocked with books, products of Kumaon, etc. Besides acquiring a copy of Corbett’s most famous book I sampled a portion of a Kumaoni sweet dish ‘Singodi’, a milk delicacy wrapped in a special leaf for its aroma.
The vehicles in Uttaranchal are registered under both UA and UK prefixes, which is unique in that all the 19 States that I have been to so far have a single prefix to indicate the State of registration (because the State is known as both Uttaranchal and Uttarakhand, I presume). When I saw the UK prefix I was reminded of an experience in the Administrative Staff College in Nainital, where I had attended an in-service training program in the early 90s. One of the faculty members of the ASC flaunted a degree from ‘UK’. For all the width that we were willing to give him none of us attending the course could fathom how he managed the UK degree. Towards the end of the two week program we prized it out of him that ‘UK’ stood for the ‘University of Kumaon’ and not ‘United Kingdom’! We left the ASC in better humor.
The permission for entry to the Jim Corbett National Park and the reservation for stay in the Park are done in the KMVN Office in Ramnagar. Thanks to Dr Jacob Thomas, I managed accommodation in the Forest GH in Ramnagar. I will be leaving at 6 am tomorrow for the National Park.

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