All through the beautiful drive to Mussoorie my mind was in a playback mode; the overwhelming flood of nostalgia is difficult to stop when you have strong association with people, places or situations. It is in Mussoorie that I spent three of the most glorious months of my life and I discovered many aspects of my own self that I had not previously known. I stopped at Bhatta and had a cup of tea as that is where, I think, the buses from the Dehra Dun railway station stopped for the probationers to unwind for a while before the rest of the journey to the LBSNAA. I wonder if they do that anymore. When I reached Library Point I thought of the lovely walks I enjoyed from the LBSNAA to the Mall whenever I could tear myself away from the Courts. Those days my friends and I swaggered around as if we owned the place.
Being a clear day the views of the Himalayan Range were spectacular on the road from the Library to the LBSNAA. Every bend in the road looked so familiar. Along the way I saw the off campus residential accommodation used by probationers and ended up in front of the LBSNAA gate, which is very different now with the security arrangements. Just opposite to the entrance, on a high ground, is the Stapleton hostel, where I had stayed for three months. Those days the rooms were damp and cold. All the residences have been redone and they are reported to have all modern facilities in them. New hostels have also been built. The Kateswar Castle has been returned to its owner at his insistence and the residence used by married probationers now serves as the Director’s house. At the gate I was given an entry on the security being told that I was a probationer in the premises from 1st September to 30th November 1981. The KL registration of the car also lent credibility when I told them of my utmost desire to visit my ‘alma mater’. The Ladies Hostel had withstood the fire of 1981, but succumbed to the one in 1984. The Office of the Director, the Admn section and some of the Professors’ Offices are still intact. The Councilor of my group was a senior IAS Officer. In the first session, an IAS probationer told him that he would like to be trained to become a Chief Secretary. Unflustered and with utmost calm he told him that he should try to get that training elsewhere, since they only train probationers in the LBSNAA.
As I walked into the main concourse of the Academy a High Tea session was on. I could make out that senior officers are in the campus. Then I caught sight of Mr. K. Suresh, former Chairman of the Chennai Port Trust, who I knew from my days in South Western Railway. He was absolutely flabbergasted to meet me there. The Phase V of the in service training program comprising IAS officers mainly of the 1982 batch is in progress. Since he is posted in Bhopal I have promised to meet up with him during my visit to the State Capital.
The views of the Himalayan Range are absolutely gorgeous from the LBSNAA. I spent quite some time photographing the spectacle. A metallic legend has also been installed in the ground to identify the peaks. The view of the Neelkanth peak is breathtaking. Thereafter I visited the TRDC department to find out if they could give me a copy of the group photograph of the 1981 batch taken sometime in November 1981, before we dispersed to the various training institutions. Gyan Chandra made a valiant search with one of his colleagues. He has promised to mail it to me as soon as he lays his hands on a copy.
The souvenir shop in the LBSNAA has quite a few things to choose from – T-Shits, riding jacket, key chain, pocket pouch, photo frame, tie pin, Academy tie and cravat. In the building housing the dining hall a hand pulled rickshaw and a requiem for it is placed at a stair landing. One of the first things we were told in the LBSNAA is that we should avoid the use of a hand pulled rickshaw as it demeaned human labor. It is wonderful to know that the sustained efforts of three batches of probationers, between 1993 and 1995, ensured that the rickshaw pullers were given cycle rickshaws and the practice of hand drawn rickshaws ceased for good. The next visit was to the place where communication meant for each of the probationers was placed in pigeon holes during the days when I was there. I think they have changed the means of communicating with the probationers since I did not find it there. I used to get a whole bunch of notes for not attending the morning PT or Yoga classes. I found it such a waste of time as all the exercise I needed I got from the squash and the badminton courts in the evening. Attending these classes also meant waking up early in the morning, which I loathed to do then. I do not recall how, but I got the PT master to exempt me and the notes stopped.
The Happy Valley Sports Complex was where I spent the substantial, and most productive, part of my time in the LBSNAA. I had never played badminton before arriving Mussoorie. I was so glued to cricket that taking up another sport never ever crossed my mind. As I was leaving for the Academy my father gave me a brand new Carlton racquet and told me to try my hand at badminton. I had learnt the nuances of squash in St Stephen’s from a couple of the best in the University. I took to these two sports like a duck takes to water. Along with Dhand, Borwankar and Dube I was among the top four badi players in the Academy. I was third on the squash ladder too. There was a tradition in the Academy that Bunker Roy, of Tilonia fame and a top squash player of his days, would take on the top three squash players after he delivers his customary lecture. He was too good for all of us, but the tips I got from him helped improve my movement and anticipation. I tried my hand at riding too. But I discovered early that horses and I do not mix and hence I used to have rum on the run (on which most of the princely stipend of Rs. 700 was spent) after the strenuous badminton and squash games that lasted the whole evening. There were days when I missed dinner due to the total involvement on the courts and fatigue is not something I felt or thought about. Today when I visited the Sports Complex and climbed back to the Administrative Block, I am sure, people would have mistaken my huffing and puffing for some old steam engine running riot in the Academy.
For almost the entire period of our stay in the Academy the Central Service Officers did not know their service allotment. I consider it very fortunate since probationers mixed freely, without any reservations. There were no walls or boundaries. Just a week prior to completing the Foundation Course the service list was put up. Before reaching Mussoorie it was informally understood that I would, in all probability, get the Indian Postal Service. Keeping that in mind I scanned the Postal service list and found my name missing. Panic. I tried Income Tax and Customs lists too. No luck. Further panic. I thought the worst and abandoned the search. I went to my hostel and slept. At lunch a friend congratulated me on being allotted IRTS. I was overjoyed, for IRTS to me meant Pius Joseph, the legendary Southern Railway officer. The best part was yet to come. Only the railway probationers travelled from Mussoorie to their training institution in a first class railway coach. A friend collected a pass on my behalf from the Principal of the Oak Grove School and we made our reservations to Baroda. That was the talk of the town and the envy of all. It was tough taking leave of all the friends one had made in the Academy. One of the probationers made an insensitive remark that we should have made friends knowing that many of us would be leaving the Academy.
I had lunch at the ‘Whispering Windows’, where we used dine whenever a small surplus of the stipend permitted, which was not often at all. The food used to be good then. The Biriyani I had today was awful. The Mall Road looks much the same except for the ware displayed; it is more contemporary. On the way back from Mussoorie I visited the Oak Grove School. Since a friend had done me the favor of collecting the pass in 1981 I had never once visited the railway-run school. I corrected the record today.