Saturday, January 22, 2011

DAY 114 – Mumbai to Ratnagiri

There is a standing joke in the Railways that the wife of a Railway Officer can stay without the husband but cannot without the Bungalow Peon. Besides the privileges of free travel, well located accommodation and excellent medical facilities the Officer and his family get used to the ubiquitous BP. With domestic help becoming scarce the value of the BP goes up. The BP is an extremely useful person to have around in the house, especially when the lady of the house is employed. She/He becomes a confirmed railway employee often after 3 years of ‘probation’. In a Railway the ‘duty list’ of BPs has been published, apparently to prevent ‘misuse’! When I was to leave the Railways the BP thankfully did not enter the equation as my family and I had, by then, got used to a life without one for 10 years.
Girish had asked his BP to stay over so that I could be sent off with a cup of tea and breakfast. I insisted on having breakfast on the way and had a cup of tea after settling the luggage in the car. The car has become ‘over crowded’ with rocks and what not. Over the past three days I used Girish’s house as if I had owned the house. I left for Ratnagiri at 7 am. At the traffic junction in front of the VT railway station I rolled my window down and asked the driver of another car for direction to reach Vashi. He smiled radiantly and asked me to follow him. The guy weaved his way expertly through the traffic to get to Vashi in about an hour despite the movement of heavy vehicles. From there on the route to Goa/Panjim was sign posted adequately to lead me to the NH17 via the NH4. The two lane highway is well surfaced, but the congested movement of slow moving vehicles can test one’s patience. Accidents on this route are not uncommon with many road signs warning the user of either ‘accident site’ or ‘accident prone area’. I passed a ‘live’ accident site where a motorcyclist had lost his life ‘on the spot’ in a hit and run case.
Kanakasabapathy is a legendary Station Superintendent of Madras Central railway station, the most important rail terminus on Southern Railway. Located just beside the SR HQ office and the Madras Divisional Office further contributed to the stresses and strains on the official wearing the mantle of the SS Madras Central. Kanaka, as he was fondly called, was the SS when I was a probationary officer in Southern Railway. His flair for Public Relations, his amazing ability to trust his subordinates and build a responsive team provided lessons in management that I imbibed in a practical environment during those impressionable days in the Railways. The stories of his management of the Station are legion and a blog post is insufficient to even narrate one of them. Now 72, and threatening ‘not to go off in a hurry’, he has remained a good friend despite his superannuation and my Voluntary Retirement. While recapturing the events of the past few days I remembered a missed call from Kanakasabapathy. When I stopped for breakfast after Nagothane I called him up and was entertained for almost the whole of the next hour with anecdotes, humorous recap of some past events and liberal doses of praise. I had hoped to meet with him in Chennai on the 30th but he informed me of his impending travel to Tirunelveli, his home town.
Ratnagiri is one of the two Regional Offices of Konkan Railway Corporation, the other one being Karwar. The KRCL is a brand built and nurtured by the ever youthful and effervescent E. Sreedharan. Bhanu P Tayal, my batch mate, is the MD of the Corporation now. Due to his many engagements I could not meet him in Mumbai. But I am enjoying his hospitality in the ORH of KRCL in Ratnagiri. Nagadath, the Regional Railway Manager was in office despite it being a holiday and I spent some time with him. He was kind enough to depute one of his Area Supervisors, RK Shete, to show me around the places of touristic importance.
The King of Burma was interned in Ratnagiri from 1885 by the British. He was permitted to build his own dwelling and he designed and supervised the construction of the Thibew Palace, where he and his family moved in by 1910. He lived there till he died in 1916. The Palace is built in Burmese style. Its upkeep is below par. The premise also houses a small Museum and some 6th to 10th century artifacts. It was Bal Gangadhar Tilak who gave the rallying cry for the freedom movement with his soul stirring slogan “Swaraj is my birth right and I shall have it”. His birth place within the city of Ratnagiri is preserved as a Museum and contains many interesting photographs. The photo of Lal, Bal, Pal (as the triumvirate of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipinchandra Pal were known) and another of Tilak with MK Gandhi in 1915 during their first meeting adorn the walls of the Museum.
The Ratnadurg Fort offers magnificent views of the Arabian Sea and the jetties that service Ultratech Cement. The horse shoe shaped fort was built by the Bahmani kings but was a strong hold of Shivaji. The local administration is doing its bit to promote it as a tourist centre by developing a stepped garden on the slope of the Fort. The Bhagwati Temple inside the Fort is a place of worship. While exiting from the Fort Shete and I had an ice candy. This is the precursor of the modern day duet and ice stick. The ice candy is made of expertly shaped ice shavings with sugary syrup of one’s choice poured over it and into a glass. a stick is stuck into the shaped ice shaving to serve as a handle. I chose to have Kala Khatta, a grape flavor. The alternatives were Mango, Pineapple and Orange. One can even have a combination of flavors.
The Ganapatiphule Beach and Temple were the next in sight. The drive to the Beach through the new coastal route is heavenly, particularly at sunset time. SCJ had told me about the Aarey Varey (the names of two adjacent villages) Beach and I stopped at a view point to appreciate the breathtaking beauty of the Beach and the setting sun. The Konkan Coast, Goa and the Malabar Coast are very similar in landscape, food habits and construction. The coconut tree fringed beaches, predominance of fish and rice in the diet and use of laterite bricks for construction of tiled houses provide the database for such comparison.
I drove like a maniac to reach the Ganapatiphule Beach just in time to digitally capture the final moments of the ‘Sun being devoured by the Dragon’. The dynamic natural art on the sky and the beach is a treat that one can never forget. Being Sankasthi Chaturdi there was a steady stream of worshippers to the Temple. The Ganesha idol in the Temple is believed to have been discovered over 16 centuries ago. Mouse is the vehicle of Ganesha. Just outside the Temple gate is a large brass statue of a mouse paying obeisance to the deity. It is believed that one’s wishes earnestly whispered into the ears of the statue are realized.

Shete took me to the MTDC restaurant for a typical Maharashtrian non-veg Thali. While waiting for it I made myself comfortable with a bottle of Beer. Shete was on fast due to the festival. When the Thali arrived I forced him to have a bowl of soup. The special preparation of Dal, Chicken and Cocum juice was polished off with Rotis and Rice. With Beer cooling the insides the drive back to the ORH was negotiated effortlessly!

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