The day started with a breakfast invitation. Bhanu P Tayal, MD KRCL, had evidently tried to contact me after I hit the sack last night. As he found no response to his telephone calls he sent me an SMS asking me to join him for breakfast in the KRCL GH in Madgaon, Goa. I responded in the affirmative as soon as I saw the message. This also meant that I opt for the NH63 to Hubli, which I was informed, is a better route than the one through Londa. While working as Chief Freight Transportation Manager of SWR I was also ex-officio Trustee of the MPT. The Board meetings used to be held almost every month and I took the opportunity to interact with the MPT officials as well as to inspect the Londa-Vasco section. Such visits also strengthened the network with customers. As ex-Trustee I settled the bills in the MPT GH at concessional tariff. I was in the KRCL GH ten minutes past the agreed upon hour of 8 am.
I had informed BPT that I would not be able to stay for more than half an hour for breakfast. As it turned out I stayed for more than an hour with a wonderful batch mate and his excellent team of Officers who were in Madgaon for a meeting with the Petitions Committee of Parliament. BPT and I were regulars in the Squash Court of Railway Staff College as probationers. He broke his collar bone one day when his shoulder smashed into the side wall while chasing a down the line shot. I feared he may not venture into the Court anymore. How wrong I was. He was back as soon as the doctor certified that his collar bone had healed. He retains the passion for the game and is now getting a Court ready in the KRCL Residential Complex in Mumbai. KRCL is steaming full ahead under his stewardship. The most important project it is engaged in is the construction of the railway line in J&K. He mentioned about the engineering challenges in the project such as building a bridge 370 meters above the water table of the River Chenab. KRCL is engaged in using their tunneling and ventilation expertise for metro rail systems and building Road over Bridges. I had to make an effort to pull myself away from the informative and interesting interfaces to take the highway to Hubli.
I travelled on the excellently surfaced and maintained NH17 till just short of Ankola. Short of Karwar I was stopped at the Karnataka border by Inspectors carrying out checks to ensure that liquor is not ‘smuggled’ into the State. I lowered the car window on the passenger side and one of the Inspectors thrust his rather sharp bovine features (!) into the car to make a nasal and visual check. I was tempted to operate the power window to check how his features would enhance when additional blood is supplied to them. I restrained myself with a Boman Irani (Munnabhai MBBS) laugh and showed him the copy of Lonely Planet to explain that I am an All-India tourist. He was impressed enough to tell his Senior that I need not be ‘strip searched’. He was further impressed when I asked him directions to take the highway to Hubli. I was waved on. I am sure you are curious to know if I had liquor in the car. Let me confess: I hate breaking rules, but I also do get thirsty after 7 pm!!
The drive on the NH63 was excellent. I had left Madgaon at 9.15 and entered the city of Hubli at 1 pm. While the city had changed in many ways the hordes of buffaloes being herded through the busy city roads signaled that some things don’t. I parked at the Idgah Maidan and went into Kamat Hotel for Upma and Rose Milk, a luxury (it was pre 6th Pay Commission days) I indulged in during some weekends in 2003-05. My accommodation was arranged in the ORH, where I had stayed during my entire stint in SWR. I had wonderful memories of the stay and hence, I was greatly disappointed in the manner in which the ORH is being maintained now. The room was dirty and dusty and the ORH does not have drinking water supply. I switched on the TV and could not view any channel. The ORH attendant told me that the connection has been severed due to pending bills. It was disappointing to see an excellent facility slowly, but surely, turning into a modern day Hampi.
The SWR was taking its initial steps as a Railway when I joined it in September 2003. All departments, including that of the General Manager, functioned from temporary shelters. It was almost impossible to get furniture and other office requirements. My office room was furnished with only a table and a chair with a side table to keep the computer. When visitors came calling it was the duty of the peons to shuffle personnel in the department and fetch chairs for visitors. During an inspection of a station near Hubli I came across comfortable station benches belonging to the MSMR (Madras and South Mahratta Railway) era wasting away. The Traffic Inspector got 2 of them over to Hubli, had a carpenter clean and polish them and set them in my room for visitors. They are still retained by the CFTM in the new office complex.
U Krishnamurthy and I were co-participants in a Management Programme at the Management Development Institute in Gurgaon. A brilliant student, an excellent shuttler and a warm human being he is presently the Senior Deputy General Manager of SWR. I spend considerable time with him and AS Rao, the CFTM, to appreciate the changes and the way SWR has shaped up over the years. The meeting with staff was an emotional one. These are the ones who had made my stay in Hubli memorable and comfortable. We were practically the project team and had weathered many tricky and critical situations under adverse situations. One gets very attached to such teams. I was and I continue so.
SWR is in a unique position today. It has constructed excellent residential facilities for Officers and staff, which has not happened in many of the other new railway systems. But it still does not have a permanent office, which all the others have. Only a portion of the new office is functional and I went there to meet the Chief Personnel Officer, Mohan Menon, a colleague and a good friend of many years. In his room I also met Baskaran, the Chief Communications Engineer, another friend of many years. Thanks to the efforts of Mohan I was able to meet my former Bungalow Peon, Pradepan, who is a Senior Head Clerk in the Personnel Branch.
Baskaran, a teetotaler, insisted that we retire to his house in the Colony to sample an unopened bottle of Scotch, which otherwise would have vaporized in a few years time. We spent a couple of hours discussing all matters ‘not official’ with Mohan and I gradually reducing the contents of the Scotch Bottle. Mrs Baskaran markets Tupperware. I had the occasion to see the wide range of the products in their home. By the time I left their house I had accepted their daughter as my ‘Guru’. Amreeta gave me the initial lessons in candle making.