The bags were repacked once again, hopefully for the last time before touching down in Cochin tomorrow. Rose, Avirappi’s wife, returned from Kerala just in time to give us a warm send off. After discussing alternate routes I decided to take the NH45/68 to Salem. As it panned out, the road from Ulundurpet to Salem was not good as work to four-lane the stretch is still on. Ajay assumed the role of the Navigator from Chennai. His skills settled any doubts I may have had about doing the journey all alone. If I had depended on such skills I may have ended up back in the North East! Mercifully he discarded the road map and made himself useful by sleeping after a while.
The CONCOR terminal in Salem Market was a personal contribution and an immensely satisfying experience in project management. The terminal was given on a franchise to a leading client of CONCOR. The model was innovative and successful leading to it being cloned in some other terminals of CONCOR. Right from the first day of operation at Salem Market, even before the terminal was formally launched, it was Jayachandran who spearheaded the development in the location. Exceptional customer service was the watch word. The business at the terminal prospered till the model was tinkered with much after I returned to the Railways. Jayachandran insisted on taking us for lunch to the newly opened Ragas Hotel for Chicken Biriyani and Fish fry. Since the premises were new, we were the first customers in the Hotel for lunch.
Yesurathnam was a colleague in the Railways. He heads the Commercial department in the newly created Salem Division. This commercially important unit was a part of the erstwhile Palghat Division. Whenever I needed help in the area I turned to Yesurathnam and he obliged always. So was it when I wanted an ORH booking to spend this evening at Salem. I called on the Divisional Railway Manager, the Sr. DOM and Sr. DCM in their offices to understand the developments in the BU after the bifurcation of the erstwhile Division. It was wonderful to meet up with some old associates. The Division presently functions from a temporary shelter. The new Office and residences are under construction.
Jayachandran took us to the ‘Sarathy Classics’ for ‘Tiffin’. Ajay and I were yet to fully recover from the lunch and hence, settled for idlis and dosas for dinner. The idlis were soft and the dosas yummy; the ghee added a special taste to them.
I first met Manickam nearly a dozen years ago on the Salem platform. He operated a couple of stalls there. He used to give me excellent coffee and idlis whenever I visited the Station. He used to sell mangoes in one of his stalls during the Season. On special order and payment he would send consignments to Trivandrum. When we returned to the ORH from dinner Manickam was waiting for us. He came to know that I was halting the night there and visited us only to respect the relationship we enjoyed. He spent some time with us recalling the old days and giving me an update of his business and family. His was the only stall untouched by the IRCTC intervention. Manickam has been operating the stalls at Salem since 1961. Manickam has taken personal tragedies in his stride and constantly thanked God for His blessings. He is completely at peace with himself and all around him, which gives him contentment. He told Ajay many times that I was the only one who ever called him a ‘Muthalali’. I will never forget the disarming smile of Manickam and his love and respect.