The bed tea arrived promptly at the appointed time – there is nothing that Gopal does not take care of. The calling bell woke me up. I had planned two days of recovery time in Kolkata for the man and the machine. As events unfolded, it was only a day for both. The car had been serviced in Cochin before the journey started, after which nearly 10,000 kms had been logged. Despite it being a Sunday Pandey, the Secretary of Gopal, had fixed up with AutoKraft, a Maruti service centre, to take up the work on the car in the morning.
I had lugged all luggages from the car to the fourth floor room in the ORH. The car was emptied out to facilitate servicing as well as to rearrange the contents for the journey to Tezu. Gopal had got the particular room allotted for it offered fabulous views of the Hoogly River and the Howrah Bridge. The deck of the Officers’ Club, that gave a feel of sitting out in the River, had been decked up the previous day for an elaborate wedding. It looked gorgeous in the night with all the lights on.
I rearranged the soiled clothes and the fresh ones for the next few days. After a leisurely cold water shower, I dressed for the long day ahead. But, first it had to be breakfast with the Mohantys. Mrs. Mohanty is a gracious host and a very indulgent one too. I always leave their home absolutely full up. It was not different this time either, with a bursting stomach full of dosas, peethas and pedas. Before and during the meal we had long conversations on travel, family and food.
Pandey accompanied me to the servicing centre. In view of the problems I had faced with fog during the Odisha leg of the Coastal Expedition Gopal insisted that fog lights be fitted on my car. He felt that eastern and central India would present further problems with fog. To find a shop where we could pick up the fog lamps Pandey used all his contacts and experience. Finally we picked up one – the marking on the cover said Rs. 180, but the shop keeper insisted that the price mentioned was only for one lamp; my insistence that the lamps are used as a pair did not cut much ice with him. However, he reduced the price to Rs. 350 from Rs. 360!! At the service station I outlined what I wanted done. The car had been messed up by the birds in Garden Reach, where I had parked the car. The supervisor suggested that I go in for mechanical polishing too to restore the ‘damage’ done. I acquiesced. Pandey dropped me back to the ORH in the office vehicle, which he mentioned had been used by Mr. Kumara Das, who was Chief Operating Superintendent when I was working in South Eastern Railway. A wave of nostalgia was to be excused.
A cricket match was in progress between Eastern and Western Railway officers in the Garden Reach railway ground. Gopal asked me to join the array of spectators before I left for lunch with the Nandis. Lively, loud running commentary embellished the competitive, yet friendly, match. I met some of the officers who were present there to play and cheer. I took some good photographs of the setting and the game and posted them on Facebook.
Kaushik Nandi lived somewhat far away from Garden Reach. I took a taxi and got the driver to speak to Kaushik so that I could reach his place without any confusion. The journey went on for longer than I understood it would last. When I thought there had been some miscommunication I got the driver to speak to Kaushik a few times. During one of those exchanges I wondered if the driver was a bit annoyed with the directions given. However, he eventually got me to the place where I met up with Kaushik. All is well that ends well. The driver was all smiles – I was left in some doubt if it was the tip or the end of the ‘ordeal’ that made him flash his pearly whites. I was so happy to meet up with my erstwhile DP World colleague that the annoyance in the driver’s voice faded in quick time. From the road where we met up it was a short walk to Kaushik’s flat. We reached there soon enough and I presented the family with copies of my books. Mrs and Mr Nandi have two daughters. Mrs Nandi works with specially-abled children and is extremely passionate about her work, while Kaushik is involved in a project that will script history in Kolkata; the tallest residential towers in Kolkata. After a while we left to pick up the youngest in the family from her music lessons. Lunch was a fascinating experience - Dhap Jingri (a special prawn preparation with tender coconut and a personal favorite), rice and chicken curry, fish fry, pumpkin flower bajji and sweet chutney of raw papaya and raisins made me sit longer at the table than I should have. Mishti doi and a special sandesh with gur filling (made only during Sankranthi) virtually floored me.
I started getting calls from Pandey that the car would be ready by 4 pm. And being a Sunday the service station would close early. It was time to leave the Nandis and their affectionate children. Kaushik dropped me at a place from where I would be able to get to Garden Reach faster than I got to him from there. When I reached the service station with Pandey I could not recognize the car – it was looking absolutely new and raring to go! The cleaning and polishing of the car also revealed a major dent on the body above the right wheel. It looked as if someone had backed into my car when it was parked somewhere between Visakhapatnam and Kolkata and all the dirt and dust had hidden it from sight! The fog lamps could not be fitted for it was meant to be done on special brackets. Instead the supervisor helped me changed the headlights to one with a yellowish tinge. It was not perfect, but would do under the circumstances. The service station had bestowed special attention to the car - the test drive bore that out. Pandey, in his own inimitable manner, ensured that.
When I got back to Garden Reach with the car, that looked as if had just then been driven from the showroom, I was worried that the birds would put on a special show to ruin it. However, the ORH staff identified a place where it would be safe from the ghastly designs of the birds. It took only a short time to load the car with the luggage that was already packed.
I had been told that dinner with IRTS officers would be at 8 pm. Gopal arrived in the room just as I was ready after a shower with sandwiches and a huge fruit cake for the next day’s journey. I was getting valuable lessons in hospitality and friendship. The get together and dinner were special experiences. Sharing experiences and ideas saw the night go by swiftly. All through this the glass and plate remained topped up. The railway family is one of the most tightly knit and people like Gopal Mohanty and J.N. Jha ensure that colleagues, serving and retired, want to belong to it.
Thus, the man and machine were ready for the road once again.