Sharat Chandra Jethi is presently Additional Member Commercial in the Railway Board. All through my previous expedition I have leaned on him quite heavily for accommodation and facilitation. I remember the frustrating night when I was on the East-West expedition and the Rewa-Katni road had almost laid me hors d combat. It was Sharat who provided the support in securing accommodation at the shortest of possible notices and without a demur. When I was planning for the accommodation in New Jalpaiguri and Maligaon I naturally phoned up Sharat. As is usual with him, he took down the requirements to the last detail. It so happened that he was also likely to be at New Jalpaiguri on 16 May when I was to be there. We looked forward to meeting there. However, he called up on 15th to say that he would be arriving only on 17th due to official work in Guwahati. I agreed to postpone my departure from New Jalpaiguri by a few hours to accommodate the meeting.
Last evening the Senior Area Manager of NJP came to my room with a special request to shift to another rest house because the one in which I was staying would be occupied by Sharat and family the next day. as I was busy doing the blogs and other documentation I promised the Sr. AM that I would vacate the room by 5.30 am, after which it could be cleaned for the next occupant. After a bit of back and forth it was finally agreed that I would vacate soonest. Accordingly, I made sure that the luggage was loaded in the car and the room vacated by 5.30 am. The train from Guwahati was scheduled to arrive at 6 am, but it did a half hour late.
Sharat was visiting with his wife and son. Divisional officers, inspectors and staff accompanied them to the ORH, where I met them. After greetings and brief introduction of the divisional officers we went up to the room for a cup of tea. The expedition was the focus of the discussion. We caught up on news of the family too. By 7.30 it was flag off time. I was fondly seen off by all present. The Sr. AM also deputed an inspector to pilot me to a fuel station.
Despite the condition of the Farakka-Dalkhola experience I must confess that since 2010 the road infrastructure has improved considerably in West Bengal and Assam, the two states that had the worst roads in 2010 when I did the All India trip. Barring a few patches the road through Hashimara, Sreerampur, Bongaigaon and Rangia was done in less than 8 hours of driving. The distance was about 460 km. Right through the drive from the fuel station in New Jalpaiguri to the Maligaon ORH I did not get out of the car for 8 hours – some kind of a personal record.
As I was nearing Maligaon Shrey Bansal of Lifestyle Services called to say that a tour group had problems on the China border that day since the engine and chassis numbers given in the registration certificate were different from those in the car. He wanted me to confirm that the numbers tallied in my case. I rang up the Mahindra dealership in Cochin to check where the engine and chassis numbers were etched in the car. While the chassis number was easy to locate under the bonnet the engine number required the dismantling of the hood over the engine. While it was not complicated taking it off I could not put it back however much I tried. After a few unsuccessful attempts I decided to tackle that and a small issue with the bumper later in a Mahindra service station on the way. Then I decided to wash the car. When I was busy with the chore a curious taxi driver, Gautham, joined me to see what I was doing. He struck up a conversation about the drive and wanted to know what had happened with the bumper. He told me the way to the service station too. On an impulse I asked if he could put the hood back over the engine. He did that without as much as a blink. When I finished the cursory wash of the car Gautham sat beside the bumper and checked what he could do with it. In a few minutes he manipulated the portion that had come off from the clips and set it right. What a god-sent this man had been. Gautham is one of the Guardian Angels that HE had sent to attend to my needs. Friends often ask me what I would do if something went wrong with the car on the way, especially since I am ignorant of even the basic basics. However, I believe in two things. One, that you must plan for success and not failure. As my good friend MC Tom used to say, the alternative to Plan A is Plan A itself! Second, when the need arises HE will post his Guardian Angels where they are needed.
JD Goswami has been a dear friend for many decades now. The day before I was to reach Guwahati I rang up to find out his whereabouts, for I knew that he shuttled between Delhi, Guwahati and Ahmedabad. I had missed him on the past few visits to Guwahati. Fortunately, this time he said that he would reach Guwahati by evening of the 17. And he picked me up from the ORH closer to 8 pm. It had been raining heavily and progress to his house was slow. Once we reached there it was time for a 15 year Glenlivit, excellent company, delectable food and plenty of talk. The youngest daughter of Goswami is a sous chef by profession and her skills were on display. By 10 pm my eyelids refused to stay open and I had to request for a drop back to the ORH. On the way back Goswami explained the landmarks of the city that came our way.
I packed before I turned in for the night so that I could leave by 5 am.