Monday, March 19, 2018

9 March 2018 - Day 6 - In Melbourne

Ashok Nair and I worked together in South Western Railway (SWR); the newly formed railway administrative zone had officers pooled from various other railway zones. Most of them were unwilling horses, forced to work in the new dispensation with certain incentives like retention of quarters in the previous work station, etc. Ashok had been in Western Railway and I was fresh from deputation to Container Corporation of India in Chennai. Working conditions, because of creature comforts and shortage of staff, were challenging. But, under the able stewardship of some of the finest leaders, the railway did exceptionally well. Most offices functioned from makeshift accommodation. I did not even have a chair to offer customers when they visited. On one of the station inspections I commandeered a vintage wooden bench that used to be provided in days gone by in railway stations for passengers' comfort. I got the bench buffed and polished, which became the pride of the office. During those tough days Ashok and I used to interact a fair bit professionally. The Railway Club was active and that provided another opportunity to get to know each other well. I remember with a lot of gratitude how he helped me with the final settlement when I took voluntary retirement from the railways. He spoke to other railways, took personal interest in the case, and sorted out the clearances that were required to ‘release’ me from the system. Ashok had come to SWR with the reputation of being a doer; he enhanced that reputation while in SWR. The general impression of a finance officer is that they are wet blankets, but Ashok was a refreshing change. We have been in touch, off and on, on Facebook. When I had posted about my trip to Australia and Melbourne he had offered hospitality, which as I mentioned earlier, I took and even sought more.
Over morning tea, Fazalul and Ranjana explained the Medicare system that operated in Australia. They mentioned that lives of people are protected to the maximum extent it can be. Irrespective of whether one is covered by Medicare or any other insurance scheme, attending to the patient and getting them back on their feet was the topmost objective of any clinic or hospital, mandated by the government. There have been numerous cases of tourists requiring medical assistance in Australia. Apparently the cost for a days’ admission for intensive care could be as high as AUD 3000! The insurance that we come to Australia with – normally, one million USD – could run out in a few days.

Fazalul narrated an interesting story of his Mayor. This person had been Secretary to the erstwhile Australian PM, Julia Gillard. One day he decided to lead a different life and left that high position he had been holding in the government and joined a road repair and construction company. And what did he work as? Not as an executive, but as an ordinary worker standing at work sites holding the ‘Slow’ sign board regulating traffic in either direction. Tells us two things – dignity of labour is the highest here and there are no trappings in office. Fazalul mentioned about the current PM, Malcolm Turnbull, being seen commuting to work in trains. In the days I have been in Australia I haven’t seen a VIP car yet. The flashing lights are used by policemen at work and ambulances. Air ambulances are used effectively to evacuate affected people to reduce the impact of trauma. Williams Landing was an Airforce base in the recent past, which is been converted to a residential cum commercial centre, with new facilities for sports and recreation being created by the Council.
After rest and recuperation I was ready to venture into the City – the State Library was highly recommended. Another home cooked meal of dal and fish fry put more strength into my wings, as it were. We were to take a train from Williams landing to Melbourne Central, for which we had to use a MYKI, which is a reloadable smart ticket which is used in public transport in Melbourne, and I understand in other public transport systems in Victoria State of Australia. Fazalul gave me a spare card for my use on the train ride to the city centre. Ranjana dropped us at the railway station and the two senior citizens were on their own for a few hours. The train we got took us to Flinders Street Station, from where we took a tram to Melbourne Central. The State Library was a short walk from the tram stop. A very interesting feature of the tram service in Melbourne is that it is a free service for all passengers within designated city limits. This was done with a view to reduce congestion within the CBD. A perceptive administration is all about knowing and doing what helps the citizen through their daily lives.
The State Library is a marvel. The forecourt of the library seemed to be a popular meeting place for students and tourists. At the entrance is the imposing statue of Justice Sir Barry, one of the founding fathers of this stupendous facility, built during the mid-1850s. The RMIT is in the nearby vicinity and so is the Universities of Melbourne and Victoria. The library now holds more than two million books, over 16,000 serials and many famed manuscripts, including that of James Cook, the explorer. The highlight of the library is the Dome, which is the highest in any library in the world. The octagonal reading room can hold more than 600 readers and interestingly has a portion devoted to chess aficionados. The atmosphere is very informal, with drinks and food permitted within the library. Ashok and I were apprehensive when we got inside the grand building, not knowing what the entry regulations would be. At the assistance booth we were waved in with a warm smile and “You are welcome to use it, Sirs”! The six floors of the massive complex are used by those in search of information and knowledge and those who come to gaze in wonder at what can be.
Karthik Prasanna is the son of another former railway colleague, Poovendran, with who I used to work when I was in Mysore railway division on my first posting as a greenhorn within the system. Poovendran messaged me saying that his son is in Melbourne and that I should meet him. Karthik worked for ANZ Bank in Bangalore on technical support and was in Melbourne on an eight week attachment. The personable young man met up with us at the State Library. George Samuel worked in an office close by and he joined us for a cup of coffee in the nearby Starbucks.
While at coffee George suggested that we visit the Parliament building and the Docklands. Karthik had to get back to work and Janki joined us. The Parliament House is an imposing structure that is more than 160 years old. Conducted tours are also done of the Parliament building, but we were late for that. In the near vicinity of the administrative complex is the Princess Theatre, which is considered the oldest continuous entertainment complex in Australia. From there we took another tram to the Docklands. The former swampy dock is today one of the prime real estate properties in Melbourne. Swanky commercial and apartment complexes are with a stone’s throw away from the rather ungainly Melbourne Wheel and the Etihad Stadium. The Marina waterfront has many large cafes and restaurants, which were noisy and filled to capacity as it was start of a long weekend and Etihad Stadium was hosting a match too. Ashok and I suggested a beer before we headed back to Williams Landing – Ruchit had joined us and George had headed back to his office. I had wanted to take a tour of the Yarra River, but the cruises had been suspended due to the Moomba festival, which is centered around the Yarra River. This is the largest free community festival that is organized annually by the City of Melbourne and spans four days upto the Labour Day on March 12th. Activities include the parade, fireworks, watersports, music marked by gaiety and carnival atmosphere.
Fazalul, Ranjana and Rehan came to pick us up from the railway station and I was shown around the Williams Landing development. A small community, but rich in facilities. Later, Irshad, brother-in-law of Fazalul came over. Irshad works for Ford and he had relocated to Melbourne from London, were he had been with JLR. Discussions went on well into the night, not even broken by the excellent dinner of chicken biriyani, parotta and mutton curry. Ashok gave me preparation of honey and turmeric for my sore throat and packed some for use in the next few days. Fazalul gave me some tablets for fever and allergy and Ranjana gave me a bottle of honey. Before parting for the night the whole family presented me with a sleeping bag. I was so touched by these gestures, which showed how much they had adopted me a family. I believe that we have a family all over the world, only we must travel and meet the other members.

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