All Zonal Railways, Production Units and the Railway Board have rooms in the Rail Niwas. The room I am allotted is from the Railway Board pool. After 6.30 am I opened the door of the room to survey the situation outside and located the canteen boy. I asked him for a cup of tea and then I heard the familiar voice of the Newspaper man. When he came within sight I realized that it is the same man who has been doing this business for the past many, many years. I tried to exchange some pleasantries, but he had a job to do. Suman had insisted on sending me breakfast. The peon arrived with Poha, stuffed parathas, pickle, halwa and tea. To say that the helpings were polished off is a polite way of describing the act of ‘gulleting’ them!
I have completed 17000 kms over the past 97 days and I wanted to service the car before hitting the roads for the home run. I may have just another 5000 kms to do before the entire journey is over. Ashok had located a Maruti Service Station near Connaught Circus. I asked Prateek to do a comprehensive check up and servicing to facilitate the rest of the journey without any hassle. Sometime later he took my permission to change the brake pads and do a ‘jugad’ on the front bumper. By 4 pm the car was serviced and ready to be retrieved. Ashok and I could not believe the transformation the car had undergone. It almost looked new. Apart from the oil and filter change the interiors were given a thorough turning over.
After parking the car for service I reached the Railway Board in Ashok’s vehicle. It was a strange feeling moving around the corridors of the RB with no business to transact other than to meet friends. Some time back many of my batch mates from various departments were in the RB. Now they are either heading Divisions or are Heads of Departments in Zonal Headquarters. I met those I wanted to and reached Ashok’s office in time for lunch. He had arranged for Kulcha and Chole from the Bikaneerwala outlet. The Kulchas were delectable and I had a share of Ashok’s portion too.
Mukul had ascertained from Boota Singh that the body of his son would be taken to the cremation ground at 1500 hours. Even though we reached Boota’s house ahead of the appointed time the entourage had already left for the Lodhi cremation ground. Mukul, Ashok and I went there and paid our respects to the departed soul and did what we could to console the grieving parents. The greatest tragedy for parents is when their children predecease them.
I met Ujjwal Khanna in the St Stephen’s College Residence in 1978. He was staying in Residence despite his family being located in Karol Bagh. He wanted to concentrate on his studies without any interference or disturbance. During the weekends he used to head home and resurface every Monday. How exactly I met him I do not remember now. But I vividly recall the crate of beer he lugged to the Residence one Friday evening after he ascertained from me that I am not averse to an occasional ‘session’. The friendship blossomed in a short while and I became a regular visitor to his Karol Bagh home during weekends, where I was virtually adopted as a son by Uncle and Aunty. I used to go out with Ujjwal and his friends on long drives, sipping a few in the rear seat, and ending up after midnight in a Coffee Shop for a portion of Black Forest Cake. The two families became close friends and my father used to visit Uncle and Aunty, whenever he was in Delhi. Ujjwal and his pretty wife, Miki, were among the few friends to attend my wedding in 1985. With the passage of time and official and personal engagements the contacts reduced but the relationship remained alive. Thus, it was only apt that I spend an evening with Uncle and Aunty in their Ashok Vihar home during the stay over in Delhi. Ujjwal picked me up and on the way appraised me about the health condition of Uncle and Aunty. However, all through the three hours I spent at home Uncle and Aunty were full of conversation and attention. I was happy to see them thus. We discussed many subjects and I was humbled by the knowledge, understanding and wisdom of Uncle. He shared with me the formula his father had for a civilized citizenry – Fear of God, Fear of Government and Fear of Society. Absence of any or all (as is the case now) makes for a boorish and shameless society, which does not live by any positive principles or norms. Phulkas with a liberal dose of desi ghee on them and homemade pickle, rajma, a host of vegetarian fantasies made of potato, cauliflower, peas, and carrot plus rice reduced the gap between the table and the ever expanding belly. To top it all, hot and irresistible carrot halwa chased the previous helpings down the gullet. I relaxed some with Miki’s pugs (‘network follows’ types) before taking leave of Uncle and Aunty. It was not easy. As I was leaving Uncle told me, “Bete, tension math lena” (Son, do not fall prey to tension). Ujjwal and Miki dropped me back at the Rail Niwas and there I took leave of them too. One of the things I thank God for every night before turning in is the wonderful friends He has given me.