Michael Job Centre (MJC) was established in Sulur, in the outskirts of Coimbatore, in 2000 on nearly 50 acres of land. The vision of its founder, Dr PP Job, was empowerment of the girl child. He wanted disadvantaged girls to benefit from education and community life. The facilities at MJC provide for the girl child to move up from Kindergarten to Post Graduation, after which she could move into the wider world for employment. Dr PP Job himself moved up in life from an ordinary foot preacher to an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker. His personal life, however, was shadowed by tragedy. He lost his younger son, Michael, in 1999 to a campus accident in Dehra Dun and the older son, John, succumbed to injuries following a road accident in Dubai in 2007. Dr Job passed away in August 2012 while on a speaking tour in Budapest.
Nearly 300 children are housed and educated in the institution in various courses totally free of cost. Many of them are orphans. What surprised me the most was that the children come from 19 states of the Indian Union; truly an eclectic mix and a tremendous example of national integration. The children are housed in a hostel block – there is a separate block for fee paying children – where each room has 4 twin bunk beds. Each room has a mature age mix so that the older children help the younger ones, from getting them ready for class to cleaning their plates. It is the children who serve in the dining halls and organise all functions in the campus. I was told that the Centre is run on donations, by and large. Even fee paying students pay meagre amounts as tuition fee and no capitation fee is levied even for senior courses. Volunteers from many foreign countries work in the campus and even buy clothes for the children.
MJC is administered as a Trust and Mathew Philip is in charge of its day-to-day functioning as the Deputy CEO. A tough and overpowering responsibility he carries on his shoulders with élan. He has systematised the administration of the institution and turned it into a quasi-professional set up in short time. He has invested quality time for the institution, often times even sacrificing what has been important for his own life. The sincerity of his purpose and the dedicated commitment to the responsibilities vested in him is an example for people in academia to follow. I have followed his work with the Centre closely and hence, when he asked me to address the children in the campus I readily agreed. But when, was the question. Many months had gone by since I agreed to the request and I started feeling increasingly guilty whenever Mathew called me. Therefore, when he called up mid-February to enquire about the expeditions I decided to make a small change in the finalised itinerary. I advanced the departure from Cochin by a day so that I could spend the first night halt at the Centre and address the children. And that is how I came to spend last night at the Centre. Mathew took me around the campus and explained to me the activities of the Centre. Dinner is had by 6.30 pm and lights out is at 9 pm. I partook in the nutritious meal served by the children – seniors serve the younger ones and the staff. Later, children from 8th standard onwards assembled in the auditorium and I interacted with them for about a half hour. Naturally, the subject was travel, values attained through them and exceptional experiences. Many of them evinced lot of interest in travel and the experiences thereof.
When I turned into Hotel Saravana Bhavan by about 6.30 am there was hardly anyone around. This excellent facility on NH 47, just ahead of Salem, is one of my favourite stop overs on the Cochin-Chennai drive. There is ample parking, the staff is extremely courteous, the restaurant is immaculately clean and the food is superb. This morning I asked for idlys and strong coffee. The sambar was so good that I asked for additional helpings and, after a couple of them, they were automatically done! The senior supervisor mentioned that even though the restaurant opens by 6 am the rush hour starts after 7 am.
It being a holiday the roads were relatively free and I made good time to Chennai. Near the toll gate in Chengalpet, Lalu Verghese of HVK Forum affixed the Forum’s sticker on the car. I have been a ‘silent’ member of the Forum for the past few years. However, when I want authentic information on the highways in India I turn to the page of the Forum and I am given answers almost immediately. What lends credibility to the information is that it is based on experience.
I was hungry as a wolf by the time I got to Rosie, my cousin, and Renjith in Annanagar West. The best part was that Tessa, Rosie’s sister, and her three adorable kids were there too. By the time it was time to sit at the table I could only see the chairs; the table was overflowing with food! Rosie is an outstanding cook and the couple so engaging that there is conversation and laughter all the time. A problem with it is that one does not feel the stuffing of the stomach. The meal was topped by the simply stupendous baked chocolate pudding.
Abraham Jacob was my last boss in the railways, when I took voluntary retirement in 2005 from South Western Railway, Hubli. One of the intellectual giants of the Indian Rialways, I feel privileged to have worked with him. It is seniors such as these that shape and define your moments in service. Rosie’s huge meal delayed my appointment with him, who thought that I was lost looking for his place. I spent time with him discussion the London drive, for he said that it was out of step with my character to have taken the two companions along! He found a simple answer to my obsession with planning and execution of the drives that I do, even to the point of irritating companions. He said that with railway experience to back me up, I knew what could fail and planned prudently to ensure that the imponderables are taken care of.
Pius Joseph, Peechappan Uncle to me, and his family have been an integral part of my life since when I was young. He was, arguably, one of the most popular and influential officers ever to ‘don railway colours’. He has a solution for the most complex issues and has been a successful consultant after his illustrious career. In cricket, Shane Warne is considered to be the most astute player that never captained Australia. Similarly, Pius Joseph is unquestionably one of the most brilliant railway officers who never became a General Manager. But, he wielded considerably greater clout; but used it wisely and for the good of the people and the system. His goodness and that of his wife, Mariamma, is possibly the reason why all his children are well placed professionally and personally. All of them, from Theresa to Abraham, carry the inimitable Pius and Mariamma gene that has made them popular and hospitable. This night the halt was in Abraham’s apartment.