Memories of a Receding Past: 23

Departmental Training

(I had separately recorded “Reminisecences” of Mussourie in 2011 which was published in the souvenir brought out by the LBS Academy of Asministration, Mussourie on the 50th Anniversary of the Batch)

At Mussourie on conclusion of the Foundational Course I was asked to report to the Post Master General, Central Circle at Nagpur. I had been allotted to the Indian Postal Service, a Service I didn't want to be in. My second brother was already working in it posted as he was in the deep south at Trivandrum. On his advice I did not sit for the two higher papers to qualify for the IAS. I wanted to be in the Railways and had given top preferences to two Railways Services. Unfortunately I was found to be too lean for the Railways and hence I was given my third preference. Since I was from Gwalior I was allotted to the Central Circle which used to exercise its jurisdiction over that part of Madhya Pradesh. With the Circle Headquarters located at Nagpur I headed there after a brief stay with my parents who were at Bhopal with my siblings. A batch-mate of my brother, RK Saiyed, who later became Secretary Posts and adviser to Governor J&K, had come to receive me at the Nagpur station. He took me to a hotel in what appeared to be a residential-cum- commercial area.
Nagpur had its hey days when it used to be the capital of the erstwhile Central Provinces which used to comprise Vidarbha region of Maharashtra and Mahakaushal and Chhattisgarh areas of Madhya Pradesh. It lost all its importance with the reorganisation of states in 1956 and creation of Madhya Pradesh with Bhopal as its capital.
 Those who have seen Nagpur of today wouldn't be able to imagine the kind of sleepy and under-developed place it was half a century ago. On my visit last December I found it to be a bustling place with thriving business and industry. Large number of residential and commercial high rises have come up some of which also house starred hotels. A number of fly-overs have been constructed the enhancing the ease of commuting in the town. It was a decent-sized town earlier but it has expanded further. The only means of public transport earlier was the cycle-rickshaw which continues to be around but it has become far less ubiquitous. Cycle-rickshaws have got tremendous competition from auto rickshaws and a number of taxi services. Bicycles, earlier the mainstay of commuting for the middle classes have been replaced by two and four wheelers. No wonder, traffic jams are as prolific as in tier I and tier II cities. The largely functional small airport has now been enlarged and it gets a number of flights from and for all four directions and it has also become an international airport. All in all there has been a sea change and the city seems to have shaken off its inertia and diffidence and appears far more prosperous than before.

Nagpur GPO where the office of PMG was located on the first floor above the post office is an elegant British era sand stone building with expansive grounds around it and a well-maintained garden in front. Comparatively speaking, PMG's office was a small outfit with an officer in the Sr. Administrative Grade, two in Junior Administrative Grade (a director posts and a director telegraphs - the term telecom was yet to emerge in the general parlance), three Sr. Time Scale officers and a number of Group B officers despite the fact that the circle exercised jurisdiction over the postal systems of Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Rajasthan and the then undivided Madhya Pradesh.

On PMG's advice I soon gave up the hotel accommodation and came over to the MLAs rest house which was mostly vacant as the Assembly was not in session. It was affordable and good. The only peculiarity about it was that its architect took the term "attached bath" too literally and provided only an attached bath with no toilet bowl, Indian or of Western style. He provided a separate block of Indian style toilets a few feet away from my room.
There were two MLAs rest houses - the second one was converted into the Income Tax Training College and hostel. It was good for me as all the probationers of Income Tax Service of my batch were there in the hostel. They were a happy lot and it was a pleasure to be with them. Their hostel became my regular haunt every evening even though I had to move out of the MLAs rest house. It became unaffordable as the Maharashtra Government suddenly raised the rent from Rs 3/- per day to Rs. 6.50. Although I moved out yet I used to go there for my meals. The Andhra cook, one Mr. Nayudu had excellent culinary skills and used to dish out very good fare at very reasonable tariff.

My training commenced with attachments with the GPO, meandering down to subordinate operational office in the old part of the town, to divisional administrative offices including those of Railway Mails Service, Central Telegraph Office and the huge P & T Audit headed then only by a Sr. Deputy Accountant General.

A word about the Central Telegraph Office needs to be said in the current context of the monopoly of Information & Communications Technology in so far as communications is concerned. Half a century back telegraph, which till then had not completed a hundred years in India, was the fastest means of communication. With the advent of Information Technology telegraph has virtually been banished. In India telegraph services were discontinued in 2013. It is still being continued in a few small European countries. In 1960s we were still working on Morse instruments. Sitting on a chair a telegraphist used to tap away on the protruding button. Those days in Nagpur Anglo Indians were still around. They were more or less mainstays of the Railways and telegraph. British seemed to prefer them in these services for strategic reasons. It was fascinating to watch them sitting on a chair tapping away on the Morse instrument with a faraway look and a cigarette dangling from their mouth. There was talk of tele-printers but they were yet to be introduced in Nagpur.

In those days we had even a Jew in the service, David Solomon was the head of the Railway Mails Service (RMS) division. He spoke very good English and was a man of good humour with ready laughter. Another retired officer, another Jew, used to visit him frequently. It was he who, after giving me an interesting lecture on honesty, advised me to lead a "clean" life. 

RMS today has almost disappeared from the Postal landscape. It was a vital wing of the postal system which transmitted messages physically over long distances. There were stationary offices and there were offices that ran in the trains. The work of receiving, sorting and dispatching mails – all were carried out from the mail vans that used to be hauled along with passenger coaches. In heavy sections on trunk routes entire bogies used to be designed as mail carrying and sorting vans. Basically designed by the British, RMS those days used to be more or less a carbon copy of Royal Mails of England.

A quiet town those days there was nothing much to do. I, however, had a roaring time as all the batch mates of the Income Tax Service were there and many of them were very good friends. I used to meet them practically every evening. Then my very old friend from Gwalior, Sharad Dravid, was also around working in NOGA. His father and my father were colleagues in the Victoria College, Gwalior. Sharad's father and his brothers and sisters used to visit us. Sharad used to join us at the College nets. None objected to his playing at the nets as he was very nice and decent person. At Nagpur he was given an accommodation that I found trifle isolated but he did not bother about it. He was there at Nagpur when I lost my father who had come for a stop-over but got a cardiac attack. Sharad later joined Kissan famous for jams and jellies. He never moved away from Bangalore where he got married produced that remarkable son who played cricket for India and also captained the Indian side. Once Sharad went away to Bangalore I never could meet him again as he passed away around a couple years ago. I never could meet his son or wife who, I understand, is an architect.

My father and mother were on their way to Trivandrum where my second brother was posted. They could not make it as father got a heart attack on the day he arrived. Eventually his kidneys failed. Both for the cardiac and nephrological problems nothing could be done as the system of super-specialties was yet to develop. We had access to only GPs and best among them used to be the district civil surgeon.  He came and examined my father with a stethoscope, the only instrument then available to assess the damage done to the heart. He told me to get all the family members who were away from Nagpur as there was not much time left. I paid him his fee of the princely sum Rs. 16/- and sank into depression. It was all over within a week.

At Nagpur I happened to meet a most amazing man. BN Mukerji used to work in the GPO and was known to my second brother who, too, was a probationer at Nagpur. Those few months with Mukerji made us life-long friends. He and his wife became members of my family. When my parents came to Nagpur he helped us in every which way. He was the local chief of one of the unions when I was posted as Director in Nagpur in late 1970s but he neither used his clout as a union chief nor did he use our friendship for his advantage. This tradition was observed by him even when I was at a higher position in Mumbai and had control over the entire states of Maharashtra and Goa in mid eighties. Our association continued till both, his wife and he passed away. He died of cancer of lungs, having been a heavy smoker.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

Top | Memoirs

Views: 3472      Comments: 0

Name *

Email ID

Comment *
Verification Code*

Can't read? Reload

Please fill the above code for verification.