Memories of a Receding Past: 25

Training at Saharanpur

The two boys who had accompanied me from Neemuch put me on the Frontier Mail at dead of the night. At Delhi I changed over to Dehra Dun Express.

Steel coaches were yet to come. First class coaches used to be made of wood and used to be four berthers or six berthers. There used to be what used to be known as coupe - a two berther presumably for a family of two. Each of these compartments used to be provided with a toilet and bath, raising the per capita availability of the facilities than what is made available now. With pressure of increasing volume of traffic the railways had to opt for metal coaches hauling a larger number of passengers. The wooden spacious coaches were phased out as more and more metal coaches, known as Swiss pattern, came to be inducted. I mention this since many of the current generation, particularly the millennial may not be aware that we used to have wooden coaches a few decades back. In fact the Indian railways were big users of wood. Apart from the coaches even the sleepers were made of wood. Most of the forests were lost during the British regime because of extensive use of wood by the railways.

The training centre was located in a property that once was that of Ministry of Civil Aviation for the simple reason that Posts & Telegraphs Department (which included Telephones) and Civil Aviation used to be in one and the same ministry. It was a nondescript place with barracks that were probably constructed around the War Time. Thankfully, it was outside the town which was crowded and dirty, generally like any other North Indian town. Saharanpur has been described variously but the catchiest is that “it is a town from yesterday”. 

In those early days we didn’t have a college to train our officers and men of other ranks. The Centre established by the British at Saharanpur used to function as nodal agency for training of supervisory and operative cadres. A Postal Staff College was established at Ghaziabad in 1977 thirty years after independence thus separating the training systems of the two streams.

The Centre had the facilities of all kinds of games. All seven of us of the batch made good use of them. There was cement tennis court where for the first time in my life I played tennis. Sports-wise the Centre was well provided. We played practically every kind of game from football and hockey to badminton and tennis. While on the tennis court we one day, I think it was 20th October 1962, witnessed the massive army movement by rail from Ambala. Troops were being moved right across the country to the North East to meet the Chinese incursions. 

The entire batch came together after a gap of a year and since then we never met again as a batch. This was one great thing about the sojourn in Saharanpur. We met the wife of a batch-mate while another came all by himself leaving his wife back home for reasons, I think, of logistics.

We were there for theoretical training - the training that should have been imparted in the first instance after the Foundation Course at Mussourie. The principal of the Centre was a promoted officer belonging to subordinate services and was pretty committed. He was keen on taking classes but was poor in articulation. For the purposes of the Training Centre he had acquired a tape recorder with huge spools of tape. In those days it was new technology and he was understandably obsessed with it. He asked us to write papers on professional subjects which he then asked us to read out aloud to be recorded in the recorder. When the Member in-charge of training came on a visit he had the best paper of a batch-mate played out.

The Member gave a stirring speech in top class English with a crisp accent to the new recruits to motivate them to contribute to the war effort by opting for the Army Postal Service, a vital arm of the Army. Even till today I wonder how many of those young boys being trained for clerical or suchlike jobs understood him.

The theoretical part is pretty heavy stuff, more so in respect of postal matters. There was nothing for us to while away time except our friend from Shillong, Thang Khumah Tochawng, who used to sing the English numbers that were popular around that time. His favourite singer was Nat “King” Cole and so was mine. He used to regale us with “King” Cole’s numbers. One feels so sorry to say that he is no longer around. He was a great companion and a great friend.

Our other occupation was drinking copious quantities of beer. It was cheap and plentifully available. We would collect enormous numbers of bottles and then one of us would go to the town trade them for more beer bottles. It was great fun – 8 weeks of paid holiday - with friends as add-ons. 

When we were coming away after completion of the training the Director surprisingly praised the batch for its conduct right through the training period. It seems he had had a bad experience with the previous batch which paid scant attention to him. There was a girl in the batch who was rather tom-boyish and the boys would chase her all over the place. The Director found it difficult to bring them to order and behave decently.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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