In October 1957 when I was enjoying the Diwali vacation in Nagarjuna Sagar in the company of my fiancée and her family, we were interrupted by the arrival of my appointment orders for the Central Services. The appointment orders issued by the Ministry of Railways declared that, based on the results of the Central Services examinations conducted by Union Public Service Commission, I had been appointed as an officer of the Superior Revenue Establishment of the Traffic (Transportation) and Commercial Establishments of Indian Railways. It sounded rather confusing, obscure and unduly long. Unlike IAS, IPS, IRAS and IRSE it did not specify the name of the Service. I was tenth in a list of thirty-seven candidates listed in the appointment orders. We were to learn later that it was known as TT & CD in the railways and that it had no service name like the others. The orders directed me to report to General Manager, Eastern Railway at 17 Netaji Subhas Road, Calcutta. Enclosed was a first class pass for my travel from Jabalpur to Howrah. I submitted my resignation to Principal MMV when I returned to Jabalpur after the holidays and requested him to relieve me on the first of November so that I could draw my salary for October. I left Jabalpur the next afternoon by the Bombay Calcutta mail reaching Howrah on Sunday, November 3.
It was my first visit to Kolkata, a city we had heard about from our childhood. My father worked on the BNR which had its headquarters in Calcutta. The newspapers we got at home were Amrita Bazaar Patrika and Advance, both from Calcutta. I was familiar with names of localities in Calcutta like Ballygunge, Shyambazar, Chowringhee and the river Hooghly. I was thrilled at the thought that I was in Kolkata as I alighted on the platform of Howrah station. I went to the waiting room for a wash and leaving my luggage in the care of the attendant, went around the station premises and came out of the building to see the Howrah Bridge and take a walk to the other side. Most of the shops were closed as it was a Sunday. Towards the evening I accosted a hotel canvasser at the station and booked myself in a cheap hotel off Central Avenue. The hotel was much like the one in the 2012 movie Kahani that promises supply of running hot water but when the heroine asks for it the manager tells the hotel boy to run up the stairs with a bucket of hot water!
Next morning, that is, on 4th November 1957, I dressed myself in a suit, took a taxi to Dalhousie Square and entered the premises of the Eastern Railway. Vehicles were moving in and out by the main gate, while pedestrians were using a side entrance leading into a corridor. I followed them and finding a security desk there, showed my appointment order and demanded to see the General Manager. As the sentry took my papers and called someone in the office, I noticed another young man, dressed like me standing nearby. We stood out because we were the only ones in the crowd in that uncomfortable attire, braving the heat and humidity of the city. He asked me if I had come to join the railway. When I nodded, he told me that he too had come for the same purpose. To our mutual pleasure we discovered that we were batch-mates. His name was Rabindra Dutt Saklani and he had come from Simla. The sentry directed us to meet Personnel Officer (Traffic), which made no sense to us because we were advised to meet the GM in our appointment orders. We tried to convince the sentry that we had to see the GM. After all, we had dressed up to impress the GM not some POT. But he politely told us to follow the peon who had been deputed to escort us.
The PO (T) turned out to be an acerbic, impolite promoted officer, named Pasricha. He treated us as a nuisance and an unwanted disturbance in his work. He took our appointment orders, waved us aside and summoned his head clerk, while we remained standing. Pasricha gave the appointment orders to the bada babu, who came hurriedly, and told us rudely to wait outside while the office got our papers ready. We meekly followed Ghosh Babu, for that was the name of the head clerk, to his seat.
Ghosh Babu was a much better person. He made us sit down, got us drinks and while he worked on our papers, made polite enquiries about our arrival and stay. He was aghast to hear that we were put up in hotels in an area which was full of thieves and charlatans. He told us to move out from there immediately and undertook to find accommodation for us in the railway rest house in Sealdah. He made us sign the necessary applications and in a short time we were equipped both with our training papers and rest house allotment papers. We were then taken to meet the Chief Operating Superintendent (COPS), who was the head of the department. The name board on the folding doors of PA to COPS read Mrs Falloons but the person sitting there was a dark South Indian called Mahadevan. Ghosh babu told us that madam was on leave and that Mahadevan was a senior steno to the COPS. We were told that Mr. Khandelwal was the COPS. Mahadevan got us seated and went to inform his boss about us. He returned and led us to the imposing doors of the COPS's room. A brass plate on the door read Kirpal Singh. As we entered, we found a simple looking person, dressed in a khadi Jodhpuri coat, sitting across the table and an imposing gentleman in a suit sitting opposite him. Saklani assumed that the latter was the COPS and wished him, only to be told that the other man was the boss we had gone to meet. It was a brief meeting, just a welcome, and good wishes and we were back in the corridor. GD Khandelwal, Divisional Superintendent, Dinapore was standing in for Kripal Singh.
We were now anointed as probationers. We were referred to as TT & CD probationers. We were told that we could call ourselves Probationary Assistant Traffic Superintendents, abbreviated to Prob ATS. When I conveyed this to my family and friends, one of my friends known for his sense of humour replied that it meant I was probably ATS! Some others thought we belonged to the Train Ticket Collector’s Department.
In the afternoon, we reported to the Principal of the Traffic Training School in Sealdah, where we were to undergo the first part of training, theory and rules of working for guards and assistant station masters. Three of our batch-mates, Virendra Saksena, R Krishnaswami and George Koshy had joined earlier. Later we met the DCS and got our rooms allotted in the rest house there and that evening we shifted to the rest house. Two days later Romesh Chowdhury also from Simla, joined us in the School and shared the rest house with us. We would go to a hotel on Harrison Road (Mahatma Gandhi Road) for lunch and in the evenings, look around Esplanade area and eat at one of the Punjabi hotels or try out Chinese food. The training at the Traffic Training School lasted for two months after which we were allotted to Divisions for further training. Ashutosh Roy, Supdt TTS was a kind promoted officer and Transportation Instructor, Sengupta impressed us with his teaching skills. At the end of this training, we were assigned different divisions for further training. I was asked to go to Dhanbad.
There was no Officers’ Rest house at Dhanbad. I was directed to the Drivers and Guards Running Room which had a separate room for officers. Dhanbad was a subdivision of Asansol division with only a few offices. The office building resembled a post graduate section of a university rather than a government office. It was in the shape of an inverted 'U' with three single storied blocks spanning three sides of an open quadrangle. The Divisional Superintendent (Trasportation), abbreviated to DVS, lorded over the central portion, while the Divisional Operating Superintendent (DOS) and Divisional Mechanical Engineer (DME) ruled the wings.
Unaware of the routine of a DOS, I landed at his door promptly at 10 AM only to be told that he was busy in the control office. I met his assistant, the AOS (General) CC Sinha, a promoted officer, and waited in his room patiently until the DOS, Dev Mahadevan arrived around noon. Sinha informed him about me but Mahadevan told Sinha that he was busy and would see me later. He did not call me till after 5 PM and then asked me to see him the next day as the office was closed! I was upset that the man lacked the common courtesy of greeting a newcomer. On the other hand, Sinha was kind and helpful and even apologetic on behalf of his boss. The next day I got my training programme after meeting SP Chatterji, the DVS. It was practical training to work as a guard on different types of trains over a month.
There were strict orders from Railway Board about the training of probationary officers and the need to make sure that they made full use of their training period to learn the basics of railway working. Most of the officers who were entrusted with the training of probationary officers took this to mean that the trainees were to be denied even casual leave they were entitled to avail each year. Probationers were given the last priority for allotment of rooms in Officers’ Rest Houses. Although there were no specific instructions on the subject, probationers were expected to remain unmarried or stay alone if they were married.
An amusing incident occurred at Howrah station one day when the Divisional Superintendent, who was fond of surprise inspections in the early hours of the morning, decided to check the Officers' Rest House. Ignoring the warning of the Dy Station Superintendent that the room was occupied by probationary officers, he knocked at the door of the room and was greeted with a series of choice Punjabi abuses before the door opened. A shocked Reddy saw a tall, slim Sardarji standing at the opening, dressed only in a Kutchha. Behind him were six or seven young men lolling on the lone bed in different stages of undress. The DS made an about turn and a quick exit and poured out his ire in the inspection note that followed. The young Sardar and his roommates were my batch mates from SE Railway.
Social life in Dhanbad was very limited. It was a small town with just one regular cinema hall. We had to go to Jharia, seven km away, which had three cinema halls. There was no club for officers but there were two railway institutes, the Junior Railway Institute, known as the Indian Institute during British rule, that showed Hindi and Bengali films daily, and the Senior Institute, successor to the European Institute of British times. Out of bounds for natives under British rule, they were dominated by Anglo Indians until most of them migrated to Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries in the 1960s. It showed English films, thrice a week and had other social activities. The railway restaurant was almost the only refuge for food.
Officers played badminton thrice a week in open air courts in the lawns of their bungalows, by turns. Here I made new friends. SN Hukku, a garrulous Kashmiri Pandit was also a trainee like me but much older. He was an Assistant Yard Master in Dhanbad selected as a temporary Assistant Transportation Officer (ATO) by UPSC. He was a state level badminton player and was on good terms with the staff as well as officers in Dhanbad. He was of great help in my training and in other matters. Madira Ramakrishna from Vizag was a statistician in the Directorate General of Mines Safety. ARS Rao IRSE from Cuttack was Assistant Engineer (AEN) Dhanbad. VCV Chenulu was Divisional Assistant Electrical Engineer (DAEE) Asansol, which meant that he held the charge of a branch officer although he drew the salary of as an Assistant Officer. His wife Shyamala had graduated from Presidency College Madras, where she was Tennis champion.
In January 1958, I was asked to report to Railway Staff College Baroda for the first phase of training in Railway Transportation. There I met my batch-mates who had hitherto been just names in my order of appointment. Most of them introduced themselves so there was no problem in identifying them. For others, we would wait to hear the name to which they responded on the roll call. At this time, I could converse with the North Indians in my batch in a mixture of Hindi and Urdu, interspersed with Urdu couplets. A few days after our training began one of the officers in the class accosted me in the tea break.
“Your name cannot be Ramarao” he said with an expression of incredulity.
Noticing that I was taken aback, he explained, with a smile,
“I am Narayan Kumar Sinha. I have been watching you for the last three days. From your diction I assumed you are a Muslim from Aligarh. But there is no Muslim in our list so I wondered who you could be. Today, I watched you responding to the roll call and was surprised to find you saying “yes” to the call of Ramarao. I still can't believe my ears.”
I thanked him for the compliment and told him how I had acquired my proficiency in Hindi and Urdu.
Railway Staff College's was housed in Maharaja Pratapsingh Rao Gaekwad's palace. Offices and classrooms were in the ground floor of the palace. The Principal and some of the instructors also had their quarters within the palace. The non-vegetarian mess used the kitchen and dining hall annexed to the palace. Some of the trainees were provided rooms in the ground floor of the palace. The rest of us, as well as the vegetarian mess were in army barracks, constructed in the palace grounds during the Second World War. Rooms were separated by eight-foot high, single brick partitions with wire grids extending up to the asbestos roofs. There was thus no real privacy, as the sounds from each room echoed through the whole barrack. I liked to sing to myself and found all the officers in the barrack listening in and commenting.
Social life was confined to the campus as the Palace was well outside the city. There was a beautiful park close to the Pratap Singh Rao Palace where trainees spent their time in the evenings, divided into small groups of 6 to 8 officers. Apart from chatting, there would be singing sessions and friends in my group, that included Ishwar Saran and Krishna Murari Bhargava, would ask me to sing their favourite numbers. Occasionally, we would go out to see a film or have ice cream in one of the joints in the nearest market. There was a recreation centre where we played table tennis. There was a billiards table where I learnt the rudiments of the game and a cards table which was well occupied by bridge addicts. I didn't play bridge, for which I had my own reasons.
My father was fond of Bridge to the point of addiction. The others in his bridge group, who played the game with high stakes, were merchants, dalals and well-paid employees of industries in the area who could well afford losses. When I was about eight years old, my father landed a high loss well beyond his means. My mother berated him for forgetting his responsibility to his family, particularly to their school going children. She made him take a solemn oath on the heads of the children never to play cards. Chastened by the loss and her determined stand, my father acceded to her wish and abjured cards altogether for over two decades. When I was preparing for the IAS examinations, my friend Balu Dhande, lecturer in Physics in MMV, was also a candidate so sometimes he and I would get together for studying our common subjects. Balu had lost his mother in boyhood, so he grew up with his father and brother who liked to play bridge. They would often keep Balu involved with these family bridge sessions. Dhande's obsessive preoccupation with bridge took its toll on his preparation and he did not perform as well as he was capable of. Based on these experiences, I had decided to avoid playing bridge.
Nevertheless, I liked to see the moves so I would sit and watch the game sometimes. There was a notion, actively spread by our seniors, that to be a good operating officer one had necessarily to be a good bridge player. One day when I went to the recreation centre, I found a threesome, including our transportation instructor Ananta Narayanan, waiting for the fourth player. On sighting me Ananta Narayanan invited me to join but I declined saying that I don't play bridge. He said, with a show of annoyance,
“If you don't play bridge, how do you expect to be a good operating officer?”
I didn't like the way he said it, so I told him,
“I expect to be a good operating officer without having to play bridge, Sir.”
After that I never played bridge but held all the important operations posts in a major railway zone like the Eastern Railway successfully, including that of Chief Operating Superintendent.
Except for a lone IRAS officer called Kusum Mittal, all the trainees were male. Only a few of them were married or, like me, engaged to be married but the rest were bachelors who craved for female company. The only place where they could find women on the campus was on the outdoor badminton courts had been set up in the paved courtyard of the Pratap Singh Rao palace. Here, staff members and their families would assemble and intermingle with the trainees. Most of the women were matrons, their brood in tow, but there were a few college going girls among them.
When we joined Railway Staff College, there was another group under training. They were a mix of officers of our batch from CR and WR and IRAS and IRSEE officers a year senior to us. They left after a fortnight and were replaced by our seniors in TT & CD in full strength. They had come for their second phase in Railway Staff College. Thus, at one time there were 101 TT & CD officers in RSC. Many of our seniors were quite boisterous and gave the Railway Staff College faculty a hard time with their pranks.
When the course was completed, I returned to Dhanbad to complete the part of the training that had been interrupted by the RSC course. Here I met two TT & CD officers of my senior batch, who had been sharing the running room until my arrival. They welcomed me and made me feel at home. Brij Mohan Khanna was a refugee from West Punjab. He had lived in refugee camps near Delhi and had read in Delhi. Maheshwar Dayal Mathur was from Meerut near Delhi. Both had highly developed sense of humour. Mathur’s conversation was lined with sparkling wit. We also met other senior probationers, Ranjit Mathur and CM Kulshrestha of 1954 batch and SK Basu, KL Thapar, NC Gupta, TD Bhatia and MB Taly of 1955 batch. Bhatia was also from Nagpur, but our paths had not crossed there.
Later in the year some more probationers from my batch joined the Eastern Railway. MMP Sinha joined in Dinapore, Mata Prasad Shrivastava and Sushil Kumar were allotted for training to Asansol Division and Krishna Chandra Verma to Dhanbad. Towards the end of the year, probationers from the next batch joined us. PV Vaitheeswaran and Pius Joseph, who were allotted to North Eastern Railway and Northeast Frontier Railway respectively, were sent for training to Eastern Railway. Joseph went to Asansol while Vaitheeswaran and Pran Nath Kalra, allotted to Eastern Railway joined me in Dhanbad. SK Singh joined in Dinapore.
My wedding date was fixed on May 11, 1958 in Tirupati. I needed to take about fifteen days off for the wedding, because I had to travel to Nagpur and Guntur before the wedding and return via Nagpur where my father had organised a wedding reception. When I met Mahadevan and asked for leave he was unhappy.
“How can you ask for so much leave?” he blurted out.
When I told him that it was for my own wedding, he said,
“OK, you come back in three days.”
I had to tell him that the travelling time to Tirupati and back alone would exceed three days. Unable to decide on his own, he dashed off to see the DVS and told me on his return that the DVS had agreed to grant me only 10 days leave.
I distributed my wedding invitation cards to my friends and officials in Dhanbad and Asansol. When I gave the invitation card to Chenulus, Shyamala Chenulu was upset because she had earmarked me for one of her cousins! When I told them about my bride to be, they invited me to our first meal in their house on our return to Asansol.
I returned to Dhanbad along with my bride before the expiry of my leave. I had made no plans on where we were going to stay. There was no Rest House for officers and the Running Room was not suitable for a family. I did not feel comfortable to leave my wife Indu alone in the station waiting room. Instead, I took her with me to the office of DOS, introduced her to Mahadevan and told him that we needed a place to stay. It was not usual to take the wife to the office and Mahadevan seemed upset at my audacity, but he said nothing in deference to my wife. He said he would have to consult the DVS. While I was away in Baroda, SP Chatterjee had been replaced by AK Sarkar. Mahadevan returned after some time and announced that a part of a vacant bungalow would be allotted to me on the strict condition that I would vacate it at the end of one month when the officer for whom the bungalow was meant reported for duty. I had no problem as my next phase of training, which would begin in a month, was to be in Calcutta. Later, when Indu and I met the DVS at a dinner, he asked me to send her away to her parents as she would be a distraction to my training.
The house we moved into was the smaller portion of a partitioned bungalow, but it was huge for us, as all our worldly possessions consisted of our clothes, bedding and a trunk load of kitchen utensils and equipment my mother had packed for us. The house had a large living room and an equally large bedroom, with an attached bathroom equipped with a bathtub and shower. There were wide verandas on both sides, the rear one leading up to a kitchen, with a pantry and store. For our bed, we borrowed a charpoy from ARS Rao and hired a folding steel table and chairs for dining and a sofa set for the living room. There were no curtains but the openings into the veranda had double doors, the outside spring-loaded doors covered with wire mesh for protection from mosquitoes.
My training at the time consisted of learning station accounts and it meant going with the Travelling Inspector of Accounts (TI (A)) to small railway stations in his beat to scrutinize the commercial records of the stations. We set out by an all stop passenger train that left Dhanbad at 6 AM and alighted at the station selected for inspection. When the work was completed, we would board another train to go to the next station on the TI (A)'s list and return to Dhanbad late in the afternoon. My days-old bride had to get both my breakfast and lunch ready and packed before I left and wait for me all alone till I returned, with no one to talk to, and unaware of the local language. To make matters worse, the summer of 1958 was one of the most severe in Dhanbad. Having grown up in hot places like Nagpur and Guntur, where the mercury rose to 119 to 122 degrees Fahrenheit every summer, we were not unused to severe summers. Nagpur summers are dry, while Guntur summers are humid and sticky. Here in Dhanbad there was the extra heat from the coke ovens near every coal mine around the city and the incessant fire in the coal seams near Jharia.
After I left for work, Indu would finish an early meal and pour several buckets of water on the floor of the bedroom, before settling down on the bed with the fan rotating at full speed. That was the only way she could beat the heat. She also had trouble with lighting the stove in the mornings. She managed with an electric stove that had been gifted to us but, used to firewood and charcoal as she was in Guntur, she had no clue about lighting the angithis using soft coke, common in the north. I showed her how to do it but mostly she depended on the maid servant with whom she communicated through gestures. In between we were invited by some of my colleagues for meals and it gave Indu a chance to make new acquaintances.
After a month, I had to shift to Calcutta for my training in Traffic Accounts. Radhakanta Basu, DCS Sealdah was good enough to allot me a room with a kitchen attached in the rest house and we happily settled ourselves there. Saklani and Romesh, who had also moved to Calcutta, shared another room. When I finished this training and it was time to move back to Dhanbad for training in railway operations, I sent Indu to stay with my parents and returned to Dhanbad for the next phase of my training. Indu joined me later in Dhanbad where I rented a small two roomed unit within walking distance of the railway station.
As per orders of the Railway Board, the DS had to interview trainee officers once every quarter, check their progress and guide them wherever it was required. AK Sarkar took this very seriously and I had to meet him punctually at 10 AM on the prescribed date. I would find him waiting for me when I went to his room. I used to keep detailed notes with sketches of the yards and cabins I visited. Sarkar would read my notes carefully, comment on them and ask questions about what I was learning. I would answer most questions correctly but if I erred, Sarkar would take pains to clear my doubts. I found these interactions very rewarding. A couple of months later, we met the DVS at a dinner party. When he saw my wife, he exclaimed in surprise, “You are still here?” She told him calmly that we had been living in a rented house for the past few months. When he spoke to me about it, I reminded him that her presence had not affected my training.
Unlike AK Sarkar, who went out of the way to check on my training, no one seems to have ensured the continuous presence of the probationer at the assigned location for training. Except for a few sincere trainees, the rest considered it their right to disappear for long periods, often misusing their free privilege passes in the process. One probationer would leave Dhanbad by the early afternoon train every Friday (this was before government adopted the five-day week) and return just before noon on the following Tuesday. Another would leave an application for casual leave with the AOS, under instructions to show it if the bosses asked for him, and then push off to his hometown, reappearing only after several months.
Both the Divisional Operating Superintendents of Asansol and Dhanbad (on Eastern Railway they were known as DOS (T)s) found no time for probationers. In Dhanbad, the only time I met him in the office was for getting a training programme issued. Sometimes we met in official parties or on the badminton court. I would collect my training program from the office of DOS (T) Dhanbad and meet the Senior Supervisors from whom I would learn the work. Station Masters, Yard Masters, Booking Clerks or Goods Clerks, they were all kind and courteous and helped me in every way to grasp the intricacies of railway working. In 1959, D Mahadevan was transferred to Bilaspur and, replaced by GC Lahiri.
In Asansol, the position was different. In the late 1950s, additional posts of DOSs were created for major divisions of Indian Railways to reduce the workload of the existing operating officers and keep them free to concentrate on railway operations. On Eastern Railway, a new post of Divisional Operating Superintendent (General) or DOS (G) was created in Howrah, Asansol and Dinapore divisions. Training of traffic probationers was entrusted to the DOS (G)s. The incumbent in Asansol division was originally from the Nizam State Railway and belonged to a family of the Nizam's noblemen known for their courtesy and etiquette. He had these attributes amply but chose to display them only after office hours. At work Shahid Ali Khan could be unbearably rude and inconsiderate.
In May 1958 I reported to Shahid Ali Khan along with my batch mates, Romesh Choudhury and Rabindra Saklani for training on coal pilots on Asansol Division. While we stood in front of him, he told us that he knew we were used to neglecting our training and not completing our assigned tasks. He said he was giving us a tough program and would keep track of our progress. We better follow the instructions or else. He gave us our training schedules and dismissed us. The threat was based on our conditions of appointment which gave the railway administration the right to extend our probation or terminate our appointments if our conduct or performance was found inadequate.
In Eastern Railway the term “pilot” is used to denote a shunting train that serves industrial sidings. Coal pilots serve colliery sidings, of which there were over 300 in Asansol Division. It was the peak of summer and the program required us to travel on the specified coal pilots during the month. Pilots originated from serving depots – marshalling yards – early in the morning and returned to the depots late in the afternoon. We would thus be exposed to the sun the whole day traveling on steam locos or in the guard's steel and wood brake vans. All three of us were committed to our training so we resented Shahid Ali Khan's diatribe about our conduct. We completed the assignment without missing a single item. When we reported back to Shahid Ali Khan, there was no praise for the hard work or enquiries about the physical hardship of the work. We learnt a lot about coal pilots, and more about treatment of probationers.
This was the lesson I remembered when I was posted as DOS (G) Asansol in 1962 and resolved to treat probationers as officers and human beings. In the course of our training we met many of our seniors. While most of them were cordial and courteous, PP Ayyar, KK Das and D Hariram were very friendly and went out of the way to make us feel comfortable. They became our role models for treating our juniors.
I was called to Railway Staff College Baroda for the second phase of theoretical training in January 1959. I sent my wife who was in in an advanced stage of pregnancy to her parents for her confinement before proceeding to Baroda. Thanks to my batch mates from Eastern Railway, it became common knowledge in the Railway Staff College that I would soon become a father. My close friends would ask me about it, expectantly, each time they saw a letter from my wife.
Our course came to an end on the morning of Saturday March 7, 1959. That evening there was a group photograph and valedictory function followed by a farewell party for our batch, with YP Kulkarni, Additional Member (Staff), Railway Board as the chief guest. I got ready for the function and when I began to walk towards the venue with a few friends, one of my batch mates came from the opposite side and handed me a telegram. It was already open and somewhat soiled. I read it and told my friends I was blessed with a son on the previous day. They all congratulated me and as I proceeded further, everyone I met on the way congratulated me. The news had spread across the campus. When I arrived at the gate of the hall, where the function was to take place, some of my friends sitting inside saw me and made a bee line for the gate to shake my hand in felicitation. AV D’Souza, Principal Railway Staff College and Kulkarni, AMS, who were already there, enquired about the cause of the commotion and when they heard the news called me over to congratulate me personally. I was overwhelmed to find my first born blessed by so many people.
My wife Indu was scheduled to join me when the child entered his third month. I had vacated the rented house in Dhanbad when Indu went for her confinement, so I was once again on the lookout for a place to stay. Meanwhile, SN Hukku had completed his training and had been posted as AOS Dhanbad. Before he vacated his railway quarter to move into an officer’s bungalow, he persuaded AK Sarkar to allot it to me. Sarkar imposed a condition that the quarter would be shared by all Traffic probationers. The Type II house had two bedrooms but only one bathroom and kitchen. There were four of us, including two from the next batch, three of whom including me were married. So, we were forced to share the house taking turns based on our training schedules, leaving the lone bachelor in the cold.
The last phase of my training was in the headquarters offices in Calcutta. Out of the six traffic probationers who had had joined in October-November 1957, I was the only one with a family. The rest stayed in the rest house or with friends. I managed to rent a house in Dhakuria in South Calcutta. A small window in the rear of the house opened on to a pukur that bred mosquitoes so profusely that a horde of them would enter the house at dusk, unless we had taken care to keep the window closed.
Training in the offices of COPS and CCS was light but interesting. We read several reports of enquiries into accidents conducted by the Government Inspector of Railways (GIR) under the Ministry of Transport (later re-designated as Commissioner of Railway Safety – CRS). We studied serial circulars issued on punctuality of passenger trains and safety of train running by KK Mukherjee when he was Dy COPS (Coaching), Safety was a subject under COPS and handled Dy COPS (Coaching).
In the Commercial department we learnt about rating policies, settlement of claims, passenger amenities etc. and read the report of the Railway Corruption Enquiry Committee headed by Acharya JB Kripalani. It was well known that many booking clerks overcharged passengers buying tickets and that ticket checking staff often collected bribes to let off ticketless travellers. VT Narayanan, Chief Commercial Superintendent asked TT & CD probationers to travel in cognito over the railway and report cases of such malpractices. Based on our reports, a number of commercial staff were summarily dismissed from service.
At the end of our training period we were examined by a panel of senior officers to certify that we had completed our training successfully and were fit to assume charge of a working post. All but one of my batch mates took their training seriously. The lone exception believed in having a good time. Absenting himself most of the time, he would make up by trying to please his seniors with a mix of bluff, blatant flattery and name dropping. By this means he got through the exams in Railway Staff College Baroda and playing on the indulgence of our seniors, who were reluctant to harm a class I officer, he managed to come through his training period unscathed. He never maintained notes of his training in different areas.
When the final examination drew near, he begged me and others to lend him our notes. He arrived for our final interview looking very presentable, neatly dressed in suit and tie and holding in his hand, not a matching briefcase, but a bundle of papers tied in a white sheet. He had, obviously, hired some low paid clerk in the office to copy the notes for him. When he entered the interview chamber carrying the bundle with him, the board members were not amused by the cheap gimmick. They put him in his place by asking him some basic questions that he failed to answer. But they stopped short of extending his training period.
BLC Sastri, Dy COPS (Goods), who chaired the interview panel told me that I had topped the batch in my performance. He counselled me to keep in mind that learning is a continuous process and wished me luck in my career. Romesh Choudhury also did very well in the interview. We were very keen to be posted in operations and we expected that after our performance in the interview, we would have been the first to be chosen for the Operating Department. Anand Mohan, who had become COPS when Kripal Singh was promoted to General Manager Eastern Railway in 1958 had a stand-off approach for probationers. He also trusted promoted officers more than directly recruited officers. He displayed his preference for them when he refused to post any of us in the operating department. In contrast, VT Narayanan was very kind and approachable. He gladly took all of us in the Commercial Department, taking care to assess our abilities and our needs accurately before deciding our first place of posting.