In November 1963, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru travelled to Chittaranjan Locomotive Works to inaugurate the first 25 KVA electric locomotive manufactured in India. He named it Bidhan in honour of the popular first Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy. The PM travelled from Howrah to Chittaranjan in his special coach attached to a special train arranged for the occasion. As per protocol, the DME and DOS of each division had to escort the train within their jurisdictions. I was, accordingly, deputed to escort the train from Durgapur to Chittaranjan and back. Special trains of the President and Prime Minister were manned by the best staff in the railway. Neatly turned out in their uniforms and equipped with brand new flags, they took pride in escorting the VIPs. The driver had to be an expert in stopping the train with precision to align the door of the VIP coach with position of the red carpet laid for the VIP, apart from ensuring punctuality and giving the honoured guest a smooth ride.
I had seen Jawaharlal Nehru several times before, starting from my school days. He had come to Nagpur in 1945 on his way to Wardha. When we heard that his route was close to our school, all the students and teachers rushed to see him. He alighted from his car and ran a brace so that his followers could see him. We all ran alongside, trying to keep pace with him. We were in awe of his energy and popularity with the masses. This feeling had stayed with me each time I saw him later but this time he looked a changed man. He had slowed down and a wore a glassy, dull expression. The events of the last one year, the war with China, severe setbacks for his party in by elections to the parliament and a mild stroke, had taken a toll of his health. The question, “After Nehru, who?” was in the air. I felt saddened to think that this may be the last time I was seeing him.
As we all feared, Nehru's suffered a stroke during the Bhubaneswar session of the All India Congress Committee in January 1964. He recovered from it partially but had to depend heavily on Lal Bahadur Sastri, the Minister without portfolio, until his death on 27th May 1964. The reins of power passed to Lal Bahadur Sastri in due course, upstaging Finance Minister Morarji Desai and Home Minister Gulzari Lal Nanda. My last act of homage to the great man was to escort the special train carrying his ashes to Calcutta for immersion in the Ganges. The special train halted at important stations where local people and political leaders gathered to pay their respects. Throughout the run of the train, well known musicians and singers continuously recited prayers and mournful numbers, creating an aura of sorrow.
In January 1965, the All India Congress Committee session was held in Durgapur. To deal with the influx of delegates, a temporary railway station was set up near the site of the session a few km from Durgapur and special trains were received and despatched from this station. Many officers were assigned different tasks to make the operations smooth and make the journey of the delegates including VIPs comfortable. Among the young officers deputed to the session, Dyutish Sarkar APRO and JN Wadhera, ACS Reservations impressed everyone with their sincerity and efficiency. This was the first AICC session without Nehru. Following election setbacks in 1963, on the advice of Congress President K Kamaraj, Nehru had asked all but a few of his ministers to resign and take up party work. We saw people like Morarji Desai, Babu Jagjivan Ram and Kamalapati Tripathi, shorn of their official eminence, walking humbly to their compartments on the trains. The power and influence of Atulya Ghosh, the king maker from Bengal was very much in evidence.
As the Divisional Safety Officer, my work touched every department. I was fortunate to get the cooperation of all in the discharge of my duties. MK Sinha was followed by HP Tayal IRSME. Anirudh Mittal was AME. TN Lal DMEs (Carriage & Wagon) was a great help at accident sites because of his long experience, as was his successor Asthana. MV Bapat DSTE was the nephew of SR Gokhale a senior IRTS officer who succeeded R Jagannadhan as TS (Safety). His wife Asha was from Nagpur and we found many mutual acquaintances. Mohan D David ASTE and his wife Shakuntala became our close friends. Mohan was a dependable colleague. VK Chaudhury DEE was unassuming while K Janakiraman DEE was outspoken and combative getting nicknamed Jaan ki Maaran. Despite our differences in the accident case mentioned, Dina Nath Singh remained a constant friend. DENs BK Bannerjee and PN Roy were always friendly and helpful. A Bhima Rao and SK Sinha AENs, K Balasubramanian AOS (Steel) and many others made my work easy, worthwhile and enjoyable.
The day I occupied the chair of DOS (G) Asansol I recalled how Shahid Ali Khan had treated me and my batch mates when we were under training and resolved not to behave like him. One day when I came to my office chamber after spending the first hour in the control office, I found two youngsters dressed in suits waiting outside the chamber of SP Mondal, AOS (G). When asked, they told me that they were traffic probationers waiting to see DOS(G). I took them to my chamber and put them at ease. Ashim Mitra and Makhan Chatterjee told me that they had come the previous day and were told that I was out of station. They had met Bhaduri, who had painted a dismal picture of working in railways that had left them doubting their decision to join Indian Railways. I allayed their fears and took them under my wing. I personally escorted them to different places, explained the working and cleared their doubts. They did very well in later years, making me proud of having been their first guru.
In 1964, we shifted to an independent bungalow that got vacated when several officers moved to Dhanbad which had been elevated to a full-fledged division. Soon afterwards RS Ramachandra Rao, joined the division as DEN 2. Since there was no vacant bungalow for him, Indu and I offered to accommodate him and his family in our bungalow. We had a common kitchen and his wife Sita and three children became part of the family. Not long afterwards, BM Khanna was posted as DPO and he too needed a place to stay. We gave him a room in the other wing, so we were three families in the same bungalow for some time.
Shakuntala Sastri was fond of Karnatak music and when she heard Indu sing in the privacy of our house, she decided to ask her to sing in the Railway Officers’ Club. Since leaving Guntur, Indu had found no chance to practice singing and hone her skills. In Asansol and Dhanbad and even in Calcutta it was difficult to catch south Indian stations of All India Radio to hear classical music. In Asansol, I bought a record player and a few records that were our only link with south Indian music. The first time Indu sang in the club, she chose the Thyagaraja krithi O Rama Rama Jesinadela Marachitivo. When she finished singing everybody clapped politely and Dr A Mitra, DMO stood up to say that all he understood of the song was Mrs Ramarao calling Ramarao, Ramarao. He meant it as a joke but Indu was very upset that there was none to appreciate the music and so resolved not to sing Karnatak music in the club. I coached her to sing some Hindi songs instead. Her rendering of Aapki Nazaron Ne Samjha and Nuktachin Hai Ghamedil were applauded and she added more songs to her repertoire as time passed.
The major off-job activity at this time was the work of the Andhra Saraswata Sangham. A few months into our stay in Asansol, GV Subrahmanyam, who had moved to DBK Railway Project, came to Asansol to attend court summons on a case that had occurred when he was DAO Asansol. One day an Electrical Foreman called Sarma turned up to meet GV. GV introduced Sarma saying he was the Secretary of Andhra Saraswata Sangham. I expressed my surprise to hear that such a body existed. Sarma told me that he was not sure whether I was from Andhra and secondly, he did not know whether I would entertain him. GV told me that RM Sastri, DEN 1, President of the Sangham did not see the secretary without a prior appointment! GV urged me to take a hand in the running the Association. I asked Sarma to return later with others in the Association and our attachment to the Asansol Andhras began.
When Ganesh Puja arrived soon afterwards, the Sangham organized a Puja in our bungalow, attended among others by MC Das, DPO and Akella Venkata Rao, AEE (TRD). We made new friends in, DSJ Rao, a refractories specialist with Bird and Co. at Kumardubi, CV Chellam a glass technologist with Hindusthan Pilkington, Kartikeya Prasad, a nephew of the legendary Kasinadhuni Nageswara Rao, founder of Andhra Patrika, working for LIC, BS Harinath and VV Rao from Indian Iron and Steel Plant in Burnpur. When a new Executive Committee was elected, DSJ Rao became President and I became Vice President, with Prasad as Secretary and Harinath as the Jt. Secretary. Our activities included conducting Pujas, arranging to project Telugu films in Durand Institute, organizing annual picnic and expanding membership. We were very successful, extending membership to include every Telugu person from Thaparnagar, close to Dhanbad in the West, to Durgapur in the East. Durgapur Steel Plant had its own Association.
Following the war with China, the government set up a National Defence Fund (NDF) to receive voluntary donations for welfare of defence personnel and their families with the Prime Minister as chairman. Programmes were organised across the country to raise funds for the NDF. KC Sivaramakrishnan IAS, SDO Asansol was a member of Railway Officers’ Club and participated in our activities. He organised a dance recital by Bharat Natyam and Kuchipudi dancer Yamini Krishnamurty to raise funds for NDF. The Andhra Saraswata Sangham hosted a lunch for her troupe.
Everyone keenly looked forward to the annual picnic. We also staged dramas. The first play was staged on a temporary dais put up at one end of our front verandah. Inspired by the success of this effort, Indu and I took the leads in the next production of a one-act play which we later entered in a competition in Khargpur. We narrowly missed the first prize but Indu was adjudged the best actress. When we left Asansol in April 1965, we got a touching farewell from the Sangham.
ML Gupta called me in early 1965, advising me to meet an old colleague and friend of his who was travelling on the Air Conditioned Deluxe Express to Delhi. He said I should travel with him up to Dhanbad, listen to him carefully and report back to him. LVP Albuquerque was a pleasant, talkative and engaging officer who had worked as Dy COPS on North Eastern Railway and was on deputation to Fertilizer Corporation of India (FCI) as its Transportation Adviser. Albuquerque told me that after joining FCI he had persuaded the FCI management that it would be in their own interest to take officers from Indian Railways to manage the transportation departments of the manufacturing units located in Sindri (Bihar), Nangal (Punjab) and the latest one under construction in Trombay. He had already nominated officers for Sindri and Nangal and was looking for someone for Trombay. ML Gupta had suggested my name.
Albuquerque explained to me the benefits that would accrue on deputation, but I was not attracted to the extra emoluments I was promised. When I reported back to ML Gupta, he advised me to meet him in his office in Calcutta. Gupta told me over lunch that he had been watching how the COPS was treating me despite the hard work I had been putting in. He apprehended that it might result in my getting adverse remarks in my Annual Confidential Report. He thought it was a good opportunity to get away from KK for a while.
“No one is permanent” he told me. “There will be a new COPS when you return, and you will get a chance to rebuild your reputation.”
He had good things to say about Albuquerque and urged me to accept the offer. I bowed to his advice, accepted the offer.
We moved to Bombay in April 1965. >After handing over charge, I proceeded to Kolkata to meet KK Mukherjee. When I asked him about my performance, he said he was concerned about the incidence of shunting accidents in Asansol division. I explained the steps taken to overcome the years of neglect, the reduction in areas tackled and the prospect of having fewer accidents in future. Then I pointed to the graph hanging on the wall opposite him that clearly showed the significant drop in incidence of train accidents in Asansol division during my stay and told him quite bluntly that he had not bothered to give me credit for it.