The Other Side of the Fence

As part of the government’s efforts to boost agricultural production after independence, the Sindri fertilizers and chemicals factory was set up in 1951 in Sindri near Dhanbad. The second factory came up at Nangal in Punjab to utilize surplus electric power generated by the Bhakra-Nangal project. The two Companies were merged in 1961 to form the Fertilizer Corporation of India Limited. The third factory, set up in Trombay in the outskirts of Mumbai, was the first factory in India to use naphtha, a waste product of petroleum refineries that had been burnt as flares until then. This was the latest break-through in the manufacture of fertilizers.

When I joined FCI in April 1965, MS Ram IAS was General Manager of the Trombay unit. I was attached to the Sales Manager, V Chandrasekharan, who was from the Indian Management Pool (IMP), having worked earlier in the Small Scale Industries Corporation. He reported to the head of administrative department designated as Chief Executive Officer (not to be confused with present day CEOs) Mohammed Fazal (Who was Governor of Maharastra later), also from the IMP. While Chief Engineers in charge of production and maintenance were from FCI cadres, the Finance Manager, TS Subramanian IRAS, had been Financial Adviser & Chief Accounts Officer on the Western Railway. K Bhupal, Public Relations Officer was a well informed and analytical journalist by profession with a sharp intellect. He left FCI later to take up the editorship of a newspaper in Ahmedabad.

Trombay unit was the third fertilizer factory set up by the Fertilizer Corporation of India. The factory was yet to start production so to begin with I had a lot of spare time. I started my work by reviewing the rail transportation facilities provided in the factory. The Planning and Development (P & D) division of FCI located in Sindri had drawn up the yard plan in consultation with the Central Railway. I met Lekh Raj Talwar, the Deputy Chief Engineer entrusted with the maintenance of the yard. He told me that there was nothing to review because everything had been finalized. I had to make him understand that as a Railway expert engaged by FCI, I was authorized to review the plan and improve on it if possible. Next, I visited Sindri and Nangal to study the railway transport arrangements there and work out the needs for Trombay. In the P & D division I met the Transportation officer in charge of planning. Thakur had worked as a Deputy Controller in Dhanbad Division. After discussing with all concerned I was able to reduce the number of lines in the yard, leading to considerable savings for the FCI.

I also used the interim period to build up the organization for the transportation department. I got a Yard Master on deputation from Central Railway and made him teach the rudiments of rail transportation to Assistant Yard Masters and others recruited from amongst FCI staff. I also got loco drivers recruited from road vehicle drivers trained by Central Railway. Production of Ammonia began in September 1965 and that of Urea soon thereafter. The unit was formally inaugurated by VP Naik, Chief Minister of Maharastra.

Albuquerque visited Trombay soon after I joined and took me round the railway offices and introduced me to senior officers of Central and Western Railways. He had a lot of friends on both railways, many of them belonging to his community of Mangalorean Christians. At the end of the visit he sent a tour note running into several pages although the work he had done was minimal. Perhaps he wanted to impress his superiors in FCI about his importance. He was very fond of playing rummy. He and his friends would spend the entire weekend playing non-stop, sans sleep, and stop the game only on Monday morning.

Small quantities of a mineral called magnesite were needed for the manufacture of fertilizers in Trombay. It was sourced from Salem in Olavakkot Division (Renamed Palghat Division) of Southern Railway. The supply got interrupted for want of wagons for loading and Chandrasekaran turned to me for help. I called the DOS Olavakkot, Pius Joseph (IRTS 1957) who was with us in Asansol for training, for supply of wagons. He insisted that I visit Olavakkot for the purpose. I took Chandrasekaran's permission to fly to Cochin and hired a taxi to Cochin Terminus station. VK Sthanunathan, who was on the Faculty of Railway Staff College Baroda in 1958-59, was DS Olavakkot. He was in Cochin and was returning to Olavakkot in his inspection carriage attached to the train by which I was travelling. He invited me to travel with him.

I stayed the night with Pius and accompanied him to his office the next morning. He told me that he was looking after the work of DCS and DSO as they were on leave. We chatted up to 11 AM, during which Pius talked briefly to his Chief Controller. Pius then took me to meet the DS. Sthanunathan orders coffee and we indulged in small talk for some more time after which the DS excused himself politely to attend to his routine functions. It was such a change from the hustle and bustle of Asansol Division where the DOS could not leave the control office up to lunch time.     

Subramanian was a manager of the old school, all sound and fury. He considered all FCI officers as inferior. He would often remark, “Some people suffer from diseases, but I suffer from my officers”. He liked non-FCI officers and would ask me to sit with him because of my railway connection. Several Accounts Officers working under him became my friends and I realized that he was a difficult man to work with. I recall being with Subramanian when he was lashing out at an officer called Verghese. His offence was that he had delayed submission of remarks on an audit report. A few days later I found him tackling the same officer for submitting his remarks on an audit report too quickly! Subramanian depended on his favourite accounts officer Simhan on all subjects. Fortunately, Simhan was a balanced person who never misused his proximity to the boss to harm others. Subramanian also liked the company of K Bhupal and PT George, an officer from Indian Ordnance Service, who was the Stores Officer. George and MS Ram were together in Indian Ordinance Service until Ram got selected in the temporary IAS selection in the mid-fifties.

Duleep Singh, the Work Study Manager, also reported to CEO (He rose to be Chairman of Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers). The subject was new at the time and he ran short courses to familiarise FCI officers with the elements of the subject. I attended one such course and found it quite rewarding. Another officer who deserves mention is JG Maniktala, Administrative Officer. He earned the nickname of Dr No because of his negative attitude and FCI officers had many tales about his self-pushing tactics.

Technical officers were generally polite to me but some of the seniors seemed to bear a grudge against railway officers. I learnt the reason later. When industries were set up in the public sector, experienced officers from Indian Railways were posted in senior management positions. The first head of the Sindri Fertilizer factory was Mr Neelakantan, a Traffic officer who had retired as Member (Staff) Railway Board. Technical officers in FCI apparently resented his abrasive style of management.

The war with Pakistan in September 1965 caused a lot of excitement. We would stand in the open space outside our office building to watch the dog fights between IAF’s Russian manufactured MIG jet fighters and US made Pakistani Sabre jets. At night, there would be complete black outs. Arvind Neb, son of our Personnel officer was a young air force pilot. He was among those who earned a Vir Chakra for shooting down Paki jets. He visited his parents briefly and was given a war hero’s welcome. There was an exemplary display of unity by the general public during the war.

One of the first things Chandrasekharan had told me when I joined FCI was that I had to find a way to utilise a wagon tippler that had been installed at a high cost but was lying idle. As per original plan, imported rock phosphate was one of the important raw materials for the Trombay Fertilizer factory. When FCI approached Railways for approval of rail transportation facilities, FCI was advised to install a wagon tippler, approved by RDSO, for unloading the rock phosphate at the factory site. Since the factory was built on funds from USAID, the cost of the tippler, a whopping one million dollars, was included in the USAID loan and the tippler was imported and installed. When the first consignment of rock phosphate arrived in Bombay port, the purchase department floated a tender for moving the material to the factory site and found the rate by road considerably cheaper than by rail because the railways charged higher rates for movement over short distances. The tippler remained idle and attracted the attention of the USAID auditors.

The only way the tippler could be utilized was if transport charges by rail were reduced to a level below the road rates. After discussing the matter with RC Saksena (IRTS 1955), SCO (Rates) Central Railway and others, I worked out a scheme to form dedicated rakes of wagons that had been declared unfit for movement on main line - so called uneconomical wagons, of which there were plenty. Since the cost of these wagons on the books of IR was very low, the hauling cost of superphosphate would be low enough for Central Railway to quote a special rate that would make it cheaper to transport the rock phosphate by rail. The scheme was approved by everyone on the Central Railway but in the end the COPS office turned it down fearing that it would be unsafe to allow these wagons to negotiate the network of points and crossings in the suburban section of Central Railway. It was perhaps the right decision, but it resulted in making the rock phosphate tippler redundant.

The Central Government’s auditors raised the issue of the tippler and asked FCI to fix responsibility for the failure. After I left FCI, Albuquerque told me, during one of his visits to Eastern Railway, that FCI auditors were trying to hold me responsible for the fiasco but he had told them that the Railway Board would refuse to accept the verdict. Since charging higher rates for shorter distances had been an established rating policy on Indian Railways it was unfortunate that neither RDSO nor Railway Board advised FCI about it and it was equally unfortunate, if not totally irresponsible, for FCI's planners to have neglected to do the basic exercise of checking on the transportation costs before investing a million dollars on a wagon tippler.

MS Ram returned to his state cadre and for a time there were temporary GMs until the arrival of Dr SK (Subodh) Mukherjee from Durgapur, where he was GM of a new fertilizer plant. He came with a bunch of his own followers two of whom became our close friends. One was Dr Kuldip Singh Mukharya, a soil chemist from Sagar MP and the other C Radhakrishna an Accounts Officer. Mukharya rose to be MD of FCI but Radhakrishna died at a young age while in service.

Dr Mukherjee was a very able technocrat, knowledgeable and experienced with managerial abilities but was aggressive and dictatorial in his dealing with his subordinates. When I met him for the first time, he was critical of my work, alleging that I had not done enough to get regular supply of empties for loading fertilizers in the plant. Unfortunately, the country was then going through a severe food crisis that necessitated heavy import of food grains to feed the people. Indian Railways had to shoulder the responsibility of carrying food grains from ports to the consumers across the country. Priority was, therefore, accorded to supply of covered wagons for movement of food grains to the exclusion of all other traffic, including cement and fertilizers. I had, therefore, found it difficult to convince my friends in the Central Railway to breach the priority in favour of FCI Trombay.  

Dr Mukherjee was, however, interested in the despatch of fertilizers from Trombay, to the exclusion of other considerations and either did not know or did not care for the greater national cause. He felt that the matter needed to be raised to a higher level in the railway hierarchy. Accordingly, he asked TS Subramanian to accompany me to meet senior railway officers to ask for supply of wagons. TN Dar, COPS Central Railway faked ignorance of the problem and dramatised the issue by calling Vijay Kumar (IRTS 1955), DOS Bombay Division, berating him for his failure to supply empty wagons to FCI and calling for his written explanation. Vijay Kumar was more than a match for Dar. He disappeared for a week, ostensibly for writing the explanation. When the explanation was submitted, Dar was left red faced as Vijay Kumar submitted all the orders received from Railway Board through COPS to rush all available covered empties to ports for loading food grains. TN Dar was so unpopular in his own department that when he was transferred from Central Railway, no officer went to see him off at VT station.

Dr Mukherjee called a press conference in which he accused the railways of neglecting to transport fertilizers that could help solve the food crisis and the Indian Railways capitulated immediately, from the top echelons of the Ministry of Railways down to the divisional managers, forgetting that the meager supply of fertilizer from Trombay dispatched out of season would make no dent on the immediate availability of food grains in the country. For a few days, Central Railway diverted wagons from ports to Trombay, but the supply could not be sustained.

Meanwhile, another crisis claimed the attention of Dr Mukherjee. An explosion in the ammonia tower damaged it beyond repair. The replacement from the manufacturer in USA would take several months to arrive. Production of ammonia being central to the manufacture of fertilizers, the plant would have to remain idle until the new tower was received and installed. But the innovative and restless Dr Mukherjee had other ideas. A new fertilizer factory under FCI was under construction at Gorakhpur with Japanese collaboration. The ammonia tower for the plant had already reached the site but could not be erected pending completion of other works that would take up to a year. Dr Mukherjee reckoned that this tower could be modified suitably for use in Trombay.

But the tower would serve its purpose only if it could be moved to Trombay in the shortest possible time. Dr Mukherjee asked me how long it would take to transport the tower by rail. I checked the dimensions and found that the tower could be moved in a BFR wagon. Gorakhpur was on the meter gauge so the tower would have to be transshipped to broad gauge at Lucknow. I estimated that the tower could be transported from Gorakhpur to Trombay in three weeks if the movement was carefully monitored. Armed with this information Dr Mukherjee went to Delhi to meet Chairman and Managing Director of FCI. General Manager of the Gorakhpur plant and others pooh-poohed the idea, but Dr Mukherjee persisted and got the approval of CMD. He sent a message for me to fly to Gorakhpur immediately and organise the movement of the tower.

My trip to Gorakhpur was a great success and it changed my equation with Dr Mukherjee for the better. I found the GM of the Gorakhpur project less than enthusiastic. He resented being forced to part with an essential part of the project with no certainty that it would be received back in time and in good condition. He was also skeptical about my estimate of the transit time. He reminded me that some materials sent from Trombay had taken more than two months to reach Gorakhpur. I explained to him that the movement of these materials, moving in smalls, had not been monitored whereas I would be personally watching the movement of the wagon carrying the Ammonia Tower. He wasn’t convinced and refused to allow the tower to be to be touched until he received a written confirmation from CMD FCI.

With help of my railway friends in NE Railway, of whom there were many – M Fasihuddin, COPS, VK Choube, Dy COPS, IP Shrivastava, DOS (Goods), my batch mates KC Varma and Arya Mitra, and RSP Kedia, PRO - I got a BFR wagon placed for loading. The Chief Engineer and his deputy were helpful, but others delayed the process on one count or another and it was only on the sixth day of my arrival in Gorakhpur that the BFR loaded with the tower was shunted out of FCI siding in Nakha Jungle.

Meanwhile, I had summoned my AYM, Smith, to Gorakhpur to accompany the wagon on its journey to Trombay. I went overnight to Lucknow to arrange for transshipping the wagon to broad gauge. It was accomplished within two days after which I returned to Trombay to report the progress to Dr Mukherjee. With Smith updating me about the location of the consignment telegraphically every day, I could give Dr Mukherjee the progress of the Ammonia tower accurately. In turn, he pressurized the production department, that had been preparing for a holiday, to get things ready for installing the tower without delay. I still remember my friends in the Ammonia Plant telling me about the incredulous surprise with which their bosses received the information. The tower arrived exactly 11 days after it was loaded in Gorakhpur, that is, in half the time I had estimated, and production of Ammonia resumed in Trombay within a month of my departure for Gorakhpur.

The strain of the effort to move the Ammonia tower and the unhygienic and untimely food I consumed on the trip took its toll and I came down with jaundice soon afterwards. I was out of action for about two months and took another month or so to recover completely. After I recovered, we travelled to Nagpur, Kanpur and Lucknow to settle the marriage of my brother-in-law Krishna Kumar, who had returned from USA and joined the faculty of IIT Kanpur. The marriage took place in December 1966. A new challenge was awaiting me when I returned to work.

While the Ammonia Plant attained full production, the fertilizer plants making Urea and Nitro phosphate were not ready to work at full production capacity. That meant the ammonia production would have to be reduced unless the surplus ammonia could be disposed of. There was a demand for ammonia from defence department for its new ordnance factories and the problem could be solved if ammonia could be dispatched to these factories from Trombay. Liquid ammonia is transported under high pressure in tank wagons specially built for the purpose. There were a limited number of wagons in use for the circuit between Trombay and the Ordnance factory at Kirkee but they were insufficient to meet the needs of other factories.

My efforts to find more Ammonia tank wagons on Central and Western Railways having proved infructuous, I went to Delhi for help from Railway Board. Peter Impett, erstwhile DOS Asansol who was Dy Director Traffic (POL) told me that over 20 newly built tank wagons were waiting to be commissioned in the Kurla tank wagon repair shop. Since the wagons were pressure vessels, they had to be tested and certified by Lloyd's Register of Shipping, but CR had no facilities to arrange the tests. On my return to Mumbai, I suggested to S Bhattacharya, SME (C & W) CR , to let FCI arrange for the tests. Dr Mukherjee welcomed the idea and accepted my request not to charge the cost of the tests to railways. Arrangements for testing the wagons under the supervision of the engineer from Lloyd Shipping were set up by the instrumentation engineer in FCI. Watching the process was an interesting experience. The work was completed quickly, and we had an adequate fleet of Ammonia tankers to supply Ammonia to other Ordnance factories.

Duleep Singh was working on re-organisation of the materials management functions in the Trombay unit. Most people in FCI thought it was a futile exercise and paid no attention to it. When he submitted his report, Dr Mukherjee asked him to take charge of the new set up proposed by him to show that it was workable. Duleep Singh had not held a managerial position before but he had no choice and so became Materials Manager (MM) with four Dy MMs reporting to him, each in charge of Purchases, Stores, Material Handling and Transportation. I left the Sales Department to take my position under the new MM as Dy Materials Manager (Transportation and Clearance). The new post had a higher scale of pay and a conveyance allowance for those who owned a transport. To avail the allowance, I bought a used Morris minor. It helped me lot not only in my official trips to railway offices and the port area but also in our frequent trips to IIT Powai to spend time with my brother Jagan Mohan and his family.

One of the perks I enjoyed was a government telephone at home, at a time when there was a long waiting list for getting a telephone connection. My work and status entitled me to get an out of turn connection. Very few in the FCI colony enjoyed this privilege so we would often get requests for using the telephone for incoming or outgoing calls. One such visitor was DV Reddy, retired General Manager NF Railway, who would be staying with his son-in-law NS Reddy.

Clearance of materials received in Bombay Port and Airport through Customs was a function assigned to R Prasad, Purchase Manager. Prasad was quite skeptical about my ability to handle the job due to my lack of experience in this field. Prasad introduced me to two of his assistants on whom he relied for all port related works. One was a Maharastrian officer called Nilkanth and the other a Sikh called Sidana. They tried to convince me that they were the last word in their jobs and that I was not qualified to question their actions. Prasad had given them too much freedom because he was incapable of going into details of their work and could not, therefore, give them any directions.

When I asked Sidana for information on the progress of clearance of items of importance, he took offence. I pacified him saying that I had no doubt about his expertise, but I had to know what was happening so that I could help him when needed. I accompanied him to meet officers of the Customs department. When Sidana saw how they responded to me as a Class I officer of the Central Government, his attitude changed, and he began to cooperate with me. We became close friends by the time I left Trombay. Nilkanth was a confused person who tried to impress everyone by wearing a harassed, overworked look and behaving as if he was carrying the department on his slender shoulders. He would misplace papers and feign he was too busy to search for them or put the blame on somebody else. I went to his office one day before his arrival, picked up the pile of papers on his table and cleared all of them before he turned up. Shocked to find his table bereft of papers he came to me in a panic. I had shown him that the secret of keeping his table clear was to deal with papers, not to delay them.

There was no systematic review of the work of this section. Plant Managers interested in a specific shipment would make enquiries about its clearance and complain if the clearance was delayed. Delays would thus get highlighted and rarely, if ever, was good work acknowledged. There was no balanced assessment of the section's performance. I introduced a check sheet for each case that included time taken for the clearance of each item. Also, a weekly return of performance was compiled and submitted to Materials Manager and General Manager, showing a comparison with previous performance.

My relations with Duleep Singh now gelled into a lasting friendship based on mutual trust and respect. He was always bubbling with ideas, but his lack of hands-on experience often showed up. He never allowed that to deter him, however, quickly adjusting to the situation and learning from it. We often differed, and at times argued violently, but each time we learnt to respect the other’s point of view and thus became better able to understand each other. There were periods of shortage of wagons and periods when we were flooded with wagons, making it imperative to speed up operations to save demurrage. In between, Dr Mukherjee decided to launch a new NPK product he named Suphala, using Diammonium Phosphate (DAP) procured locally, instead of manufacturing Nitro phosphate using imported Rock Phosphate, as per original plans of the factory. I had to be on my toes to ensure that there was enough DAP to keep the plant running.

We made many innovations on the way, one of which was the manner of submitting forwarding notes to railways to ask for wagons. Duleep Singh’s Work Study Report had shown that there were many similarities in the sales-cum-despatch order issued by Sales Department to Transportation Department and the Forwarding Note. Duleep Singh had suggested that the two be integrated into one form. Since the Forwarding Note was in a form prescribed by the IRCA, they could only be combined with the approval of railways. I saw the merit of the argument and got the new form approved by Central Railway. Payment of demurrage charges on wagons detained beyond the prescribed free time has always been a point of contention between railways and factories served by them. I succeeded in persuading both Duleep Singh and Dr Mukherjee that it was in the interest of FCI to accept the genuine charges and pay them promptly to avoid protracted correspondence and the consequent bitterness in relations it entailed. At the end of each month, I would collect the Demurrage bills and sit with Pratap Narayan, DCS Bombay to determine the correct payable amount and arrange to pay the amount expeditiously.   

Industrial relations in the Trombay factory took a beating in 1967 and the FCI Union led by an emergent George Fernandez declared an indefinite strike. Dr Mukherjee responded by asking all engineers and officers to man the plants and continue production, albeit at a reduced level. The bagging plant, where fertilizers were packed into bags and dispatched in trucks or wagons had to be shut down for want of manpower and there was no dispatch of fertilizers. But production continued in plants which needed less manpower because of automation. Arrangements were made for most of the engineers and officers to stay inside the factory with renewed security, as workers picketed the entry gates. Some of the officers including me decided to commute from our quarters. I would drive down to the factory in my Morris Minor and enter the gate watched by the striking workers picketing the gates. They ignored me in the beginning but, as the strike progressed, they began to hurl abuses at me. One day, one of them put his hand into the open window and snatched my glasses.

Dr Mukherjee asked me what I could contribute to the effort and I told him that if I was explained the technique of filling ammonia tank wagons I could, with some assistance, try to dispatch ammonia to the Kirkee factory. He placed Dr Mukharya and Radhakrishna at my disposal and together we learnt how to fill liquid ammonia into tank wagons. It took us three to four days to fill up five tank wagons that were in our siding. Then I proceeded to arrange dispatch. I drove the locomotive myself and trained the others to operate the hand operated points. I was able to place the five loaded ammonia tank wagons in FCI’s railway exchange yard near the Trombay Marshalling yard of Central Railway. The interchange yard was on a bank overlooking the factory gates at which some picketers were assembled shouting slogans. When they saw the locomotive and vehicles moving, they raised an alarm and some of them tried to climb the bank to stop us. But leaving the ammonia tankers there, I quickly reversed the loco and we were back in the factory, leaving the workers gesticulating. Dr Mukherjee, who used to issue a daily press release claiming that the strike had not affected production, told press reporters that despite the strike the factory had kept up supply of ammonia essentially required for defence purposes by the Kirkee Ordnance Factory. It made front page headlines and broke the morale of the strikers, forcing the union to call off the strike unconditionally.

Use of chemical fertilizers was still to take off in the country so the fertilizer manufacturers undertook massive marketing campaigns to popularise their products. The maximum demand for fertilizers came from Andhra Pradesh. I would often be called upon to speak to Telugu speaking farmers who would land up in the Sales office, their pockets bulging with currency notes, asking for urgent despatch of fertilizers to them. To meet this demand, a sales office was opened in Hyderabad with Dr Mukharya as Branch Manager.

Ramanathan, who replaced TN Dar as COPS Central Railway was another difficult officer. BM Kaul who came next was known for his short temper and his habit of throwing things when enraged. When I met him in the company of Albuquerque, he was polite and expressed interest in visiting the fertilizer factory. I organized a visit and took him and Mrs Kaul personally on a tour of the factory. Later, FCI hosted BSD Baliga GM Central Railway during which Baliga met Dr Mukherjee and the principal officers of the plant. All of us got a glimpse of the depth of knowledge and articulation of these two experts in their respective areas. Another important visitor was the Deputy General Manager of Nigerian Railways who was on a study tour of Indian Railways. He was escorted by Pratap Narayan and Vijay Kapoor ACS Bombay.

Apart from my illness, we had a very happy time in Bombay. I was entitled to a type 3 flat but was initially allotted type 2 flat. A few months later, American consultants who were provided with modified type 2 flats vacated them on completion of their term. We moved into one of these flats until I was allotted a flat to which I was entitled. Our flat was overlooking a small hill in an open ground across a tarred road adjoining the cluster of apartments. One day Indu, waking up from her afternoon siesta, rubbed her eyes in disbelief when she saw a group of armed robbers riding down the hill on their horses. When she sighted the cameramen around them, she realized it was only the shooting of a movie.

The type 3 flat that we occupied later was on the first floor of a four-unit building. R Prasad was my immediate neighbour. The ground floor occupants were Agarwal, a chemical engineer and Jain a mechanical engineer. When Prasad left FCI to join Sri Ram Fertilizers in Kota, the flat was allotted to BV Sarma, an accounts officer formerly with Liptons in Calcutta. Sarma's wife Jayalakshmi was of immense help to us at the time of Indu’s confinement. There was no club in the FCI colony. Some of us got together to set up an open-air badminton court where we would play early in the morning. Duleep Singh, Chandrasekaran, Bhupal, RS Prasad and an engineer called Karnik were the main participants.

Srikant had started going to school in Asansol. In Trombay, he joined the newly opened branch of Good Shepherd Convent in FCI's colony and did well, winning a prize in 1967. Little Ramana too started his schooling in the same school. Indu had missed her Karnatak music ever since our marriage, so she was pleased to find a music school called Vallabha Sangeethalaya in Sion where she could learn more. The lessons came to a stop when she conceived our third child and could not put up with the strain. We named the child, born on January 3, 1968 in a private hospital in Chembur, as Padmamalini, which got shortened to Pama subsequently.

The Andhra community in the Trombay fertilizer unit added up to about thirty families of employees in different ranks. We would get together for festivals and meet in each other's houses quite frequently. Andhra Mahasabha in Dadar was managed in a possessive manner by a small group of members. In 1967, when the elections to the executive committee of the Sabha were in the offing, Andhras from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) approached us to put up a joint front at the election. We agreed and our candidates swept the polls. BARC nominees became President and Secretary and I was elected Vice President.

We made many friends including MR Krishnaiah, cousin of Madira Ramakrishna whom I knew in Dhanbad. MH Avadhani, NS Reddy, YN Rao K Prabhakar Rao, GN Naidu and LS Rao were the others in our close-knit group. Reddy was the son-in-law of DV Reddy and Prabhakar Rao was the son-in-law of RR Rao, Controller of Stores of SE Rly. We staged Wanted Fathers a Telugu comedy play just published in one of the Telugu periodicals with Indu and me in the leading roles under the direction of Ch S Prasad. It was well received with the audience repeating the dialogues still fresh in their minds.

We liked to watch Telugu movies screened for morning shows in cinema halls in Dadar and Lalbagh. While we were driving to the theater on one such occasion, we turned back when we were told that the show had been canceled because of stone throwing by Shiv Sena workers. This, and boycott of South Indian restaurants were the first acts of the emerging militant party that claimed that Bombay belonged to Maharastrians and South Indians had no place in it. We noticed a change in the attitude of our Maharashtrian friends who sympathized with the Shiv Sena.

Since the Trombay factory was the first naphtha-based plant in the country it became a recruiting ground for other naphtha plants like EID-Parry's Coromandel Fertilizers in Visakhapatnam, Sri Ram Fertilizers in Kota, SPIC etc. Beginning with Krishnaiah and Avadhani most of them left FCI for greener pastures.

In the Traffic department, CYM Chitnis who had come from Central Railway died of cancer and was replaced by Titus. Locally recruited AYMs Keswani and Smith proved their worth. Loco driver Shetty was Vice President of the union and he kept me posted with developments as they unravelled. His son was Srikant's classmate. Patil. Raymond, and Arjun Bhatia were the other drivers I remember. I learned driving from Patil, with additional lessons from NS Reddy. Arjun's sister Lalitha Kumari was a well-known character actress seen in many of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's films and he nursed ambitions of becoming a film star himself. He took us to visit film studios where his sister was shooting and we met her and Bipin Gupta and watched the shooting of movies with Sanjeev Kumar and Jitendra, who were then budding artists.

We lived close to Basant Studios and RK Studios and several film stars lived nearby. We would often sight them on our outings to Chembur Market or in Union Park, that we would cross en route to the bus stop. We saw our favourite stars, Ashok Kumar, Nalini Jaywant Om Prakash and Shashi Kapoor and others. Kishore Sahu also lived close by. Sometimes we would enter RK studios and see the shooting. Raj Kapoor set up a huge mela in the FCI colony to shoot Mera Naam Joker. The shooting went on for a month but in the movie, the sequence did not last even one minute. Raj Kapoor also shot a sequence with children sitting in a circle as Raj did some acrobatics. All the children of the colony would gather after school and join in the shooting. Srikant and Ramana also sat in the ring of children. We got a chance to speak with both Raj Kapoor and Padmini. In the movie the sequence is so short that it can be seen only by pause and slow forward.

We also had several friends in the railways. On Central Railway, I became close friends with my batch mates, SM Puri, T Kumar Das, Satyendra Kumar and SP Sharma as well as SK Agarwal, who was STO (Goods) and Chand Khosla, Vijay Kumar and RC Saksena of our previous batch and Pratap Narayan of our later batch. I also came to know RP Singh who was then Dy COPS (Planning) and CK Swaminathan, Tank Wagon Superintendent.

Dr Mukherjee was a dynamic leader who galvanised his team of officers to perform at a high level of efficiency. The American contractors tended to blame Indian engineers for all delays in completing the project. He took them head on and forced them to accept their failures and even got the contract for the turnkey project for the methanol plant terminated. As my term of deputation neared its end Dr Mukherjee became reluctant to spare me. Early in 1965, I got a call from Eastern Railway to attend the mandatory Efficiency Bar test along with my batch mates. Dr Mukherjee was unwilling to let me go to Calcutta to appear for the test and agreed to spare me for just three days, asking me to fly both ways. He wrote to the railways recommending the extension of my term but GD Khandelwal who was Chairman Railway Board disagreed and I was asked to report to Eastern Railway.


More by :  Ramarao Annavarapu

Top | Memoirs

Views: 3430      Comments: 3

Comment Thank you very much, Chenulu garu and Sri Gurudas.
By God's Infinite Grace, I still remember many things from my childhood onwards. Glad you find the piece readable and enjoyable.

Ramarao Annavarapu
06-Dec-2019 04:49 AM

Comment Really stupendous to think of remembering names of colleagues working with the writer at various times and places. I too have worked as an officer in various Defence Establishments & Ordnance Factories. I too have faced many nasty/interesting characters and situations. But am unable to remember details in such elaborate ways.
Splendid and interesting! Written without grammatical mistakes too! God bless. Keep it up.

gurudas S
05-Dec-2019 01:34 AM

Comment a very absorbing and detailed narrative. the challenges and how they were met were well narrated.

30-Nov-2019 09:21 AM

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