Experiences in Speaking Telugu and Writing ‘Ramkoti’ – [Sankupurana – Memoirs of an Engineer] – M.S.Menon, New Delhi


Kalluru was a bigger village than Gopalapuram in those days and could boast of having a number of state government offices apart from medical and educational facilities. Before the formation of Andhra Pradesh, it was part of Nizam’s territory and therefore the local travellers bungalow (TB) was being maintained as per the then existing manuals, providing for cooks, khalasis, gardeners and a host of other workers for its upkeep. Such a liberal provision ensured not only well-furnished rooms, but also neatly laid out gardens with every such bungalow.
I left Gopalapuram early in the morning hoping to reach Kalluru by lunch time. Being a touring officer, the organisation had approved the provision of a cook cum helper for helping me out during tours. Hence in the jeep, I used to carry a ration box and a folding cot with mosquito net apart from my suitcase containing dress, toiletry and office papers.
The ration box had separate partitions for keeping cooking stove and kerosene oil, grocery items like rice, pulses etc. Such back up was essential during tours to interior project sites since in the villages enroute, there were no eating places or even rest houses. Like the officers of the Survey of India Department, field officers of WADA also were oriented to work under such situations.
The metalled road to Eluru was in a shambles after the rains. According to local PWD engineers there was no hope of getting the repairs done till next February as the budget allocation was expected only by then. Since the budgeted amount had to be spent before 31st March, the quality of the rush work would naturally be below par and hence the condition of the road would continue to be the same as before.
The highway from Eluru to Kalluru was a well maintained one fully tarred and hence I could reach Kalluru by 12.30 noon. The TB had a conference room, attached with a dining hall, rooms with attached baths, a kitchen and a store room. An annexe building in the same compound had provided accommodation for junior staff.
Ramaiah , Technical Officer attached to the regional office at Vijayawada who was coordinating the activities told me that other colleagues from Eluru and Tiruvuru were expected shortly. He had Kept the rooms ready for us, room no. 1 for the Chief, Subbaiah, room no.2 for Officer from Tiruvuru, room no.3 for the officer from Eluru and room no. 4 for me, being the junior most officer.
During lunch, Subbaiah introduced me to the other colleagues, Partha Rao in charge of Tiruvuru office and Prasad Sastry in charge of Eluru office. He also introduced me to the four Technical Officers, Keshava Rao, Ramaiah, Venkayya and Dharma Rao attached to the regional office. He was of the view that we should meet at 3.30 pm and decide on the programme of work for the Unit.
After lunch, we three, Partha , Prasad and myself sat in the hall to get more acquainted about ourselves. Partha Rao, an officer in his thirties, appeared as a pleasant and jovial officer. He was stocky built and of medium height, had a remarkable physique but not over weight and had a square jaw and sparkling eyes. He had earlier worked in Kerala and hence had a working knowledge of Malayalam. Earlier he was posted in the Project Appraisal Unit at the headquarters. When he was offered a posting in Andhra Pradesh, he was quite happy to join the place since Delhi was a crowded city and his wife, a native of Warangal, could not adjust with the life style of Delhi.
“Here I do not have to rush to catch a transport to reach the office in time. I could just walk down to the office.” Partha told me. “Further being a field assignment, I have a challenging task.”
Prasad had only a few months experience in the organisation, that too in the main office. He was a fresher to the field organisation, just like me. As soon as he was asked his willingness to be posted to Vijayawada Region, he jumped at the opportunity to be in the field and that too in his native district. He appeared fully enthusiastic about his new assignment. Prasad said. “I too wanted such an assignment instead of sitting at the head quarters and doing odd jobs, I was finding it difficult to adjust with that life soon after my appointment when we were all aspiring to build civil engineering structures instead of whiling away time reading routine reports and commenting on them. I got married when I got admission in the engineering college as was the custom in our place,” he added while talking about his marital status. “But the marriage got consummated only after my getting the job!”
When we all reassembled at the scheduled time for the meeting, tea was ready. Subbaiah initiated the discussions giving a brief of the work entrusted to the Unit and what he expected of us in the field season.
“Our Gopalapuram office should be able to complete the dam site investigations at Polavaram and prepare the report within this year so that that office could be shifted to Venkatapuram to start the dam site investigations there”, he said.” The Eluru and Tiruvuru Offices would continue with the investigations for the upper and lower link canals proposed for connecting the Godavari with the Krishna River. You may draw up the further work plans accordingly to-day so that we could discuss the issues involved”
I was happy to hear that my office would be shifted out of Gopalapuram village by year end since I felt that any other place would be better than this small village. Venkatapuram was the Taluk headquarters and hence the facilities there should be better, I thought. But later events proved that I was thoroughly mistaken.
According to the plan I prepared, the field work could be completed before June and thereafter, the detailed report could be prepared. If any data needed verification on the ground or any gaps were to be filled by field surveys, the needed action could be taken from our office itself since we would be having 3 months of field season from October to December before we shifted to Venkatapuram. Partha’s suggestions based on his past field experience helped me to draw up the plan by the third day of our stay at Kalluru.
The time available for the Eluru and Tiruvuru offices to complete the works were another 2 years, as they were entrusted with the investigations for the link canals each of about 150 kms. in length. Hence they were also busy during these days to draw up their further work plans in consultation with Subbaiah. As per our programme, we were to finalise these plans the next day before we dispersed,
In the evening , when we 3 were having a stroll in the garden, Partha asked me as to how, I was able to spend the time after office hours and on holidays at Gopalapuram.
“During my days in Delhi, I did not have any difficulty as I had many colleagues and friends in a similar position and Delhi had many places of entertainment, but your case is different.”
“True, initially I had some difficulty to adjust with the place”, I told him. “But after a doctor, Prakash Rao, a bachelor, joined the newly opened government dispensary, I had some company to go to the local cinema theatre to watch Telugu films mainly based on Ramayana or Mahabharata and at times on social issues.”
“But you do not know the local language then to enjoy such movies”, Partha expressed his doubts.
“The doctor used to brief me on the story and during the show explained to me any dialogue which I could not understand. Thus I could pick up the language to some extent and it helped me to deal with the locals.”
“Limited knowledge of the language can put you in trouble sometimes.” Partha cautioned me. “The locals have their slangs and if you do not follow that, you could be misunderstood as happened to me while working in Kerala”.
“True, it did land me in a very peculiar situation”, I said. ”My washer-man (dhobi) who used to come to collect clothes on weekends, always was curious to know why my people have not come to stay with me. He might have probed my cook about it, but not getting a proper reply, he must have decided to ask me directly. One day, while collecting the few clothes for washing, he asked me in Telugu about the details of my family and when he would be lucky to see my ‘Amma’. I explained to him that being the mother of seven children, she could not afford to come and stay with me at least for a couple of years. He stood shocked for some time, murmured a few words and walked out of the house in a huff. I could not understand the reason for his change in mood.”
Next day, when Dr. Prakash Rao came to my house, he was laughing continuously. He had come to know from the local villagers about the contents of my conversation with the dhobi.
“I did not expect that you had deserted your wife and 7 children to come and stay here”, the doctor told me narrating what he heard from the local people. “According to the dhobi, you are not a man of virtue but a villain only interested in producing children and leaving the girls at the first available opportunity while looking for new pastures.”
“My god! I never told him any such thing.” I said. “He just asked me about my family and when my mother would come to stay with me. I then told him that mother would not be able to come here and I have to make my own arrangements.”
”I immediately knew that your half baked knowledge of Telugu had landed you in a mess.” The doctor told me.”Amma in local parlance means wife and when he came to know that at this young age you had fathered 7 children, it really shocked him. And when you said that your wife would not come here and you have to make local arrangements, he really got annoyed and felt bad about your intentions”.
“Now the locals must be thinking that I am really a bad man”, I said. “How to correct them? Otherwise I would not be able to survive here”.
“Nothing to worry”, the doctor consoled me.”Knowing you and your family background, I had already explained to the dhobi and others that the misunderstanding occurred due to your lack of knowledge of Telugu. Even they had a hearty laugh at your expense. Hence please remember that in future till you master the language, while dealing with the locals, ask your khalasi to explain to them rather than your venturing to clarify doubts.”
I looked at Partha to know his reactions to my experience. He just smiled.
“Though I had a good working knowledge of Malayalam, I also had gone through such embarrassing situations and hence my advice,” he said enjoying the episode.
Prasad did not have any such language problem during his comparatively short stay while at Delhi because he had a good working knowledge of Hindi. But he was unhappy with his assignments there. I was under the impression that the work in the Planning Unit at the head quarters would be more interesting than all other jobs since this would expose those involved with planning of water resources a great opportunity to know about the work at a national level. So I was curious to know why Prasad opted for a field posting.
“Being a fresh recruit, seniors were not interested in entrusting me with the work of any responsibility or of works of urgent nature.” Prasad said.”So they asked me to study some reports and make briefs on them. I felt it more like a repetition of our life in college when professors used to ask us to go to library to locate references whenever they were in no mood to take classes.
“Getting bored of the work, I asked my colleague, Mahesh, a veteran in the section, to advise me as to how to meaningfully use the time available”.
Prasad then gave us a gist of his conversation with Mahesh as below.
“You are from Andhra and you must be knowing all about the famous Bhadrachalam Sree Rama temple there”, Mahesh asked me.
‘“Yes, I know that it is an important pilgrimage centre. But what has it got to do with our work here?” I wanted to know from him.
‘“Well, you then must be knowing all too well that if you write the holy name of ‘Sree Ram’ one crore times and deposit the work there in the temple, you would be able to get any boon you wish from the Lord.” The old man said smiling. “Since you have enough time here after doing the job entrusted to you by your boss, why not then start writing ‘Ramkoti (Ram one crore times) like me?”
‘“For writing ‘Ramkoti’, I need a life time,” I told Mahesh. “Those in service would not be able to do that. It can be done only by retired people or those who have lots of spare time and interest in doing it. How come you are able to do that in this office? Who told you about its efficacy?”
‘“I was exposed to this holy work when I was posted in a major R&D organisation.” Mahesh replied. “When I joined that office as a fresh recruit, I had gone there with lots of hope of doing some good work, like you now. But the seniors imbibed in me a work culture that doing no work is the best way to get time-bound promotions without any hassle. In that set up, none asks for progress reports nor a target date for completing a research project. After all, research takes a lot of time to fructify, the old timers used to insist. They had always that excuse for doing nothing.
‘“It was in this organisation one of the frustrated officer explained to me the benefits of writing ‘Ramkoti to achieve bliss not only in this life but also in the next”. Mahesh continued.” As I too got frustrated within a couple of years there, I also got initiated into this spiritual exercise and blessed by Him, I landed in this organisation, another heaven. I do not think I would be able to complete another ‘Ramkoti’ here as I have only a few years to go, but I would certainly attempt it to get salvation.” Mahesh squeezed my palms to ensure that I was following him.
‘“Look to write a single word ‘Sree Ram’ takes a maximum of 7 seconds, ie. in a minute, one can easily write 8 such words or in an hour a maximum of 500 words.” Mahesh explained.” Our working hours being from 9.30 A.M. to 5.30 P.M. with a lunch break of 30 minutes, normally extended to one hour and 2 tea breaks of 15 minutes each extending to 30minutes, our effective working hours per day work out to 6 hours and we work for six days a week from Monday to Saturday.
‘“In a year of 365 days, we are allowed to take 30 days of earned leave, 12 days of casual leave, 16 government holidays, 2 restricted holidays and also have 52 Sundays and 3-4 days of unscheduled holidays due to deaths of VIPs, elections etc. Hence we are left with 250 working days-ie. 1500 working hours per year. Are you able to follow me?”
“So far I am able to understand you” I said.
‘“Out of these 1500 hours, since some time has to be kept for attending to personal work such as bill payments, local purchases and other demands from home, we have say about 1000 hours per year to do this spiritual duty of writing ‘Ramkoti’. Hence in 20 years time you would be able to complete this exercise. Then you could go on pilgrimage to Bhadrachalam temple to submit the book of ‘Ramkoti’ at the feet of the Lord and get His blessings.”
‘”But this would need many reams of papers,” I raised a genuine doubt. “It is a costly investment.”
‘“Do not worry about the costs”. Mahesh pacified me. “I have worked out that also. In a single sheet, using both sides, one can write 500 such words and hence, you would need only 4 such sheets per day, which the department can easily afford to give you for such a noble purpose. Hence you can do the work without bothering about the costs involved.”
Both myself and Partha enjoyed the episode narrated by Prasad.
“We are enjoying your discussions with Mahesh. Please continue”, I told my colleague.
“The nature of working at the headquarters in those few months gave me the feeling that ultimately I might also turn out to be a follower of Mahesh if I continued there” Prasad said reminiscing those days of boredom and inaction. “I then decided I should get out and join the field assignments as and when opportunities came. Hence I gave an application to the administration to consider my posting to a field assignment early. Mahesh had told me that there were no takers for field jobs and if requested, I would get it early and here I am.”
As planned, we completed the year’s work schedule and discussed and got it approved by Subbaiah on the last day of our stay at Kalluru. We also decided that we all would meet at the same place every 3 months to review the progress.