My college mate, Bhushan was waiting for me at the Eluru station when the Howrah Mail arrived at the platform. He told me that as he was on a holiday from his workplace at Madras, he thought he could take me to his house and introduce me to his parents and relatives to make my first few days in Andhra Pradesh comfortable. His father, Narsingh Rao, being a former headmaster of the local school, knew some staff members of the Road Transport Corporation buses plying from Eluru to moffusil areas, and they could help in locating Gopalapuram, he told me.
I came across Bhushan in my second year of engineering, when he was in the third year electrical branch. My class mates had told me that he was the fastest in completing any work assigned to him, be it a tutorial or the drawings and he knew the short cuts in doing difficult assignments given in the class.
“Whatever work you do, you must put your heart and soul fully in that, irrespective of whether you are doing an original work or copying from someone else’s,” he advised me. “Once while I was struggling to complete a plan of the land surveyed by our team, I had made the mistake of copying from a survey plan prepared by a hard working class -mate,” Bhushan told me while narrating that incident. “Instead of ignoring an ink blot in the original, in my eagerness to show some originality, I made it to represent a tree and my friends who copied from me made it to look like a group of trees.” He chuckled reminiscing those days. “When during the discussions on the work, the Professor pointed out of never having seen a tree or trees there in that open playground, we had to justify our action. We tried to convince him saying that we even had our lunch that day right under the shade of the trees there. The amused Professor wanted us to verify the drawing at the site and then report to him. When we went there, we could not see even the semblance of a tree there! Blaming each other for the mess created and scolding the student who made the original drawing for being careless in his work, we took the unanimous decision to tell the Professor that the trees might have been cut and removed by someone after our field survey”. “But there must be the roots to justify your presumptions,” the Professor said and looked at Pai, our group leader, seeking an explanation.”The contractor, in his enthusiasm to get more money, must have removed the roots as well to make the ground plain so that players don’t stumble and fall,” Pai had his ready reply. All, including the Professor had a hearty laugh then.
I had heard of Pai earlier also. He was an easy going but well read student and was considered by students and teachers alike as an encyclopaedia on the advances happening in the technological field. Only problem with him was that he used to frequently ask embarrassing questions in the class to some lecturers on the field problems arising during execution and the approach to be taken to solve such situations. As these lecturers had only bookish knowledge on the subject, they preferred to avoid answering such queries and instead to bully him for interrupting the lectures. In an engineering institution, such students were never tolerated and the teachers always would harm them while awarding marks on tutorials and field work submitted by the students during the semesters. Pai had therefore to suffer during every year of his stay in the college due to his questioning habit.
Bhushan told me an incident in which Pai crossed words with a Professor, an authority on structures and structural engineering and that was the only time, Pai got his due recognition. While explaining the specifics of his tutorials, the Professor had the habit of asking students crowding around him, to make a bigger circle to facilitate everyone to hear him clearly. One day, when the Professor repeated his request, Pai did not budge. When questioned why he was not moving, Pai replied, “Sir, whatever be the circumference of the circle, Pai remains the same”. The Professor, though initially embarrassed by the reply, appreciated the young boy for his ready wit. From then on Pai was his blue-eyed boy as the Professor recognised the meritorious qualities of the student and started giving due weightage to his wise and intelligent queries on the subject.
It was well past midnight by the time we decided to hit the bed. We would have continued talking about our glorious days in the college, but for the pressing reason that Bhushan had to take the early morning train to Madras to be in his office on time.
At Eluru bus station, Bhushan’s father, Rao could locate the driver and conductor who were in charge of the bus to Gopalapuram and luckily they happened to be his old students. They got a porter to load and secure on top of the bus, my travel kit, a steel trunk and a hold-all, which I used to carry throughout my college days. My host requested them to ensure my safe reaching at Gopalapuram.“Please do not bother about him, sir”, they assured him. “We would drop him at the PWD guest house there which is located nearer to the highway on our route and we would also ask the care- taker there to make him feel at home.”
“You have nothing to worry,” Rao again assured me. “Wish you happy days in our state. Please drop in whenever you pass through this place.”I watched the venerable old man disappearing among the crowds as the bus moved on.
Gopalapuram is a village with a population of less than 2000. The watchman of the guest house, Basheer, an ex-serviceman, could speak to some extent in Hindi and that made me feel at ease.
“You are the second official from a central organisation here”, Basheer told me one day, “the first being the village postman, Venkateswarlu. He is a helpful chap and would assist you with his knowledge of rules and regulations. He can also speak in English.”
It was a welcome information, since I had no idea of the way of working of central institutions. While in some organisations, new recruits were required to undergo induction training for 12 months, the Water Development Authority (WADA) administration probably did not feel the necessity for it, on the assumption that the new recruits would fend for themselves wherever they were posted.
I remained busy for a couple of days writing letters to the regional office at Vijayawada requesting for posting staff, making available the requisite stationery including special postage stamps- called service postage in official parlance- and such miscellaneous articles required for the office. When I did not get any reply to my letters even after a lapse of 3 weeks, I came to the conclusion that something had gone wrong. I decided to go to Vijayawada to sort out the issues.
“You being an officer cannot just go leaving your duty station, even to go to your Regional office, whenever you like.” Venkateswarlu the post man, my advisor on administrative matters, cautioned me. “There are certain formalities to be completed before undertaking such travels”.
I was curious to know the formalities and so asked him “Such as what?” He clarified.”You have to prepare a tour programme indicating the purpose of the tour, the likely transport to be used, the duration of the stay at your destination including the time of arrival and departure and send three copies to your boss for approval. The boss would return two copies duly signed and then only you can leave this place to meet your boss. If you do not follow the prescribed procedure, your superiors can take punitive action against you for deserting the post.”
“If there is an emergency, am I to follow this cumbersome procedure?” I asked him.”A letter takes a long time for getting the response”.
“In such situations you can get the requisite permission on phone”, he said. “Only, you have to get the written approval from the boss while you are at the regional office. But since none has a phone in this village, you have to go to the Post office at Tadepalligudem, the nearest town, an hour’s journey by bus, talk to your boss on phone and take the oral permission”
A formidable task indeed, considering the infrequent bus service to the nearest town and the limited working hours of the government offices.“But what to do if an emergency occurs necessitating my leaving the place on a Sunday or on a government holiday?” I had my doubts.“On holidays, the administration sleeps,” The postman said. “Hence emergencies are not entertained.”I appreciated his sense of humour and told him so.
About a month after my reaching Gopalapuram, one evening, when I was preparing my bed for getting ready to lie down and read, I heard the unusual sound of a jeep entering the guest house compound. I took it to be of some officer on his way to Rajamundhry thinking of spending the night here. He must be aware that he would not be able to cross over the river as the ferry services would be closed for the night.
The officer who came out of the vehicle introduced himself as Sharat Chandra Jain, the Chief of the Regional office of WADA located at Vijayawada. I introduced myself as the new officer who had joined the organisation six weeks back and opened the new office there at Gopalapuram as per the directions of the headquarters (Hqs.) at Delhi.
“Since morning I had been on the lookout for you,” he said as if complaining.”Based on your charge report I received a couple of days back, I had written to you to come immediately to my office to discuss the actions needed to be taken, so that the head quarters could be informed of our readiness to start the work. As I did not get any response from you to this and many other letters written to you and since one registered letter addressed to you was received back with the post master remarking ‘ addressee not found’, I decided to see for myself where you had opened the office.”
“To day morning I started from Vijayawada with the sole intention of locating you,” Jain continued. “First I went to one Gopalapuram village situated between Eluru and Vijayawada, but none there knew about any central office existing there. Hence, as advised by the postmaster there, I proceeded to another Gopalapuram about 20km. north of Eluru. Here also I could not find any one having opened our sub office. On contacting the local post master, he remembered of having returned a registered letter sent from my office, having failed to find the addressee.”
“I had almost given up the hope of meeting you”, Jain said in an exasperated voice.”Frankly speaking, I almost came to the conclusion that you were writing letters to me from your native place due to which the letters sent by my office never reached you and hence remained not replied or not referred in your letters. Luckily, that post master told me of the existence of this Gopalapuram about 60 kms. to the north-west of Eluru. But for that guidance, I would not have ventured to reach here and instead would have gone back to Vijayawada and sent a report to Delhi that you had not joined duty.”
“I opened the office here as per the directions given in my posting orders from the headquarters”, I explained to Jain.”You have also got a copy of that order wherein it is specified that I am to open the sub office of WADA at Gopalapuram connected by metalled road to Eluru. You have now taken that road to reach this place. So there cannot be any mistake about the place, since both the Gopalapurams you visited are connected by tarred roads and not by water bound macadam road like this one”.
Jain had a hearty laugh listening to my justification. “This seems to be a small village”, Jain commented after he made himself comfortable in his room. “How are you spending time here and still continuing to keep yourself busy since you do not know the local language and the people including the officials here do not appear to know any language other than Telugu?”
“Basheer, the watchman, takes care of my meals etc. and the postman teaches me Telugu when he comes.” I said. “Whenever they are not around, I spend time listening to radio for news and songs, since only vernacular news papers are available here.”
“A bad situation made good by a positive outlook”, Jain commented appreciating me.
“I would be here for a couple of days to discuss our work programme and to guide you in the nuances of government working since you are a fresher in the set-up. I would get some experienced staff posted to you to help in the field and office work. We would discuss these issues tomorrow morning. Till then, good night”. Jain headed to his bed room.
I stretched on my bed after adjusting the reading lamp to complete the remaining part of the novel of Agatha Christie.
FOREWORD from the Author
The memoirs have been christened as “Sanku Purana” since the episodes narrated therein occurred in a bygone era, to be precise, the closing decades of the last millennium.
In this attempt, I had to face fierce opposition from my relatives, friends and colleagues. None of them was willing to even write a ‘Foreword’ to this epoch making compilation, since, according to their perception, this document was nothing but a collection of ‘frivolous reminiscences’! As they did not want in any way to be associated with it, I am compelled to do this sacred duty also.
The pages relate to my experience as a civil engineer, not as one constructing concrete jungles, but as one working in the confines of such buildings along with well qualified technical personnel, planning projects for the development of the country. The urge to write these memoirs came after reading similar works of eminent journalists, bureaucrats and even politicians.
My relatives did not want me to tread the uncharted waters of writing memoirs and to get drowned in the process. Knowing my calibre in the language, they were certain that I would be successful only in murdering the Queen’s language and make the great writers of the past turn uncomfortably in their graves!
My friends discouraged me in taking up the venture assuming that I was taking recourse to writing to make some quick bucks. They had seen such writers mushrooming during election times. Hence they were generous to offer me money and other help if only I promised that I would withdraw from such an attempt.
Many of my colleagues were furious presuming that I was trying to emotionally blackmail some of them. They assured me in no uncertain terms that they would not cooperate with me in this project and would even try, through social media, to enforce a ban on it!
I take this opportunity to assure the readers that the memoirs do not intend to cast aspersions on any of my colleagues and is only a genuine record of the jealousies, conspiracies and intrigues one comes across during the long journey in the profession. I am sure that there would be many who had similar experiences in their professional lives too and, reading this chronicle they would be relieved to know that they were not alone in having such experiences.
I only hope that by reading my story, even my bitter critics would be convinced that their misgivings are unwarranted. Further, I would like to add that these memoirs would not have seen the light of the day but for the continued discouragement given by my relatives, friends and colleagues who made me strive hard to complete the text in record time. I thank all of them for offering their valuable comments and views.
Engineer of An Ancient Cadre.