I had written on February 3, 2016 that I will be going to the South of India on a visit and so I did. I spent some quality time with my siblings and cousins and also caught up with another cousin who I had last seen in 1958!
Between the 5th and the 16th inst I spent my nights in five different homes and it was exhilarating being thoroughly spoilt by all my hosts. I spent four nights with my brother Arvind, three with my sister Padmini, one each with my cousins Mohan and Kannan and two with another cousin Shankar.
The trip also included a long drive to a place near Bengaluru to visit Kannan and Mohan did an admirable job of ferrying me to and fro on seven hour long drives either way. Kannan and his family which included five dogs went to great lengths to make me very comfortable and I hope to be able to visit them again sometime soon.
Shankar and Asha had organised a dinner to catch up with other members of that branch of the family and that was a memorable evening too.
My stays with Arvind and Padmini were peaceful and quiet gave me some much needed rest and recuperation.
I was also able to connect with some cousins from my paternal side and those meetings too were full of love and affection and great hospitality.
I also caught up with other relatives and friends and with some of them had meals. Notable was the meeting with friends Nat and Pam who I had never met before but who I called on and subsequently joined for lunch along with my brother Arvind and sister in law Shanta for a great meal.
My return to Pune and home deserves another post and that will follow soon.
Bar Kannan all the people who feature in this post read my blogs and here is thanking all of them for the grand time that I had.
Lin, the promised bonus post on the Travel Series. I had written this three years ago!
During my recent trips to the South of India, I had a couple of misadventures with the Indian Railways.
To start with, I was unable to reserve my seat on a train from Bengaluru to Chennai either directly online or through an online travel agent because, the Indian Railways reservation system has blacklisted my name for some strange reason. I am told that it is most likely because my account with them has been dormant for many years now. Others including my sister Padmini, too confirm that this happens when one does not use the system for a long period of time.
I therefore requested a friend in Bengaluru to physically go to the station and book the ticket which he kindly did. Unfortunately however, he failed to check the hard copy of the ticket before couriering it to me to reach me before I left Pune. On receipt I found that my gender had been entered as Female!
You have to know somethings about the Indian Railways to understand the horror I felt on finding myself classified as a Female. The IR is a government department under the charge of a full time Minister in the Central Government of India. It is therefore highly bureaucratic and as with other bureaucracies, open to misuse of authority. If a ticket examiner had decided to make my life miserable, this was a perfect opportunity, which he would have considered as a blessing from his favourite God.
On arrival at Bengaluru I rushed to the main railway station to see if the ticket could be altered to avoid my being offloaded and was directed to the Assistant Station Superintendent. In that office there were two worthies sitting at empty desks doing nothing. The first one, a male, I went to was seated immediately to my left as I entered the room. He was very polite and asked me what the problem was and on learning what it was, promptly yelled to the other person, a lady sitting across the room to solve the problem. I took myself over to the lady and handed over the ticket and she scrutinised it and the following discussion took place;
Lady: “Are you Ramana Rajgopaul?”
Me: “Yes Madam, I am indeed Ramana Rajgopaul.
Lady: “But you are not a female!”.
Me: “Yes Madam, I indeed am not, as you can see.”
Lady: “So what is the problem?”
Me: “I would like to ensure that I am not offloaded from the train due to this misrepresentation and would appreciate your amending the ticket to make me a Male.”
Lady: “That is not possible sir. This is an e-ticket and we cannot access the computer to edit such mistakes.”
Me: “So, what do I do?”
Lady: “Have you got some identification proof with you?”
Me: “Yes, my Income Tax Permanent Account Number Card, my driving license and if need be, I can carry my passport too.”
Lady: “Please show me what you have now with you.”
Me: Produced the PAN Card and the Driving License.
Lady: :Good! It is clear that you are not a female. All that you have to do is to show this to the ticket examiner on board the train.”
Me: “Supposing he refuses to accept and offloads me?”
Lady: “Don’t worry Sir. This happens all the time and all TEs are quite used to seeing these mistakes. He won’t offload you.”
Me: “Just suppose he does, what do I do?”
Lady: “Come back here and submit a written complaint about the whole matter.”
Me: “Thank you very much Madam. It is a great relief to know that there is a complaint mechanism that I can use by returning to Bengaluru from wherever I am offloaded which will give me some relief.”
Lady: “No mention. It is my duty.”
I duly boarded the train on the due date and after about an hour into the journey, the TE did come and asked for the ticket and this is what transpired between the two of us.
TE: Sir, you are not a female.”
Me: No, I am most certainly not!”
TE: Have you got some ID with you?”
I produced my PAN card.
He took a pen from his pocket and circled the ‘female’ entry, wrote ‘Male’ inside the circle, affixed his signature in the form of a squiggle and said “Terrible things, computers. Here you are a male and it has called you a female.” I agreed with him and took my ID card and the ticket back from him and that was the end of the story.”
Thanks to the great efforts taken by a friend who was my colleague in a company in which I was employed 25 years ago, I attended a reunion yesterday of some more colleagues from the late sixties and seventies of the last century. The reunion was arranged in Mumbai where seven of the attendees now reside with my friend coming from Bengaluru and I going from Pune to make it a nice nine attendees.
The venue was a restaurant attached to a Gymkhana in the Eastern part of Mumbai and for me to enter that suburb and exit was not difficult as traffic on Sunday was light. When all of had assembled, I was the second last to land up, there was a lot of hugging and shouting at each other and the management of the restaurant seeing the rowdy behaviour of such old codgers decided to give us a basement room exclusively for our use and made two waiters wait exclusively at our table.
All of us are over sixty and two are still employed and one is running his own business in a town some distance away from Mumbai. Bar me, all are grand parents and five of them had children overseas. Like the cartoon above, all of us kidded each other about our appearances. I was meeting all of them except one after 25 years. The one exception keeps coming to Pune and has been in touch regularly even otherwise.
Except for the friend from Bengaluru and the businessman, the seven others were all colleagues who had worked together with me in Mumbai and one had worked with me in Kerala too. We were all salesmen who grew within the company into managerial roles and had a lot of old stories to remember and reminisce about. We caught up with who is where, who died, whose health is bad and so on and bringing the reunion to a close was extremely difficult.
We have now decided that this group, plus a few who did not come due to various reasons, will meet regularly at Mumbai and Pune and keep in touch. What a day!
This morning, I got a phone call from my sister who is visiting her son in Bengaluru who suddenly put me on to speak to another lady on the phone who turned out to be a childhood friend from Chennai from the early fifties of the last century, now settled in Bengaluru and there was so much to talk about our respective mothers who were the greatest of friends and the rest of the family. Another great nostalgia trip that too culminated in promises to keep in touch and meet at Bengaluru and Pune.
After I had seen The Bucket List, I have been talking to people about it and my own bucket list which is a work in progress. Since my father died last year however, I have been able to score off a number of items on my list as I have been able to travel freely and even within Pune have enough freedom to do many things that I was not able to due to my care-giving duties.
A series of developments starting with an innocuous question from Ranjan this morning took me visiting family albums today and I went on a nostalgia trip thanks to the modern internet that has enabled my siblings and other family members to upload photographs that can be easily accessed.
The first photograph here shows me in the middle, my younger brother Arvind to my right and the youngest Barath to my left. This would have been circa 1949 just before or just as our youngest sibling Padmini was born in Madras now known as Chennai. The car at the back is a 4 Cylinder English Citroen Traction Avant. My late father and his younger brother had a particular fondness for these cars and had many, including a couple or so of the six cylinder version with steering wheel on the left side, pass through their hands in the early 1940s and 1950s before they switched over to big American cars.
I distinctly remember going to see Padmini after she was born in a nursing home in this Citroen. A fact that was driven home to me by my uncle in 1971 when I had gone to Madras to attend Padmini’s wedding and was using a friend’s car which was exactly the same model as this one on the picture. My friend, an automobile engineer had kept this old beauty in top class condition and it was a pleasure for me to drive it around with Urmeela and Ranjan who was then a tiny three month old boy. Needless to say, that the Citroen and Ranjan were the topics most discussed by me with all attending the wedding.
Fast-forward to February 2013, a lot of water has flown down the Cooum since then but the four of us met up in Madras when Barath had come down. This time, the youngest and the apple of all our eyes, Padmini was with us for a group photograph. From left Arvind, Barath, Padmini and yours truly, all four of us looking quite pleased with ourselves for the way we have turned out.
This time around the topic of conversation was the latest grand child in the family. Barath’s grandson Finlay George who was sorely missed by all of us as two sets of grandchildren were at that time in Chennai; Padmini’s two grand daughters and Arvind’s two grand sons. Earlier towards the end of last year I had gone over to Delhi to meet up with Arvind’s grand son and grand daughter who live there, and two grand sons who live in Bengaluru.
My son Ranjan and his partner Manjiri saw The Bucket List last night and this morning came and asked me what is the top most on my bucket list. I did not have to take even a second to respond. It is to go over to the UK and spend some time with Finlay George.
To score that item off my list, two other items have to be scored off before and that is the only thing that is preventing me from achieving that end. It is a matter of time, but they will be scored off and I will take off to meet up with this delightful little fellow who is the youngest Rajgopaul now. It should be a grand moment when the eldest and the youngest lay eyes on each other.
There are two towns that have developed a particular connection with me which keeps taking me back to them repeatedly. Bangalore, now known as Bengaluru and Tirupur. Last week, I had to visit both the places as I had to attend to some business as well as some crisis management in a close friend’s family matter.
Since reservations on convenient trains were difficult to come by, I flew to Bengaluru, spent a night there while attending to some business during the day and took an afternoon train for a six hour journey to Tirupur the next day. I took a train again last Saturday afternoon from Tirupur and after a 26 hour journey, came back to Pune on Sunday evening. I had traveled 1800 Kms by train during this trip.
Tirupur is a name very well known in the specialized world of ready made garments, particularly in cotton knits. You can learn a lot about it here. My first visit to the place was in 1969 when it was little more than a slightly overgrown village. Subsequently, I had a lot more to do with the town between 1974 and 1977 with very frequent visits, during one of which, I had the first hand experience with our emergency excesses.
I then had nothing to do with Tirupur till 1987, but visited it a few times till early 1990. From 1990 till early 2002 however, Tirupur has been on my regularly visited towns for the very obvious reason that I had a lot of business dealings there and on two separate occasions, employed there.
Naturally, I have made many friends there and have very close relationships with some of them. I have known many rag to riches stories there as well riches to rags stories. Throughout my experience there though, I have had nothing but great affection and excellent hospitality from the locals. I have a soft corner to the town and its people.
My visit to Tirupur after over eight years was indeed a nostalgic one. I was not disappointed with the warmth and the hospitality of the people there and caught up with a number of my friends there and successfully managed the crisis at my friend’s home as well.
In the last eight years, Tirupur has changed a great deal. It is now a district head quarters for a separate district. Roads have been widened and new fly overs have been built as well as many old thoroughfares converted into one way roads. New construction everywhere made it difficult to recognize some old familiar areas.
Being heavily dependent on the export market to the USA and Europe, economic activity is subdued and there have been many closures of units. The units focused on the Indian market are thriving but it is sad to see many exporting units struggling.
My friends would like me to come back and make my residence there. Who knows? May be that will happen too, once again!
I live in a Co-operative Housing Society consisting of twelve flats (apartments, for my American friends). It is a nice cozy little society and all the residents are quite friendly with each other. All of us, except two have been here from the time the society was formed. Out of the two, one is a member who joined us just four years ago and one has been leased out by the member to someone who is not very sociable with the rest of us.
One member, recently has sold his flat and has relocated to Mumbai. He and his wife came to take leave of me yesterday and he tried to explain the reason for his move. To cut a long story short, he wanted to move back to Mumbai because most of his family was still there and in his old age, he simply wanted to be closer to them. It was a bit annoying though, as he was whining about how Pune has changed for the worse, and how he hoped that in his new Mumbai suburb he will be happier.
Pune was considered to be the pensioner’s paradise when we moved in here. We came via Bengaluru and Mumbai and many other postings before that, with Mumbai being the longest and the most stays. I was in a transferable job then and as a routine, we would relocate every thirty or thirty six months, sometimes at shorter durations too. For most other Pune residents, coming to settle down in Pune was purely for economic and health reasons. One could sell a flat in Mumbai for a ransom and buy a much bigger flat in Pune for much less than the sale price at Mumbai and this enabled many to live comfortable retired lives in Pune. Pune with its very moderate climate and laid back life style was a wonderful place to live in. It no longer is due to “Development and Progress”.It is still better than say Bengaluru though!
The normal topic of conversation when the older citizens get together in parks or social occasions is how Pune has changed and what can be done now that half the benefit of moving to Pune has disappeared. I call these “whining sessions”. I normally do not like to whine about this and voice my opinion that having made our beds, we must sleep on them.
My neighbour’s recent whine in the reverse direction and with the plea that I should also consider shifting back to Mumbai reminded me about Conrad’s whine bar. If he revives that, I can assure him of a lot of traffic from many Punekars (People from Pune), who I shall forward with great glee to his blog. Game Conrad?