I don’t know whether I should be amused, disappointed or flattered.
A young man from Chennai came to visit me last week, on a courtesy call as directed by his father who is a friend of mine. This young man had come to Pune to attend an interview for a job opening in a Logistics firm here. The young man is an alumnus of the same Business School of which I am an alumnus too.
This young lad spent a couple of hours with me and scooted off to attend his interview and return to Chennai.
I received a phone call from my friend yesterday, that when the young man was informed that I am alumnus of the same Business School as he was from, he was zapped and told his father that he was under the impression that I was a philosopher / retired Tambrahm school teacher! My friend in turn was zapped and wanted to know why I had not mentioned my qualifications to the young man. I simply responded that an occasion did not rise on the subject.
This led me to ask a few of my friends who are also alumni here as to whether they would have recognised me as an alumnus had they not met me under the aegis of the alumni association and without exception they responded that they would not have. When I shared what the my friend had conveyed about my being a philosopher / Tambrahm school teacher, one of them went so far as to say that it was stereotyping me!
In case you are wondering, the image of the pundit on the top is that of Chanakya.
My favourite vehicle currently is an auto rickshaw. They are ubiquitous in Pune where I live and I can always get one just fifty meters away from my home. They take me to the most crowded parts of the city and I don’t have to worry about parking, or walking to my destination after parking. They are safe, agile, and very convenient. They are also quite economical to use. Although I can drive myself and have a valid driving licence, I find that it makes more sense to use these very convenient vehicles when I want to go out.
I have owned or had been provided with / borrowed many vehicles during my fairly long adult life but the very first vehicle that I ever owned remains my all time favorite. It was bought second hand and was black and white but looked exactly like the image on the left. I had named it “My Love” and that was written inside the front panel. It is my favourite vehicle even today because it brings back a lot of very good memories of the time that I used it.
I used it in Hyderabad and Chennai for three and a half years and it never gave me any problem except for a few flat tires. I had used it to go on long out of town trips and as a young man with many interests, was quite the dashing figure. In Hyderabad particularly, my scooter was the only one of its kind and getting it serviced regularly gave me a friend in the proprietor of the authorised service station, who remains one till today.
If that vehicle is still alive in some collector’s garage, it could tell stories of some of my adventures of those very interesting times.
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.
There is an important family occasion happening in Chennai by the end of July and a number of my relatives from all over are gathering there. My initial idea when I received the summons was to combine the visit with one to Bengaluru and Tirupur where I have some unfinished work pending. I took a few days thinking about the various ways that I could accomplish all that and in the meanwhile, my son Ranjan and daughter in law Manjiree were also given the summons and they too decided to go over.
They decided on a three day visit to take advantage of a week end and I readily agreed to go and return with them but they had been given clear instructions by the summoning authority that I should be left behind at Chennai for at least a week more.
We were still debating this matter when I retired for the night last night and this morning found that my tickets had been bought during the night by Ranjan that effectively keeps me in Chennai for a week longer than his stay.
My initial reaction was despair. I did not want to stay there for that long but on reflection found that I do have enough and more to do at Chennai for the additional few days.
When I thought about my reluctance, I have concluded that I am getting stuck in my comfort zone at home in Pune and resent leaving it. I am so comfortable that even leaving the home for local trips is increasingly unattractive. For instance, there is a mini alumni get-together today and I had agreed to go for it but since morning felt lethargic and was thinking of some excuse to beg off the meet. Not a very good diagnosis!
If I had insisted on coming back with Ranjan and Manjiree I would have lost the opportunity for some serious catching up at Chennai and when I found this message on top it made sense to me. I must make the effort to get out of my comfort zone more and get out of the house even if it is just to go for some minor shopping for fruits or vegetables. Otherwise, I would atrophy! And I have decided to overcome my reluctance and lethargy and go for the get-together later today.
What about my readers? Do you resent leaving your comfort zones?
In 1961 and 1962, I was in Hyderabad living a very interesting bachelor’s life with a steady girl friend and making enough money to have a better time than most of my age group youngsters were having. One of the two favourite hanging out places for me and some of my friends was a place on Abid Road called Savoy which was a restaurant on the first floor. A very friendly Sardarji ran it and since it had a few cabins for private parties, it was a favourite place for cooing young couples to meet and have some snacks and coffee.
It was below this restaurant that I first made my acquaintance with Robert who would dust and occasionally even wash my scooter without my ever having to ask him with the expectation that I would give him a generous tip. He would do the same with the other scooters and motorcycles that used to be parked there and I suppose that he made enough to keep his body and soul together. He was a cheerful man around 45 then and so much older than I was or my friends but that did not stop him from being very friendly with all of us.
Over a period of time, I started using him to do other odd jobs for me like delivering letters and mail for which I would agree on a rate on each chore basis and he never failed me. Seeing me successfully do this, some of my other friends also did the same and he became a sort of courier operating out of that foot path. On some occasions when I had had too much of the good stuff, he would drive my scooter with me precariously perched on the pillion home and put me to bed and stay the night in my bed sitter till morning and leave after ensuring that I was operational. A kind of paternal bond that he developed with me that till date baffles me for its total unselfishness. There were many occasions when he had come to the help of me and my friends during our youthful capers and all my friends were also very fond of him.
Robert had joined the Indian Army as a young lad and had retired as a soldier after fifteen years of service. When his earning capacity became zilch and he had to depend on his meager pension, in a country with very opportunities for employment at that age for someone with hardly any skills, his wife took their children and went back to her parent’s place deserting him and leaving him to his devices. This was the reason for his enterprise that brought him into my orbit.
I moved to Chennai in December 1962 and lost touch with Robert till the middle of the following year when I went back to Hyderabad on business and met him. He requested me to find some kind of employment for him in Chennai as he was a Tamilian and wished to spend the rest of his life in Tamil Nadu. I promised him to do what I could and on return to Chennai, I did without much success.
In the meanwhile, in Chennai I had made friends with Anton, a very unusual fellow. A Franco Indian of French father and Indian mother from Karaikal. He was a Marine Surveyor for a French company and would survey ships for hull insurance claims on behalf of his employers in France. He was unusual for many reasons notably for his very flowery Tamil spoken like a trooper and English with a peculiar accent which made him stand out in a crowd. He would look like any Tamilian but wore his French ancestry like a badge of honour. He was a French citizen with Indian relatives and that was a formidable combination. He had a streak of wildness about him that was inexplicable and would take risks that normal mortals would not. He had a Ford Jeep with the steering wheel on the left side and would inevitably get into scrapes with other drivers on the road driving on the left side of the road in vehicles with the steering wheel on the right side. And when he had had a few under his belt, he would become a maniac and would drive like he was on open ground with no other traffic on the roads.
Anton was divorced from a lady who was back in France and lived alone in a middle class neighbourhood in an upstairs flat and had endless problems with his neighbours but since he paid a much higher rent than his landlord would get from an Indian, the landlord who lived downstairs would assuage hurt feelings and keep things from getting out of hand. He had trouble with his servants too and I must have seen at least half a dozen of them passing through his life in the three years that I knew him.
On one occasion when Anton was sans servant, I remembered Robert and asked him if he would consider employing him as a butler to which he readily agreed. I wrote to Robert and asked him to come down to Chennai to see if it would work out and when he did, it was obvious that these two were meant for each other. Robert moved in with Anton around the middle of 1964 when I was too busy to keep tabs as I was busy with my own life and adventures. We would occasionally meet at Anton’s and it was obvious to me that both of them were happy with the arrangement and that was enough for me.
Before I went away to Ahmedabad in 1965, Anton threw a farewell party for me completely arranged for by Robert and it was a memorable one in more ways than what I can write here.
In 1966, I received a letter from Robert announcing that Anton had died in an automobile accident and that he was moving back to Hyderabad. I received a couple of letters from him from Hyderabad advising me that he was unhappy there and whether I would be able to help secure him some employment in Ahmedabad. I was lucky in doing so with the help of a very dear friend who arranged to take him into his company as a watchman. Robert moved to Ahmedabad and stayed on in Ahmedabad even after his retirement after getting himself a local lady for a wife, till I lost touch with him after I moved to Pune in 1990. In between, every time I went to Ahmedabad, I would meet him and we would spend some time reminiscing about old times.
This is one story that I do not know the ending of. I do not know if Robert is alive or what happened to his wife and children if any as many changes have taken place in Ahmedabad since that time. The company that he worked for closed down and the land was converted to residential plots and the total landscape of the city has changed. I doubt very much that I would be able to go there now and find him. A strange ending for a man who wanted to spend his life in his beloved Tamil Nadu who landed up in Gujarat and just disappeared from my life.
But at an impressionable time in my life he played a valuable role as well as in the life of another amazing character. He is certainly one of my Unforgettable Characters as was Anton whose wild ways finally got his life as payment.