Friday, September 19, 2008


I reached Madras, now Chennai, early morning of 8th February 1970. Next day I had to join IOC as Sales Officer (Under Training). This was my first visit to Chennai. After having lived in Bombay, now Mumbai, Chennai seemed a quiet place.

I just had Rs.150 and 20 days ahead for getting paid by the organization, I was yet to join. Bombay had hardened me, as I had to lead a very frugal life. It was a struggle for me all throughout my 5 years in Bombay.

I had very few things that I possessed—three trousers, four shirts, a pair of shoes and two ties—in a steel trunk. Of the 150/ that I had, I paid Rs.50/- for a room in a small lodge as advance for a month.

Twenty of us joined on 9th Feb.1970. We reported to Sri T.B.Jayaraman, assistant manager training. He was a very talkative person, but not a good listener. The common perception is that a training manager should be a talker. He was true to this perception. About 6 or seven of the trainees were staying in a small hotel in flower bazaar off poonamalli high road. I went along with them, saw the place, liked it and decided to shift. Rental was Rs.100 for a month. The place was not far from the TVS, and our office was right opposite TVS. Minimum fare of taxi was 60 paise and for our distance it was Re.1.50 or thereabout. Three of us used to share.

Some among the group used to laugh at my steel trunk. They looked and behaved they were from financially very well to do families. Some of them were. There were three discharged emergency commissioned officers. I told them they would have laughed at gandhiji too. That put them in their place. Those were the days gandhiji was still “alive”.
Do we need a cultural revolution to bring back Gandhiji? “Even if Gautham Budha knocks on your door, are you going to receive him or just make a laughing stock of him?”
We fail to recognize Buddha many a time in our lives. We expect him to be exactly like the statues of him we see.
Coming from Bombay, chennai looked a better-organized city. It was more like an enlarged town. Life was at a much slower pace. A meal in Dasaprakash was Rs.3/-. Buhari’s was a popular non-veg, restaurant. Half tandoori chicken with roti cost just Rs.5/. We went there regularly. The biggest shopping center was Ratan bazaar, though there were cluster of shops around Anna statue, Gemini circle and Mylapur. There was no flyover at Gemini circle. There was hardly anything beyond Vijay Vahini.

Our training included retail, consumer sales and product knowledge. B.A.Rao, V.T.Ramdas were considered retail experts and they were our faculty. Dua was consumer expert and arunachalam and Gopalan were tech. service experts, they were ex merchant navy personnel. For retail the bible was manual of Esso. We were taught retail factors. Months later we got to see the manual through a different source. It was revealing how the faculty never disclosed their sources of knowledge.

We were sent to different Distrct Offices (now Divisional Offices) in batches. Rajinder Kapoor and I were sent to Bangalore for field training in Retail. Kapoor is no more. He died in a road accident sometime in early nineties. He was a cousin of film actor Jitendra. We reported to Mr Urs, who was notorious for his ill treatment of officers. But it was his conviction that that was the way to deliver goods. Raoof and Narayan Rao were field officers in the city. One was handling retail development and the other existing retail network. Field training was for a month. Mr. Urs was hard of hearing and used to doze off often, even in meetings. He rebuked someone, no matter whom, the moment he woke up. A strategy? I found only officer who got away being frank was K.V.George. Bangalore was called a garden city. It deserved it! Even those days concepts were accepted, just as today, with IOC’s interpretation. Nursery became a part of allied selling. The effect was such that you could not recognize an RO from a distance. Nrupatunga service station was a glaring example. In a review meet George said in his typical mallu accent “ Sir, a barber’s shop should like a barber’s shop”. Raoof was always a clever one. When he knew it was his turn next, he would seriously keep looking at his watch with worry on his face. After a few minutes of his drama, he would say, “ Sir, I have an appointment with home minister at 4 and if I don’t start now I wont make it”. He used to succeed. May be Urs knew the excuse or may be he took him seriously.

We just followed the field officers, made notes and sent reports to Chennai every week.
When we got back to Region there was a review of what we learnt in the field. Again after a month’s classroom sessions we were sent to Vizag terminal and District Office for a week each and from there to Vijayawada depot for another week. We were three of us in this group—Mehra, Prabhu and me. Tejpal Singh, discharged emergency commissioned officer was ADM. One day he summoned all three of us to his cabin. Way to the washroom was through his cabin. It was a bunglow converted into office and obviously this was a bedroom with an attached bath. We noticed he was not happy with the arrangement what with people coming in frequently for a pee. He asked us what was the expansion of FJ and OA. Before hand he told us we should raise our hand if we knew the answer and then he would decide who should reply. Accordingly we raised our hands.
He picked me. I told him they stood for Financial Justification and Operating Analysis. Fine he said. Then he asked Prabhu what was the third column in OA. We all looked at each other we did not think it was necessary to commit to memory the entire format. He took offence and told us we were not fit to be field officers. He said in the Army such details were required and they were absolutely necessary. After a long lecture on discipline, he ordered us to commit every line to memory. On the final day of the review in Ch. M. Rao’s cabin he wanted to know whether we did what he wanted. Mr. Rao there after started reviewing Tejpal and throughout he was at the receiving end. That spared us the review.

Those days the Depot was in Vijayawada town. I was there for a week. Depot Manager was Mr. Natarajan and with him reporting to him was, I think, Subramaniam, who was Operations Officer. I was on the TLF bay all through the week.

Mr. Savoor, BOM, wanted to review all of us because he, perhaps wanted to know how much we had grasped about Operations. We got an impression that everyone in his department was scared of him. Perhaps it did not occur to him that he had shut all the windows of suggestions, advice and information. Next to him in line of authority was Mr. Hiremath, who seemed uneasy in the presence of BOM. Review was over and all of us came out happy. Next day Mr. Jayaraman summoned me and handed over a letter in a sealed envelope. It was extending my training period for a few more months because Mr. Savur was not happy with my review. Till I opened and read the letter, Mr. Jayaraman did not know what the letter contained. I thought it was a mere coincidence that the only other recipient of a similar letter was Riyasat Ali Mirza. But later experiences with savur proved my thinking wrong. I will talk about my later experiences a little later. Mr. Jayaraman fought for us and the letter was withdrawn.

There were a lot of groups in IOC—ex- Shell, Esso and Caltex officers never saw eye to eye. Then there were officers who came from Railways and AG’s office. Then there were Iyers and Non-Iyers among the non-Iyers there were several groups. Majority of officers and staff were Iyers. The non-Iyers referred to IOC as Iyer Oil Corporation. Groupism was so much that even among Iyers, of Madras origin did not think much of Palghat and Trichur Iyers. I believe it is so even to this day.

There was a big event of inauguration of lube blending plant. All the trainees were there, wearing badges and waiting near the entrance. Our chairman, managing director and general manager along with branch manager were also waiting for chief minister and central minister of petroleum and natural gas to arrive. Those days we had only one chairman as we have now, but he was a kind of titular head. Real power was vested with managing director. After him in the line of hierarchy, we had just one general manager assisted by a single deputy general manager. The branch managers who were in “E” grade performed the functions of today’s executive directors. The lube plant was not under the branch manager. While branch manager was in ‘E’ grade, plant manager was in ‘F’. Karunanidhi, CM, Madras arrived and everyone was busy receiving him.

We saw a white dhoti and kurta clad gentleman quietly walking in from the other gate. We recognized him. He was Triguna sen, minister of petroleum. Our chairman, and managing director rushed to receive him. The security at the main gate did not recognize him and he got down from his car and entered through the other gate. Those were the days. The ministers did not need security. The ministers did not throw tantrums. At least not this one!

Jayaraman was promoted and transferred to Madurai as District Manager. So we had a new assistant manager training, Mr. A.N. Sinha. Sinha was friendly apart from being a good trainer. He carried himself well. His communication skills were very good.

My next field training was in Kerala. My destination was Kottayam. I went via Trivandrum. I wanted to see the famous Kovalam beach. It was raining in Trivandrum. I took a taxi and went to Kovalam. It was raining continuously. I found it to be very beautiful place what with clear water and wet rocks and rain-washed cocoanut trees. It was so absorbing I forgot I was drenched. Trivandrum was a beautiful sleepy town. Green and beautiful!

For one month I was in Kottayam, reporting to Venkatraman, who was field officer. I used to be with him wherever he went and made notes for my weekly reporting to Madras. It was very difficult passing time from 5 pm onwards. I was all-alone without knowing the language of the place.

One Saturday evening I started for Thekadi, a hill station and a wild life sanctuary. My plan was to stay in Aranya Niwas, a government guesthouse situated inside the sanctuary. When I reached the place it was dark and no room was vacant in the guesthouse. The village beside the sanctuary was a kilometer away, it was dark and the path was hardly visible. I felt scared. There was no way except to walk the distance and find a place to sleep. I did find a place, very shabby and uncomfortable. I was tired. I slept. I woke up at 4 in the morning, washed and went to Aranya niwas to take the launch for a tour of Periyar Lake. It was a beautiful lake surrounded by thick, green forest. The animals normally come to the shore to quench their thirst. In my one-hour ride I could see just a couple of boars. If you are lucky you see hoards of elephants. I was happy with just a couple of boars. I was told; a day prior to the visit of VIPs, salt is spread in the forest. The elephants eat the salt and come to the shores to quench their thirst. Unfortunately, the day I went there were no VIPs. But I enjoyed being in the midst of Periyar Lake.

I visited almost all places where our retail outlets and SKO agencies were situated. Traveling in Kerala was very enjoyable. Green paddy fields, cocoanut trees, water all around and girls in their ‘randu mundu’! I visited Chenganacherry and Tellichery, in one of these places a great social reformer from Nair community was born. Kerala was, once, extreme in caste system, they practiced not just un-touchability but also un-seeability. Remember Vaikom movement? There was another custom, which was very peculiar to Kerala. Namboodaris, the high caste Brahmins permitted only their first son to marry. May be there was an economic angle to this. They did not want family property to be fragmented. So far so good! But the custom, which came to be known as ‘sambandham’ followed. In this custom the non-married sons were permitted to have ‘relation ship’ with Nair girls and beget children. The children so born did not get the father’s name. They were given maternal uncle’s family title. The Namboodari men visited the girl’s house only during the nights. They did not eat food prepared by nair family. This led to another custom. Madras Iyers were employed as cooks for namboodari men. These Iyers have now settled in Palghat and Trichur districts. Today most of them run coffee shops and ‘messes’. After the abolition of the sambandham system, these people were disliked. They were a community driven to the wall, for no fault of theirs. They merely went there for economic purposes. Like the Jews they turned out to be highly intelligent community. There was a time when most of them found place in Indian Administrative and Foreign services.

All Cherians and Kurians, Christians from Kerala claim their ancestry to namboodaris. It is possible that many of non-married sons of namboodaris converted to Christianity. After all it is human instinct to raise a family.

It is mind boggling that Christianity, Islam, Judaism and later communism, all foreign, were not just tolerated but accepted, while their own people, lower caste were treated so badly. A Christian or a Jew or a Muslim could run a teashop but not an un-touchable. On the one hand very liberal and catholic, on the other extremely intolerant! Of course these are now things of the past. But this intolerance surfaces once in a while, mostly in rural urban ares it is subtle and sophisticated. The once runner up are today exploiters.

The picture below was taken in Hotel Geetha on2.6.1970. It was a farewel party for Mr Jayaraman.

click to enlarge.


vinesh said...

Your blog is very nice... i like your blog ....
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Vijayalakshmi said...

I wonder if you could tell me more about your experience with my father- I am daughter of Mr.B.A.Rao referred to in your post. Thank you!