That was the year 1980. I reported to Siliguri terminal as operations officer. Mr. G. Mallick was the head. Siliguri had the history of union violence. It was widely known that Mr.Malai Ghosh and Mr. Subir Raha were slapped across the face during some altercations with the union leaders. Unusually they did receive management support and the employees involved were suspended. But that was history when I reported.
I was cautioned the working life was tough and Mr Mallick was a no nonsense man. I always had a reputation of being a rebel (iconoclast in my view). I landed a toughest assignment of MG operations. There was a single gantry for full rake. A rake in MG is lengthwise more than BG rake. Each wagon is almost double the length of BG wagon. With one gantry there were three spurs. That is to say one spur was without gantry. And all full rakes were placed only there. Placement was never perfect. At least an hour was spent in hand shunting.
I can never forget my first working day there. A full rake of loaded wagons was placed in third spur sometime after lunch break. The hose connections were given after verifying the dip measurements, lines were made through and the decanting operation commenced.
Normally with the good pumping capacity a full rake is unloaded in about five hours. Things were in perfect order and after three hours decanting was at normal rate. It was around six in the evening. I was feeling tired being at the site for four continuous hours and decided to have a cup of tea and start working on the release papers.
I returned to gantry after an hour. On checking I found the product levels in the wagons were the same as when I left the gantry an hour ago. I walked the entire length of the spur to see what was happening. I found that the valves of at least three to four wagons were in open condition even though the decantation of those was completed. That meant the entire suction line was with air. I did not say a word to any worker. I just told them to prime the line and close the valves of completed wagons. I could see the pain of realization of guilt in their eyes. The entire decantation was completed around twelve midnight.
Next day they volunteered to confess their guilt. There after I enjoyed working with them.
This was yet another confirmation of my belief that one should never lose faith in the goodness of human beings.
The first installation Manager of Siliguri was Mr. Savur, who retired as GM some time late eighties (I may not be accurate about the date). There are a number of hilarious incidents narrated very fondly by the workers of Siliguri. Of them I recall one here. Those were the days when many of the facilities that we have taken for granted today were non-existent. Working life in terminals was tough. Added to that the managers who migrated from Esso or Burmah Shell or Caltex were always keen to drive in to every one that they were superior. Well, that is not the purpose of this writing.
From a balcony of Installation Manager’s bungalow, which was within the compound wall of installation, one could have a clear view of happenings in the Installation. Mr. Savur used to stand in the balcony, bare-bodied with a folded-up dhoti, sipping his morning coffee. It was not unusual that a wagon would overflow. And it was not unusual to see Mr, Savur, with folded lungi and yagnopaveet on his bare body chasing the culprit all over the installation. Whatever was the feeling of being chased at that time, the workers remembered it very fondly. That probably was a comic relief in an otherwise tough environment. They remembered him very fondly.
If you follow the Manuel on operations you cannot load wagons when both bottom and master valves are inoperative. But scarcity of wagons, immediate product requirement was possibly the reasons for ignoring the instructions. One can know the upper valve is inoperative, but you cannot know the condition of the bottom valve till the flange is removed. Once the flange is removed and the bottom valve is inoperative, product just gushes out of the faucet. When this happened, a worker on the spot just put his head against the faucet flange to arrest the flow till others rushed there. Putting the head against the faucet flange meant a great risk. The flow could even suffocate, apart from the danger of soaking in petroleum.
That was the commitment of the people. Think of their contribution to the growth of this corporation!
Mr.Mallick valued punctuality over anything else. The Terminal timings were 8 am onwards. A little before 8 am he would stand in a small garden close to the main gate.
Every time I saw him there I wished him with all respect. I have always respected authority even if the authority is mediocre. But Mr. Mallick really deserved respect for his many good qualities. I found blue-collar workmen never wished him. They either lowered their gaze and walked away or looked the other way. In one of the tea sessions with workmen, I did spend sometime with the workers when there were no placements, I asked them the reason for their not wishing the TM. There were two very outspoken boys, Niranjan and NandaLal, who told me that whenever they wished him in response he merely looked at his c… and that was the reason they stopped wishing him. Mr. Mallick was a body builder and used to cycle in the terminal premises during early hours. He used to stand straight, legs a bit wide apart and wrists placed on his hipbones. Whenever someone wished him he merely gave a nod. Well, the inference of workmen was not totally misplaced. In one of the informal get-togethers I narrated this to Mr. Mallick. He really laughed and there after he responded by raising his hand.
The compound wall of terminal and quarters was common. From the quarters to the railway station or to any place was lonely and desolate. Areas on either side were low lying full of shrubs, bushes and wild grass. After the twilight, it was an experience to walk on this road. On both sides of the road were glowworms in their full glory presenting the entire area as a replica of the heavens above. The feeling was one of walking over a galaxy.
Siliguri terminal was situated in New Jalpaiguri. Officers and staff stayed in the same residential complex adjoining Terminal. When the sky was clear Kanchanjanga could be seen. It was a beautiful view. Siliguri is about 8 kms form New Jalpaiguri. But the short cut was just about 4 kms. Talking of Kanchanjunga I remember my visit to Darjeeling, which is just 70 kms from Siliguri. Siligiri is in Darjeeling District. At Darjeeling with family I spent a week in our beautifully located Holiday home, which was next to Oberoi hotel. From the window I could see the kanchanjanga in its glory.
One day during the week we started for tiger hills at 4 in the morning. Tiger hill is the place from where one can see Kanchanjanga in all its glory. It was sometime in November and most of the days the sky used to be cloudy or the atmosphere misty. Many visitors returned disappointed, as they could not see because of inclement weather.
We waited breathlessly. As the twilight broke the unimaginable happened. The purple glow of the twilight covered the snow-capped mountain. There it was-- breath-takingly beautiful. I felt the ‘sparsh’of God. I cannot forget the experience. My ‘rongte khade ho gaye’.