Thursday, November 11, 2010

CHAPTER-20 DEATH OF MY MOTHER-IN-LAW

                                                                    CHAPTER 20
DEATH OF MY MOTHER-IN-LAW
                                                                      1986 -1987
I joined Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited on the 7th of January 1986 as the Joint Controller of Finance and Accounts.  I had accompanied the CMD of KIOCL who was flying from Mangalore to Kudremukh in a helicopter owned by the company.  It was my first experience of travelling in a helicopter.  I was given a room in the Expatriates Hostel where the Engineers of Metchem Canada were staying during the construction stage of the project.   Food  also was prepared in the hostel for those staying there.
The climate was cool because of its altitude of 1894 Metres above sea level. Winter was pleasant.  During the rainy season there was continuous  downpour for days together.  One had to wear knee-length gumboots  to wade through the water and escape the leeches which were abundant during the rains.  The hills and valleys and the flora and fauna made Kudremukh a Nature lover’s paradise.
The PRO introduced me to the officers of the company.  I met the General Manager, Dy General Manager in charge of Mining,  Managers of different departments and senior officers.  I was also introduced to the mining operations with giant equipment like shovels to scoop up the ore loosened by blasting, 100 Ton capacity trucks to carry the ore for crushing,  crushers to reduce large boulders to smaller size,  conveyor systems for carrying the crushed ore to the stockpile and thence to the mills, autogenous mills where the crushed ore was ground to finer particles in a wet process,  magnetic separators for separating the iron particles from the slurry, ball mills where the particles were ground finer to release the iron, spiral systems to separate silica and iron, huge tanks with agitators to store the slurry  and a huge 100 KM  long pipeline carrying the slurry to the Mangalore plant by gravity ( because of the difference in altitude between Kudremukh and Mangalore).  All these operations were computer-controlled from a central location.  The field instruments had been connected to PLCs which had again been connected to the computer.  The PLCs and the computers contained all the logic to operate the whole plant safely.
As JCFA I was responsible for the  finance and accounting functions of the plant.  I was also put in charge of the Electronic Data Processing department.  I had a separate room in the Administrative building and a personal assistant who sat in the anteroom.  He took down dictation, typed out letters, connected telephones, regulated visitors and did all other secretarial jobs.  Back from office in the evening I used to shower, change into a cotton dhoti and sit at the window from where I could get a view of the hills with their trees and plants.  I had a collection of hymns by the First Sankaracharya.  A favourite of mine was a hymn to the Divine Mother titled ‘Tripurasundari Veda Pada Stavam’ in which every stanza ended with a Vedic quotation. The other hymn was ‘Devi chatuhshashtyupachaara Stotram’  in which the devotee mentally offers to the Divine Mother sixty four kinds of offerings.  Each evening I recited one of these hymns in the solitude of my room at the Expatriates Hostel.  In addition to being hymns to the Goddess both were  of great poetic beauty.  Sankara was indeed a philosopher poet.
My second daughter had completed PUC II year while in Bangalore.  She was to be put in college for her B.Sc degree.  In Kudremukh there was no college.  There was a Central school where one could study up to Plus Two.   There was no alternative other than putting her in a college at Udupi or Manipal.  I got her admission in Mahatma Gandhi Memorial College at Udupi.   There was a large girls hostel accommodating almost 300 girls, three girls to a room.  After we left her in the hostel we returned to Kudremukh.  My wife could not get a wink of sleep that night. She was worried about her daughter who was not used to staying  away from us for  any length of time.  A couple of days later she was leaving for Lucknow where my first daughter was expecting her second baby.  I therefore took my wife to Udupi the next day so that she could see her daughter before leaving for Lucknow. 
Kudremukh was connected to Mangalore Port by a 100 KM tarred road. Udupi, where my daughter was studying , was 50 KM from Kudremukh on this road.  We used to visit our daughter at least once a month.  On holidays she used to come to Kudremukh.  When visiting our daughter we made it a point to offer prayers at the Krishna Temple at Udupi.  We could see the deity only through a window cut on the wall.  This window was known as the ‘window of Kanaka’.  Kanakadasa was a great devotee of Krishna but he was not allowed inside the temple because of his caste.  He could see only the back of the deity through this window.  He longed to see the face of the deity.  Legend has it that the deity turned towards the window so that Kanakadasa could see the face.  Even today the devotees have darshan of the Lord only through this window. 
On one occasion our daughter was travelling from Udupi to Kudremukh by bus. We got the news that on the way there was a landslide and the road was blocked.  The passengers got down from the bus and negotiated  the roadblock on foot.  On the other side of the roadblock a bus was waiting to pick them up.  By this time my wife and I had reached the spot and we accompanied our daughter to Kudremukh in the pick-up bus.
Since mining operations were mechanised and computer-controlled the manpower at Kudremukh was only about 2000.  Accommodation was provided for all the employees.  Houses were built on the slopes of the hill.  Winding switchback roads connected the houses which were at different levels on the slope.  Everything required for the inhabitants of this colony,  including provisions, vegetable and milk  had to come from outside.  The approach to Kudremukh was from Chickmagalur via Kalasa which had coffee and tea estates.  The roads were built like a spiral staircase with hairpin bends and the driver had to be in a state of high alert to avoid accidents.  There was a bus service to Kudremukh {known as Malleswara) from Bangalore where the Head Office of the company was situated.  The road to Mangalore had been laid  during the construction period of the project in order to transport  imported  machinery coming through the Mangalore port. 
I had good staff and officers both in Finance and EDP and both  these departments functioned smoothly. I had an open-door policy with regard to employees in my department who could walk in any time if they had some representation to make,  complaint to lodge or grievance to be redressed. I did my best to solve some of the problems of the employees.  In the clerical grade there were two scales but employees in  the lower scale were also doing the same type of work as those in the higher scale.   I presented this case to the Management in the proper perspective and the two scales were merged.   Those in the lower scale were brought on to the higher scale at an appropriate stage.  I introduced an examination by passing which assistants could be promoted as junior accountants on a higher scale. I recommended the case of an employee for  a transfer to Bangalore as his wife was seriously ill and had to be hospitalised.  I recommended the wife of an officer in Finance for a job in our laboratory. She was a science graduate with chemistry and had been working as a chemical analyst in the Mysore Paper Mills. Initially the DGM in charge was reluctant to take a woman in the lab but he was persuaded to take her so that we could retain the husband who was a chartered accountant.   All this was done with the employees’ welfare at heart and the employees reciprocated by their earnestness and commitment to their work.
One of those days, the Jaycees of South Karnataka ( an international  non-profit youth service organisation) were holding their annual meeting at Kudremukh and the CMD of KIOCL was to address them.  Since he had other pressing engagements that day he asked me to inaugurate the meeting.  I delivered a short speech appreciating the ideology and mission of the Jaycees.  I got the acquaintance of one of the lecturers from MGM college where my second daughter was studying for her B.Sc degree.
In March 1987 my wife who was visiting her younger sister in Madras returned with her mother who was a heart patient. She had right ventricular endomyocardial fibrosis Known as IHD (Ischaemic heart disease) for six to eight years with severe breathlessness, exhaustion, and weakness.   Her heart was dilated and she used to gasp for a breath of air many times.  She insisted that she would come with her daughter to Kudremukh.  In view of her health condition, I was apprehensive of her rail journey from Madras to Mangalore and road journey from Mangalore to Kudremukh.  But my wife took the risk of  bringing her mother  and father by train up to Mangalore. A friend lent his car to bring them from Mangalore to Kudremmukh.  Within a few days of arrival mother-in-law had the same breathing problem.  She was taken to the Plant Hospital.  The Chief Medical Officer referred her to the Manipal Hospital.   She was admitted in the hospital on 25-03-1987 and put on a ventilator.  The doctor wrote out medicines and injections which we purchased from the Manipal Pharmacy.  My father-in-law and I rented a hotel room for sleeping at night.   My wife lingered outside the ICU somewhere in the lobby.
One evening my second daughter came  from Udupi to see her grand mother. Before going back to her hostel she and I went to the shopping complex to make some purchases.  There I ran into the lecturer whom I had met at the Jaycee’s annual meet.  I told him that my mother-in-law had been admitted in the hospital for a heart problem.  He gave me his telephone number and said that I could ring him up for any help without any hesitation. 
My second son in Bangalore did not know anything of what had happened to his maternal grand mother. When we were at Manipal he came to Kudremukh on 28-03-1987 on his scooter taking those hairpin bends in the road. His friend was riding pillion on my son’s scooter. It was late evening and the head lights of the scooter went out.  The duo reached Kudremukh about 9 PM.  The house was locked.  They found out that we were at the Manipal Hospital.  My son and his friend left the scooter at Kudremukh and came to Manipal by bus.  There he saw his grandmother and she also recognised him.  She spoke something to him in whispers and he also replied. There sure had been a telepathic communication between the grandma and the grandson who had been brought up by the former until he was twelve.   The next day at 8.20 PM she breathed her last. My father-in-law and I were at Kudremukh after vacating the hotel room on that day.  We got the message from the hospital and came to Manipal next morning.  It was Ugadi festival.    It was difficult to get a priest to perform the funeral rites.  I telephoned the  lecturer of MGM college and explained the situation to him.  He immediately arranged for a priest.  My father-in-law performed the funeral rites and lit the funeral pyre.  After the cremation there was no place where we could bathe.  The lecturer took us to a place where an  Yakshagana troupe was celebrating Ugadi.  There was a hand pump for drawing ground water. Three of us my wife, her father and I bathed and changed our clothes.  We were invited to the Ugadi feast by the yakshagana artists.  We thanked the Lord for making all these possible in a town where we didn’t know any one and had no influence whatsoever.  Next day I took the urn containing my mother-in-law’s ashes and immersed it in the sea. 
In September 1986 my first daughter gave birth to her second child (the first did not survive) a baby girl. Because of the experience with the first child they did not want to send my daughter to Bangalore. She was delivered of the child at a hospital in Lucknow.  My wife had been there for help and she returned to Kudremukh after about two months.
In January 1987 I wrote the Notional Standard Test in Programming Competence of the Computer Society of India of which I had been admitted as a Life Member in July 1986.  I passed the test on Computer Programming in COBOL in second division.
While working in KIOCL I had to help my daughter with problems in mathematics. I thought of doing B.Sc(Maths) of Madras University by correspondence.   I had to write a qualifying test to get admission to the course.  I wrote the test at   Bangalore   and was declared   passed.      I was enrolled for B.Sc(Maths) of the Madras University School of Correspondence Courses.   I wrote the First year Examination in May 1987.  I wrote Sanskrit Paper I, English Paper I  and Paper I Algebra, Analytical Geometry of two dimensions and Calculus.  I could not write the paper on Allied Subject I - Accountancy since I had some urgent official work on that day which could not be postponed.   The Accountancy paper I cleared in the October 1987 Examination
KIOCL wanted to negotiate the purchase of the latest process control system from Foxboro who had supplied the existing system.  A team consisting of the CMD, two engineers for technical evaluation and myself as the Finance man was to visit the US for this purpose. Our flight landed in New York from where we took a flight to Atlanta where the suppliers had their office.   It was the first time I was setting foot on foreign land. One of the engineers lost his passport at the airport while he was trying to telephone someone. Our CMD castigated him for being so careless and got a new passport issued to him through the Indian Embassy. Until he got the new passport the engineer confined himself to the hotel room.  We discussed the various options available to us with regard to the  computerised operation of our iron ore plant so that we could make an informed decision.   The engineer who lost the passport and I had one day to travel to Washington by the underground and to go sight-seeing in New York.  We had left India on the 7th of July 1987 and were back to India on the 16th of July 1987.   
In 1987 a dish antenna had been installed in Kudremukh to receive TV transmissions from Doordarshan New Delhi.  This was connected by cable to individual households.  About this time the marketing people from the Electronic Corporation of India, Hyderabad, a public sector company,  came to Kudremukh with more than 250 TVs, black and white and colour.  They wanted to sell the TVs before the budget so that any new levies in the budget would not affect the price. They agreed to sell the TVs on instalment basis provided the Finance Department of Kudremukh agreed to deduct the monthly instalments and remit to ECIL.  As Joint controller of Finance and Accounts I agreed to do this with the approval of the Chairman.  This arrangement could help the employees possess the TV immediately while instalments would be deducted from their salary.  Now all the 250 odd TVs could not be sold in a day.  They needed  space to store the TVs.  I allowed them to use my garage since I was not using that space.  They were happy and ultimately practically all the TVs were sold out.  I also bought a colour TV at a price of around ten thousand rupees.
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