PREPARING FOR A JOB
After passing the SSLC Examination I sent an application for admission to the Vivekananda College, Chennai. The typist-copyist had encouraged me to send the application though I was sure that I would not be able to pursue my studies in college. I got admission but without an assurance of scholarship I could not join. Moreover, my father could not afford to pay for my boarding and lodging. So I had to abandon the idea and reconcile myself to seeking a suitable job.
Those were days when opportunities for higher education were much less than they are today. There were not many colleges. If you passed the SSLC examination, that was considered good enough to secure a job. There were very few graduates in the village. A relative of my father was a Bachelor of Arts. He would never forget to put the letters B.A. after his name in all his letters. Such was the value attached to a degree. Distance education was unknown. If you wanted to join a college you had to go to a city and your parents had to shell out not only college fees but also your boarding and lodging expenses. For these reasons, the usual practice among boys of the village was to spend a year or so learning shorthand and typewriting and go to Bombay to secure a job as a stenographer in a commercial or industrial establishment. I had already acquired sufficient proficiency in typewriting. I now turned my attention to shorthand. I bought the books ‘Pitman’s Shorthand’ and ‘Key to Exercises in Pitman’s Shorthand’ and embarked on a course of self-study. This was a question of practice. I spent almost 8 hours a day practising the strokes of shorthand. In about 4 months I had acquired reasonable speed. Now, I had to ask someone to dictate something in normal speed and test my proficiency in shorthand.
A classmate of mine in the High School was also learning shorthand. He had passed the SSLC Examination the same year. He used to dictate from the editorial column in the ‘Hindu’, an English daily popular those days in our village. We used to time the test, count the number of words and work out our speed in terms of words per minute. Our aim was to achieve a speed of 100 words per minute in taking down dictation. To start with, we found that our speed was hardly fifty to sixty words a minute. It required quite a lot of practice to attain a speed of 100 words.
Since we had spare time we thought of doing something by which we can earn some money. We approached the Head Master of the Elementary school where we had studied. He offered to take us as temporary untrained teachers. We would be paid rupees fifteen a month but would have to sign for twenty five or so. That was the usual practice in all aided schools. I was given class three to teach. Today many of those students remember me when I happen to meet them. I am not able to place them as they have become matured adults; I had taught them when they were children of eight or nine years.
A gentleman belonging to our village was the sole selling agent in India for a company manufacturing comptometers in the USA. He used to visit the village for the chariot festival. He had placed many boys in our village as comptometer operators in private companies. The Typist-copyist recommended my case to him. I met with him in his house. The gentleman asked me what qualities an employee should have. I mumbled something unsure of myself. Then he said that the qualities he expected were honesty, integrity and ordinary competence. Then he had some advice for me and asked me to see him the next day. Next day when I met him he asked me whether I had made up my mind. I said I had to get my father’s consent. He was infuriated by this reply. He said angrily “ For giving you this job your father should fall at my feet, instead you are talking of getting his consent”. I was struck dumb. Without a word I left the place and never went back to him again for a job.
During the summer vacation in 1950 I had been to Palani, a place of pilgrimage in Tamilnadu. One of my cousins (my mother’s elder sister’s son) was running the hotel taken over by him from his father-in-law. In fact my father had arranged the marriage of this cousin who had acquired quite some experience in hotel management from his days at Tirupur. They had named the hotel ‘Tirupur Lodge’ in memory of those days. His two brothers also helped him run the hotel. While I was at Palani there was an advertisement in the papers inviting applications for clerical and other cadres in the Posts and Telegraphs Department. There had been no recruitment to the Posts and Telegraphs Department during the war years. This was the first time, after the war years, recruitment was being done on all-India basis, on a large scale. Candidates were to sit the recruitment examination in which they would be tested in English, Arithmetic and Geography. I had opted for Madras GPO as the unit to which I would be posted if I passed the exams. My shorthand friend and I wrote the exams at Coimbatore. I was selected and allotted to Madras GPO. I was asked to wait for my posting order. My friend could not clear the exam. I had a choice now. Either join the Posts and Telegraphs Department as a clerk or hone my shorthand skills and seek a job as stenographer in some private company in Bombay. I chose the former. As the proverb goes, a bird in hand was worth two in the bush.
May, 1951 I received a letter informing me that I had been appointed as a temporary clerk at Madras General Post Office. I was placed at the top of the list of candidates allotted to Madras GPO. My total monthly salary would be Rs. 125 consisting of Rs. 60 basic pay, Rs. 60 dearness allowance and Rs. 5 City compensatory allowance for being posted to Madras city. I would draw an annual increment of Rs. 4 until I reached basic pay of Rs. 120 after 15 years. Then, If I continued to be efficient in my job, I would get an yearly increment of Rs. 5 until I each Rs. 170 after 10 years. Then I will remain stuck at Rs. 170 after serving the department for 25 years unless I get a promotion of which there was no guarantee.
By coincidence, a cousin of my father, who was working in the office of the Chief Engineer of Southern Railway in Madras, happened to be visiting us. It was decided that I would travel with him to Madras and stay with their family until alternative arrangements could be made. Accordingly I reached Madras with my father’s cousin and stayed with his family until my parents came to Madras. The cousin’s wife was an affectionate woman. She cooked for the whole family including her husband’s cousin and me. Her son was in class IX at that time. He used to joke about the pronunciation of Malayalees when they speak in English. He used to joke about my Tamil also. His elder sister was of my age and she had been married to an Auditor in the Accountant General’s Office. She was good at classical Carnatic music and used to give performances at the All India Radio. I was staying with this family as a paying guest.
I reported at Madras GPO by 15th of May 1951. I was given training for a month in the different departments like Money Order, Registration, Inland and Foreign Parcels, Savings Bank, Sub Office Accounts, Philately and Stamp Vending. I had to make a detailed study of the rules and regulations in the P& T Guide. At the conclusion of the training period I was posted in the Inland Parcel Department. There I was assigned as assistant to the delivery clerk whose job was to sort all parcels by the beat numbers of the postmen who would deliver them, prepare receipts to be signed by the addressees, hand over the parcels to the concerned postmen for delivery along with a list showing the parcel number and Post Office at which the parcels were booked. I had to do split duty, 8 AM to 1 PM and 3 PM to 6 PM. I used to leave the house by 6 AM and walk the distance of about 5 KM to Madras GPO. Such morning walks on some of the streets was disgusting with children defecating on the road side. I used to have breakfast in the GPO canteen. I would go home for lunch by taking a bus. After lunch I would take a short nap and go back to office by 3 PM, again by bus. Evenings I would walk back home. This routine continued for a few months. Then I was assigned to the parcel counter where I had to accept parcels for booking from individuals and companies.
In the evenings, after office hours, I used to walk home a distance of about 6 kilometres. Madras GPO was on the First Line Beach and I could walk for some distance along the beach enjoying the sea breeze. It was much better than travelling in jam-packed buses in the hot summer. Some days one of my colleagues used to give me company when we took a different route and passed through Kothwal Chavadi the largest vegetable market in Madras at that time. There was a beach opposite the High court where people gathered in large numbers to enjoy the sea breeze and to wet their legs up to the knees in the waves.
The parcel counter where I was posted did not have much business during the forenoon. In the afternoon there used to be long queues. The business houses in the vicinity sent out hundreds of parcels. The person bringing the parcels had to stand in the queue. He was allowed to present 10 parcels at a time. After that he had to go to the tail end of the queue and wait for his turn to come again. This arrangement was to avoid undue delay for those who had to send one or two parcels only. I had to be on my toes until closing time at 6 PM weighing parcels, checking the correctness of postage stamps affixed and writing out the receipts. In the case of foreign parcels the customs declarations and despatch notes had to be checked in addition to weighing and checking the postage stamps affixed. Foreign parcels used to be heavy weighing up to 22 KGs. One Class IV official was attached to the counter to handle heavy parcels. In the case of insured parcels, the packing and the seals had to be examined to ensure that they were tamper-proof. Parcels to be sent by air should have the airmail label stuck to them and should be kept separately lest, by mistake, they happen to be sent by surface mail. I remember an instance when this actually happened and the sender of the parcel complained about the delay in delivery. My explanation was called for and I submitted that the mistake had happened because of the unusually large crowd at the counter and the resultant pressure of work. However, my explanation was not accepted and I was warned against any recurrence of such incidents.
I remember another incident when the Presidency Postmaster, on his rounds. had noticed the class IV official defacing the stamps on parcels. He instructed me that, as counter clerk, I should myself deface the stamps. In fact the P &T Manual had laid down the rule that the clerk booking the parcel should himself deface the stamps affixed immediately. The idea was that no one should peel off the stamps before defacing and misuse them. However, this was not practicable for me because of the pressure at the parcel counter. I allowed the class IV official to continue to deface the stamps on the parcels. This was noticed by the PPM on his rounds and my explanation was called for. I submitted that because of the pressure at the counter I allowed the class IV official to deface the stamps and he was doing it in my presence. This was done to avoid unduly long waits for customers at the counter. As usual, my explanation was not satisfactory and I had disobeyed the orders of the Presidency Postmaster. I was however let off with a severe warning with the rider that any recurrence of this nature would invite harsher punishment.
Madras GPO handled thousands of parcels sent every year to various places in connection with the SSLC examinations. Those days Madras Presidency covered almost the whole of the South (except Maharashtra and Orissa) and the SSLC examination was common to all the districts comprised in the Madras Presidency. Question papers, answer papers, certificates and other things relating to students passed through the parcel department of GPO. Each parcel had to be entered in the receipt book, the number slip pasted on it, invoiced for its onward transmission and the total number booked tallied with the total number despatched. Sometimes we had to work past midnight to complete all these procedures but we were not paid a single penny for overtime work.
Undelivered registered parcels were kept in the strong room. The details were entered in a register and signed by the section in charge. Insured parcels were kept in a separate safe in the strong room with double locks, one key with the section in charge and another key with the Assistant Presidency Postmaster.
After more than a year at the parcel counter I worked for sometime at the VP parcel delivery counter. I had to receive from the postmen the cash collected by them on delivery of VP parcels to the addressees along with the receipts signed by them. I also had to deliver VP parcels at the counter on the addressees producing the intimation of arrival of VPP delivered to them by the postman. The cash collected from the addressees of such VP parcels as well as cash received from postmen had to be handed over to the cashier and his signature obtained in the VPP register.
These days I read all the rules and regulations in the P& T Guide as questions were set from this Guide for the confirmation examination. I was surprised to see highly qualified people, some with double Masters degree, working as clerks after 15 or 20 years of service. The small percentage of posts in the supervisory cadres denied many in the clerical cadres the prospect of being promoted to supervisory posts except perhaps towards the fag end of their career. The only alternative was to pass the Inspector of Post Offices examination or the P & T Accountants’ Service Examination. But I was eligible to sit these exams only after I was made quasi-permanent. I was determined to crack one of these exams, preferably the P&T Accountants’ Service Examinations and started my preparations in right earnest. Side by side, I wanted to continue my study of the Hindi language through the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha which had its headquarters in Madras. There was a branch of the Sabha near Madras GPO and I enrolled myself as a private candidate for the Madhyama examination.