MY COUSINS IN THE VILLAGE OF PERINKULAM IN KERALA
My uncle, next to my father in age, had three sons and two daughters. The family continued to stay on in our village. The first two sons did not marry and continued to be bachelors. They had to give their sisters in marriage before they could think of their own marriages. None of them had cleared the SSLC examination. The eldest son worked as housekeeper for one of the rich families in the village. His main job was looking after the kitchen and cook food for the whole family including guests. The next son was looking after the agricultural operations of a family who owned land a few kilometres away from the village. He used to reside at the farm and would visit the family once in a month or so. The third one was working with a press near our village as a composer. The first daughter was given in marriage to a person running a hotel at Amaravati in Tamilnadu. She had three daughters. She passed away after a heart surgery at Trivandrum and her daughters grew up for some time with the family of their grandfather in our village. The second daughter of the uncle was married to a person having coffee plantations in Wynad district of Kerala. The uncle had died while I was with HEC Ranchi. After his father’ s death the youngest son’s marriage was fixed with a girl in a nearby village about 50 KM from our village. Since I was the eldest in the family, my wife and I performed the marriage rites of my cousin. The aunt lived to a ripe old age though her back was fully bent and only the skeleton remained of her body. Her eldest son passed away in 2006 due to complications in abdominal surgery. He was about 72 years of age. His mother was not conscious enough to realise that her son had died. But she followed him the third day after his death at the age of 90. We had been to the village for the after-death rituals which were performed at Kalpathi village in Palghat District.
When the press was closed my cousin started taking catering contracts. He gained some proficiency in this field and used to get catering contracts for marriages and other religious functions and parties. He was also involved with the management of the temples in the village on behalf of the residents. Along with his wife he used to make many types of vattals by cutting particular vegetables to size, boiling them with salt, turmeric and spices, drying them in the sun and packing them for sale. These vattals could be deep fried in oil and eaten with rice and curry just like pappad. They used to make pickles also. By 2006 my cousin’s daughter had passed her B.Com examination. My cousin was looking for a suitable boy. He asked me to find out about a boy working in one of the Maruti Udyog sales offices. I met with him and had a chat with him about the marriage proposal, his job, his parents and sundry other things. He was working in the Administration Department and was drawing a salary of Rs.11000 or so. He seemed to be a suitable match for my cousin’s daughter. The boy’s parents came to our village and saw the girl. For quite sometime there was no news from them. After a break of 4 months or so they again contacted my cousin and the marriage proposal was approved. The engagement ceremony was performed at the boy’s village near Ernakulam. As the senior most in the family my wife and I attended the function. We had got the mangalsutra made for the cousin’s daughter’s marriage. The night before the marriage we had occupied the marriage hall about 4 KM from our village. The key for the briefcase in which the mangalsutra was kept was missing. Attempts to force open the brief case failed. The key had been forgotten in the house at the village. It was almost midnight and there was no way one could reach the village. Even if one got to the house there was no guarantee that the key would be found there. Finally some one caught hold of a locksmith at that unearthly hour and got the lock of the briefcase opened. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. The mangalasutra was the most important thing for the marriage ceremony next morning. The marriage ceremony was attended well and we returned to Bangalore the next day. My cousin’s daughter came to Bangalore to live with her husband.
When we shifted to the new house in 2001 from our flat in Sena Vihar we had let out the house on rent to a person recommended by the Estate Manager of Sena Vihar. The rent at that time for single bedroom flats was Rs. 4000.00. In addition, the tenant was to pay the maintenance charges levied by the Sena Vihar Society. The prospective tenant said that he would pay Rs. 3400 per month as rent and pay the maintenance charges which at that time was Rs. 600.00 per month which was applicable whether the flat was owner-occupied or tenant-occupied. About six months after the tenant had moved in, the Sena Vihar Society changed the rules. For Owner-occupied flats the rate was Rs. 600 and for tenant-occupied flats it was Rs. 900. After a few years the rates became Rs. 900 for owner-occupied flats and Rs. 1350 for tenant-occupied flats. My tenant paid the rents promptly for the first three years. Then the rent started falling into arrears. He was not paying the maintenance charges to the society and as owner of the flat (actually it was my son’s flat) I had to pay the maintenance charges with interest. By the end of 2006 the arrears including the maintenance charges I paid became equal to Rs. 30000 which he had given me as deposit at the time of taking the flat on rent. He promised that some deposit was maturing and he would clear everything at that time.
STINT AT JALKHERI POWER PLANT BASED ON BIOMASS
Towards the end of 2006, I received a phone call from my wife’s cousin who had been the Managing Director of Rekha Cements and Chemicals Ltd. He was now MD of Jalkheri Power Private Limited a company generating power from biomass near Jalkheri Village about 20 kilometres from Patiala. The company had been taken on lease from the Punjab State Electricity Board by the Emirate Trading Agency of Dubai. The Electricity Board had problems running the plant which had been designed by BHEL. The Finance Manager of the company was leaving because his aging father wanted him to be with him in Bangalore instead of at Patiala . My wife’s cousin wanted to know whether I would like to take up the assignment. I told him that I was already past 75 and asked him whether any company would take a person at that age on the regular establishment of a company. He said that I should not worry about the age but just send in my resume by e-mail. Within a month I got the nod from the MD asking me to join in about 2 weeks. I would be paid a consolidated salary of Rs. 40000 per month. I would be designated Finance Controller.
Before I joined the Company I had to inform the Management of Kurlon with whom I had been working as a consultant for 10 years now. I had been visiting my dentist, an ex-army doctor, for pulling out my problem teeth. All my molars had been pulled out and I had only five or six teeth remaining, I asked the doctor to pull out all the teeth in three sittings. They could not be effectively used in chewing food and parts of the food got stuck in the gaps making it difficult to clean the teeth. Now that I had pulled out all the teeth I had to get a set of dentures made before I joined the new company at Patiala. Finally on 15th of January 2007 I reached Patiala. The company had sent the car to pick me up from the Delhi airport. I had the cell number of the driver and had no difficulty in locating him after I flew into Delhi Airport.
For a month I was lodged in a hotel at Patiala. I had been given a car and a driver who used to pick me up in the morning and drop me back at the hotel in the evening. During these days my predecessor was with me and he apprised me of all the problems the company was facing. After a month he finally handed over charge to me and left for Bangalore. I hired the accommodation which was vacated by him. The accommodation was more than adequate with two bedrooms, kitchen and toilet as I was alone, my wife continuing in Bangalore . One bedroom with attached toilet was completely separate on the other side of a passage. Generally this bedroom was used by occasional guests. My driver used this bedroom on days when it was too late for him in the night to return to his house.
I used to prepare breakfast myself. Usually it used to be cornflakes, sooji upma, Kanji made of broken wheat, jaggery and milk or noodles along with bananas or other fruits. I used to have Bru instant coffee early morning and after breakfast. The driver, an young man of 22 or so would pick me up from my place at 9.30 AM on the dot. He was very helpful. Many times I shared the breakfast with him. We used to reach the office before 10.30 AM. There was a mess for the officers where vegetarian lunch with chapattis, dhal, rice and cooked vegetables used to be served. Sometimes we used to get curd also. Evenings I used to prepare something like pongal ( cooked rice and green gram dhal seasoned with broken cashew nuts and crushed pepper roasted in ghee) or vegetable bath ( cooked rice and vegetables seasoned with spices, coriander leaves etc.). Sometimes I used to have plain rice with curds. On occasions I had South Indian delicacies like Idly and Dosa at a nearby restaurant.
Mornings I used to listen to devotional music like Venkatesa Suprbhatam, Kamakshi Suprabhatam, Vishnu Sahasranam, Lalitasahasranamam and other hymns mostly in Sanskrit. Evenings I used to watch Astha and Sanskar channels in the TV. I watched Ramdev’s lectures and demonstrations and discourses on Bhagavatam, Gita, Mahabharat and Ramayana in these channels. During my stay at Patiala I practised the Pranayams demonstrated by Baba Ramdev with frequent breaks in the continuity of the practice. This has been a major weakness in me, I could never stick to a program for any length of time whether it was an exercise regime like walking, yoga or pranayam, or new year resolutions like reading from the sacred texts like Gita, Bhagavatam etc. or giving up coffee and tea. After a period the habit, which I wanted to cultivate as a permanent aspect of my life, quietly dropped off and I was back on the old beaten track. Perhaps I was not passionate enough in cultivating these habits.
The power plant at Jalkheri had faced a lot of problems from the beginning. It was initially designed to work with bundled rice straw as fuel. But this led to clinkerisation in the boiler. The best fuel for the boiler was rice husk which was boiler-friendly and had good calorific value. But the price of rice husk rose to phenomenal levels during 2006 and 2007 touching almost Rs. 3000 per tonne. As per calculations generation of one unit of power required 1.2 KG of rice husk. This meant that fuel cost itself was Rs. 3.60 as against Rs. 4.00 paid by Punjab State Electricity Board for a unit of power delivered to their grid. Moreover, irrespective of production in the plant the company had to pay about Rs. 30 lakhs per month as lease payment to PSEB i.e. about Rs. 1 lakh per day. Substitution of cheaper fuel, for example, dried cow dung cake which was available in plenty in the surrounding villages was tried. Because of stones and other impurities in this fuel leakages developed in the tubes of the boiler. It was causing damage to the equipment. Moreover more demand for cow dung cakes pushed up the price for this fuel also. What with the prices of fuel and the lease payments to the PSEB it was impossible to carry on production unless PSEB revised the tariff of Rs. 4 .00 they were paying for a unit of power.
After the MD joined he had pursued the objective of getting carbon credits for the Company under the Kyoto protocol. Since the Jalkheri Power Private Limited was using biomass which is a renewable source of energy instead of coal which was a non-renewable source it was entitled to get carbon credits. He had gone to great lengths to register the company with the CDM Registry of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change at Bonn in Germany. The application had to be routed through the different Ministries of the Government of India. The MD personally chased the progress of the application and finally succeeded in Opening a holding Account with the CDM Registry in the name of Jalkheri Power Private Limited. The CERs (certified emission reductions), as certified by the auditors for the years 2002 to 2006, were credited to this account. The certification was done by auditors authorised by the UNFCCC Secretariat for this purpose. They meticulously went through the records maintained and verified their authenticity by examining the supporting documents. Subsequently the carbon credits were sold and the proceeds were received at Jalkheri Power Private Limited and credited to the accounts in 2007-2008.
The power plant had no manuals specifying the duties and responsibilities of the different departments like production, maintenance, purchase, stores, finance, accounts and administration. I prepared a document listing out in detail the duties and responsibilities for each of these departments. The chiefs of the departments had to see that these were properly implemented. I also drafted the Travel Allowance and Leave Rules and got them approved by the MD. Hitherto no rules were being followed and everything was informal.
The power plant was paid Rs. 4.00 per unit of power delivered to the grid of PSEB. The energy meter readings were recorded every fortnight in the presence of PESB engineers and the officers of Jalkheri Power Plant. Billing on PSEB was based on these readings. At Rs. 4.00 per unit of energy plant was not economically viable as the fuel costs had gone up considerably. Revision of tariff had to be approved by the Power Tariff Regulatory Authority which had earlier approved the current rates. PSEB was not prepared for this. We therefore requested that the lease payments be reduced by 50% or at least spread over twice the number of years so that the total amount payable to PSEB over the extended period will equal the agreed amount as per contract. We also suggested that the company be allowed to sell at least 50 % of the power produced to private companies. Another alternative proposed was to sell the plant to Jalkheri Power Private Limited at a price which would be equal to the discounted value of the projected cash flows for the next five years. But none of these proposals found favour with the PSEB. ETA, Dubai was apprised of the position before a final decision could be taken. They sent their auditors who went through the accounting and other records and came to the conclusion that the plant continued to make heavy losses. Running the plant required fresh infusion of funds to pay the overdue amounts to the bankers and suppliers. Otherwise the bankers will not allow further credit and the suppliers will not supply fuel (biomass). They presented different scenarios to the ETA management who provided funds to pay off the overdue amounts. But continuing the operations was impossible. Finally we gave notice to PSEB that we were shutting down operations from the 15th of October 2007. The officers and staff were informed of the decision. I gave the officers who had come from different parts of India certificates commending their performance in the company and recommending them for positions matching their education , skills and experience profile.
During the onam holidays my two grand daughters had come to Bangalore from Trichur. I was in Patiala. My wife had to cook different things for each of them as they had different preferences in the matter of food. This time my wife, along with my daughter, took them to Mysore for sight seeing. On reaching Mysore they checked into a hotel as they had to stay overnight. They visited the palace, Chamundi Hills, KRS dam, the zoo and the Vrindavan gardens and were back in Bangalore on the second day. My wife and daughter accompanied them on their return journey to Trichur
In August 2007 I took leave for 15 days and flew to Bangalore. My wife and I took a flight to Muscat on the 13th of August. I stayed there for about 10 days during which period we visited some of the natural spots in the country. I flew back straight to Delhi on the 25th August 2007 and proceeded to Patiala by train. I had already reserved accommodation by train. My wife continued to stay with my son at Muscat until I returned to Bangalore after resigning my job at Jalkheri Power Plant.
Soon after returning from Muscat I submitted my resignation to the MD and requested that I be relieved from 1st November 2007. He was unwilling to relieve me but I insisted that I be relieved by 1st November. I had been contacted by Mr. Viswanathan, ex-Finance Manager at Kurlon Ltd , who was now one of the consultants for an ERP project for the Hutti Gold Mines Company Limited, the only gold mining company in India. The company was in the Public sector owned by the Government of Karnataka. The order for developing an ERP solution was placed by HGML on Keonics, another State Government Public sector company. Keonics, in turn, placed the order on Vikas Global Solutions Limited which had engaged Mr. Viwanathan as a consultant. He wanted to know whether I could join the company as a functional consultant for Finance in the ERP project. Since I had both Finance and IT experience I had accepted the offer
VISITS TO PLACES AROUND PATIALA (CHANDIGARH, KURUKSHETRA, NAINA DEVI, AMRITSAR, JHALLIANWALA BAUG, WAGAH BORDER ETC).
Before leaving Patiala I wanted to visit the nearby places of interest. One Sunday I visited the Rock Garden and the zoo at Chandigarh. I had the company car and driver at my disposal. A colleague and his wife and children accompanied me in the car. We visited Chandigarh, the first planned city in India designed by the French architect Le Corbusier. The Rock Garden is a sculpture garden in Chandigarh. The garden was built by Nek Chand Saini with sculptures made of scrap and all kinds of waste material like bottles, glasses, bangles, tiles, ceramic pots, sinks, electrical waste etc. The sculpture garden is spread over an area of forty acres (160,000 square metres) near the Sukhna lake. One can only wonder at the imagination of the sculptor which had created this variety of forms and shapes in different hues out of throw-away material. The garden has also artificial waterfalls in many places all linked together. Leaving Chandigarh we went to Pinjore 22 KMs from Chandigarh. Pinjore is famous for its fascinating Mughul gardens. It lies on the foothills of the lower shivalik ranges. Legend has it that Pinjore was originally Panchpura because of its association with the five Pandava brothers of Mahabharata. They had stayed in this place during their exile. The garden’s luxuriant green lawns, murmuring watercourse, limpid pool, shady walks, colourful flower beds, descending terraces and monumental gateways create a special effect and captivate our imagination.
The following Sunday we visited the Naina Devi temple in Himachal Pradesh. According to legend , Lord Shiva’s consort Sati burnt herself in the fire generated by her yogic powers (yogagni) as she could not bear the insult meted out to Lord Shiva by her father. The distraught Shiva, carrying Sati’s body on his shoulders, started his terrible dance of destruction. Then Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body into fifty one parts, each part falling in different far flung locations. Each place where a part of Sati’s body fell became a sakti Peetha. Naina Devi Temple in Himachal Pradesh is one of the sakti peethas where the eyes of Sati had fallen. Thousands of devotees undertake pilgrimage to the temple by walk from far and near places. During the Navaratri huge crowds of devotees offer prayers at Naina Devi temple which is on the top of a hill. Looking down from the hill one can see the beautiful valley below. We had to wait in a long queue to have darshan of the Goddess. It was 9 PM in the night by the time we returned to Patiala.
The next Sunday I visited Hardwar and Rishikesh along with a few colleagues. We started early morning and went straight to Rishikesh. We visited Ram jhoola and Lakshman jhoola and bathed in the Ganga which at Rishikesh is unpolluted. Rishikesh abounds in ashrams, the noted among them being Sivananda Ashram. Some of these ashrams provide food for the pilgrims visiting Rishikeash. After breakfast we returned to Haridwar. We bathed in the Ganga at Har ki Paudi where there was a strong current but one could hold on to metal chains which had been securely fixed. We spent quite some time in the river, it was so refreshing. We had darshan in all the temples. In the evening we bought flowers and tiny lamps to be floated in the Ganga as an offering . We participated in the evening group Arati to Mother Ganga which was an exhilarating experience. The thought that this Ganga had been a witness to the history of this great land for countless years without beginning makes us reverential to Mother Ganga (Gangamai) as the river is affectionately called by the people of India.
On one Sunday we also visited Kurukshetra where the battle of Mahabharata took place and where Krishna dispelled the dilemma faced by Arjuna by expounding the knowledge of the Self which neither takes birth nor dies. The place where the message of the Gita was said to be given by Krishna to Arjuna is preserved at Kurukshetra. While visiting the place I visualised Krishna and Arjuna on a chariot at the centre of the battle field with the armies of Pandavas and Kauravas lined up on both sides. I could not but recollect those passages from the Gita which I had imbibed from my school days. Death of the body does not result in the death of the Soul, The soul is immortal. It cannot be cut or burnt or drenched or dried. It is eternal, all-pervading and stable. It discards one body and takes on another just like people discard old clothes and put on new ones. Krishna shows Arjuna his cosmic form which encompasses the whole of creation. Arjuna is terrified by the sight. Krishna tells him that all those who are lined up in the opposite camp had already been killed by Him, Arjuna is just an apparent cause. Gita is the greatest gift which our ancient Rishis have given us. If you live your life by the Gita you will surely achieve your highest potential in life.
Next on our list of places to be visited was Amritsar, Jallianwala Baug and Wagah border. Located in the heart of Amritsar city is the
Golden Temple, the most visited tourist attraction of Amritsar. welcomes everyone regardless of the religion or the faith one follows. One is enchanted by the beautiful structure with its shimmering reflection in the waters of the lake and flanked by spotlessly clean marble walkways and pavements. The main temple is covered in gold. The entire Golden Temple area is huge. We waited here in the queue for one hour before we could enter the sanctum sanctorum where the Guru Granth Sahib is reverentially worshipped by a group of priests who keep chanting the gurbani. After darshan at the Golden Temple we visited the Jaliyanwala baug, a historical monument that tells the sad story of mass killing during the independence movement in India. Here lies the memorial of the martyrs of the 1919 massacre by General Dyer. The well into which people had jumped when faced with the bullets of the British soldiers is preserved as a reminder to the sacrifices made by the people of Punjab. Temple
We then moved to Wagah Border after lunch. Wagah Border is one of the tourists’ destinations close to Amritsar. We saw all type of vehicles moving towards the border. We found people were already queued up near the metal detector door. As soon the guard opened the doors the whole crowd moved towards the 'Swarna Jayanti Dwar' (The gate near the Border). On both sides of the border a stadium had been built up for people to sit and watch the ceremony. The stadium was already full when we got entry. Young people were singing and dancing on the road. The songs were mostly national songs eulogizing Bharat and its people. The crowd shouted in unison slogans like 'Hindustan Zindabad’, ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki jai' . The border gave us the feeling of one Nationhood, the feeling of belonging to one Nation that is Bharat.
Exactly at 4:30pm the flag down ceremony started and the guards on both sides were bent on putting up their best performance.. The energetic marching and the forceful stamping of the feet while saluting and doing left and right turns was a sight to be seen. Exactly after 30 minutes the ceremony closed and the crowd dispersed satisfied that they had touched the border of the country the last thing in their itinerary. I took leave of my colleagues at Jalkheri power and returned to Bangalore. Within a few days my wife joined me from Muscat. My daughter-in-law had accompanied her. Thus ended the year 2007, an eventful year full of new experiences for me.