DEATH OF MY FATHER
In 1965 my brother’s marriage was arranged by one of the gentlemen who had visited me at Madras GPO with a marriage proposal. This gentleman was living in Chennai and was our next door neighbour. I was with the Heavy Engineering Corporation at Ranchi. My parents and my brother were staying at Triplicane. My father had lost his memory (may be Alzheimer’s). He used to walk aimlessly from the house, unaware of himself, and somebody had to go after him and bring him back. Someone had to keep a watch over him always lest he strayed away from the house. He could not recognise his own sons. In this condition he could not be expected to perform the rites connected with his youngest son’s marriage and as the eldest son, I had to fulfil these along with my wife. My younger brother and his family had come from Cuddapah for the marriage.
We travelled to Kharagpur by Ranchi-Howrah Express. At Kharagpur we boarded the Howrah-Madras mail and reached Madras by the next evening. The wedding over, mother said that she would shift residence to our native village along with our father and take care of him there. It was difficult to look after him in a city like Madras or Delhi. Moreover rented accommodation in the city being expensive, we had to settle for very modest lodgings. In this respect the village was far better. One of my paternal uncles had three sons and none of them had left the village in search of jobs. They would be of help in case of any emergency. I would send mother rupees forty per month for her expenses. She will also get some paddy from the tenant, more than enough for an year’s requirement. In fact she could sell the surplus. My youngest brother and his wife would continue in Madras. All of us agreed to this arrangement. I stayed for a few more days at Madras until the expiry of my leave and returned to Ranchi with my family.
While in Delhi I had enrolled with the British Institutes In Bombay for a correspondence course supposed to prepare one for the ICWA examinations. I Had been working through the study material sent by them and had also submitted answers to the questions at the end of each lesson. The answers used to be evaluated and sent back to me with the marks I had obtained. When I wanted to enrol myself as student member of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants, Calcutta I found that I should have completed the Intermediate examination of those days to be eligible. Since I had left schooling after SSLC I was not eligible. But I could apply to the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants, London and register myself for their examinations. I filled out the necessary forms but I needed a certificate stating that I had undergone a course of study covering the syllabus for the examination. This was in addition to the certificates evidencing the basic qualifications which had to be sent in original. My studentship with the British Institutes, Bombay came in handy. When I was in Bombay on one of our visits to my in-laws, I went to their office and got the certificate signed by the Director of the Institute. My application was accepted and I could take the examinations under the new five-part syllabus, each part having three to four papers. One could write two parts at a time and the two parts must be in sequence. For example, if I wrote Parts III and IV and cleared Part IV I could not take Parts III and V in the next sitting because they were not in sequence. I had to clear Part III first, then take part V.
Though I had gone through the lessons sent by the British Institutes, those lessons were not prepared for the examinations of ICWA London under the new five-part syllabus. Also, certain subjects like Company Law and Taxation under the British laws were not covered. I enrolled myself as a member of The British Library at Ranchi from where I could borrow books not only on the above subjects but also on the other subjects for the examination. Throughout my stay at Ranchi I made good use of the British Library not only for the ICWA Examinations but also for reading up on computer and information technology related subjects. I remember to have taken a book titled ‘The Principles and Practice of Management’ edited by E. F. L. Brech and had made extensive notes from it. My strategy was to read the text books on each subject and take comprehensive notes of the key points. I could go through these notes for pre-examination revision of the subjects concerned .
I now decided to write Part I and Part II examinations of ICWA (UK) in June 1965. I completed the application forms and applied to the SBI for the foreign exchange required to pay the examination fees. Those days one could not get foreign exchange for the asking. The Foreign Exchange Control Act was in force. On producing the letter received from the Institute of Cost and Works Accounts, London I was given a demand draft for the required amount on the State Bank of India, London favouring ICWA London. I wrote the examinations at Jamshedpur. Three of my colleagues in HEC also wrote the exams spread over four days. Each day there were two papers of 3 hours each. I passed both the parts in the first attempt.
While writing Part I and Part II I had come into contact with a colleague who was working in one of the plants of HEC. He was preparing for the examinations of ICWA, London. He had study lessons from the School of Accountancy in UK to cover the new five-part syllabus and he was willing to share with me the lessons for Parts III and IV. We were to work through the lessons daily from 7 PM to 9 PM at his residence which was about 2 KM from the dam site where I was staying.
Those days India was at war with Pakistan. Lal Bahadur Sastri was the Prime Minister. He had come to Ranchi and at the Airport he gave a spirited address. There was blackout during the nights. I had joined the Home Guards and attended parade in the mornings. Against this background we started our combined study. My wife used to worry daily when I had to go out in the dark 2 KM to reach my friend’s house. But I was determined to write parts III and IV of ICWA London in December 1965.
In June 1965 I was posted as Accountant in the Budget Section at the Head Office of Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited. My responsibilities included consolidating the capital and operating budgets of the three plants (FFP, HMBP, HMTP) and the Head Office, Monthly Performance Reports to Government (both capital and operations) based on information received from the plants, preparing replies to questionnaires from the Committee on Public Undertakings, Collect material for answering questions raised in parliament about HEC, Cash flow projections, Order Book Status and such other duties as might be assigned by the Controller of Finance at Head Office. I remember an occasion when I drafted replies to a questionnaire issued by the COPU on Financial Management in Public Sector Undertakings. I was meticulous in drafting the replies both with regard to the language and the content. It was a pleasant surprise to me when the draft came back approved by the Controller of Finance and the Director (Finance) without any changes.
My controller of Finance had a soft corner for me. Once I accompanied him to Patna where we had to negotiate with the State Bank of India for enhancement of the cash credit limit for our company. On the return journey we stayed for a night at the Hazaribagh National Park. My boss, being a member of the IA & AS, could get accommodation for us in the DVC guest house. It was quite an experience listening to the silence of the night broken by the nocturnal sounds of the forest. We also had a boat ride on the Damodar river where the Tillaya dam had been built. There were varieties of deer freely roaming on the banks of the river.
About the same time, I was allotted accommodation of the type I was entitled to according to the rules framed by the Company. It was a two-bedroom flat on the first floor of a block of flats in Dhurwa colony. Opposite the block was vacant land and, from the window of our drawing room, we could see the trains passing through Hatia which was the railway station near the colony. We shifted residence from the dam site to the new flat. A large number of quarters had been built using prefabricated modules transported and assembled at the desired locations. This had speeded up the construction process. But sceptics questioned the quality and durability of these houses. The total employee strength of HEC was about twenty thousand. About fifty percent of employees were provided company accommodation and the rest had to make their own arrangement.
I appeared for parts III and IV of ICWA (London) in December 1965. When the results came I found that in Part III I had been given ‘D’ grade in the paper on ‘Office Management’. In the other papers in Part III I had been given ‘A’ or ‘B’. I knew all the answers for the ‘Office Management’ paper and was perhaps overconfident. Instead of writing lengthy detailed answers I had briefly listed the main points in my answer paper. I had finished the paper in less than half the time allowed. Looking back I realised that the examiner had expected detailed essay type answers.
In March 1966 I received news of the death of my father. In addition to my mother my youngest brother was with him during his last days. Normally it is the eldest son who is to lit the funeral pyre on which the body is laid. But I was away in Ranchi and it would take three days for me to reach the village. My younger brother who was at Cuddapah could not come at short notice. Therefore my youngest brother lit the funeral pyre.
Travelling to my village for the after-death rituals was gruelling. We had to pack post-haste and, with our two children aged nine and four, take a bus to Chakradharpur where we boarded the Howrah-Bombay Express. We got into the unreserved compartment which was jam-packed. Alighting at Nagpur, we took the Grand Trunk Express to Madras. We had got into a compartment reserved for the Military. Luckily no one objected and we had a comparatively comfortable journey. At Madras we boarded one of the trains going up to Mangalore. The compartment was jam-packed. We didn’t have space even to stand. With young children, the heat of the summer days and the tiredness from the long journey, it was a punishing experience.
The rites extended up to the 13th day after death. My mother continued in the village for some time. For us the return journey was equally horrible. Somehow we reached Kharagpur one early morning dog-tired. We had to wait at Kharagpur to catch the Howrah-Ranchi train until the evening hours. In the afternoon there was a train going up to Jamshedpur. We thought we could reach Jamshedpur by evening and take a bus from there to Ranchi. Unfortunately, by the time we reached Jamshedpur the last bus had already left. Now there was no other alternative but to wait for the train from Howrah to Ranchi. It arrived around midnight. The general compartments were packed with passengers. My son had been complaining of pain in the chest and was crying. I put my wife and children in the ladies’ compartment and hopped into the adjacent compartment. Standing at the door I was craning my neck and attempting to get a glimpse of my son in the next compartment. I was in a daze and was completely oblivious to the fact that the train had started moving. A few seconds later there was a heavy impact at the back of my head and I was thrown out of the train. My head had struck against one of the poles by the side of the railway track. I must have had a blackout because for a few minutes I was not aware of anything. Someone had pulled the chain and the train had been stopped. My wife in the next compartment had a premonition of something happening to me and was in the grip of panic. I was finally put into the compartment where my wife and children were there. It took me sometime to regain my memory. The surprising thing was that I didn’t have even a light scratch anywhere in my body. When I was thrown out of the train I must have landed on my feet safely away from the railway tracks. I couldn’t but believe in the protective hands of the Almighty Lord.
Back at Ranchi, I started preparing for the June 1966 examinations of ICWA. I could write only Part III papers without clearing which I could not take Parts IV and V. This time I had another colleague from HEC who was a cost accountant. He was also writing the Part III papers in June 1966. We used to meet daily for combined study. We worked through the past question papers for Part III which I wrote the second time and passed in all the papers.
For Parts IV and V I had taken leave for a month and had prepared well. My wife was pregnant with our fifth child (including the first one which did not survive). The day before I had to leave for Jamshedpur, my wife complained of bleeding. She was in her third month of pregnancy and I was worried. I could not leave her in that condition for four days. I was in a dilemma. Behind our house was the house of another colleague of mine who was also on deputation from the P & T. He had come over to our house with his wife. Hearing my predicament, they assured me that they would take care of my wife and consult the doctors at the plant hospital. So, by the grace of God, I wrote Parts IV and V in December 1966. When I came back I was relieved to find my wife in normal condition. When the results came I had passed in both the parts. I was overwhelmed and silently uttered a prayer thanking the Lord for my success.
For passing the examination I was given one increment in the pay scale of the Accountant. Since I was on deputation from the P &T department I had to exercise an option to be absorbed by the Heavy Engineering Corporation at the same level as Accountant or at a higher level as Accounts Officer. Since there were no vacant posts of Accounts Officers at the time I would be absorbed only as Accountant in HEC. But I would get some advantage in pay fixation. If I went back to the P&T Department, I had all-India transfer liability which would mean being posted anywhere from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with the resultant disturbance in the education of children. If I did not go back I would lose the benefits of a pension on retirement. It was a difficult decision to make. But I took the plunge and my absorption in the Heavy Engineering Corporation Limited was approved by the Director General P &T with effect from the 1st of October 1966
About this time Mr. Rao joined HEC as Director Finance. He was an MA in Economics and was a member of the Indian and Audit and Accounts Service. I was Accountant in the Budget Section. A few days after joining he sent for me and I met him at his residence. He asked me a few questions about the systems in finance and costing which I explained to the best of my knowledge. When he enquired about my qualifications I told him that I had passed the final examination of the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants (London). He was surprised to know that I was still an Accountant. He said that he would do something about it and he did keep his promise as later events proved.