EARLY YEARS IN DELHI AND BIRTH OF A DAUGHTER
1959 – 1962
In September 1959 I received orders posting me as officiating Junior Accountant in the DA Section of the P & T Directorate New Delhi. About this time the marriage of my wife’s cousin was celebrated in Madras. The girl’s parents lived in Delhi. Her mother was my mother-in-law’s sister. Her husband was working for the Delhi Electricity Supply Undertaking. It was agreed that I would stay with them until I could get suitable accommodation for my family consisting of myself, my wife and my two children. My parents would continue to stay with my youngest brother since I could not, with my modest salary, afford a large enough house in Delhi to accommodate all of us.
In October 1959 I reported for duty at the P&T Directorate on Parliament Street in Delhi. I took charge as junior accountant in the Inward Airmail Accounts Section. The job involved checking claims received from foreign postal administrations. The system worked something like this. Mail originating in India is picked up by the airlines of many other nations and carried up to the destination or dropped at intermediate points to be picked up by other airlines. The name of the airline, flight number, date, origin and destination of each bag picked up, the class of mail (LC i.e. 1st class or AO i.e. 2nd class), the weight in KGs and the sector over which the mail was to be carried were listed in a manifest (UNIVERSAL POSTAL UNION FORM AV-7) prepared by the Office of the Postal Administration at the airport where the mail is loaded on the aircraft. The airlines claim the charges, supported by the manifests, from the Postal Administrations of their respective countries. The Postal Administrations, in turn, claim the charges from the Postal Administrations of the countries of origin of the mail. The airlines have to deal with only the postal administration of their country. The postal administrations have to deal with all the other Postal Administrations involved in the carriage of mail by their national air lines. This was the system prevailing 50 years ago. It is possible that the system has undergone some changes in the span of 50 years since then.
The aero postal distances of all sectors were published by the Universal Postal Union. Those days the rates per ton-kilometre of 1st class and 2nd class mail used to be fixed in gold francs which was a notional currency adopted for settlement of claims relating to carriage of airmail. The postal gold franc was the equivalent of the French (or Swiss) franc that was in existence prior to World War I and was worth 0.193 United States dollars of the same vintage. The devaluations of virtually all currencies since that time had changed the original equivalents. The amount in gold francs could be converted into US dollars, UK pounds, French francs. German marks, Swedish kroners, Japanese yens, Indian rupees etc. using the equivalents applicable during 1959.
The offices of the Postal Department handling mail at the Airports of Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay and Madras used to send monthly statement of all mail of Indian origin despatched from the respective airports. Date-wise, Air carrier-wise, sector-wise and class-wise details were furnished in the statement. The claims received from other Postal Administrations for carriage of mail of Indian origin were checked and passed based on the above details, the aero postal distances of the sectors over which mail was carried and the current per ton-kilometre rate in terms of gold francs. A letter was sent to the Postal Administration concerned intimating the amount for which the claim had been passed. If the letter was addressed to a country where the language was not English, it was translated into French and then despatched to its destination.
There could be cases in which mails were over carried without being unloaded at the destination for which it was intended. For example mail listed for Rome could be carried to London and unloaded there. We have a manifesto from Bombay to Rome by TWA which is claimed by the US Postal Administration. Then we receive a claim for the same mail from the British Post Office saying the mail was carried from London to Rome by British Airways. In this case the India P&T would pay to the British Post Office and claim the charge from US Postal Administration as the mail was over carried to London by TWA ( an air line of USA at the time) instead of being offloaded at Rome as per the manifest.
We had to carefully check the route taken by the mail before passing a claim. Mail destined to London could be carried over Bombay-Cairo, Cairo-Frankfurt and Frankfurt-London sectors. This was OK. But if it had been carried over Bombay-Frankfurt, Frankfurt-Rome and Rome-London, then something was wrong. Apparently the Postal Administration of Germany wrongly sent it to Rome instead of sending it onward to London. One had to know the relative locations of the airports involved to understand these anomalies. In this case the extra charges would be debited to the German Postal Administration which was responsible for the backward routing. My knowledge of geography was of immense help in understanding such problems
Though I was eligible for central government quarters I was not likely to get it for at least three years because of paucity of such accommodation. I could however share lodgings with those who had been allotted government quarters. For this, the government servant subletting the quarters should get permission from his departmental head and the rent should also be approved. Fortunately, I got a one-room accommodation in Moti Bagh which was sublet to me by a person who was a section officer in the secretariat. I brought my family from Madras leaving my parents with my younger brother. My first son was about 4 years old and the second one 2 years. Somehow we managed within the space available in one room which was kitchen, hall and bedroom rolled into one. My wife had a tough time managing the cooking, looking after the children, washing the clothes and the utensils used to cook food.
From Motibag I used to cycle about 8 KM to Parliament street.. On the return journey, I used to buy vegetables from the roadside vendors. My wife used to wait for my return so that I could take care of the children and she could concentrate on cooking the evening meal. Delhi was much cheaper those days than the other metropolises. Fruits and vegetables used to be cheaper than in Madras. Our food habits also changed. Instead of cooking rice both morning and evening we switched to wheat flour and made chapatis for the evening.
After a couple of months we got better lodgings, a room and a kitchen. This was also arranged through the subletting route. The original allotees were very cooperative and we continued in this place until government accommodation was allotted to us in 1962.
Most of my staff in the Inward Airmail Accounts Section were graduates. Sometimes the fact that I had only an SSLC certificate was disconcerting. I had good drafting skills in English which was appreciated by my Accounts officer. I knew many languages like Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, English and Sanskrit. I had cleared Part I and Part II of the P& T Accountants’ Service Examinations in the first attempt when many had to make three or four attempts. I could quote from our scriptures like the Gita, the Upanishads, the Epics and the Bhagavata. All these factors saved me from developing an inferiority complex. I realised by practical experience that knowledge was power and my staff recognised my strengths. One area where they frequently wanted my help was in drafting letters in English.
During this period my younger brother at Cuddapah was diagnosed as having tuberculosis. Those were days when TB had no cure. My brother was being treated at Cuddapah by Naturopathy where the natural elements of earth, water, fire and air were used in the treatment in addition to fasting, eating raw vegetables, avoiding spices, yoga and meditation. He had come home to Madras and my parents were taking care of him. He continued the food habits he had adopted during the Naturopathy treatment.
When my brother had completely recovered, his marriage was arranged with a girl from our own village. The owner of the hotel at Cuddapah where my brother was working took initiative in this matter. Since It was only a couple of months since I had joined, I could not take leave to attend the marriage. My brother’s suit case was forgotten in the cab in which the marriage party arrived at the venue. My brother lost all his clothes and some cash. This spoiled the mood at the marriage celebrations. Somehow the marriage was celebrated in a simple ceremony according to the Vedic rites.
My interest in Hindi prompted me to enrol for the Prabhakar (Honours) Examination in Hindi literature. One of my staff was also interested in this examination. We collected the text books and started self-study. My knowledge of Sanskrit helped me in understanding the highly Sanskritised prose and poetry of such writers as Jayaskankar Prasad, Maithili Saran Gupta and ‘Nirala’. On Sundays and holidays we used to cycle to the Lodi gardens and study for long hours sitting under the shade of some trees.
On the 18th of September 1960 my third child ( not counting the first one which did not survive), a daughter, was born in a Municipal Hospital in Delhi. My mother-in-law had come down from Bombay for help. We called her Uma. Following our custom she was given the name Visalakshi, my mother’s name. My mother-in-law was worried about her daughter struggling to bring up three children with only a couple of years difference between them . When she returned to Bombay she took my second son who was only 2 years old. He grew up in Bombay with his maternal grandparents until he was 12 years old.
Those days I was expecting the results of the Prabhakar examination. In the Madhyama and Praveshika examinations of the Dakshin Bharat Hindi Prachar sabha I had come out first in Madras City. In Rashtrabhasha Visharad I got only third division mainly because of my preoccupation with the departmental examinations. I passed Prabhakar in the Second division. This was rather disappointing but considering it was self-study and the time spent in preparation was less than a year was enough reason to reconcile myself to a second division
Now was the time for me to do something for my professional advancement. I was determined to qualify as a cost accountant after clearing the examinations of the Institute of Cost and Woks Accountants, Calcutta or London.