75. JOURNEYS, EXPERIENCES (1)
A good part of my life has been spent on journeys for attending conferences, meetings etc. At first it was limited to Kerala. As Circle Secretary of E.III Union, toured almost all parts of Kerala, wherever there were units of the union. In each tour could meet new comrades and friends from not only P and T, but also from other sections of employees, which enriched knowledge and widened friends circle.
During this period, visited many places in nearby states, T.Nadu and Karnataka, on invitation by the branches / divisions there. Being Assistant General Secretary of the union enabled such tours.
AS General Secretary of E.III Union from 1991, as General Secretary of BSNL Employees Union from 2001 and as President from 2010 till 2015, toured almost all states and districts for participating in Conferences, for strike preparations, membership verification campaigns etc. About 15 to 20 days of tour every month. However, this is a task that has to be managed by leaders of All India organisations. In addition, attended many All India Conferences of sister organisations, Seminars, Conventions of Central Trade Unions etc. Attended CITU All India Conferences as Fraternal Delegate. As a result, could meet many veteran leaders and discuss with them issues concerned with the movement.
Most of the journeys were by train. No problem, since, tickets are reserved in advance. But even if no reservation, journey has to be undertaken to attend meetings already fixed. On such occasions, one will have to travel hours together even without getting a seat to sit. During the period when E.III/E.III N union was denied its rightful recognition and both the administration and recognized Federation, NFTE, were witch hunting and attacking the union, its leaders and workers, it was only the whole hearted support and exemplary loyalty of the workers that kept us alive and functioning.
I can never forget those many occasions when comrades with union red flag waiting in each station indefinitely for the train to arrive (trains were usually late), raising slogans of welcome and handing over home-prepared food within the few minutes the train will stop in the station. There will be only time to exchange a few words, but that was more than sufficient to pass important news, hand over journals and books and then get in to the train. Knowing well my habit of drinking tea very often, one of them will bring tea. When train starts, again raising of slogans. The food they brought will be shared with other passengers, as you get it from comrades in more than one station.
Hectic tour during Member ship Verification. Though central office-bearers will be given charge of separate circles, all Circles will insist the General Secretary to visit at least few important centres in their circles. Could not refuse, as the issue is membership Verification. Minimum three meetings in a day, sometimes four, in separate divisions. Except in a few circles like Kerala, the districts are large and will take minimum four – five hours to reach the next one. Food in the moving vehicle, sometimes biscuits and fruits, sometimes roti and subji, according to availability. Conditions of many roads were very poor and two-three hours travel will make you extremely tired.
In Circles like Rajasthan, Bihar, M.P. etc, it may take even five to ten hours covering a vast distance. In night journey, difficult to get even tea, as shops will be closed. Once travelling through M.P., the van driver stopped at the residence of his friend at about 02.00 am in the night and woke up them. They did not show any displeasure. I was surprised to find that they were extremely happy to serve us cup of tea and biscuits.
You can see ‘dhabas’ on the road side. Food and snacks will be available. If it is night, all of us will lie down in the charpayi (cots) put there immediately on getting down after ordering food. When the hot food is ready, will consume the same and continue travel. The car or tempo will be full and there will not be even space to stretch your legs. I did not have much difficulty as I used to be given the front seat near the driver.
Immediately on getting down, the comrades waiting there will take over my luggage, bundle of books, journal etc. till reaching the conference/meeting place. Once when went to Agra, one comrade took me in his car along with my suit case. He dropped me at the meeting place. Suit case left in the car. When returning, the person with the suit case was missing. Comrades told that he has left to visit his family member in his village who was hospitalized after an accident. But just before the train started, got the suit case back.
Once in Andhra we could not get reservation. Comrades P.Asoka Babu, Asst. General Secretary, J.Sampath Rao, Circle Secretary and myself sat on newspaper spread near the closed door and spent time till morning.
Once got in to the wrong train while returning from Khammam after Andhra Circle Conference. Had reserved ticket for GT Express to Delhi due at night 12.00 hours. Train was already in the station, by the time we reached there. Comrade Sampath Rao and others who were with me put my bags, suit cases etc in the train, I got in and the train moved. Within few minutes I realised that it was not my train and that GT Express was yet to come. Pulled the chain, but no response. I had to reach Delhi to attend a meeting with Secretary DOT next day. The train stopped in the dark midnight in a very small station. I got down and with the help of the Guard of my train and the young Asst. Station Master, who alone was in the station, managed to get in the coming GT Express by the train getting slowed down and stopping for a second or so. Reached Delhi in time to attend the meeting.
While coming back from Manipur after attending a meeting, military personnel blocked us on the border to Nagaland stating that one cannot cross to Nagaland in the night due to obvious dangers. We had to reach Arunachal Pradesh next day. On our continued insistence they allowed us to cross after noting our names and addresses and taking a declaration that we are responsible for any danger that may happen. Fortunately, there was no untoward incident.
Being rainy season, we were moving slowly on our journey to Arunachal Pradesh. All of a sudden, we could see about half a kilo meter in front, the landslide, huge rocks and mud falling and blocking the road. Had we been two minutes earlier, do not know what could have happened. We returned on the road we came.
A similar incident happened while on tour in Kerala. Proceeding to T.Nadu through Nilambur. Road completely blocked by landslide. Getting information that another bus is on the other side, we somehow walked over to the other side. Got bus. Within ten minutes, an incoming Jeep with NFTE flag stopped the bus. Along with them proceeded to the destination. Reached in time for the meeting.
Had gone to Gujarat along with my wife for a tour to see places and also to attend some union meetings. Tickets booked for Rajadhani from Ahmedabad to Delhi. It was a long journey in the car and by the time we reached railway station, train was ready in the platform. Since our tickets in waiting list was not confirmed, TTE told us that we cannot board the train, as rules do not provide for waitlisted passengers to get in to Rajadhani. No immediate train to Delhi. Went to the Airport. Tried for ticket to Delhi. Rs. One lakh for one ticket, that too only next day. On enquiry, found out that the rush is due to blockade of all roads in Haryana by some agitations. Booked tickets to Bengaluru for Rs.6,000 each and proceeded. Daughter and family very happy at this unexpected visit. We were also happy.
When rupturing from a meeting in Mizoram, many cycle rikshas on the side of road. The drivers had covered their head and face like terrorists. Enquired with comrades who were with us. We were told that they are well educated youths, that they are unemployed and had taken this job, but do not want their identity to be known. Victims of unemployment.
When returning from Maharashtra, I was given the reservation ticket purchased by comrades there. After getting in to the train, when checked, found out that it was a concession ticket for senior citizen. At that time concession was available for those senior citizens of 65 and above age. (Later it was reduced to 60). I was short of a few days for 65. I felt very embarrassed. The TTE came, checked ticket and identity card. He looked me and gave charming smile and passed on. In that smile, everything was there, that he had found out my lapse, but do not want to punish this white-haired senior citizen, whom he might have thought innocent in the matter, as truly it was. (to be continued)