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Four trains in one night, a journey into the unknown

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Even some 50 years ago, Karaikudi was not a familiar place for someone from outside Tamil Nadu

As it happened over half-a-century ago, I could have easily forgotten the train trip from Bangalore (not Bengaluru then) to Kottaiyur in Tamil Nadu. Looking back now, I still get a thrill.

The railway route from Bangalore to Karaikudi, about 5 km from Kottaiyur, passed via Jolarpet, Erode and Tiruchirapalli, but one had to change three trains.

The only convenient train from Bangalore was the Madras Mail leaving around 8.45 p.m. Get down at Jolarpet and hop on to the Madras-Mettupalyam Mail Express around midnight, arriving at Erode around 3 a.m. Again, after taking the train to Tiruchirapalli, board the Madras-Dhanushkodi Express around 6.30 a.m. and get off at Kottaiyur around 9 a.m.

For me, it was like going into the unknown because I knew no Tamil. I was going for a job interview at the Central Electrochemical Research Institute. At Tiruchirapalli, I managed to shower and change into pants and a coat with a beautiful tie. I was travelling third class, but there were just a few villagers who were respectful towards me obviously because of my clothes.

The only passenger

I was the only passenger alighting at Kottaiyur, and the stationmaster asked if I got off by mistake. It appeared odd to him that some city dweller should come to Kottaiyur, which had no government offices or businesses. He said I should have alighted at Karaikudi to go to the institute.

There were regular bus services to Karaikudi, but to go to the bus stop, I had to walk almost the same distance to the institute. So, I walked taking a village pathway big enough for one person. In less than half an hour, I was exhausted and sweating because of hunger and the warm clothing.

I came across a boy on a rickety bicycle who spoke broken English. He pointed to a vacant piece of land, saying the institute must be coming up only there as there was no other site in the village.

I was at a loss to know how I got a typed mail with the heading “Central Electrochemical Research Institute, Karaikudi” with Kottaiyur on the right corner with the date. I had a vague feeling that even without its own building, the institute would have an office somewhere. I decided to search at Kottaiyur and turned back half-way from Karaikudi. I was back again near the railway station and headed towards the village. I saw some amazing Chettinad mansions, but no people in sight.

I turned a corner where the street ended with just three or four houses. The last one was fairly big with a large front door right on the roadside. The door was ajar and within about 30 feet, the main door too was open.

I dashed in and a young man appeared with a questioning look. I asked him if he could direct me to the institute, but before waiting for an answer, I asked him for a glass of water and sat down on the steps. Just then the boss-to-be came and when he discovered who I was, I knew the interview was over because the only thing he said was, “When will you start work?” As they say, the rest is history.

krrao32@hotmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 4:04:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/four-trains-in-one-night-a-journey-into-the-unknown/article30479031.ece

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