Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jeep No. 510

I was unable to understand why the recurrent nightmare “terminal examination is about to start and I am not at all prepared” was unable to get the grip on me! There was a whining sound and the bed was shaking! Could it be an earthquake! I opened my eyes with a start to realize that I was dozing at the front seat of a speeding Jeep. It was quite dark outside. I checked the partially illuminated dial of my watch and found it was about 5:15 in the morning. I was disoriented for a moment and then realized “Oh! I must be heading for Raurkela Steel Plant for my new assignment!” I glanced on the left to find the driver was also dozing! A perfect prelude to a subsequent nightmare!

Fortunately for me, I never had to decide anything for myself. Not that I complained about it (though my girl friends had the misconception and consoled me for the same), but it was always taken care of by God or his various incarnations. When I joined Larsen & Toubro, Kansbahal Works (that time it was called Utkal Machinery Limited) in Orissa, about three months back, my boss Avtar Singh, a fellow IITian of 1957 batch, decided to make a designer out of me for no apparent animosity. “Biplab, we have decided to train you as a design engineer. However, to become a successful designer you must have a thorough knowledge about production, erection and commissioning” declared Mr. Singh within a couple of minutes of our first rendezvous. I heard him with a solemn face with the difficult calculations of all the relevant engineering subjects, which I could never master, flashing through my mind and mocking at me!

Immediately I was assigned to fabrication shop. Within three months when I was just about to get a hang of the system so as to swim without getting myself wet, one fine morning I was enjoying tea with my colleagues during a tea break, when I saw Chintamony, our office peon approaching me with his usual pensive face.
“Singh sab (sir) is calling you” said Chintamony with no enthusiasm in his voice.
“OK, I will meet him just before the lunch break” I replied while sipping my tea
“No. Singh sab told me to fetch you right now. It is urgent” replied Chintamony shaking his head vigorously in disapproval and started off towards the door.
I got up from the chair and started following Chintamony without any further word. I was worried least some of my latest escapades have been reported to Mr. Singh with sufficient mashala to make it juicy.
When I finally reached Mr. Singh’s table, I found him in his usual jovial mood and discussing with a really tall and hefty man sitting opposite to him.
“Oh! Here comes Biplab!” exclaimed Mr. Singh.
“Good Morning, Mr. Sing” I said with a smile
“Mr. Roy let me introduce Mr. Biplab Sengupta to you. Our new recruit from IIT, Kharagpur. A brilliant engineer who has already made his mark during the last three months!” said Mr. Singh while getting up and shaking hand with me.

“Nice to meet you, Mr. Sengupta. My name is K. K. Roy” said Mr. Roy while getting up and shaking hand with me.

“By the way, Mr. Roy, we have selected Biplab as your deputy. Working with you will definitely give him the rich experience in erection and commissioning” added Mr. Sing further while taking his seat.

I was puzzled and was trying to find out if there could be any trace of sarcasm in Mr. Sing’s voice. Unfortunately that was missing and that made me more nervous. I knew Mr. Singh likes me a lot and most of my friends call me his “Chela” (protégé), but going out of his way to praise me in front of a stranger, was something unusual. Why on earth should I also become a deputy to somebody whom I did not even know? And for what assignment? There must be something fishy, I told myself. I nervously and sat down by the side of Mr. Roy, still thinking about my boss’s unusual behavior in the morning.

“Biplab, you must know that we got a contract from Rourkela Steel Plant to revamp one of their special cranes. We have to dismantle it, extensively repair and modify all the structural and mechanical parts, some at site and some in the shop, reassemble and erect, all within a very tight schedule” said Mr. Singh in a single breath.

“Mr. Roy who is the best fabrication and erection expert I have ever seen in my life will be the in charge for the entire operation and you, as his deputy, will assist him from start to finish” added Mr. Singh further.

Mr. Roy gave me an amusing look and said nothing. Probably he was pondering how he could get stuck with a lanky deputy who is hardly twenty one years of age, not more than five feet five inches on socks, less than forty five kilos when fully clothed and having a shop experience of not more than three months! He couldn't have asked for anything better!

“When do we start?” I interjected meekly.

“Why? From tomorrow only” Said Mr. Singh with surprise in his voice, as if I have had said something very unusual.

“What about my pending work in the fabrication shop?” I said with an intention of gaining some time to start with my new assignment.

“I have already spoken to Mr. Colombowala. Considering the importance of this project, he has agreed to release you by today once you handover the charge to your shift foreman. You will get balance instruction  from Mr. Roy” said Mr. Singh with finality while handing over to me a pile of drawings and documents.

Meanwhile the tea-boy came and we had our tea without further ado.

“Mr. Sengupta, let us go to the conference room to discuss about the project” said Mr. Roy with a jovial voice and got up. I followed him like a lamb with the pile of drawings and documents.

We had a long discussion when Mr. Roy explained to me about the job and what he expected from me. “Mr. Sengupta, a Jeep with a registration number “ORO 510” has been assigned to you. The name of the driver is “Lawrence” who will report to you at your quarter at 5.00 AM starting from tomorrow. On your way to site, please also pick up other supervisors from Rourkela. Don’t worry, we will solve all the problems together” said Mr. Roy with a reassuring smile while departing.

I found Mr. Roy to be quite reassuring and self confident. I have had already heard about Mr. Roy. Though he was not having any formal engineering degree, he was extremely efficient and was supposed to become superintendent of fabrication shop. However, when L&T took over the management of the company, just before I joined, they did not promote Mr. Roy and brought in one Mr. Colombowala as the shop superintendent. Mr. Roy refused to work under Mr. Colombowala and resigned. About the same time this new project came up and the company made a deal with Mr. Roy. He was persuaded to take charge of this project as his last assignment with a hefty bonus clause. I was assign to assist him with the high hope of learning as much as possible before he was released! That was my first brush with corporate politics!

I returned to my desk, handed over my pending work to our shift foreman who congratulated me for no apparent rhyme or reason and then started going through the documents once again. For some reason I was having a hollow feeling. Was it simply because of the impending lunch break or was it because of something utterly unknown, I could not figure out. (to be continued)