Monday, February 28, 2011

Post PG test - So called malfunctioning of CO2 fire fighting in Salem 2 Hi mill

Few years after performance guarantee test SAIL HQ realized the importance of fire fighting system, which was never commissioned to the satisfaction of Salem Steel. Almost Rs 2 Crore was pending from SAIL to MECON and there was pressure on Lube and Hyd department of MECON who had supplied the CO2 fire fighting system as turnkey system and our Electrical department was not involved. However when the problem of pending money came up- we were again summoned to recommission the system supplied by Vijay Fire. Sri KN Jana who was that time in Electro Technical Laboratory was asked to investigate and do the needful. After brief study he found that the power supply to main board was not stable. He assembled a power stabiliser using 2N3055 transistors and we started our journey to Salem. That time we found that we could afford to stay in Welcome Group Chola Shereton a 5 star Deluxe Hotel in Chennai as per our DA entitlement if we shared room.

We did stay in that hotel sharing a room. We found the fridge in the room stiffed with cold drinks, chocolates and other stuff. We ate and drank all that was in the fridge thinking it was complementary. Jana even drank the soda water also. It was shocking later to pay Rs 70 for each bottle of cold drink consumed which were worth Rs 4 or so that time.. we learned a lesson that day about such hotels..

In Salem we had to discuss the test with Mr Sugathan - a ex MECONIAN in charge of design in Salem and one Mr Jayraman Mr Jayraman was in charge electrical and was ex colleague of my then boss Mr K Ramadurai. It was tough discussions and we knew the going is going to be tough.

During the test all technical people along with fire fighting personnel were present. We were confident having tested the panel several times. But when the test was done, Only fire alarm got activated and no punching of CO2 cylinder took place. We were disappointed. We tested the panel and it functioned well. As expected our requests for retest were not accepted. It was time to check again and again why it malfunctioned. Again it was myself only to notice that a glass cover on the panel installed by Salem Steel for protection / mal operation was pressing a selector switch and thus only manual mode was getting active - this was preventing automatic operation of CO2 cylinders as required for successful test. We again approached Salem Steel for retest. With lot of arguing with Mr Jayraman and with some support from Mr Sugathan a retest was organized next day with panel glass cover kept open. Fire fighting worked and a minutes was signed accordingly.

We returned to Ranchi and reported the matter with a sense of pride to Mr BP Sarkar - then GM (C). He was very happy, patted by back. However the pleasure was short lived. A telex message from Salem Steel arrived in second half rejecting the fire fighting system on the plea that such an important system worked only in second try. Our sincere efforts to make the system drew a flak. MECON then went for a commercial settlement and got all the dews except for Rs 5 lakhs deducted for this system - stll a good bargain for MECON, though Mr Sarkar wont agree...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Salem- We almost missed flight from Chennai (then Madras) to Calcutta

During Performance Guarantee Test of MECON's  2 Hi Stainless Steel Mill, we had to over stay at Salem due to  re - test for certain sizes of strip, which was not taken care in our planning. We, - myself, Dr KG Pandey, Mr SM Ganguly, Mr Raha and others,  were short of cash due to this delay and had just enough money to reach Calcutta (Now Kolkata.). We were not worried for our stay in Calcutta since our company had a guest house. We were also not worried for our onward journey for which we had confirmed air tickets.However we were definitely worried if we  were to miss the flight at Madras. 
We reached Madras in the evening by train. Our  flight was at 6:30 PM. It left us with just enough  time to reach airport before check in counters will close. We immediately took a taxi and rushed to the airport.  But Murphy's Law caught up with us. "What may go wrong will go wrong." On way there were some trouble - a crude bomb was set off by miscreants at an important road Junction and all traffic to Meenbakkam Airport was diverted. 

Our one hour ordeal of worry and tension - now started. Due to precarious cash position we could not afford to miss the flight. Had we anticipated all this, we would have taken some advance from SAIL office  in Salem. There were no ATM or Credit Cards in those days. Our company (which has an office in Chennai today), had no office in Madras in those days. If we missed the flight we had no money to stay or purchase even train tickets to Ranchi. 

Driver started driving through alternative route. He followed the taxi ahead for some time then lost sight of the it. Since there were not may flights in those days, not many taxis or cars were there on the road to follow. We soon realised the driver is not familiar with this route. We got scared once we realized this.  Dr Pandey threatened the driver with consequences if we miss the flight. Others also got jittery and started scolding the driver, who due to this pressure missed some turns. I asked him to stop at a betel shop and ask for the direction. I tried to over hear the Tamil conversation and could make out he has overshot some turm and is about 10 km from the airport and one railway crossing shall be on way to the airport. Once he took a U turn all of us lost our temper.  We still had 45 minutes from the flight departure. They used to close the counter half an hour prior to departure. Every body was prepared for rushing to Indian Airlines  Manager's office to allow us late check- in. At this point of time I remembered that I had an all India road map book I had purchased this during my car journey from Salem to Ranchi via Tirupati.
I took the map out of hand bag, and tried to locate our current position. Soon I could locate the railway crossing near the airport. It was another day for me to become a "hero" for the team. I  guided the taxi to airport based on the direction as per the road map within 15 minutes. Every one was relieved - though no body thanked me and simply rushed inside the departure area after paying the driver and carrying the bags. No body even bothered to use the baggage trolley.
On reaching the airport we found that the flight was delayed by one hour. This fact instead of making us happy disappointed us. This was like preparing hard for an examination for which examiner has set very easy paper !

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Salem - Encounters of the "celebrity" kind

Film and sports personalities visit our hotel, Hotel Gokulam during our long stay hotel in Salem.

During my various tours, I have been fortunate enough to come in contact with several celebrities. Some particular interesting ones happened during my stay at Salem between the years '80 - '81.
This steel city was infact a mid-sized town. It was characterized by 3 road junctions namely, anja roda (5 Road Junction), naal roda (4 Road Junction) and moon roda (3 Road Junction). During the time two hotels were considered "good" - Hotel Gokulam and Hotel National. Hotel -Gokulam, where we stayed was located near "anja roda", while Hotel - National was located at "naal roda".

Out of the two, Hotel Gokulam was a popular destination for film personalities. We even had chance to see some film shooting in this hotel. Salem itself had a film studio while nearby Yercaud is a scenic hill station well suited for outdoor shooting.
I recall one particular incident when a Tamil film was being shot in Salem. The producer, who happened to be an old colleague of MGR was staying at our hotel. The hero was Mr Vijaykant, some people may recall him as being popular as "the poor man's Rajanikant" for their similarity in looks. The Heroine was debutant, a school student from Bangalore. The vamp in this film was the famous Silk Smitha. I had earlier watched her Tamil film "Mun Ram Piraye" which was later remade in Hindi as Saadma.
While Vijaykant was staying in a double bed AC room, on the first floor, I was in a AC single room in ground floor. I think my room no. was 211. The heroine was in room no 212 a non-AC single room with her father where as Silk Smitha  with her hair dresser was in room no 216 - an AC single room. All these rooms were in the same corridor. Room no 215 was occupied by BHEL's Sambshivam.
I noticed that the heroine's father used to stay in the hotel itself entire days, spending his time smoking filter cigarettes. Out of curiosity, or just to give him some company, I broke into a conversation with him one day. I learnt that  though his daughter wanted to become a doctor, she had got a nice break in the films. Later I chanced to see a few of the dance numbers of the heroine shot in National Hotel. I could clearly understand why the father was not invited for shoots. It would not have been easy for the poor soul to see his daughter shaking her legs in skimpy clothes.
One night I was awakened up by loud knocks at my hotel room door. I opened the door only to find a drunk Silk Smitha knocking on all doors in the corridor.  She was trying to walk down to her room hung onto the arms of her hair dresser. Often she would break into a dance in the corridor. I could only pity her for her lonely life inspite of such a large fan following.
One scene of the film was shot in the hotel premises. In that scene the heroine runs away and is chased by the villain's men. A close up shot of each of the men shouting out loud was taken afterwards. In that scene, I was also part of the crowd who were shouting in Tamil, which I learnt meant "maro - maro". Later when I watched the movie I tried hard to locate myself in that 2-3 minute sequence, but could not. I guess this is what is called "getting lost in the crowd"
In that whole experience I came to know how tedious is making a Film, when infact I saw just a small portion of all the work involved.

A Sporting Angle
During our stay once a national level cricket match took place in Salem and many cricket star stayed in the Hotel. Kapil Dev was one of them. Our colleague Vaidyanathan asked him where is Sunil Gavaskar? His reply "Who is Sunil Gavaskar?" amused us totally. It clearly indicated underlying differences in Indian Cricket team that time.

I didnot see much cricket but saw many Tamil / Malyalam movies (one film per day was part of our dinner). We saw several movies of Kamal Hasan, Sri Devi, Rajani Kant, Madhavi, Bhagya Raja. The list also included original Tamil versions of many Hindi remakes such as Woh Saat Din. I appreciated the multi faceted talent of Bhagya Raja who was a writer , director, music director and actor much like our Kishore Kumar. I do miss those days.... and it was so refreshing to relive them here with you.