My Dad's Name Plate - A True Life Story

This is a true life story that happened some time in 1988 and is spread over six months duration. Our basic phase of flying at Air force Academy Dundigal near Hyderabad in India, was completed and we were to go and join Air Force Station Bidar just a hundred miles from AFA, in July 1988, with about eleven days of leave in between these two.

My father was in the army and just about to retire. I was supposed to go from AFA and meet my family in a place called Tejpur in the state of Assam in India from where he was retiring, accompany them all the way to my hometown in a place called Kunnamkulam in Kerala. Kunnamkulam is a town just 5 km from the famous Guruvayoor temple in India and then return, this time to AF Station Bidar, for the advanced phase of flying on Kiran Mk I.

From the day I left AFA, I was in train for the first 3 days to Assam changing three trains at Hyderabad, Warrangal and Calcutta railway stations, enroute to meet my parents and brothers who had handed over the government accommodation and were already at Tezpur railway station with bag and baggage, anxiously waiting for my arrival on the platform, hoping that I arrive there before our train to Kerala departs. If I don’t reach in time, then the entire family will miss the train.

Importance of Name Plates and Inland Letters in Good Old Times

Today people are known by numbers in the mobiles and user names and emails. In the old times everyone was proud of their own names, name plates, name tally on the uniform, name plate outside the office, outside the house gates etc. The name plates were invariably made in Brass.

Getting a train reservation was very difficult as there only one or two long distance trains between Calcutta in the state of West Bengal in east India to Cochin, a city in Kerala in southIndia. We had to board three to four connecting trains to reach back home. That means making four different reservations. There is no guarantee that we will still be able to use those reservations. You have to write your own name and address in four different reservation forms.

There were no mobiles or even land phones those days. We used inland letters to communicate which took about a week to 10 days to reach you and a similar amount of time to reach your letter to the sender. Once again you have to write your own name and addresses  name on the Inland letters

So in a month you can maximum make two communications. Now imagine the importance and trust we had on each other those days through our communication those days. If I were not to reach in time, my family would not have left. They would have waited for me and then all of us would done the six day journey without reservation. That is family ethics in India.

My Long Train Journey to My Dad's Name Plate

I reached the Tejpur railway station just in time and from there, I boarded along with my family to Kerala, changing three more trains at Tezpur, at Calcutta on the east of India and at a place called Arakkonam near Chennai in south India, finally reaching home at Kunnamkulam which is further south and along the west coast in the state of Kerala also known as the God’s own Country, after five days in train and spending nights even on various railway platforms.

From the railway station at Trichur, we took a taxi to our home at Kunnamkulam. And in less than about six hours of reaching home at Kunnamkulam, I took another set of three trains from home to Bidar (at Trichur, at Madras and at Warrangal) within 24 hours and reached Air Force Station Bidar for my advanced phase of flying training at the end of which I will be awarded my flying wings six months later becoming a certified aircraft pilot.

The hilarious part was that, very often we were changing the same train to the same train, because our Army Railway Warrant says shortest route. The train we came from Calcutta goes till Trivandrum. But we had to get down from the train at Arakkonam, because that train goes all the way to Chennai and comes back, both ways through Arakkonam. But the Army issued railway Warrant doesn't allow that. It says we can travel the shortest route only.

We Were Forced Out of Our Own Reserved Seat in Train

So we cannot be inside the train when it goes to Arakkonam to Madras and comes back to Arakkonam. so we have to get down at Arakkonam, lose our reservation if we had any and then get into the same train unreserved when it came back after touching Madras. The rest of the journey is done standing because we don’t have a reserved berth in the train for the next 12 to 14 hours.

We have no option but to stand throughout the journey, mostly standing close to the toilets and often inside the toilet because there is no space in the over crowded train, event to stand properly. Very often in the past we have even come the entire 4 or 5 days in the train standing throughout. After reaching home, I used to suddenly realise that both my legs are swollen due to days of standing. My legs looked as if I had Filaria which is a disease in which one or both legs swell so big between knee and ankle that this disease is often called Elephant Leg Disease also.

Old Time Train Journeys Were Like Picnic

Similar event also used to happen when we used to go from New Delhi to Kerala where in, the train goes to Mumbai via Kalyan and comes back via Kalyan. Again we had no choice but to get down with family at Kalyan railway station and wait for the same train to come back and then board it unreserved. From Mumbai, the train used to come back jam-packed. So we had to wait for some other train with less crowd, often ending up spending up to 3 days and nights on the Kalyan railway station platform with the whole family. It used to be like picnic.

We used to literally live under the sky day and night, sleeping on spread newspapers, using the toilets in the train bogies parked in the railway yard about 500 yards away. The platforms were badly crowded in the school holiday season, mostly with Army personnel travelling utilising Railway Warrants issued by the Army. It was unpleasant picnic.

Thus, the journey from AFA Dundigal to Bidar in Jun-Jul 1988, happens to be the longest journey of any type I had ever taken. The entire eleven days were spent in trains without any reservation and without any air-conditioning in any train we travelled in. In fact, we often were boarding trains through the windows including my mother, as there were no grills in windows of trains in those days, because the doors were jammed by people trying to get in with their luggage.

The Story of My Father's Name Plate Commenced

My house at Kunnamkulam is around 150 years old. My grandmother used to tell me that when it was built, it was considered as the largest house in that town. It had fallen down twice in natural calamities a century ago. Even then till about 100 years after it was built, it was considered as the biggest house in that locality being the only house which had a first floor, so what if it was a coconut leaf thatched house. Even today, the house has not changed much except for the thatching or woven coconut leaves which had to be changed every year, were replaced by asbestos sheets three decades back.

And today, it is the same house which looks the smallest in the whole locality because everyone else has constructed huge palatial houses all over the place. Theory of Relativity is true. Six months after the great 10 day train voyage, I passed out of Bidar with flying wings. Again I had two weeks leave. So I went home which was on my route to Kochi to join my new unit, for my Alloutte helicopter conversion course.

My Dad's Name Plate

As I entered, our century and a half old heritage home, I saw a black board with my father's name and rank written in shining brass. Next to the name were his Stars and Ashoka Emblem from his last rank before retirement and the Badge of his cap are stuck to the same 12x6 inch name board. Each of these items on the board and his name, all made of brass, were shining as if they were in competition with each other.

I spent a week at home with my father and mother before going to join my new flying unit at Kochi. That's when I actually realised my father sleeps at 7 pm and is awake again at 3 am and the first thing he does after waking up is to sit and apply brasso on his name board and all the accessories on it to make them shine so that when anyone see his name plate it is as shining like gold, as it was shining yesterday and the day before like brand new.

My Father has followed this routine for more than 30 years now starting from July 1988, waking up at 3 a.m. without fail every day and shine his name board and everything else on it, with Brasso. He has grown old and is 80 years of age. My Dad can't move around much because of knee pain and severe breathing problem.

But even today, 30 years later, my Dad's name, his Cap Badge and his brass Sub Maj rank, all of which are in brass letters dazzle, probably better than the first day I saw it three decades ago, because even today he sleeps at 7:00 pm to wake up at 3:00 am and without needing any alarm clock, just to spend the first half an hour of his daily life, with brasso, a piece of soft cloth and his name plate. Nothing can stop my father from doing it. Only once a soldier retires, does he probably value his days in uniform. This is a true story.

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