VINOD AND ANITA VIJ
The ill-fated AVRO aircraft took off from Pokhra in Nepal on the morning of the 5th of September’99. As it lumbered into its take-off position at the top the short runway, the ten passengers and five crew members were already counting the thirty-five minutes it would take to land in Kathmandu. Among the passengers, Vinod Krishan Vij ’62 and Anita Vij, had just completed a holiday in Nepal where their daughter, Divya, was working with Pricewaterhouse. They were to take a connecting flight from Kathmandu to Delhi as Anita in particular was very keen to be in Delhi so that she could cast her vote, the 5th being an election day in Delhi.
Ten minutes from Kathmandu, destiny willed otherwise. One of the plane’s wings hit a communications tower, sending the 45-seater craft into an uncontrolled and fatal spin. The pilot had the presence of mind to jettison the fuel tank thus avoiding an explosion. But it made no difference—all passengers and crew were killed.
Vinod Krishan Vij, “Kuku” to friends, born March 24th 1945, died September 5th 1999. Anita Vij born Septenber 17th, died September 5th 1999. The life of two of the brightest and best known lights of the Sam fraternity was snuffed out in a twinkling.
Most things about Kuku Vij were special. Born in Lahore, which was then part of an undivided India, life for him never had a dull moment. His early schooling was at the Lawrence School in Sanawar but ended at the prestigious Doon School. It was the Class of 60 at the latter - ex-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s class to be precise. After school, he did a short stint at St.Stephen’s College, Delhi before joining as a Special Class Apprentice of the ’62 batch. Passing out of Jamalpur in January 1967, his first posting at the end of his probationary period was as AME, Tatanagar. After a not too long spell on South Eastern Railway, where he was posted at Kharagpur and Calcutta, he was transferred to Northern Railway. In the late seventies, he proceeded on deputation to the PEC of India Ltd. and was later Joint Director Mechanical of the high-powered Railway Reforms Committee. In the mid-eighties, a UNDP assignment saw him in Vietnam rehabilitating GE- locomotives. On his return to India, he was re-posted on South Eastern Railway. In 1988 when the Government of India decided for the only time in its existence to recognise the worth of training, Kuku Vij was handpicked to be posted as Director at the Alma Mater, Jamalpur. This was at the time when training of probationary officers was also being centralised at the concerned training institute. So, a whole generation of SCAs and direct mechanical officers went through his hands and would be grateful that they did.
After Jamalpur, Kuku Vij was posted in the Board followed by DRM at Vadodara. It was only a matter of time before he was elevated to the post of CME, Northern and even his adversaries, if he had any, accepted that he was well on his way to becoming a member of the Board , if not the Chairman.
A perfect foil to his multi-faceted personality was his better half, Anita. Exuding a charisma that left lesser mortals in awe, she supported Kuku as only she could. An alumnus of the Welhams Girls School, Dehradun, she was married to Kuku in December 1970. Among her many accomplishments was her linguistic ability; being fluent in German and French. in fact, she worked for a German firm whenever she was in Delhi for well over 30 years. They had two children, Varun and Divya. God give them strength to face this double tragedy.
Whether it was at work or whether it was at a party, Kuku and Anita Vij were always centre-stage and they both felt totally at home in that situation. this writer feels that anything written about them would not do them justice. But they were so well known and so popular, that perhaps nothing further needs to be written. A few random thoughts, however, would be in order.
Take Club Day, for instance. The basic celebrations have been the same at least since the middle sixties. That is till 1989. In that year, with Kuku and Anita at the helm, a new concept was born- that of an Old Boys’ dinner on the 13th at the Director’s residence. Local Sams chip in with their mite for this function, which is now a permanent part of Club Day lore. And another addition to the Club Day is the concept of a focal batch. This was thought of by Kuku and is now as traditional as any other part of the Sam anniversary.
The Sam community, nay, the entire railway community, will not be able to replace them.