THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN - THAT WAS
On 5th September 1999, therewere faint murmurs and suppressed whispers about an unbelievable tragedy. There were hushed references to TV news, internet news, telephone calls from Delhi and the news came like distant rumbling of thick dark clouds on the horizon. As usually happenswith bad news it turned out to be true that Vinod “Kuku” Vij and Anita the liveliest couple seen in Jamalpur in recent years were no more having died in a plane crash in Nepal. There was shock and utter disbelief writ large on the faces of all their friends, admirers, colleagues and acquaintances.
We were altogether in Jamalpur from 1964 to 1966 and after he passed out from Jamalpur in the beginning of 1967, except for occasional meeting in the Board’s Office, Railway Staff College, various seminars and conventions etc. I had not met him for over 23 years till I was posted to Jamalpur in October 1990. We overlapped for six months till mid-91 when he handed over the charge of Director, IRIMEE to me and left for his next posting at the Railway Board. Sumitra, my wife had met them for the first time then but that lovely period of six months will always be cherished by both of us.
They were a hospitable, warm-hearted, lively and bright couple. Vij was a visionary, he had the presence, he had the gift of gab, he had determination and above all he was such a nice soul that whatever he did could be described in superlative terms only. He had a keen eye for smallest details and had a lot of practical ideas to bring up the name of Gymkhana and Jamalpur at the very top.
Corridors of Gymkhana in 90s used to reverberate with the sounds of over a hundred vibrant, bright and boisterous young Gymkhanites, quite unlike now when I believe there are barely 20 inmates. Both of them had involved themselves whole-heartedly in the various extra curricular activities at Gymkhana. Gymkhana kitchen, which was quite congested was expanded, improved and modernised under their personal supervision.
Both of them had a deep awareness of the rich past of Jamalpur and had taken lot of pains for saving the greenery of the hills, which serves as a backdrop to Gymkhana. There are two graves on the golf course, one of an Englishman killed by a Royal Bengal Tiger at the very spot and another of the Tiger itself, a short distance away, which was also killed subsequently on the golf course. These graves were in a dilapidated condition. Through INTACH, Mrs. & Mr. Vij planned for and got executed the necessary repairs for these two graves. If one is now in a position to not only see thegraves, but also read the inscriptions of these tombstones clearly, credit goes to Vinod and Anita.
Golf was revitalised and the golf course sprang to life during the time Vijs were there. Both of them regularly played golf, and never missed going round the course in golfing season on weekends. Mrs. Anuradha Singh (better half of Shri A.K. Singh of’75) blossomed from a beginner to a champion player in a couple of seasons due to the constant encouragement offered by Anita.
A glance at the report of perspective planning for IRIMEE authored by Vij, a copy of which must still be lying in the Director’s almirah, is a sample of his excellent vision and his inimitable, effective and convincing style of putting across his point of view. One can now only wonder what he could possible have achieved after having reached the top, which he was most likely to get to. He, incidentally, had a zero rating, meaning thereby that he had no one senior to him in Railway hierarchy who was younger than him.
Extending a special club day invitation to all the members of the batch (called focal batch) who had joined exactly 50 years ago was again Vij’s idea. I believe it is continuing still. Club day 1989 was a memorable one in more ways than one. 1939 batch was the focal batch. It used to be 6-year training then with last couple of years and mostly in U.K and they were to pass out in 1946. A lot of them had gone over to Pakistan which was created in 1947 and had retired, understandably, from the senior most positions suchas Chairman, Members of the Pakistan Railway Board General Managers etc. They were specially invited. Lot of efforts had to be made through diplomatic channels to arrange visas for them to enable them to visit Jamalpur Gymkhana for a re-union after 50 years. Some of them came over with wives and children too. The bonds were so strong and the re-union so unexpected that many of them were not only ecstatic about the nostalgic visit but had also become very emotional. It was a true homecoming for Pakistani Gymkhanites and this joyous and unforgettable reunion was made possible by the vision and untiring zeal of Vinod Vij.
Anita also used to take French and German classes voluntarily for the 3rd and 4th year batch in the IRIMEE classrooms. ’85 to ’89 batches would always fondly remember the huge feeds that they got at 1, Camp Road and the deep affection, concern and involvement of Vinod ‘Kuku’ Vij and Anita in all their personality re-development and other Gymkhana affairs.
It was a great and unexpectedloss not only to Gymkhana but also to the Mechanical Department as a whole. A leading light from whom all of us expected so much has been extinguished unexpectedly by the hands of fate and only the fond memories will now remain for ever.
May their souls rest in peace.