Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wild Goose (Gas) Chase

Ladakh was by far the most eventful tenure of my Army career and i have written extensively about that in this blog under the lebel "Ladakh Memories.

From Ladakh i was transfered to Jalandhar in 1984. Since after getting commission i was moving only around the peripheral areas of the country hence, i was anxiously looking forward to this peace tenure, which was also closer home. It is another matter that after reporting to an infantry  unit at Jalandhar cantonment, i hardly got a chance to stay at home, as Punjab was reeling under insurgency and our unit was actively involved in counter insurgency operations. 

Coming back to the eventful tenure of Ladakh, even my transfer from Ladakh to Jalandhar did not go event less and one incident which marked my move was the transfer of an LPG connection from Leh to Jalandhar which i had (luckily) obtained during my tenure in Ladakh. 

Let me share it here.

When i joined the Indian Army as a Second Lieutenant in 1978 in Nagaland, some officers of my unit had suggested that I should immediately book a scooter and an LPG connection. I was told that these would stand me in good stead later, when I would raise a family. 

Those were the days when one would have to wait for minimum five years for getting one's LPG and telephone connections and same went for purchase of a scooter (particulrly, Bajaj). These things are now available off the shelf.

While I was not interested in booking a scooter (as i always fancied riding a motor cycle), I also did not bother to book the gas connection. After our unit moved from Nagaland to Trivandrum, I wasted no time in buying my Yezdi motor cycle through the Canteen Stores Department, but yet, paid no heed to booking the gas connection. After all, bachelor life had its own priorities and preferences.

Exactly five years later, as luck would have it, the gas connection came to me instead of my running around for it (though actually installing that in our kitchen at Jalandhar did give me due jitters, hence this post).

It so happened that while i was serving in Ladakh and as i was about to complete my tenure there, a new gas agency had opened up at Leh. They were giving instant gas connections. Since they did not find enough clientele in city areas, they approached Army authorities to seek customers. For the officers and Other Ranks of the Indian Army it was a God sent gift, because in other towns and cities in rest of the country the waiting period for gas connection was minimum five years, as i have already mentioned above. Without much formalities they handed out the connections with two cylinders, full of LPG and a double burner gas stove each. I bought mine.

Few months later I got my transfer orders and was directed to report to a unit at Jalandhar Cantt. When I applied for the transfer of my gas connection, I was told that I had not completed the stipulated period required before the connection could be transferred. Well, they had their own rules and I did not see any problem in taking the transfer at a later date. But since the cylinders had to be deposited back empty, along with the gas regulator, i did not know as to what to do with the LPG in those cylinders. There was no point giving them to my unit mates, who had also purchased their own connections and since they all dined in the Officers' Mess, they had no use for the gas.

I had a civilian acquaintance in the town. One Mr. Chhabra (the sikh gentleman with sky blue turban appearing in some of the pictures in my previous post) was the Lead Bank Manager of SBI. He stayed at Leh with his family. In my opinion he was the most appropriate person who could help me in getting my gas connection transferred at a later date, after my departure from Ladakh. When I requested him for the same, he happily agreed and accepted the two cylinders and the regulator along with the papers and promised that he would secure the transfer voucher and would send that to me. Of course, I carried the gas stove with me. I was relieved from the Unit and traveled bag and baggage by road upto Jammu and by rail from there to Jalandhar.

I was travelling by Jammu Tawi Express running between Jammu and Delhi. The train had one hour halt at Jalandhar city, after which it would pass through Jalandhar Cantt on its way to Delhi. My destination was Jalandhar Cantt.
Running time between Jalandhar City and Jalandhar Cantt is just fifteen minutes. I saw no point waiting in the train for one hour, just a stone's throw from my destination. So I got down at Jalandhar city and took a taxi to Jalandhar Cantt.  I reached home, freshened up and was about to start eating when Jeet enquired about the Gas connection ( i had already broken the good news of my having obtained the same at Leh and she perhaps was anxiously looking forward to cooking on LPG which was natural for any house wife). I jumped up, left the food on the table, checked my luggage and realized that I had left the gas stove in the train itself. I looked at the watch. The train would still be at Jalandhar city only. I  immediately took out my mobike, (the same Yezdi which I had bought at Trivandrum). Instead of driving to Jalandhar city i decided to go to Jalandhar Cantt railway station and wait for the train. I had barely reached the platform when the train chugged in and slowly came to a stop with its brakes making the usual screeching sound. It had just a few minutes halt there. I did not waste much time in locating the first class coach. I rushed in and went to the coupe in which i had traveled. The passengers who had traveled with me were surprised to see me again. When i told them the reason they looked amused. I looked under the berth which i had occupied. The gas stove packet, wrapped in the hassen cloth, was lying there intact. I pulled it out, once again bade good bye to the passengers and rushed back home. Jeet proudly remarked, "hard earned money never goes waste".

This far about the gas stove.

How I retrieved my gas connection is another story which required much more labour on my part.

A few months passed by and there was no news from the our friend from Leh, with whom I had left my gas connection. All this while our kitchen was running on various cooking appliances other than LPG stove. We were eagerly waiting for the transfer voucher from Mr. Chhabra. I wrote a few letters at his address but did not receive any reply. One day I learnt from one of the officers posted at Leh that Mr. Chhabra had been transferred to Srinagar. I did not know his address and wrote letters to various branches of SBI at Srinagar at random. At Jalandhar I met an officer who was serving at High Altitude Warfare School near Srinagar and whose family was staying at separated family accommodation at Jalandhar Cantt. I gave him the task of finding the address of Mr. Chhabra. He located Mr. Chhabra and sent me the address. I wrote a letter on the given address but did not receive any reply.

Enough was enough. 

I took leave and left for Srinagar. Traveling by different modes of transport, I reached Srinagar and straight away went to Mr. Chhabra's house. His wife and daughters were at home. They told me that Mr. Chhabra had left for Amritsar the night before, as his mother had taken seriously ill. I collected his address of Amritsar and reached back Jalandhar. Next day I left for Amritsar. I went to the given address and was told that Mr. Chhabra had just left for the hospital where his mother was admitted. I reached the hospital and received the same reply. That day I visited at least five to six locations in Amritsar and was told at every place that Mr. Chhabra had just left a few minutes ago. It was looking like a wild goose chase. 

Dejected and disappointed, I came back to Jalandhar. Taking leave again from a very heavily committed unit and traveling all the way to Srinagar again was out of question. I once again contacted the officer serving at HAWS, as mentioned earlier, and narrated my story to him. He promised that he would help me in getting back my gas connection. 

Sure enough, within a few days I received the transfer vouchers of my gas connection. I immediately deposited the same with the local gas agency and our kitchen started running on LPG.

Edited to add :- I did not meet Mr. Chhabra again in life and could not find the actual reason for his not contacting me or sending me the transfer vouchers with a considerable delay, but i am thankful to him because he, after all had helped me out in getting my gas connection transferred from Leh to Jalandhar after my departure from Leh. And frankly speaking, other than getting a few jitters, i did not harbour any hard feelings against the gentleman.

This post also forms part of the series of posts on my life's journey. To raed all the posts in that series please click here.


CY|\|O$|_|RE said...

I just heard about that people used to face a lot of problems in the older days and have to book such things for a long time in advance.....but seems that they accompanied with many more of them along with the normal xpctd one's.........lolzzz.....:P.....BTW nice to read such experiences of others.....nice post....:)

Anonymous said...

Waiting for phone connection I remember very clearly!! This was really interesting

... but why did this Mr Chhabra not get in touch with you, even after your repeated attempts to contact him? Was he trying to keep your connection for his own use!! That was really, really too much! Did he really think he could get away with this?

Balvinder Singh said...

Yes CYNOSURE, in the olden days of quota raj one had great problem in procuring such simple things which are available off the shelf now. Courtesy LPG (Liberalization, Privatization, Globalization)of Indian economy :-))

Balvinder Singh said...

IHM, yes i am also wondering that why did he behave in such a manner. I never got an opportunity to meet him again in life hence could never know the reason. But yes if he had any malafide intentions then he was sadly mistaken that he would get away with this, that too with a determined fauji :-))

Pinku said...

seems like another day another time indeed...waiting for 5 years !!!!!

Glad that jeet finally got her LPG connection.

BTW was just wondering would it have been impossible to get the officer's canteen to use up your LPG or give you two empty ones in place of your filled cylinders so that you could get the transfer done yourself...

Balvinder Singh said...

Pinku, yes, five years wait for such things today sounds incredible.

Yes, Jeet was delighted at the end of it all for having got her cooking gas connection.

Pinku, i also did similar analysis when Mr. Chhabra started giving me the jitters by not responding to my letters.

I could not have got the gas transferred myself because there was also time stipulation of a few months (may be six months i think, i am forgetting now) before which the connection could not be transferred and i had not completed that so could not do it myself as i was moving out of Leh. Yes, while the gas could have been consumed by the cook house of the officers' mess but the officers and other staff of our unit posted at unit headquarters at Leh were periodically rotated on the forward posts so none of them could be entrusted with the papers because it was not sure that who would be where when the time stipulation for the transfer of the connection would be met.

My choice of Mr. Chhabra for getting the gas connection transferred was that he was a civilian, living with his family at Leh, had easy access to the civil market and in my opinion was better poised for doing this job.

Ash said...

...याद आ गया मुझको गुज़रा ज़माना..(jingle from an old advt)..what a change India has undergone. I could identify with you having similar experiences in procuring gas, telephone and such items..
Kudos for such a 'Period-Post'(like 'Period-Film)

J P Joshi said...

Sounds very familiar...hamara Bajaj from the CSD - I got mine booked in 1973 in 1982 - talk about waiting list; gas connection - we used Nutan 'wick wala' stove for about five years before we got lucky; telephone has another story - I will write a blog on it probably.

Enjoyed reading about your experience - the younger generation would probably wonder, amused.

Indyeah said...

I have heard dad talking in a similar manner:)
could identify therefore with the post:)
He had a Vijai Super and then a slew of scooters later a maruti 8oo which was looked after like a cherished baby...
He still gets nostalgic:)

The wait for long telephone connection reminded me of why Dad who was in Signals was wooed and dined with by all and sundry:D

nowadays SIgnals is just another name..those days it was THE name I gather:)

GAs connection stories have been told by mom time and time again...infact uptil 90's I have seen em happening...

Mr Chabbra sounds like a sneaky sort of chap...ofcourse one might be wrong but the evidence points to the contrary...

Love reading your army stories Sir.
Very few places on the net where one can do that:)

Balvinder Singh said...

Ash, JP and Abhilasha, sorry for long absence.

Yes Ashwani, today it looks like a period post. Kyaya zamana tha woh. Today's gen won't believe the five years' wait for such things which can be picked up ina day today.

JP, yes we also used all sorts of stoves till we got our gas connection. The Bajaj those days was called VESPA i think :-)) and yezdi has just disappeared.

Abhilasha, thanks for getting back here. Yes your father must be telling you all such experiences. Yes Signal Regiment was the Regiment because in those days when one had to book TRUNK CALLS to talk to one's near and dear back home it was the Signal regiment which some times used to come to the rescue by connecting the calls to one's home town exchange in case of emergency situations.

shail said...

1984, we ourselves were in Ferozepur. That's the time we got our gas connection too :) And the Bajaj... Hw can we leave out the Bajaj scooter??
Your gas connection transfer story made interesting reading. Lol, of course a determined fauji would have got it back anyway! :)

Balvinder Singh said...

Shail, if you were at Ferozpur during 1984, then our convoys must have crossed each other at some place because our unit was always on the move. Yes, Bajaj was a household name those days. Thanks.

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