Picnic on Air

I joined National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) at Anand in the late nineties. I had spent about a year in the organisation and was still struggling and felt somewhat perplexed trying to adjust in the new working atmosphere. 

In NDDB , the work culture was very different from that of a Central Government Offices from where I had moved. 

I was asked by my boss to visit oilseed markets and one oilseed processing plant of a cooperative at Gadwall, to familiarize with the working of the oilseed cooperatives at the village level.

It turned out to be a very hectic tour of seven days but it did give me an opportunity to interact with and observe the working of grass root cooperatives and operations of oil seeds processing plant. On my return journey I was to travel by air from Bombay to Vadodara and then travel by road to Anand. 

I was waiting for my flight in the departure lounge at Bombay airport. I had plenty of time before the flight departure and decided to go through my tour notes. 

Suddenly, I was greeted by a husky voice, “From where “? 

I looked up and found out that it was our Head of Engineering Department , looking at me with a smile on his face. He was one of the few senior officers in NDDB whom I had known personally during my rather short stint  in NDDB till then. I stood up and greeted him We discussed the conditions of the Gadwal plant. After some time I politely excused myself and took a seat some distance away from his. This was out of habit and as per the accepted protocol that I had learnt from my days with the Central Civil Services.

 I was deeply engrossed in going through  my tour notes when I heard some noise, with the word “NDDB”. I looked back and found that there were at least seven or eight officers from NDDB engrossed in animated discussion on some projects and some of them cursing the board of directors of some milk unions. Some faces looked familiar as I might have seen them in the NDDB campus. However, I did not   know any of them personally. 

They too did not  bother to look at me and proceeded to another seating zone, like birds of the same feather. I could see them chatting and enjoying some snacks and tea as if it was a fiesta time! . 

At last, the departure call for my flight was announced  and as usual there was helter-skelter amongst the passengers to go ahead in the queue. I was also hurrying towards the boarding desk, to board the plane early so that I get some space for keeping my hand bag. 

I suddenly heard a thick voice, “”Hey You, I think I have seen you somewhere?’’ I looked aside and almost froze as I found our Chairman, Dr. V. Kurien, with very simple outfit, a leather slipper and with not so attractive trolley bag, looking at me with piercing eyes. 

I fumbled for a second, and replied, “Yes Sir, you do, I work with NDDB. He nodded and  asked “You are in which Group?” 

“CMMO Sir” He immediately said,”Oh” and then uttered the name of my boss.

I fumbled and uttered something in confusion. I tried to go behind him in the queue but he stopped me and asked me to stand just next to him and asked me “Where are you are coming from ?”

 I told him about my tour and its purpose. He nodded again and did not say any thing.

I tried to look behind and to my utter surprise I could not  find any NDDB officer other than me. I wondered , where had all  other NDDB officers disappeared! 

I decided not to rush and delay my boarding the aircraft. 

I entered the aircraft from the front gate, as my seat was in the very first row of the economy class. I found that the Chairman was seated in the Business Class. I avoided any eye contact with him and was trying to go to my seat in the economy class, when I heard the same voice once again,” You” , I looked back and found that the Chairman was waving at me. He told me to keep my hand bag and join him.

I did so, came back and stood in front of him. He gestured me to sit down in the vacant seat next to him. With some hesitation, I sat down. He made me comfortable, enquiring about my family. He enquired in detail about my tour to Andhra Pradesh. I narrated in brief the condition of oilseed production and the field situation after the hail storm that had devastated the area. He did not interrupt me. After listening to me he said “Well, what do you think, we should do? 

I was surprised because in my experience while in Central Civil service I generally found that more often than not the top bosses do not bother to listen much to the opinion of juniors or meet their juniors in a manner that the Chairman NDDB was doing with  me, on a very important issue,  a relatively low profile employee. 

I gave my honest opinion, and suggested that we should concentrate in other areas and try to source the materials as much as we can at a competitive price. 

He then asked my past experience in handling central sector schemes. Again, one thing struck me, how come he knows that I was handling central sector schemes during my tenure in the North Eastern states. He also offered me tea, which I politely declined. While I was returning to my seat with his permission, he again stopped me and said, “Meet me after landing”. 

I was worried again. On my seat I was just recollecting what had happened and mesmerised thinking  what a man, our Chairman was. He remembers every face, once seen, gives importance to work and is totally down to earth, keeps information of his employees, even for such a small fry like me, who is only one year old in the organization. 

I was in my thoughts and had totally forgotten the presence of other officers of NDDB. I felt a tap on my shoulder, when I looked back I found one gentleman telling me, that Head  of Engineering  Group, who is occupying a back row seat ,in the same aircraft, wants to talk to me. I walked back to meet the Head of Engineering and the first question he asked me “Hey, What was the Chairman asking you? What made you go near the Chairman? Don’t you know who is he? 

I told the Head of Engineering what transpired between me and the Chairman. Many officers of NDDB,who were seated in the rows behind and in front of the seat of Head of Engineering tried hear my replies. I returned to my seat and was wondering, and suddenly realized that all other officers of NDDB, other than me, boarded the aircraft from the back gate entry.

On landing and outside the airport I was met by the Chairman Car Driver who told me that the Chairman wanted to talk to me and was waiting in his Car. 

I accompanied the driver. On seeing me Dr. V. kurien, Chairman NDDB, asked me,” How you are travelling to Anand?” I replied “I shall manage Sir,” 

He then told his driver to ensure that some other Officer of NDDB, among those who had just landed with us give me a lift upto Anand. 

When I was about to leave, the Chairman called me, and with a naughty smile on now his face said “Tell your HR Head that I am delighted to observe that these days NDDB officers are a having gala time and enjoying Picnic on Air” !

Contributed by Arup Mitra NDDB 1990-2005

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