We moved to the NDDB campus in 1970. NDDB. Total manpower strength of NDDB at that time was perhaps around 30 -35 or so, including the support staff . We all had our work places in the Chairman’s office building.
Only eight B type and two A type houses for officers who had families were ready for occupation on the campus. However, bachelor officers ( we were four Shailendra, PV Mathew, Narayan Raj and me ) were allotted single rooms in the Chummery (One bedroom each with attached bath).
Within a few months of our stay in the Chummery, one evening Dr. SC Ray, Secretary. NDDB came over to Chummery to announce that we had to shift to the Hostel which also was ready. He announced that Chummery would now be NDDB Guest House.
Once we moved to the Hostel we had to look for a cook (for the hostel) as apart from us who were shifted from Chummery other newly joined trainee officers of NDDB and Dairy cooperatives also needed some boarding arrangement.
The hostel kitchen also needed to be equipped with pots and pans and other basics needed in a large kitchen. None of us had an idea of what was needed and therefore services of an experienced cook were urgently needed. It was therefore decided by the then Secretary NDDB, Shri A.K Raichaudhari to first recruit a cook and once he joins, recruit a couple of persons as his support staff.
But where to look for a suitable candidate? No one was sure if advertising in a local Gujarati newspaper that had a very limited circulation will help. Word of mouth was considered a better option and we were advised to share our requirement with any local we knew and be hopeful.
That worked. One day someone informed Shailendra, who was the first warden of the hostel (we teasingly addressed him as the burden of the hostel), that an experienced cook has been found and that he is willing to come over for the interview.
The date and interview time was fixed and the candidate was asked to come prepared to cook a full meal for the interview panel. Shailendra arranged the pots, pans and the raw materials.
Shri AKRC was staying alone in the campus as his family was still in Kolkata. And since the two member interview panel, Shri AKRC and Shailendra were both non vegetarians, they decided to test his cooking skills over a non veg dish for dinner.
Obvious choice was chicken and the item to be prepared-chicken curry. The full menu included rice, chapati and a vegetable. It was assumed that if he can make good chicken curry, he surely can make edible daal for vegetarians. Shri AKRC was to come to the hostel only after the food was ready.
On the appointed day, the candidate arrived. We the hostlers were very keen to know the outcome of the interview as we were desperate to see that hostel kitchen becomes functional as soon as possible.
The man who arrived was no doubt very experienced -his looks said it all. He was a Muslim gentleman, close to 55, with nearly 70% missing teeth. He worked as the ‘head cook’ in a eating joint outside Anand Railway station called “Noor-e-Mohammadi” hotel. I remember the place because on one occasion, out of sheer desperation to get something palatable, I braved eating there.
He cooked and the interview panel, after tasting the preparations decided to continue the search. I guess, the chicken he cooked must have been ‘unique’ in more than one ways. Few more weeks were lost without a solution in sight.
Finally, Shailendra got a brainwave. Why not Raoji-our Manibhuvan cook? We know him well, we have not only survived but also relished his vegetarian cooking. He didn’t know how to make fancy dishes, but was good enough to cook a descent vegetarian meal to feed 25-30 persons at one time.
Shailendra Palvia, Vikram Sinh Rana, Shirish Patel, RK Nagar and Shailendra in front of Manibhuwan (1969/1970). Raojibhai is seen standing in the verandah.
It worked. Rao ji was able to churn out a descent vegetarian meal for the interview panel. We were happy that finally our ordeal was about to end.
So, we got our good old Raoji back in our service, but this time as a cook in NDDB. With him at the helm of affairs at the hostel kitchen, we knew we were safe and well looked after.
But good things don’t last for long. This one too didn’t last for us.
But then it’s a different story….look forward to it in part II which will be with an unexpected twist.