Will it survive the fall?

RK Nagar
RK Nagar

Nagar writes about the early morning cacophony of musical and not so musical sounds in the calm and serene atmosphere of NDDB hostel in 1970s. And how it stopped thanks to Shri GM Jhala – the then (Director Technical) and later Secretary NDDBrenowned for his quick decision making.

Here I am not talking about a flowering or ornamental plant surviving a harsh winter following the ‘fall’ season. I am talking about a man made device for entertainment. And the device- not one but two under reference here are a Radio and a Harmonium.

But why these two poor lifeless things should deserve such a fate for no apparent fault of theirs? Actually the fault didn’t lie with them, but with their rather helpless owners.

The introduction to this story is a bit too confusing at this stage. So let me come straight to the point.

Year 1971. I was one of the initial four occupants of what is known as the old hostel on the NDDB campus. These were the times when after office entertainment meant playing some outdoor games and after dark, play cards or some board games followed by after dinner gossip sessions till midnight, (nay early morning as they invariably lasted until 2-3 am).

I was not fond of cards or board games but joined the small group in our daily gossip sessions. It used to be any nonsense other than ‘shop’. Politics, films, sports, stories- mainly made up ones and what not, but we always had some new masala to stretch the sessions up to early mornings. Although one of us had a transistor radio, we used it only to catch up on the day’s events as a feed for our gossip sessions.

Now, on a working day if you hit the bed at 2 am and have to start next day in office, fully alert at 10 am, then quiet understandably you need about 7 hours of uninterrupted sound sleep. It was all working well for us- especially me as I needed just 30 minutes to get ready and be on my desk at 10 am sharp. I, in fact seldom got up before 9.30 and yet always made it in time, thanks to the room I has been allocated where I had the attached bathroom to myself.

This sweet routine received a severe jolt when the first batch of trainee engineers joined NDDB.

One morning at 5 am, I heard someone play Harmonium and after sometime, the melody of the instrument was joined by a Radio playing Hindi film music. The sound of these two gadgets may have been a sweet melody to the ears of those who played them and other early birds of the hostel, but to my ears, it was unbearable cacophony.

I didn’t react for a couple of days but after about three days, I decided to find out who was disrupting my sleep and that too at an hour when the sleep is in its soundest phase.

The proud owners were both lovers of music. The harmonium belonged to an engineer from Maharashtra, who loved classical music and did his “Riaz” (as most singers to) in early morning hours and he had to play the musical notes at a particular volume to support his singing. The owner of the Radio was from Punjab. He had assembled it himself and took immense pride is his creation.

I must talk about his creation. The radio had some unique features. First it had no body- only skeleton. Second, you needed a plier and a screwdriver to operate it. Third, it had no volume control. Obviously no one other than the creator could operate it. So, if the creator went to the bathroom after starting it, the only way to ‘shut’ the damn thing up was to pull the plug. But you couldn’t do it as he would be enjoying the music while doing his daily business in the bathroomand his room firmly bolted from inside.

On the left NDDB Hostel 1970. Foundation for multi-storey hostel was not yet laid. (Photo SK).Right Top NDDB Gate 1971 ( Photo G Rajan); Right BottomChummery for bachelor officers later converted into Guest House 1970 ( Photo SK )

But the problem had to be solved. So, I and with me others who were feeling as irritated by what had become ‘noisy nuisance’ for us, decided to take up the matter with late Shri GM Jhala, who as head of NDDB’s technical division those days was involved in training of these young engineers.

He said, ‘Just ask them one question,but ask them individually’. ‘What question’, I asked. 

‘Will your gadget survive a fall from the second floor of this hostel’, he answered and walked away. 

I posed the problem to him while he was on his routine evening walk and he came up with the simplest possible solution.

He said, ‘Just ask them one question, but ask them individually’.

‘What question’, I asked.

‘Will your gadget survive a fall from the second floor of this hostel’, he answered and walked away.

We didn’t have to ask the question. Someone from amongst them overheard our conversation with Shri Jhala.

The problem was nevertheless solved in no time. The fear of a’fall’ is immense!


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  1. Dr SC MALHOTRA Avatar

    Jhala saab was very quick in clearing the papers. You put up a note to him with 2 proposals, by the time you return to your table, Rajan will ring you up to say : boss “X” is approved and “Y ” please duscuss , so get your note collected or come down for discussions with Saab :. Best way to get things approved from Jhala saab was to send note on A5 size and no bigger. And it is cleared ……

  2. G.KRISHNAN Avatar

    Didn’t something similar happen with the drying / hanging of clothes in the balconies and good old Wariava,ordering an end to the practice?Please correct me if I am wrong.

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