It was the journey of a lifetime, all the way from Bhilai in Chhattisgarh to Kerala for a bunch of four senior citizens, with a single agenda of meeting and catching up with their old friends from Bhilai who are now back in their native State. Shri PRN Pillai, Shri GVK Nair, Shri MNC Pillai and Shri N Ramadasan made up this group, all retired senior executives from the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP) who choose to settle down in Bhilai itself.
Leaving Bhilai on January 15th night by the Korba – Trivandrum Express, they reached Palakkad on 17th and after a night halt at Ottapalam, they were in Thrissur on 18th and on 19th in Ernakulam covering Angamali and Aluva in between. On 20th they travelled via Thuravoor, Chertala, Vaikom, Kottayam and Thiruvalla with a halt at Pandalam. On 21st they covered Chengennur, Mannar and Mavelikara; 22nd was for Pathanamthitta and Adoor. On 23rd they spent their night at Kottiyam after covering Karunagapally and Kollam. 24th they were in Thiruvananthapuram reaching Varkala by night. They finally wound up their trip on 25th having covered some 750 odd kms across the State.
“It was our long-cherished desire that we should go and meet our old friends settled in Kerala for long when they are in good health and spirit. It was during one of our recent monthly get-togethers that we finally decided on this trip”, said MNC uncle. “Initially we had a list of 100 families which we cut down to 80 and I think we have covered almost 75. We didn’t visit all the houses but wherever possible, we asked our friends to come to a common house and that made it even more exciting. The response was much beyond our expectation. Like in Thrissur, we had our friend, T Bhaskaran who travelled about 35 kms with his wife to meet us. It was just great meeting all of them.”
It may be recalled here that during its heydays, Bhilai had a large population from Kerala with two active socio-cultural organisations called Bhilai Malayalee Grandhashala and Kairalee Kala Kendram. The massive campaign in the 1980s by the Malayalee community there to establish a direct rail link to Kerala is now part of the local folklore. The erstwhile Cochin – Bilaspur Express (now Thiruvananthapuram – Korba) was an outcome of this struggle.
“We joined BSP in the early 1960s. It was a small township and we were a very close-knit community. We have been in Bhilai for close to 60 years now and this was one occasion to catch up with everyone. While we missed a few of our dear friends and colleagues who departed from us, we could also meet a few who came back to Kerala early in the 80s”, said PRN uncle. He was the convenor of the Joint Action Council for rail connectivity, someone quite well-known there.
Bhilai had fairly big representation from the Central Travancore area and it was here that the group spent their maximum time, visiting and meeting up with a large number of families. The group reached back Bhilai on January 31st.
According to Ramdas uncle, the youngest member in the group, “The love and affection, the warmth and the hospitality that we experienced during that one week is something which words can’t describe. People who have been outside Kerala for long periods would only understand that. In some cities, we had the second generation Bhilains, children of our friends, come and meet us and there were a few who joined the gathering through video call as well. It was awesome!!”
“We are eager to make such trips again in future if our health permits. The warm welcome and hospitality extended by the ex-Bhilains, our old friends, were really depicting the Bhilai culture” said GVK uncle, the senior-most member in the group.
Bhaskaran uncle wraps it up well, “It was indeed an occasion to celebrate and what a reunion it was, an occasion to cherish for the rest of our time!!
Personally, their coming to my house in Trivandrum was something close to my heart. Even though they were my Dad’s friends, while growing up in Bhilai, I was probably more close to them than our relatives in Kerala. Apart from these four; I remember N N Kutty uncle, Peethambaran uncle and late C K Ramdasan uncle as part of our extended family. And this visit was an occasion to revisit those memories. I wish Dad was there, he would have loved to be a part of this grand tour by the Grandpas.