From 1991 to ’93 i was with Ashok Leyland, in the Marketing Services Group, handling market Research. It was a dream job – opportunity to travel and meet people, lot of free time to catch up on reading (on the train) and good money.

Once, in Central Station, while walking to my coach, i saw this beautiful Mallu girl boarding the train. After the train started, i tracked her down and struck up a conversation – She was studying in Cuttack (hey! i am going to Cuttack), She was from Calicut (I studied in Calicut). I told her i will be in Orissa for a week and that i would like to meet her sometime. She wasn’t very enthusiastic…

Let us call her Devi, She was studying in NIRTAR (National Institute of Rehabilitation Training and Research).

I asked everybody i met in Cuttack, starting with the auto driver who took me to my hotel, about NIRTAR and nobody had heard about the place. Finally, on the day i was to leave town, i was told NIRTAR is located in Olatpur, some 30 km away from Cuttack.

I decided to make the trip (!). It was pouring like crazy, the bus was leaking, and by the time i reached the institute (the last 2 km in a cycle rickshaw with open sides) i was drenched to the skin. I located the Girl’s Hostel (which i remember as an old bunglow, nothing like the pic below), met the warden and asked for Devi.

Devi made her entrance after a good 30 minutes. She was cold, and bundled me out in a few minutes.

From Cuttack, I went to Calcutta. Jose was working in Cal then. I recounted my story to Osa and he deadpanned “Ninakku NIRTARayille?”

Vaalkashnam: When i got back to Chennai, there was this letter from Devi waiting for me. And that was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship” (From Casablanca, check out the movie)

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