Thursday, June 28, 2012

A yarn about the yard

Author Vadayar Sasi has written a book about the Cochin Shipyard 

By Shevlin Sebastian 

In 1966, the members of the Shipyard Evictees Association made a large bamboo-framed paper boat called the ‘SS Cochin Rani’. Thereafter, they took the boat all over Kochi and let it down from the Venduruthy Bridge. “The point they wanted to make was that the shipyard existed only on paper,” says author Vadayar Sasi of ‘Cochin Shipyardinte Katha; Kochiyudeyum’ (The Story of the Cochin Shipyard and
Kochi ). "No action had been taken despite acquiring 100 acres.”

This act received wide coverage in the newspapers all over India. Finally, it came to the attention of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who decided to take action. The Cochin Shipyard came into being on April 29, 1972.

However, the first employee, Jacob Chandy, was appointed on June 8, 1961. Soon, a watchman and an estate manger were appointed. The Central Government opened a small office. “But for a few years there was an uncertainty about whether a shipyard would be set up or not,” says Sasi. “Sometimes, there would be news in the media that something was going to happen. Then there would be silence.”

The people who lived in the area wondered what to do. Some sold their land to the government and left. Others were waiting to see what would happen. Finally, the paper boat protest took place and things began moving forward. Eventually, the Government of India acquired an area of 170 acres.

Sasi, who retired as Senior Manager (Civil Engineering), after a 36-year career, had always wanted to write about the shipyard. “I was doing day-and-night supervision at various construction sites,” he says. He had a pocket diary where he jotted down points linked to his supervisory work, but also made notes on whatever he saw, from a literary point of view.

This is because Sasi is a short-story writer. One of his short-story collections, ‘Abhilash Nagarile Ayalkar’ won the SK Pottekkat award. “In fact, the shipyard has been an inspiration in my creative writing also,” he says.

At that time, the engineers used a jeep to travel from one site to another, and for rescue operations, in case of accidents.

One day, the jeep was parked on top of a ramp. Suddenly, it rolled down and landed at the bottom. Between the repair and the building docks, there had been a crematorium. “When accidents took place, the employees would put the blame on the ghosts roaming around,” says Sasi. “This time also, they said that  a ghost had pushed the vehicle. Most probably, the driver put the jeep in neutral gear and that was how it rolled down. But I wrote a short story to show that there was no such thing as ghosts and got it published.”

Incidentally, the first ship, ‘Rani Padmini’, was built in 1981.It is the only yard in India which can build ships upto 1.10 lakh DWT and repair them up to 1.25 lakh DWT (DWT = Dead Weight Tonnage). At the shipyard, tankers, bulk carriers, port crafts, passenger vehicles, as well as aircraft carriers for the Indian Navy have been built.

The yard has two international class dry docks. Apart from that, there are three quays, having a total length of 1000 metres, and 80 cranes, including two gantry cranes of 150 and 300 tonne capacity.

Financially, the shipyard is doing well. In 2009-10, the turnover was `1248 crore, with net profits of `223 crore.  At present, the employee strength is 1850. This includes officers, supervisors and other employees. In addition, there are thousands of indirect employees.

The 148-page book has several black and white photographs of events that have taken place in the shipyard. Sasi had focused on the history, on ships (from wood to steel), employees, quays, and the changing face of Kochi.

Priced at `100, the book is available at all National Book stalls all over Kerala.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

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