Posted by: Dinesh Kapur | December 24, 2011

Disappearing in a Cloud of Dust! (Part 1)

I am not sure if it ever happened to me before.

 “Ladies and gentlemen this is your flight captain. The Raipur Traffic Controller asked for a missed approach landing – so we have taken off again. This was to prevent a bird hit. The ground crew is inspecting the runway. We will approach the run way again shortly for landing.”

I have flown plenty of times. Now I am not a veteran of flights like the venerable beard upstairs (in my current office), but even though I have flown many times and also for long durations, I cannot help but instinctively brace ever so slightly for a landing. Invariably my stomach does a tiny cartwheel when the landing gear rubber makes contact with hard asphalt. But this time, as we sat only 100-200 feet above the ground bracing for the plane to touch down, suddenly, the whirring of the engines intensified. A surge of power coursed through the aircraft turbines and within moments, the cars in the vicinity of the airport became ants again. The buildings were matchboxes. This time my stomach did two cartwheels – not the best start to a 12-day Energy Audit at Century Cements in Baikunth, Chhatisgarh.

Some of the passengers smiled silly smiles and blurted nervous laughs. The lady sitting behind me, the better half of a new couple was now experiencing motion sickness.

I looked down nervously at my black sneakers.

Since you are reading this post it implies that the flight did land eventually. So at 7:00 am on 12 December 2011, a Monday morning, the Energy Auditors found themselves picking up their 9 heavy KGB style suitcases from a coarsely built baggage belt at Raipur airport, drawing the lazy interest of our co-passengers. Our motley crew assembled outside the airport for the vehicle(s) sent by the cement lords. The journey from the airport skirted Raipur city and was largely through the thin 2-lane road traveling through the Chhatisgarh hinterland. It was largely uneventful since the ‘RED’ threat was in the opposite direction, near the convergence of Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. The landscape was mostly plain and brown. It was interspersed with brown and green trees and there were hardly any crops or plantations. As we exited the airport one could detect a slight haze of dust all around. Why? The answer came from gaping craters in the ground. Limestone quarries. The staid brown countryside was interrupted with plenty of pink and white cavities in the land.

We stopped for tea. The first sip set the tone for the countless cups of tea we would need over the next 12 days. After a cup of tea-flavored sugar and 60 kilometers of traveling we reached a township in the middle of nowhere. Century school was followed by Century college, a small shopping complex, there was a cricket ground, well maintained roads, some houses and then suddenly emerged the towering 4700 tonnes per day cement plant – Century Cements. The view was properly hazy now. The fine dust transformed the world into a scene behind a dusty computer screen.

Introductions with the engineers manning the plant followed. The use of the word ‘manning’ is to bring to your notice an implicit truth. Barring the few women that we saw in the guesthouse on days 4 and 5, the only other lady in the plant was the diminutive but industrious girl in our Energy Auditing crew. One after another the team nominated by the plant management entered the conference room. Their numbers swelled from 1 to 3 to 10 and rested at 22. The verdict; this was going to be a test of speed, strength and metal, and cement.

The walkthrough survey of the plant began. We zigzagged in and out of the cement mill, the raw mill, the kiln units, the packaging plant, the captive power plant and the pump houses. The initial survey took us up to the railway line that brought the wagonloads of limestone and coal. We were also introduced to a new color – an abnormal hybrid of pink, grey and brown that was pasted on everything that moved and did not move in the immediate vicinity of that plant. Industrial pink!

The flight, the road journey, the kick-off conference, the walkthrough and the winter month of December meant that at 6:00 p.m. it was properly dark. It was also a proper half an hour past the plant personnel’s time to go home. We retired to the guesthouse with alarm clocks set for 6:30 a.m. Reporting time at the plant was 8:00 a.m.

LET THE AUDIT BEGIN!

The alarms did not fulfill their duty. No we were not late. The alarms did not get a chance to alarm us. Our sleep was rudely interrupted at 5:45 a.m. by a harsh ringing of the bell and questions from a man with a gruff voice. He was carrying an old tin kettle and cup and when the door opened he boomed, “CHAI? CHAI LENGE?”

We downed our breakfast quickly – partly because we were eager to reach before time to plan our work and partly because the generous oil made it easier for the food to slide down!

Motors and Lighting were my brief. Since, the number of these devices is large, I teamed up with a teammate to help her in cutting the task down to size. Our first stop was the Raw Mill that was in the immediate vicinity of the Engineering Building.

The notable facts – as we made our way up the heavy wrought iron stairs with 2 engineers from the plant, a phone that belonged to one of them rang. “Why this Kolaveri Kolaveri Kolaveri Di?” – broke the loud grumbling of the machines and piercing screams of the rotating kilns. “Kolaveri Di” in Baikunth, in the middle of nowhere in Chhatisgarh. Is this fast becoming a symbol of national unity?

The next stop was the raw mill. A crisscross of conveyor belts and fans with large containers (hoppers) holding all the crushed limestone that goes in to Birla Gold Cement! The air in that area did not have dust. No, the dust in that area had a few pockets of air!

With each step the dust jumped around gleefully like a dog playing near your feet. Occasionally the dust even rose above the eye-line. As we ventured towards the remaining motors and panels the air got murkier. We were walking in a line. One after the other and I was at the end of the chain. I kept track of the others by focusing on their shoes. In the distance, I saw two other colleagues inspecting the operation of the cooling fans and thermal insulation. I stopped and waved to them. Just then, a rush of dust suddenly swept in … I lost track of my team, the shoes and footprints had vanished … the realization dawned, they were ‘disappearing in a cloud of dust’.

***

End of Part 1

Part 2 follows only if I get comments on this post!

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Responses

  1. This is a comment.

    Tbh this is interesting. Different from your usual stuff. You are good with the anecdotal style. Part 2?

  2. “Part 2 follows only if I get comments on this post!”

    I do not negotiate with TERIerrists.

  3. Nice article. Please write Part 2.

  4. @Anupam

    A compliment! Thanks 🙂

    I’d like to understand the distinction you see between this and my ‘usual stuff’.

  5. @Harish – A teri-ble colleague

    My Blog. My rules. And be careful, the cameras are watching you.

  6. @Harish – From Georgia, Andhra Pradesh

    Sure thins buddy. Soon.

  7. Evocative. I liked both your audit writings a lot. So are we done begging for part 2 now or…?


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