Zeroing in on celebrating the opening night of an annual event on the platform of a historic railway station, which was no longer in use, was way beyond a brilliant idea. The Cochin Harbour Terminus, which has no passenger services and is a historical relic in a dilapidated condition… weeds all over, tracks covered with muck, damaged platform flooring, toilets unusable, water piping broken… Conceptualizing and organizing a party on the platform of a decrepit railway station reaffirms that any ground can become a venue as long as it is clean. Here’s the story…
Every year, we are on the lookout for a venue with some historic relevance – a temple, a palace, a fort or anything unique,” said the organiser. “About 10 months ago, when we started the hunt, even after the third round, we could not zero in on a suitable venue. The search for a temple or church or even an old ship (being in a naval base) that would be large enough to be a backdrop for the event was futile. We scouted around for islands, barges, cruise liners but could not find anything. We even came to the extent of changing the city to host the event,” he added.
“In one of the final recces, we passed this old abandoned non-functional railway station and decided to take a look at it. Surprisingly, when we entered there was a ticket counter that was selling railway tickets as a ritual although the station was non-functional and no trains had been operating there for the last 13 years. This attracted my attention and I said this is it!” Needless to say, the station was extremely dirty and the surrounding area was covered with a wild growth of bushes and plants.
To host a convention with a guest list which includes high-ranking Hospitality Professionals, foreign delegates and members of the press, it was essential to give the venue a total makeover, involving a great deal of work. Bearing in mind the historical relevance and the fact that it was unique and required a complete redo, it also entailed obtaining permissions from the authorities to transform the platform into a party venue. “It did require a bit of a convincing. The authorities took time to revert, however, once they were convinced that this would revive the old railway terminus and open up a means of income, they were enthusiastic. We are grateful to Indian Railways-Kochi’s Tandon, who went out of the way to assist and obtain the necessary electrical connections and other facilities and permissions.”
The task at hand was by no means any easy one. A facility management company was appointed and the primary task was to combat the swarms of mosquitoes that showed up at dusk. This task took all of six days. Alongside, bushes needed to be cut, the grass trimmed and the platform – including the roof – had to be cleaned and accumulated fungus removed. High pressure jet sprays, scrubbing machines and cleaning chemicals were used to clean the platform, the pillars and the roof. The cleaning continued repeatedly till the area showed some semblance of hygiene and a satisfactory appearance.
The biggest challenge was the toilets… the drainage of the existing toilets was damaged, so it became necessary to arrange for two gender assigned bio-toilets, were placed on the far end of the platform side by side.
It was a 12-day super cleaning project to render the site sufficiently appealing to host an event. Right down to the last detail of the ticket collector, the coolies and a railway ticket booth issuing specially designed event-specific railway tickets, the ambience was created, as were the sound effects of the running train and participative activities with groups of people chugging along in single file.
“We had a catering company, an entertainment company and a compere that was co-ordinated but it was still not giving the feel of authenticity, so we added on railway stall owners, a magazine seller, a cobbler and actual beggars who were paid ₹500 to act like themselves. We also brought in the coconut seller from outside the railway station and bought the coconuts from him.” The best part was the souvenir – a cardboard railway ticket for a journey from Cochin Harbour Terminal to the ‘venue’ at the price of ₹6. In keeping with health and safety requirements there was firefighting equipment and an ambulance available in case of emergency.
Once the venue was done up, the creativity set in and though part of the plan was to have food served in a train stationed on the platform and dancers performing on the roof of the train, this idea had to be shelved as the tracks were badly damaged and a train could not be brought in. Instead, food was served in the stall, typical of a railway platform.
Adding to the atmosphere on the day of the event were the rains, which added to the natural ambience of the ‘Party on the Platform’… a wonderful way to kickstart the Ninth Convention and Awards of the Hospitality Purchasing Managers’ Forum 2019 at Kochi.
Showcasing an original idea has been the forte of the organiser, Dr Nitin Nagrale, the Founder and General Secretary of HPMF. In this case coupled with the revival of this segment of the Indian Railways, the three-day event also included travel and experiencing the culture of Kerala through various programmes strategically planned across the city.
The morning after the welcome party on the platform, was devoted to a visit to the Shri Ayappa Temple to invoke blessings for the event. The men in mundus and women in sarees with colours of the HPMF logo made a pretty picture in the group photo, setting new records.
The Grand Hyatt Bolgatty Island – Kochi convention hall hosted the HPMF 9th Anniversary Celebrations, Convention and Awards, which were inaugurated with the traditional lighting of the lamp. Following the Welcome Address by HPMF President Mohan Deshpande, Nitin Nagrale addressed the audience revealing that HPMF was now in 12 countries. To quote Henry Ford, ‘Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.’ New initiatives by the forum included an International Website and the launch of the HPMF mobile app. The convention was an occasion for launching the Global Sustainability Council with Mala Singh appointed as the Chairman, with a pledge to the Indian Government to use only Arts and Crafts of India.