Thursday, May 23, 2013

Devjani the Dreamer

“You guessed it right, it’s a baby girl;
a girl, who has no idea whether she’ll go to live or not…”

As she recites lines from a poem called ‘Why is a girl never wanted’, Devjani’s cheeks get inflamed with passion, her brows furrowed and eyes darting, hands moving to enunciate her point. The fiery delivery leaves her audience with a lump in their throats which doesn’t melt for a long time. Maybe this is why she won the first prize for this poem in a pan-Bhilai poetry recitation competition. Devjani Chaudhary, 9, daughter of contract labour Jyotirmay Chaudhary, fluent orator in Hindi and English, is one of the 295 other first generation learners of Bhilai Ispat Kalyan Vidyalaya (BIKV), an English-medium school catering exclusively to children coming from below poverty line (BPL) families.

With an intention to alleviate families living in abject poverty by providing education to their children, BIKV was started by SAIL Bhilai Steel Plant in 2007. Every year, a new batch of students is inducted with a girl:boy ratio of 15:10. The students are provided with meals, sometimes the sole reason for which parents allow their children to attend school. Other necessities such as books, stationery, uniform, travel arrangement etc are provided for.

Listening to the riveting orator, quite an experience!

Younger of two sisters, Devjani belongs to a family of supportive parents. Unlettered parents have their own limitations in understanding the demands of school and pattern of learning, but her parents try hard in helping her with her assignments, even if it entails foregoing a day’s wage. But all families are not alike. Grinding poverty takes its toll in many other ways. Children of such families live under conditions of privation and associated negatives – drunkenness, drug addiction, violence and abuse. Teachers of BIKV often have to double up as parents to closely monitor the habits and progress of every child, and prepare themselves to start from scratch every day.

“If a child misses school for more than four days, our teachers go to their house to find out what the matter is”, says Ms Ruby Burman Roy, Principal BIKV. She informs that parents of students are mostly daily wage earners working as mechanics, rickshaw pullers, labours etc. A veteran teacher, Ms Roy asserts that even though the IQ of these children is the same as other children, they have an unmatched hunger to learn which sets them apart from others. Teachers of BIKV often have to sit with students during lunch or post-school hours to help them pass their grades, even if it take six to eight re-tests. In absence of parental guidance, their work load gets multiplied.

 “During the Annual Day celebration of the school, when children dress up and perform on stage, we see the look of pride on the parents’ face, often streaked with tears of pride…that is our reward for this job. 300 families will have a better future tomorrow”, adds the Principal with a smile.

With the Principal, BIKV, Ms Ruby Burman Roy
Meanwhile, Devjani surprises us with another of her feats. She stood second out of nearly 200 students in Bhilai Bharatnatyam Dance Competition. This is besides her talent in painting and playing kho-kho. Clearly a girl of many talents, she harbors the dream of being a doctor when she grows up. She doesn’t mind being a dancer either. Or a sports-woman for that matter! Asked about what has been her proudest moment in life, she demurely responds, “when I told my parents about my grades in class, they told me that I’m better than a son”.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Seven years since I set SAIL

There are some moments that sink in our minds through the chinks of time. Some words, some lessons that make way through the labyrinths of our sub-conscious, and lie embedded deep somewhere. It is only when we are shaken from our day-to-day reveries, by a long-forgotten fragrance...or a nostalgic song...or a blurred sense of déjà-vu that we get to sneak a peek into our own minds. One such occasion for me was visiting the steel plants of Bokaro and Durgapur, years after I first saw them.

 I was among the five new Junior Managers (Communication) who landed in Durgapur way back in 2006. Even before we had officially joined the company, we jested about our choice of joining SAIL. Usually, in the career graphs of people, an ascent is marked by migration to a more developed place. And there we were – five fresh graduates from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in Delhi, with ambitious plans and high dreams, travelling from the mega capital of India to some place people learnt about in geography classes, to start our jobs! To make matters weirder, we had known about the plant-placements even before we sat for the interview. And when we did clear it, we had actually signed the offer document, come down to one of the steel plants, and were about to join a P-S-U. Phew!

That was our first rendezvous with reality. A gentle prick on the bubble of delusion, a slight grounding of the flight of youthful vanity. A formidable learning process was set into motion. Five young people had embarked on a journey of life that was going to test the strength of their character, the integrity of their action, and the acme of their responsibility. It was going to be a test of attitude. A test, no longer taken with pen and paper, but evaluated by approach and performance.

And so we began with our induction training at Durgapur. The first and most noticeable feature of that place is its sultry weather. After the dry and unrelenting summers of Delhi, Durgapur was an oppressive under-water experience. The town is sooo humid that fish can happily swim in the air. Almost immediately after entering Durgapur, our organic problems began. We could almost hear our skin, hair, and innards revolting against the weather. That was our first lesson in naukri – the world is not obliged to fulfil your dreams since it was here first. A year later in Bokaro, this lesson was wryly articulated by a fellow colleague in Bhojpuri: ‘Naukri naa karin...aa karin ta naa, naa karin’. However, we were soon to discover that weather would be the least painful thing which we were going to adjust to. Durgapur’s evenings, however, provided the much needed succour to our souls. In the summer evenings of Delhi, while hot loo mingled with pollution blows mercilessly and continues till midnight, Durgapur is visited by cool and crisp breeze. Top it up with good quality and utterly inexpensive sweets (in Delhi, the dead flies on sweets would cost more), and Durgapur becomes a feast for the senses. Thanks to mishti doi, sandesh, gud ka rashogolla, and generous punctuations to our evening saunter, I gained some typical Bengali pudginess. Back in Delhi, people always confused me for a Bengali (big eyes and round face they’d say). In Durgapur, guys assumed that I was a Punjabi! And as usual, when I tried convincing them that I am actually a Bihari (yes! Biharis aren’t aliens!), I was greeted by that hackneyed response, “oh! But you don’t look like a Bihari!”. Again, no one bothered to explain what exactly a Bihari looks like.

Social and psychological issues apart, what ripped through my illusion about SAIL, like hot knife through butter, was the induction training programme at the Durgapur Steel Plant. The grandeur of mammoth iron structures, unimaginable plenitude of machines, complex integration of manufacturing units, and fearlessness of plant workers...silenced the clown in me. I was struck with awe. Even today, I can vividly recall our team’s visit to the Blast Furnace with Mr P Shaw, our training guru in DSP (who I’ll always remember for his smiling patience with just-out-of-college kids), where we met a man who showed us around the unit. Seeing hot iron with naked eyes from a distance that can bake is something that someone who has only seen the pictures of hot metal will never know. This gentleman, for whom it must have been the nth time of training new entrants, was far more enthused than any of us (there’s little scope for enthusiasm when you’re mortally scared). He explained the process from all possible frightening angles. As though gauging our curiosity regarding his missing hand, he remarked brightly that he had lost it in an accident involving hot metal tapping. And then, he grinned.

That one incident stirred something very deep in me. Something quiet and untested. Something, that in a strange inexplicable way, altered my perception forever.

During plant-visits, the science and logic in steel-making fascinated me. Had they taught us in the same manner at school, I’d never have to learn those figures and reactions by rote. I might even have considered studying engineering. I had to admit, it was all very very interesting. I absorbed the training capsule with keen interest, studied steel-making process with an insatiable appetite and boy! I loved it! Life had turned from a drama to a thriller. Soon, we started discovering little joys in our new life. Like our medical examination in Durgapur hospital. With boys being tested for hernia and girls for pregnancy, we were left in hysterical fits of laughter, which only seem to grow with collective recall. Other minor incidents, like someone falling asleep in the middle of a training session (on the trainer’s desk) and playing practical jokes with hostel-mates (such as tying a frog/grasshopper with thread and leaving it loose on a sleeping colleague) became sources of major fun. Training at Durgapur came to a sweet end and achieved the purpose of getting us warmed up to SAIL.

Having been earmarked for Public Relations Deptt of Bokaro Steel Plant from the beginning, I ventured forth into Bokaro. A place I would soon fall in love with. Even though Bokaro was, is, my birth-place, I had only a faint recollection of the town. For all its shades and colours, which only its residents will understand, the Bokaro sojourn began on a hilarious note. With zero public transport, puzzled looks on the face of onlookers, and a volley of questions concerning my private life, the only remedy was to laugh back and enjoy the craziness. Thankfully, the Bengali sweets accompanied me here too. It took me some time to learn the tricks of the trade in life at Bokaro. Such as, how to type in Hindi, how to make oneself accepted as a normal human being despite coming from Delhi, how to make people believe that girls can actually speak their minds, how to judge a prospective intrusive question and cut it short before it began, how to get work done by assimilating yourself as one of al. The on-the-job challenge that I faced in Bokaro, especially in man-management, is the greatest learning I believe I have realised in SAIL.

With Bokaro friends on our road trip to Maithan
After working hours, life in Bokaro was a ball. With endless birthday parties of hostel friends minus the energy sapping life of a metro, with free township facilities and greenery to enthral the senses, Bokaro Steel City became more enjoyable than Delhi had ever been. Seven years down the line, now at Delhi Corporate Office, when my heart craves for Bokaro’s peace and its people’s gaiety, when I look through the window of my life and beg for Bokaro’s rain, when the mere idea of plant-visit lights up a warm and silvery glow, I wonder how time plays its part in modifying our understanding and fine-tuning our judgement. Bokaro was a feast I devoured. It had its share of bitterness and spice, but in spite of that (or maybe because of that); it had all the ingredients of a unique and lingering taste.
The gang of girls at a New Year party
Workers darkened by coal and dust, engineers pensive with production targets, machines churning out ribbons of red-hot steel, ingots pressed like cutlet between gargantuan burgers, wheels polished till it hurt the eyes, iron slabs flattened till imagination’s extent, employees with a chum-like camaraderie and a companionship-like connect, townships with verdant decor, friends and mentors who helped me grow as an individual and a professional...these, and a myriad more, are the images of SAIL that I carry in my heart and soul today.

What I thought to be an error of judgement, has so far served as the most humbling learning experience of my life. I alone know how much I owe to SAIL.

Friday, May 10, 2013

communing with dialogues

He: So we start with discussing the weather?

He asks with utter impunity, their eyes meet, and both laugh helplessly like childhood friends.
There is an uncharacteristic candour in the way they meet. Definitely not how people meet after years. They talk, picking up strands of conversation, as if they left it there minutes ago, and came back after a loo break or so.
She smiles bashfully, eyes downcast, now looking up at him, shaking her head in the same ‘oh! You never change’ expression.

He: In fact, I’d much rather talk about Whether. Whether I can kiss you, whether I should hold your hand and…

She (almost jumping in): you really have to stop. Remember our treaty?

He: High time you stopped me baby.

In an uncanny way, she predicts most of his replies even before completing her sentence. As usual, he crosses the line. As usual, she disciplines herself to ignore. They’re meeting. She’s happy. He’s ecstatic. They’re euphoric. And that’s all that matters.
She does not react. She just looks on…and both know exactly what effect it has on him.

He: Damn it! You know, your lips have a way of destroying all my plans?

She: Oh yah, ya, ya…right…don’t I know!

She leans forward as she says this. A part challenge. A part seduction. She catches a whiff of his scent (deo/ talcum?). The pinkness of her cheeks disappears, and a thick viscous look enters her eyes.
He’s still hooked to her lips. He’s never understood his obsessive single mindedness with those pink purple succulent gateways to bliss.

He (continuing in a thinker sort of way): Ya, so your lips…until I saw them, I knew exactly how this day would go. But now that they are here, in the fullness of their lacerating, merciless, sexy assault, I’ve gone completely blank. Not like a warrior who has lost a war, but like one who’s standing on the battlefield, and has forgotten the very purpose of war. Do you get it?

She: So, how’s work going?

He (cockily, as is his style): I’m afraid I’m having motions thrice a day, and my rectum is sore and needs your urgent attention, madam!

Like a matchstick in hay, their laughter erupts through the humdrum of the street. Heads turn, steps halt in mid-way.  A few seconds of reckless breathless irreverent laughter before the universe resumes pace.

He: Darling, I’m talking about Vatsayayan with you, and you are invoking Adam Smith, what kind of a justice is that?

A pressed smile on her lips as she looks at him. A face so fine she’d want to press it to her bare bosom, she thinks, a maternal instinct welling up in her chest. With fingers as mellow as her eyes, she runs them through his hair. He closes his eyes, silent for the first time in the day, probably in life, existing only where she touched him. Her hand, trailing the side of his face, neck, arms, hands…finally resting on his palm. Two people centered in the kernel of their hands.
After what seems like an eternity,

He: You still haven’t told me how you feel for me

She: What’s the point? We’re married, (adding too quickly), not to one another. So what’s the point?

He: It’s my last straw. You know.

She: No, you know. You know because you can’t not know. You know because our bodies are programmed to understand this language we alone share. What more can I possibly tell you?

That every time you go on your loquacious trips I just want to shut you up?

That your words make inroads to my heart, my soul, my being, my thoughts, unlocking my sanctum sanctorum?

That you make me feel so beautiful and so gifted, that sometimes I need you just to feel my own presence…

That the intensity of your love makes me want to hold you, explore you, possess you, fight you, bite you…and urge the last emotion out of you

That your eyes bore into my flesh, they burn my skin and awaken every pore of my body, until I’m possessed with a yearning I dare not describe

That you make me wanna bury myself in your arms and cry…and cry till I’m laughing…and laugh to tears again….until all is smoke, and we are giggling with the pleasure of unknown, the uniqueness of us, bursting with the beauty of life…until you are I are one.

What all do I tell you baby, WHAT ALL?

Her eyes brim over, sweat glistening on her forehead. She’s fumbling for words when he pulls her by the waist and hugs her. More to comfort his thumping, racing heart. A pure warm embrace. Unadulterated by desire. A closing in on the distance between longing, aching souls – the bodies merely their conduit. An embrace to light up the skies, to connect with the universe, to consort with the little mysteries on earth. An embrace with a thousand love-makings dancing between them.
Soaked. Purified. Heavenly.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


The farther i went away
the closer i came
running away from truth is
after all, so lame

in loud carefree chortles
i heard myself cry
unsurprising, how i failed
the harder i'd try

steeped in flesh and lust
unscruplously promiscous
all i saw in darkness
laced in love was Us

things people events
nothing really touches me
nothing's complete, nothing matters
only We are meant to be.