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.
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 them...et 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|
|The gang of girls at a New Year party|
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.