A truck transporting long metallic construction rods is a common sight on Indian roads. And common sense dictates that one maintain a considerable distance from that vehicle. More than often, we leave it at that, without a second glance. Made up of either iron or steel, we vaguely understand that these rods are an integral part of any building construction. We see them litter most construction sites, in pieces of various lengths, but have little idea of their role and importance in the construction process.
Hidden to the naked eye, these bars, termed as rebars in the industry, lend structural integrity to a building. To the common eye, it’s an innocuous piece of metal but little do we realize its significance or its journey to become an intrinsic part of our homes and lives.
Recently, I was fortunate to get a sneak peek into the workings of the mother of all steel plants – the Tata Steel plant in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand. It was awe-inspiring, overwhelming and humbling, all at once. That it ate into my Bombay sojourn was but a minor detail. I was sold in an instant.
At the face of it, what would I get out of visiting a steel plant? I’m not a geek or a techie. And I’ve never been inclined towards the sciences. The engineering genes in my family had totally skipped me! But a part of me was curious. About Tata Steel, about rebars, about Jamshedpur.
The City of Joy, apart from its jhalmuri, sandesh and nolen gur, now held other attractions. It was the gateway to Steel City.
We spent Day 1 of our steel excursion in the City of Joy, interacting with the marketing team of Tata Tiscon. The rebar’s branding journey was our introduction to the change that Tata Steel seeks to inspire.
Among the many insights I picked up that afternoon, one particular nugget of information continues to stick in my mind. In 2000, when Tata Steel began embossing the Tata Tiscon brand on its rebars for the very first time, the company also shared this technology with the other players in the market. This reinforced my belief that the Tata legacy stands for inclusive growth, and seeks to nurture the entire ecosystem it operates within.
That evening, we also got an opportunity to speak with a Tata Tiscon dealer, who has had a long association with the brand. We saw two different retail formats, catering to different customers. The first setup adopted a more functional approach to help guide homebuilders and contractors with their construction and rebar requirements. The defining feature of such an outlet is the Ask an Expert facility, wherein individuals can consult the experts with any home-building queries that they might have.
The second setup offered a more experiential approach to the purchase process, with an emphasis on aesthetics, comfort and ease of access. It presents consumers with yet another opportunity to consult the experts, in a slightly urbane setting.
A quick stop at the Princep ghat later that evening was a reminder of yet another legacy. I only had one question to ask, “Why have I not seen this immortalised in Bollywood enough number of times already?!” It was a charming sight, and the tourist in me was sufficiently enthralled.
It was business as usual at Howrah Station, the next morning. It was cold; we were sleep deprived. But the smile on my face didn’t waver, for we were en-route to the Steel City or Tatanagar as the railways would have us know it.
It’s tough to separate the brand from the city, and vice-versa; I was Alice in Wonderland. Eye to eye with the intense ball of fire at the blast furnace, all I could think of was that the sun had gone berserk! It changed from yellow to orange to a bright gold, within seconds, and I stood mesmerised; a small speck in the face of so much power and purity. I was armed with a state of the art smartphone but I couldn’t get myself to capture it either on film or stills. I now know why moths embrace the fire, so willingly!
That was just beginning of being awed. What I saw next was akin to a railway line with numerous tunnels, and steel billets racing through them to be transformed into long rods that grace numerous urban constructions in contemporary India. I felt like a silent spectator on a sci-fi movie set. It was eerily calm, but the rhythm was oddly comforting. I’ve seen manufacturing plants before, but nothing as grand as this.
I was filled with questions. But the answers were not important. In that moment, I was just grateful.
We encountered numerous staff members, in varying capacities. Some of them were second or third generation employees. And it was fascinating to note how uniformly content they all seemed with their work. They were only refashioning a piece of metal; but this metal would withstand the onslaught of time. And perhaps, that’s what defined their lives. The singular nature of their existence. A life very different from what you and I know it as. To owe your allegiance to one particular brand for the entire duration of a life, maybe more. To be invested in a city. Did they choose this life, or did this life choose them?
It makes me wonder if these individuals ever switch off from work. Or how their spouses cope with this singularity. Do they have a say in any of this? Is the younger generation raring to break away, or will Jamshepdur always be home? I will never know the answers to any of these.
What I do know is how significant that piece of steel rod is in the construction of a house. For homes are special places. They nurture, they protect, they heal. And for that, they must be built with the utmost care. One can always replace the furniture at will or repaint the walls to suit a particular temperament. But the foundations for a home are a commitment for life. And we only get one shot at that.
Here’s a brief glimpse of the sojourn: