He was a senior executive. Interns and freshers looked up to him. With awe, respect and a tinge of envy. He was suave, popular and a trendsetter. One Friday, he ordered a round of shots for everyone at work, after an evening of binge drinking in the office. There were a few groans and protests. He ignored. It was her first week at work. He singled her out for two shots. She squirmed. He resisted. Coaxed her. Pushed the glass towards her. Cheered her. Egged her on. Everyone gathered around her. And she gently, reluctantly, parted her lips. Still squirming.
I was in a saree shop. Admiring the colours and patterns, in search of a new outfit for a wedding reception. And the lehenga saree revealed itself on a mannequin. An over enthusiastic sales guy offered to drape one on me. An aunt nudged me forward. Before I could even examine myself in front of a mirror, the said aunt captured a quick snapshot of me. For my daughter abroad, she said.
She was yet to celebrate her first wedding anniversary, when the mother-in-law apprised her. She was to hand over her bridal saree to a cousin in the family. She complied, meekly. It was returned to her a week later, after being cleaned at a local laundry, with the embroidery coming apart.
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:
She was single. They surmised she was available. The married man, bored with his insipid life; an art director, unable to appreciate the distinction between life and art; the maverick entrepreneur, who thrived on challenging status quo.
It was a great high in the beginning. Much furtive texting accompanied with the promise of clandestine trysts and the glow afterward. She was charmed by it all. But not without being plagued with a recurring set of questions that she never got the answers to.
What is built on a flimsy premise rarely lasts a season. The conversations held a singular motive, that of physical and mostly sexual intimacy. There was nothing said of long, casual conversations leading to nothing, no spontaneous chats over compelling sunsets, no sitting on the stairs and staring into nothingness. It was always about getting entangled. And rarely with words.
She loved all the attention, not the intention.
She appreciated the honesty. She was also slightly shocked. The directness, the intentions were a revelation. To go ignored, unnoticed in a roomful of people was also a pricking revelation.
Each of these ties invaded her personal space. Emotionally, physically. Left her clouded with self-doubt. But she was stubborn. Held on that transitory high for the longest she could. Often stretching it to rationalize her actions.
Harassment wasn’t just limited to the words she read on the pages of the daily newspaper. It was being asked to loosen up and be a willing participant in an extra-marital affair, albeit he was shy of using that term. So much for audacity!
She wasn’t as outraged as she thought she ought to have been. There was just a lingering sadness and a sense of despair. At not being able to snap out of this rigmarole. She wanted the friendships. But not the sexual undertones that accompanied them.
Perhaps she’d need to sever them all. At least for a bit. Like you rip off a bandage in an instant, rather than prolong the agony.
One day, she promised herself!
“Love me for today; tomorrow, we’ll deal with tomorrow,” she texted him, switched off the radio and turned her back to the world to bury herself into her blanket.
I didn’t let her enter the house. I relieved her of the flowers but I insisted that she explain her timing before I let her in. I pretended to be vexed with her for coming late. She pretended to be embarrassed. I was thrilled. But I continued giving her a hard time for a while. At the threshold of the house. She apologized sheepishly. As you would to a school principal. And I welcomed her home with a flourish.
A week later she admitted to the mother how elated she was. How wanted and special she had felt, in those few moments. That the celebrations had felt incomplete without her.
Only she didn’t know the truth. Perhaps, I didn’t either.
What I do know is that it was a spontaneous outpouring of affection. The heart was overwhelmed with tears and her presence gave me a reason to smile. She didn’t know whom I was comforting more.