All posts by Jasbir Chatterjee

Poet, writer, blogger, corporate professional

True Love

When love is true and sincere, walls and boundaries don’t matter…

 

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Sunset @ A Junction

At Uttam Nagar Traffic Light, West Delhi, India…

For one moment, the traffic stood still. The Metro rails paused to catch their breath and the pedestrians scurried about. But the Sun continued, relentlessly, its daily parade with great fanfare in its lovely orange attire…

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My Very First Job

First job, like first love, always has a special significance in everyone’s life. Mine was in 1989 in Ask Me Services (Saraansh Teleinfo Services Pvt. Ltd.)  as a Sales Executive. My 2 years’ tenure in this company was an extremely tumultuous one.

It was during this period that I underwent a complete makover; from a bookish, painfully shy, and severely introverted girl who was always scared of meeting new people and visiting new places, I turned into someone completely different. This was one reason why I joined Sales because the best way of overcoming your fears is by doing precisely those things that scare you. I became more outgoing and practical and I actually began looking forward to meeting new people and seeing new places.

I also made lots of mistakes. I often trusted wrong people because I went by the face value of what they said, and not what they meant. But God was merciful and kind. I scraped through all these challenges without getting harmed.

I joined Ask Me straight after an M.Sc. in Maths from Delhi University, as I had no intention of going into teaching or research. Everyone thought I was crazy when I joined this company as I had passed my exams with a first class. They said I ought to wait, be patient, and aspire for better and cushier jobs in line with my education. But all I wanted at that time was to get away from books, to see the world through my own experience, to be financially independent right away, and, of course, to earn a lot of money.

I had heard lots of stories of many college seniors taking up school teaching in frustration after completing Ph.D. in Mathematics. They had to do B.Ed. to make themselves more suitable for school teaching, as no other option was available, and out of fear of being rejected because of overqualification,  they had to keep their Ph.D. degree hidden!  I didn’t want to end up like this. Ask me seemed to be the kind of opportunity I was looking for. I grabbed it with both hands. One of my colleagues was Sukhangshu who became my husband 3 years later.

I was lucky as I had full support from my parents. My father, a retired school teacher, said, “Just follow your heart and do what you want, as long as it’s not teaching. Teaching is not meant for ambitious people. Day in and day out, you do the same work for years and only a very tiny fraction of teachers ever get the chance to become headmasters or principals in their lifetime. In private schools, the situation is much worse. Apart from harassment by so-called educationists who are basically crass businesspeople, you are often paid much less than what you are made to sign on every month. I don’t want you to weep like those teachers I interacted with during a brief stint in a private school after retirement.”

Before joining Ask Me, I did, however, attend a couple of job interviews in a few private schools because that was what nearly all of my classmates were doing and I didn’t want to leave the rat race yet. The outcome of these efforts was an offer of Junior Teacher at a local school at a monthly salary of Rs.700. When I told my father about it, he scoffed at it and advised me to wait for something better to come along. In the meantime, I had also applied for B.Ed. in MD University, Rohtak. But when I was invited to pay the fees and take admission, my father suggested I do MBA instead. So I forgot all about MDU after joining Ask Me and as advised by Dad, I subsequently completed MBA from IGNOU through distance education.

I joined Ask Me at a salary of Rs.1500, which was a princely amount way back in 1989. Month after month, I kept giving my salary cheques to my Dad and it was always with great pride and joy that he deposited them in my account. He used to say to our relatives, very proudly, “See, I told you. A daughter is as good as a son. Perhaps even better.”

And one day, I got an award in the form of a cheque of a very big amount for a great sales performance. With Sukhangshu’s help and guidance, I spent most of it on clothes for my family and myself (an Arrow shirt for my Dad and salwar suits for my Mom, my sister, and myself). I still remember how my Dad’s face glowed with happiness as he tried on that striped light green shirt. He was pleasantly surprised to see that a ready-made shirt fitted him so well. For me, he was the most handsome man on earth that day!

Now let me tell you a little bit about this company. It was an innovative startup venture at a time when the Indian economy was being liberalized. It was started in 1989 by 3 partners, Rakesh Aggarwal (his family owned TCI, Transport Corporation Of India), Vivek Dutta, and V.S.S. Mani. It operated initially from Samrat Inn, South Extension, Part 2, Delhi.

Rakesh was the one who provided most of the funding and his presence, I think, gave the company a certain amount of credibility and respectability that all startups require intially to gain acceptance in the market. One nice thing about him that I still remember is that he did not have a very flashy lifestyle and always came to the office in an autorickshaw, quite unlike Indian managing directors of those days in the late 20th century.

It was Ask Me which launched the concept of a “Yellow-Pages-on-Phone” in Delhi and the job of the Sales Team was to get businesses in Delhi to buy space in its computers for promotion. The idea was that a special calling number would be advertised and to get information about any business, its location, etc, people would just have to call up this number. An executive would take this call and look up the information in the database. She would give the required information on phone itself.

Ask Me grew phenomenally after its launch and soon diversified into another product, Information Supermarket, which was a collection of various business directories.

Three years later, however, the company collapsed like a pack of cards, mainly because the ground realities were not favorable. Very few people had phones. Mobile phones were still not available and it used to take 10 years for MTNL, which was the only telecom company at that time, to provide a single landline connection. Another reason was probably internal management squabbles so characteristic of partnerships.

It was quite tragic, really, but nothing could be done about it. All the Ask Me employees had to move on to different companies; a lot of them with uncleared dues that were never cleared…

Like a phoenix, however, the company rose up again with a new name, Justdial, in 1996 in Mumbai, Maharashtra, with V.S.S. Mani as the new Managing Director.

(Link: http://cms.justdial.com/management-team).

Justdial is now a household name all over India and is doing very well, thanks to the burgeoning use of mobile phones, internet, and intelligent entrepreneurship.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone in Justdial still remembers us, the pioneers, who slogged hard, went door-to-door, office-to-office, convinced so many tough customers, to get the first few headings for the company’s database when there was no evidence to prove the company’s authenticity. It was as good as selling dreams!

I recently stumbled upon an old album from those early days (1989-1990). Here are those pics from a Sales Awards Ceremony. I am one of the winners, that’s why I am smiling in these pics! They are a bit hazy since they have been clicked from pics kept inside the album. Digital cameras had still not come into the market yet.

Pic 1: This is the West Delhi Sales team. Starting from left: Me, Sanjeev, Sukhangshu, Rakesh Aggarwal (Managing Director), Puneet Mehta (Team Manager), Devender Pal Singh (we called him DP).

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Pic 2: Left to right, Ravi (RSM), Rakesh Aggarwal (MD), me, Ashok

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Pic 3: Awards Ceremony speech by MD

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A Dressed-Up Sunset

I love photography for 2 reasons.

One, it’s a short-cut to drawing and painting. With just a click of a button, you can capture what your mind’s eye sees and you don’t have to spend months trying to achieve that enigmatic something, something like Dorian Gray or a Mona Lisa, for instance.

Another reason is the feeling of liberation that photography as an art gives you. You can very conveniently capture only those things you find beautiful and blot out the ugly ones.

For so many months I had been trying to capture the beauty of the setting sun at Uttam Nagar red light, West Delhi, near a busy, narrow road that leads to Hastsal. This spot is generally very crowded and chaotic. It’s very close to a big, wide, open, black, dirty pool of stagnant sewer line and a big pile of debris and garbage is always there on one side of the road.  It’s very difficult and risky to stand here since vehicles keep passing and all kinds of criminals (pickpockets, jewellery and mobile phone snatchers,  drug addicts, alcoholics, etc, hang around here looking for easy targets.

Take a look at these pics. These were the initial ones.

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Here are the improved pics with the ugly spots cropped out…

 

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Africans In India, Indians in Africa

Text: Jasbir Chatterjee; Photography: Jasbir Chatterjee

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In 1977, my father, a Sainik School Maths teacher, got a job offer he had always dreamed about.  It was a contractual foreign assignment to work as a Senior Education Officer in a secondary school in Nigeria. Like him, hundreds of other Indians also got the chance around that time to work in a foreign country for a better tomorrow for themselves and their families.

This project came into existence after an agreement was reached between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Central Government of India.  Nigeria, at that time, was an oil-rich nation and was earning very well, since oil commanded a good price in the international market in those days. But it did not have enough skilled manpower. India, on the other hand, needed both oil and foreign exchange to fuel its growing economy. Through this arrangement, Nigeria and India entered into a symbiotic relationship by providing each other the resources they needed the most at a reasonable price. Nigeria got skilled labor while India got fuel and the precious foreign exchange. Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister at that time. My father says that in spite of all those horrible things she did later as a dictatorial leader, he will always be grateful to her for indirectly providing him an opportunity to lead a better life. . .

Our stay from 1977 – 1984 in Orlu, Imo State, Nigeria, was, I would say a good experience in an overall sense, in spite of many problems such as no running water, rampant corruption, long power cuts, often for months, etc, etc. The people among whom we lived, were always very nice and warm. Some of them I still remember; Perpetua, Sister Emmanuela (my English teacher in the Girls’ secondary school I studied in), Brother Bernard, Brother Superior of the nearby Marist Brothers’ Novitiate, Mr. Duru and his family, etc, etc. Thoughts of them fill me with joy and happiness and I hope they are well and getting on nicely. They often suggested that we settle down in Nigeria forever.

During our stay in Nigeria, my Mom got the chance to start working again as a Nurse after having taken a break of 10 years while my sister and I were growing up. We had a huge garden at the back of our house where we grew lots of Indian vegetables such as mint, cauliflower, zucchini, pumpkin, lady finger, etc, etc. There were lots of useful trees too, like mango, guava, lemon, drumstick.

But, unfortunately, nothing lasts forever. As soon as the 80s began, Nigeria’s oil income started declining as there was oil glut in the market. With hardly any indigenous industries to fall back upon, a dictatorial and corrupt regime, and oil the only commodity that could be exported, the country seemed to be headed on a suicidal mission. The government often didn’t have money to pay salaries. People started getting restless and rioting began. It was no longer safe and there was no point in staying on.

But prior to 1982, we had visited Delhi in 1980 also. My parents were shocked to find that  the hard-earned money that they had remitted to India in the care of my cousin brother for purchase of a DDA flat was all embezzled away into his family business and for building his own house! In those days, direct funds transfer facilities like Paytm were not available and there was a lot of red-tapism in government departments. That’s why my parents were compelled to trust a family member and ask him to complete the basic paperwork. A house of our own in Delhi was a long cherised dream of my parents and at that stage of their lives, to their great disappointment, it appeared that it would never be fulfilled during their lifetime. After a lot of threats by my Dad and tears shed by my Mom, arrangements were finally made for him to deposit a fixed amount into a savings account specially set up for this purpose. Last 2 installments were never paid.

It was a terrible blow and turned both my parents into complete nervous wrecks. They had to take psychiatric treatment including electric shocks from Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi. With great difficulty, they managed to admit me into S.S. Mota Singh School, Janakpuri, Delhi. Since the school had no hostel facility, I had to stay with my relatives. My Mom, Dad, and sister returned to Nigeria and I carried on with my studies.

The period 1982-1984 that I spent away from my parents was the blackest period of my life. A letter of mine used to take 2 months to reach them and their reply took another  2 months to reach me. No other means of communication was available. Every time I try to write about this phase of my life, my hands shake and I give up in despair.

But, as I mentioned earlier, nothing lasts forever. In 1984, by God’s grace, I passed my 12th class exam with flying colors and I got admission very easily into Delhi University. About 4 months later, my parents and sister picked up their things in Nigeria and returned to Delhi for good.

And then, finally, about one week prior to November 1984 Sikhs’ massacre, we sat in our own house in Delhi for the first time. While we talked to each other excitedly, our voices echoed inside the house  with bare walls, no furniture, and very few utensils. But it was a great moment. It felt really wonderful to be together again like before. My father had taken us to Nigeria with only $20 in his wallet, for that was the maximum allowed by the government. But this time, we had enough to be able to live on our own without any help. We followed a very frugal lifestyle and we felt financially secure for the next 2 years. My college education and my sister’s school expenses were also taken care of easily.

At the end of those 2 years, however, my father realized that we needed additional sources of income.  So he began conducting Math tuitions and my Mom took up a job in a local charitable hospital. A few years later, my father became the most sought-after Maths tutor in West Delhi. Soon everything became smooth and we were reasonably prosperous, as prosperous as a middle-class family which has gone through the 1947 partition trauma can be.

What I mean to say is that we as a family will always be grateful to Nigeria and all those wonderful people we interacted with during our stay there for the kind of life we lead in Delhi at present. Things would have been certainly quite different, had that posting not come when it did.

Now let’s come back to 2016. This time, my family and I are on the other side of the fence. We are no longer foreigners and we come across many Africans including Nigerians walking around on the streets of Delhi and inside Metro trains, chatting and laughing. I will be honest and say that a sight of them fills me with fear, distrust, suspicion, and apprehension. It’s not because I am a racist. I have nothing against black skin. There are so many Indians with black skin anyway and India is a heterogeneous country with so many languages, colors, cultures, and tradition. We Indians are used to living with differences.

I feel scared because these people, excluding students and embassy persons, are not employed in any legitimate jobs, yet they move around in a carefree manner, eating, drinking, and shopping.  I wonder where they get their money from. Often stories of drug hauls and prostitution rackets are reported on TV and in the newspapers and the culprits are generally African nationals. So it’s not a matter of racism; it’s actually all about safety and security.

About 2 years ago, while walking in a shopping center,  I came across a little child, about 8 or 10, writhing in pain on the floor outside a liquor shop with a bottle in his hand while a young African guy stood by watching with an expressionless face. It was obvious that the child had been turned into a drug addict and was in pain because he was unable to get the dose he took daily…

We read a lot of allegations these days in the newspapers about racist behavior by locals towards Africans. But no one looks for the root cause. Let me make it clear that I am absolutely against all forms of violence. But our safety lies in our own hands. Instead of quietly letting drugs business survive and demanding routine haftas from them, our law enforcement agencies must ensure that foreigners engaged in illegitimate businesses be repatriated to their respective nations.

But I guess, things will change for the better as time goes by. Look at this video of a young boy dancing to the Hindi song ‘Chittiyan Kalaiyan.’ This is my favorite and I love to see it again and again. Africans have music and song mixed right inside their blood. It comes so naturally to them. They have that chutzpah which you won’t find in any other race when it comes to dance and music…

 

And here is one more video that I discovered recently. It’s absolutely delightful.

Now here are some pics from our days in Nigeria. They are a bit hazy since they have been clicked from old photos preserved inside photo albums. They make up some of our best memories as foreigners. My pet name is Rosy and the card below is addressed to me…

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My younger sister is dressed here in Igbo attire. She had become quite fluent in that language…

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This is my sister Daljeet (Dimpy)’s 9th birthday…

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This photo was originally clicked on 4th March 1981 (my 15th birthday). I am standing here right in the front in a striped T-shirt and jeans…

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Here we are with my Dad’s school (Bishop Shanahan Sec. School) principal Mr. Duru and his family…

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Here my sister and I are with Perpetua (part of Mr. Duru’s extended family; she was their family cook also).

 

 

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With our missionary neighbors, Brother Bernard and his colleagues, Marist Brothers’ Novitiate..

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With a friend…

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With neighbors…

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My sister with Mr. Duru’s youngest daughter Ogechi..

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Mr. Duru’s children…they were our next door neighbors. I clicked this pic on the stairs of their porch…(starting from top, left, Maureen, Emeka, Kelechi, can’t remember the next one’s name, Ogechi…)

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My Mom as Nurse in Nkwerre Health Center, holding a child who had come in for vaccination…

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My Mom with her colleagues…

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My Mom on her way to work…My Dad used to drive this car, Peugeot 304, IM417D

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My sister Daljeet standing on the stairs of Bishop Shanahan school in the evening…

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My parents sitting at the back of our house, about to leave for an outing…

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My parents and sister in the front of our house. The Marigold plants that you see in this pic were planted by me…

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My parents…

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My Dad with his Indian friends at a get-together in Owerri, Nigeria…

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Mom and sister in the Bishop Shanahan School Campus, just outside our house…

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My sister (in red frock) and I (green skirt and top) are here with a few Indian children whom we met at a get-together in Owerri…

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With Dr. Torralbas (Filipino doctor) in Dr. Emezie’s Hospital, Orlu…

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Our house inside  Bishop Shanahan School campus…

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On 15 May 2016, we celebrated my parents’ 52nd marriage anniversary and I got the opportunity to dance a little bit like a Nigerian. https://youtu.be/27k_JD0f_rs

 

 

Honda Cars Dealers’ SSI Meeting

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On 2 June 2016, my team members and I attended Honda cars Dealers’ SSI (Sales Satisfaction Index) meeting, North 1 & North 2 regions, on behalf of our dealership (Samara Honda). A major highlight,  apart from the Quarterly presentations,  was the Awards and Accolades  ceremony. For the 4th time in a row, a Samara showroom appeared among the top 3 in Sales Satisfaction in North 1 region. Being a Departmental Head responsible for management of my dealership’s SSI levels, it was a proud moment for me…

In case you are wondering what I mean by sales satisfaction surveys of Honda cars dealers, well, here is the inside story. Honda gets them done by J.D. Power, a highly reputed and well-known market research organization. These are called proprietary studies and are done for dealers on a quarterly basis, in contrast to J.D. Power’s annual syndicate study which independently surveys customer feedback on various brands of cars. Honda has full control over a proprietary study, unlike the syndicate one, as  the data is provided by Honda itself and it is commissioned by Honda. Its results are shared by Honda with the dealers and are not published publicly. They are like quarterly report cards of dealers and they are always considered authentic since they are done by a completely impartial and a highly esteemed  organization.

A proprietary study, as far as Honda is concerned, is like a terminal exam in high school, since it helps it in proactively analyzing how each dealer is performing and finding  out the weak areas. Once you know what is wrong, you can easily take countermeasures to rectify it. If every dealer of Honda performs well, the chances of Honda topping in JDP’s syndicate study as a brand become brighter…That’s the logic behind it.

A syndicate study, on the other hand,  is like a school Board exam over which no one has any control. Brands like Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, Maruti, Mahindra, Ford, etc give a lot of importance to this study because it contributes to their brand image and more and more customers these days base their decisions regarding future purchases of cars on these studies.

Being a poet, I gave myself one more prize, a bright red Carnation flower which I brought back from the hotel. One important fact I learnt about this flower is that it can stay fresh for almost 5 days if kept in water, unlike other flowers commonly used in bouquets such as red roses. See this pic below along with a few more of the SSI session.

 

My colleagues and I

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Special prize for a Manager-cum-poet…

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Sleeping, Suffering Humanity

Last month, while walking through the AIIMS Hospital Metro Station, I saw lots of people in a sleep mode. They looked so helpless and utterly exhausted. At one place, a dog had also joined them. Each one of them probably had a seriously sick relative or two admitted  in either AIIMS or the nearby Safdarjung Hospital and must have stayed awake all through the night. It was such a pathetic sight…

Once again, the Delhi Metro was found playing the role of a saviour by giving shelter to the downtrodden…