How and when, I became, a Calcutta loyalist, or self-appointed brand ambassador of the city – if you like: why I feel such a deep sense of personal achievement on the release of my husband’s book “Longing, Belonging, An Outsider At Home In Calcutta,” and more so, that he dedicated it to me.
In was in early 1998, that I joined the service-quality department of the most reputed Indian domestic airline of that time, reporting to the expatriate head of service-quality and training, at the head office in Mumbai. He had just joined then, from a reputed international airline. My joining the department was after a three year stint with the airline, wherein I had worked mostly in Calcutta and in addition to being in charge of both – the 24 hour reservations and ticketing department, also the CIP and VIP cell, had also been a trainer for east India.
In my new role with the service-quality department, singly based in Calcutta, the rest in Delhi and Mumbai, I had the opportunity – on roster, to audit the ground and in-flight services of all stations, which by that time were all major cities of India. At the start, since the first week of joining, when I attended departmental meetings in Mumbai, later inter-departmental ones, I was the recipient of much humorous criticism, on behalf of the city I was based out of – namely Calcutta.
Everything seemed to be wrong with the city, or so I was communicated – in all exasperation and sympathy. This was by the rest of my 6-8 member team including our boss and his secretary based out of Mumbai. But Calcutta’s maligned reputation, didn’t need much prior research to establish. I being its sole representative could only but swallow the information with much stinging humility. The criticism, as humorous as it seemed to the rest of the team, ranged from lackadaisical attitude of staff and management with examples, to defiant non-adherence of codes of conduct. Some of the examples being – Calcutta airport loaders were never in uniform; they were missing from designated customer-interface points and well…the list was rather long.
Now, it’s not that I can defend the issues that were thrown at me on Calcutta, but I was, in the next few years, privy to much that went on in all other stations including Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, which was never as much an issue as it was when it happened in Calcutta. There were times, in Mumbai, when on an audit or a meeting, I personally offloaded baggage on to conveyor belts in the arrival hall, along with senior management, after all staff went on an indefinite strike with little prior warning. But when it happened in Calcutta it was oh, so funny! Then the staff in Delhi, they were often rude and arrogant – including the loaders. In fact, our team members, only two of them, in Delhi were ignored by the rest of the larger team – no one would talk to them civilly, let alone have a meal with them for the reports they churned, though it was their job to do so. But the Calcutta staff and loaders were always the ones who were: oh, so insubordinate! Then in Chennai, the lady staff could care to hoots about grooming regulations – it was against their cultural norms to wear makeup or wax their limbs, shape their eyebrows, but…oh! In Calcutta staff grooming is pathetic!
I can go on and on quoting examples of how when a place or person is maligned, everyone points their fingers at every given opportunity. Thus out of this gross unfairness I encountered, this in latter organisations I worked in as well, arose a sense of loyalty and a need to show Calcutta in a better light and awareness. But above all, to inculcate a sense of pride and belonging to the Bengali/Calcuttan who is usually the most vociferous critic of all, and sometimes unreasonably so.
It took me 5 married years, to sell Calcutta to probashi Bishwanth Ghosh – who had visited Calcutta only just before we married, and thereafter. And over 8 years, to have him release a book “Longing, Belonging, An Outsider At Home In Calcutta.”
All I hope for now is that the book, available at book stores in India, on Amazon, Flipkart and other sites, makes one look at Calcutta in a new light.