Exploring a city is much better than going there with some purpose. I reached Jamshedpur with an open mind, trying to capture anything that I catches my eye. But you can only make such a resolve. Jamshedpur would have already built an image in your mind, so much is already written about it.
Shatabdi Express rolled in the station. Tatanagar. The name of this city is interesting I thought. ‘Tata’ is the name of an industrialist family, and it also stands for a corporation which has created this city and touched lives of thousands of persons. ‘Tata’ also means ‘Good Bye.’
Good Bye to what? People who come to this town do not leave it. Once a person comes here his family stays here for generations!
I met R. That’s not his name. Let us use an alphabet to hide his identity. There is nothing secret to be told, but one must protect privacy of that man, right?
R did not come to Jamshedpur for work. He was born there. R’s grandfather came to Jamshedpur to work at Tata Steel. He left his native village near the border of Andhra-Odisha. That was long back. In 1927. He settled down in Jamshedpur. His son, that is to say, R’s father, was born at Jamshedpur. Like most of the Tata employees, he too took up a job at Tata Steel. He rose to the post of Foreman.
Growth has many metaphors. The most popular is caterpillar transforming to a butterfly. It is true of people who settle down in industrial housing colonies. I think so because I too have stayed in industrial housing colony of another Tata company.
R’s father, the Foreman in Tata Steel, had lost touch with his mother tongue Tamil completely. He could speak Hindi, but Tamil? No, Tamil was left behind in that village by the family. What was R’s mother tongue? For all practical purposes it was Hindi, though his mother belonged to Tamil community. Flora Lewis, the great journalist, said, ‘Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things.’ Insightful indeed.
This is how the culture of the Steel city seeps and percolates in to your personality. R’s father was different from a typical Tamil man in their native village. R had completely lost his roots. No, that’s not the right expression. R’s family developed roots in the soil of the Steel city. When a family migrates and settles down in a different location, it learns the language of the region. It also adopts the culture of the region, unknowingly though, and it loses its identity.
R studied in the school at Jamshedpur. The school was set up by Tatas. He walked seven kilometres one way to attend the school. The family bought a bicycle for him when he was in the higher secondary school. [R now complains that families in Jamshedpur have one vehicle per person. And this proliferation of vehicles is causing traffic problems!]. Several bitter sweet memories are written on the walls of his class, he told me. Then he attended college which receives some grant from Tatas, in Jamshedpur. Graduated in the commerce faculty. IT was gaining importance, so he did a course in computer applications, programming. That was a clever decision. After all when you compete with ‘native populace’ for a job, it does not matter that you are an employee’s son. It does not count that you have adopted the local language and customs. You are still a stranger. Only a skill can get you the job. That’s how R made his entry in Tata Steel. Politics of the region demanding preferential employment to Biharis had countered ‘Employee Ward’ advantage..
Why do people stick to Tata Steel and do not look for jobs elsewhere? Some do look out, but the number is not large. They offer safe environment. Tata Steel provides a work climate which allows people enough leeway to work their way. ‘They allow us autonomy’ the employees say, and that voice you hear at all levels in the hierarchy. For igniting the ‘motivation within’, autonomy on the job is the first condition Dan Pink tells us in his book ‘Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.’
There is another reason. A person with modest ambition, as are many everywhere, enjoys nostalgia. Well, who doesn’t? Growing up, schooling there, getting married, raising a family are life’s important events. Those events are written on the trees near the lake and walls of schools and colleges, on people’s smiles and on the ‘kyun ji kaise ho’ of shopkeepers. Landing a job with Tata Steel means getting the most secure employment with an organisation known for progressive people practices. So you keep the life’s vicissitudes at their lowest. Perhaps it helps you manage them well. Some compromises on career front perhaps, yet it is the best deal for an employee, for a person in the town.
‘What will you remember when you retire?’ I asked. ‘I will remember Russi Mody’s impromptu ‘darbar’ with employees’ he said. ‘Every employee wants his voice to be heard, and nobody understood this better than Russi Sir. We all loved him so much.’ Imagine Russi Mody making about eighty thousand employees feeling that their voice is heard! Touch is important to us Indians. Geert Hofstede explains Indian culture:
“India, with a rather intermediate score of 48 [on Individualism], is a society with both collectivistic and Individualist traits. The collectivist side means that there is a high preference for belonging to a larger social framework in which individuals are expected to act in accordance to the greater good of one’s defined in-group(s). In such situations, the actions of the individual are influenced by various concepts such as the opinion of one’s family, extended family, neighbours, work group and other such wider social networks that one has some affiliation toward. For a collectivist, to be rejected by one’s peers or to be thought lowly of by one’s extended and immediate in-groups, leaves him or her rudderless and with a sense of intense emptiness. The employer/employee relationship is one of expectations based on expectations – Loyalty by the employee and almost familial protection by the Employer. Hiring and promotion decisions are often made based on relationships which are the key to everything in a Collectivist society.”
That explains the relationship Tata Steel has created with their employees, it also explains the choices both, Tata Steel as well as people of Jamshedpur make. Tata Steel shapes the lives like it shapes the steel in Tata Tiscon rebars.
Let us return to R. ‘You didn’t know Tamil, how could your father find a bride for you from your community?’ I asked. ‘Oh, there are so many people from Tamil Nadu here. 'I married a Tamil girl with whom I used to play as a child, we fell in love when we grew up’ he said. Perhaps, not known to R, his parents arranged it. One can only guess; we know how the parents used to think in those days!
‘You have a daughter….’ he laughed and interrupted me. ‘We are not against her marrying a good boy from another community. There are so many such marriages taking place here.’ Such progressive values are a hallmark of cosmopolitan cultures. Organisations like Tata Steel create cosmopolitan communities, and communities are melting pots of culture!
‘I heard that Tata reduced several jobs recently. About 35 thousand, I am told.’
‘They declared Voluntary Retirement Scheme which ensures you get paid the last drawn salary till you are sixty. If a retiree dies before sixty, his wife gets paid till his 60th birthday. So, they did not face much resistance.’ He added, ‘By the way, Tatas have donated money to set up two electric crematoriums.’ He laughed.
From birth to death it is all Tata Steel. You get moulded by the organisation. Leaders like Russi Mody become role models for the younger persons. Their decisions influence lives of employees in Jamshedpur and its residents. The organisation influences people. People in turn commit themselves to work diligently for the organisation. This is a circular effect – you wonder who is influencing whom; and the result is a tightly knit society.
That’s why people who go to Jamshedpur do not leave it. No ‘Tata’ to Jamshedpur; pun intended!