I had applied for the position of a journalist. The ad had been posted on Media Jobs daily, a group on Facebook that posts jobs related to media. I sent my resume, they called me back saying they were in need of computer programmer. Now, I had quit my previous job at a major IT firm to switch over to media. I did not want a job at a startup as a programmer. They called me again saying they would like to interview me.

I was interviewed, but the owner, lets call him Mr. A, informed me that since I did not have any previous editorial experience, they would expect me to work on the programming side as well. It was a win-win situation for both, where they could hire a programmer and an editor for one, and I could get experience for the transition.

I was offered a package for 20,000 per month. The salary would be revised after 3-6 months based on my performance. And my role on paper would be programmer. However, I would be provided a business card with role as editor. I joined on 18th July.

PQR turned out to be a start-up, family run business. There was only one other employee. Another joined with me, but she “absconded” within 3 days.

Later, the sole other employee, lets call her Ms. X,  told tales about the organization. The owner was a weird guy who liked to blame him employees for his and the organizations shortcomings. Apparently, another girl, a receptionist was fired and later the X told me that she was asked to call up the receptionist as a friend. And while probing what happened, record the entire conversation and hand it over to Mr A who would put it on loudspeaker for the entire office to hear. This never happened though, Ms. X refused. Oh, by entire office, it did not mean PQR of-course! That was only a 2 ppl company then. PQR did not have its own office, and had been utilizing the space of a construction company owned by Mr A’s father-in-law.

When I questioned Ms. X if it was OK to discuss it in office, of course in Mr A’s absence(Mr A would be absent for half of the working days and would require us to come dot on time or salary would be cut, he said), she said all the staff disliked him. He would boss over in an office he did not even pay the rentals for!

Ms X had several complains herself, deduction of salary when extra days/hours were not accounted for, coming to work at the filthy area of Sakinaka when work from home had been clearly promised right at the start, and others.

One weekend, when I was working on Saturday, and Ms X on Sunday(we had a 6 days work week which was not informed when joined even though I had asked), Ms X told me about not being well. She would probably take a leave on Sunday. When Mr A called me later telling me Ms X’s status, I told him I knew. This thing strangely angered him. He became furious on an employee telling another about not being well, it was something to be told only to the boss, apparently. He asked me to call at 11:30 at the night, and talked about Ms X’s “unprofessional-ism”. He also told, that Ms. X had very “rudely” responded on his message saying that her salary would be deducted. He asked me to keep it all confidential.

The following Monday, when Mr A was late as usual, I told Ms X the similarity in the nature of the conversation on Saturday night with Mr A to the one about the receptionist. This was the final hit on the nail, Ms X decided to quit.

When Mr A came, he called upon another employee, who had been hitherto listening to all our conversations. He immediately called Ms X and Ms X told her about her decision to quit. He told her OK, and that she could leave immediately without serving the notice period of 2 months that she had signed in the joining agreement. She said that she would decide and inform.

I was called, and among other discussions, rebuked for having leaked out the “confidential” discussion. I asked him that if telling about interactions with employees to another employee wasn’t the same – both were supposed to be confidential in nature. He quickly said that was a “grey area” and he preferred leaving it so.

Ms. X quit in the next two days. However, before quitting, Mr A went back on forgoing the notice period. He asked her to serve her notice-period. Ms. X wrote him that the month’s pay could be deducted in turn.

I had not yet signed the joining agreement. In fact, I had not been given the joining agreement till the 9th evening,  the previous day before the salary day. 10th was a work from home. The “other” office was closed down for holiday and that was the best bet for PQR to work that day. The holiday calendar was not yet provided. Earlier, before 2nd – Rakshabandhan, holiday was not given on the day because 10th – Janmashtami would be a holiday we were informed. On 9th, I was told 10th was not a holiday, because 15th was a national holiday.

I had worked so far with only one full day and a half day’s leave. On Monday, 13th Mr A chose not to come. I worked alone for PQR. On 14th, he did come, but he conveniently forgot his cheque; I had not yet signed the agreement. The agreement required a 2 months notice which I was never informed about. Plus, the salary was fixed to 2.4 lpa of which 24 thousand would be given at the completion of a year. In the meantime, I was urged by my family to quit stating the safety in working alone for such an “unprofessional” guy.

15th was a holiday. On 16th, I told him about the disapproval from family. He told that we would have the discussion after I had finished my work for the day. After I did, he called me asking me my take on it. I told him I would like to discontinue, except if I could work from home on the editorial. He told me the main aim at hiring me was to have a programmer; something that would not be so feasible from home. Salary, he said, he would have to reconsider: I had not signed the document, so I would be counted as a freelancer. Plus, the salary offered, he said, was way too high for the editorial. Since I had not yet worked on programming, I would be given a smaller one for the editorial. He told he would have to talk to his lawyer. He would call me the following week to come and collect my cheque.

It has been two weeks since, he never called me. I dropped him a mail saying that I had not heard from him since. He never replied.

Ms X told me recently, Mr A has put up yet another ad on Facebook – Media Jobs daily. But nobody has replied.

The sun rises, from amidst the tall standing palm trees. There is a mish-mash of trees here, once as the fertile Ganges flowed, it left behind deposits of rich alluvial soil. The land as if touched by Midas – only everything turns green here. There is no patch where there is no vegetation, for where there are no plants, there are countless weeds and grass peeping in, trying to make their place. And in the competition, if the land is soon exhausted, the game is not yet over! They make their place on the trunk of the already standing trees.

As the sun rises up higher, it sparkles from the numerous ponds around. There is an abundance of ponds here, and I have seen no village that does not have a pond. The water is very murky and varies in shades of green to brown. However, these ponds are the lifeline of the people around. It bathes people, washes their clothes and utensils, and even feeds them. In these ponds live a variety of fishes, small and big. No Bengali’s plate is complete without the fish – curried, fried, baked, chutnied, et al. Bengalis can often be heard saying they live to eat, and the fish have managed themselves a revered spot.

I set off with my uncle and younger cousins to watch fishing – while the freezer is still stuffed with a week’s supply of fish. Sunil Da, the elderly helper is swimming around the pond, a cotton gamcha around his waist, net in hand. He throws the net where he sees the water bubbling. As he un-knots the net, he keeps some of his catch and throws back some. Curious, I inquire of his selection procedure. “Some will grow bigger and tastier. The smaller ones that are kept will grow no more, while few others are not allowed to. They will grow up devouring the other fish and prawns”. There is complete knowledge about the fish.

As Sunil Da swims across, throwing his net here and there, a striking blue kingfisher also finds his fare. It swoops down from the branch of a mango tree, overhanging on the pond, and snatches his meal. Then it goes back again to eat and waits for its next catch. It grabs two prawns as we look on.

We return for lunch to the piquant smell of fish being fried in mustard oil. Lunch is an elaborate, 5 course affair with preparations starting well in the morning. And after the heavy lunch, it is time for the afternoon siesta.

As the evening descends, the sun sets quickly, the horizon hidden behind the trees. Light fades from golden yellow to pinkish red to darkness and the sounds of blowing of conch shells emanates
from all the houses welcoming the evening. The prayers are completed and the lamps lit.

While the land sleeps in darkness after its long day, countless fireflies wake up, looking like stars descended from heaven. In the village, boys meet for a session of cards or carom, under a sole hanging bulb, playing well through the night. The sweet melancholic sound of Rabindra Sangeet fills the air as children and elders sit with their harmonica, practicing. And again, it is time for dinner. Meanwhile, a lizard has its fill with the bounty of insects under the light and it chuckles.

ImageThe diverse landscapes swoosh by: barren lands with thorny shrubs to gushing waterfalls, sea coast to hills and mountains, dark smoky tunnels to vast farms stretching to the horizon. But the more common are the vast stretches of farms. If it were to be seen from the top, it would look like a land of different colored patches put together, like a beautiful Indian patchwork. The palm and other trees often mark borders of plots. The closer ones run past, while those at a distance, provide some company.

The view changes drastically with the nearing of any big city. Big and posh buildings left aside, the rat infested slums is the more common sight around. There is a stench;  dark almost black water flows around it. In this hell, little children play cricket and other street games. All enjoying themselves. The other teenagers and youngsters wave us goodbye. The ladies are sitting in a group or are seen washing clothes and utensils in the single govt. tap provided for the entire slum dwelling. A number of small shops, even clinics, are located in the slums itself. In the night, the light of the bulbs, often with illegal connections, provide a dim light.

This is India in its truest form, covered in the shortest time, by the life line of India:  the Indian Railways. Spanning over 65,000 kilometres and carrying over 2.8 million passengers daily, this is the fourth largest railway network. Different people, different cultures, different customs, all come together here.

The daily passengers, who over their shared travel time have befriended other fellow travelers, chat, share a snack, sing, pray,. The family, parents with their kids, travelling to visit the grand parents, during the summer holidays. The salesman carrying his goods to sell in some other part of the country. The professionals and students, going home for their weekend break. You see them all!

The different classes of compartments, offer another interesting scenario. While those in A.C. coaches, typically hailing from upper middle class families, enjoy a more peaceful and undisturbed journey with lesser vendors, the second class, as the regular non AC coaches are called, offers full flavor, with the vendors and open windows. The other unreserved compartments often are over filled to their capacity, with a queue forming hours in advance to get a seat. Getting a place to stand properly is luck enough. The villagers carry bulk of goods on a single ticket. In addition to the commotion, other vendors hop on selling their ware. You can buy all odds and ends while travelling in the local train too: hair clips, stickers, key chains, ear rings, mobile covers, children books, etc. you name it they have it!

Food is not to be missed in this cultural confluence.There is a wide variety of food at different stations. The vendors run along, from window to window, carrying fruits and small food parcels of local dishes . As soon as a station approaches, the tea vendors hop on to the running train, eager to get in first to get more customers, shouting ‘chai… chai… garam chai’. The tea varies, from cutting tea in Mumbai, called so because of the quantity, half compared to the regular size, to the tea served in tiny earthern pots, known as kulhads, to the masala chai in the west.

So next time you want to visit the “Real India”, the diversity, the people, the cultures in one huge confluence, skip the air travel, hop on to one of these. It is not just a transport, it itself is the travel.

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