A single ray of light peeps in lighting up the contours of the clouds. Dawn is just breaking. An asian koel has been rather relentless, piteously calling out to the world, pleading probably with us to watch the dawn break with it.After all this is the East of India and the sun makes its appointment first here. But I sigh with the bird. Gulping a cup of tea, I pick up my luggage and rush out to join the team who are on the way to the Howrah station in Kolkata. I may not have the time to wait for dawn but there is a sense of excitement. Another new day, another new destination. For travellers like us the lure of a new shore is like a magnet. I forget the dawn, I forgo my sleep. And I let the wave of excitement transport me to a new land.
The train saunters in without much of an announcement and brakes gently to a halt . I look out of the window and a couple of old coolies stare back me through the dirty glass of the train. The board says Tatanagar. The journey to the town begins with this platform. When I told people that I was going to Jamshedpur, the immediate reaction was ” There is nothing to see here, but it is a city that has to be lived in .”
We travellers move from one place to another like a restless butterfly flitting from flower to flower and we try to satiate our quench to explore the city by just dipping into the culture, never really soaking into it. But then we do not always have the luxury of staying long in a place.
However, the next best thing is to meet the people who do. People make places and I realize this more so in Jamshedpur. If there is one man who has literally made Jamshedpur what it is today, then that is Jamsetji Tata, the founder of the town. Its a town that has been built around him- his vision and his institution.
But what really fascinates me is not about how a village on the confluence of rivers became an industrial town . Sakchi, the hamlet still lies somewhere amidst the township and its original name, Kalimati is on a road somewhere to remind us a bit about its history. But the town is built around the nucleus, the steel plant giving it several sobriquets and titles – the Sun City, the Steel City.
I gaze at the mammoth scale at awe. To be honest, I can barely comprehend it. The size, the scale, the machinery – they all overwhelm me. But then I realize that it is the steel plant that overshadows the town. There are no landmarks, no sights, no hangouts. The railway station, the markets, the parks, the residences are all just an extension of the factory.
But I am still fascinated. Not by the raging furnaces or “torpedo” trains, but by the fire of passion burning in the eyes of the people. Decades later, generations down and yet people flock to Tatanagar like butterflies to a honey laden flower. ” I have been here for 18 years, ” says one. Another quips, ” I am the fourth generation working here.”
I meet Anup Kumar who is showing us around the factory. Twenty five years and he is married to the job. He went overseas to do his PHD but came back right here. I ask him what brought him back and he says,” I grew up watching my father going to work here when I was a kid. My brother works here too.” Subroto Biswas is born and brought up in Jamshedpur and he calls the factory home. “It is world famous,” he adds.
We step out to explore the town outside the factory. Sipping a cup of tea near Jubilee Park Ravishankar, his colleague tells me that he barely has any recollection of his hometown in South India. His grandfather moved here and Ravishankar followed his father and grandfather’s footsteps to work in Tata Steel.
His fond memories however are about his school, set up by the Tatas. He used to walk everyday then and then cycle – a distance of little more than 5 kms. ” I go back sometimes to my school and show it to my family. My classroom and my desk are still there.”
Walking around I meet the men and women of steel. But beneath all the cold metal, there is the warmth of an emotional connect, a burning desire to not just work here but live here. Anup Kumar introduces me to Nidhi, a young 20 something with big bright eyes filled with aspiration. She is not from Jamshedpur but from nearby Bihar.
An IIT Kharagpur alumnae , its been a little more than a couple of years since she moved here and her friends are all from the factory. ” Come, let me show you around, ” she says and takes me to her favourite haunt, Jubilee Park. I am for a moment glad to see a facet of the town that is outside the steel plant. I ask Nidhi about her weekends “Its such a small town and so close to nature -parks, lakes, I jog, do yoga, ” says Nidhi.” Sometimes we go to Kolkata, Ranchi or my home which is just eight hours away.”I am lost in thought wondering if I could live in a small town like Nidhi. But that is when I see some old men fishing in the lake.
Jamshedpur is a retirement paradise, quips someone around us. One of them has just retired from the steel plant last year . ” I come here every evening and fish, Bas !” And then he gets a bit chatty. He tells me about the time when his father in law was working in Tata Steel. “They picked up every unemployed youth and gave them a job.” he adds.
The sun is setting. Somewhere in the horizon the colours of day and dusk are merging. To all these people, it is not just a workplace or a town. One is synonymous with the other. Nidhi interrupts my reverie. ” Lets go eat Litti Choka – its like daal bhatti but stuffed with sattu masala,” and she takes me to try out this street food from Bihar which is very popular here. We dont stop with that. We have Puckhas or Golkappas and finally stop for tea. And thats when I notice the Tata tea stall .” Tata has done everything so successfully. I am not literate but I thought with the name Tata, I will be successful too, ” says the tea stall owner with a laugh as I take a sip.
The day slowly draws to a close. The Steel Express is waiting to take me back home. But I leave a town and its people, carrying on its century old legacy of making steel and rebars
I was invited to explore and interact with the people, places & processes of TATA Tiscon and understand that there’s more to it than just making world class steel reinforced bars or rebars that are used in construction.