It’s ALL about the PEOPLE: Catering Staff at Jagriti Yatra ’10 – ‘11

I have talked about some really amazing institutions led by charismatic leaders – Role Models as we call them. They had a huge impact on me, my thoughts and my view of life. But nothing impacted me more than a group of 74 individuals we met at the Jagriti Express (the TATA Jagriti Yatra Train – our home for 18 days)….let us call this group the Catering Staff.

If you ever want to know what true passion at work is, you need to see this team in action. Shouldering the responsibility of feeding the 600 odd people on the train, the catering staff were instrumental to the success of the Yatra. It might seem a small task to manage, but trust me their work can be a business  case study in HR and Operations. They ensured four meals a day for all the 600 people on the train for 18 days – whether the train is in the yard or at a station, in a village or a city, stationary or moving! I talked to a few people from the catering team and their contractor, and they told me that their typical schedule was somewhat like this:

4:00 AM – wake up

4:30 AM – Start cutting vegetables, heating milk etc.

5:30 AM – Start preparing Breakfast, Beverages

7:00 AM – Serve Tea/Coffee

7:30 AM – 10:00 AM – Serve Breakfast

10:00 AM – Start preparing Lunch

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM – Serve Lunch

3:00 PM – Prepare Snacks/Tea/Coffee

5:00 PM – 6:00 PM – Serve Snacks/Tea/Coffee

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM – Prepare & Serve Soup

8:00 PM – Prepare Dinner

10:00 PM – 11:00 PM – Serve Dinner

11:00 PM – 2: 00 AM – Clean Dishes, Prepare for tomorrow, Soak pulses, prepare batter etc.

Yes, got only 2 hours of sleep every day…and this continuously for 18 days! Add to that, the fact that they had to wake up at odd hours when a train stopped at the station, run to the nearest market and procure all the supplies they needed till the next stop.

Catering Team Serving Food at Ajmer

But when they came to serve food, I couldn’t see any trace of exhaustion on their faces or in their behaviour. Always so courteous, polite, enthusiastic and caring! I cannot picture myself in their position and still being so cheerful – again there is something about these PEOPLE, something that gives them the ability to survive such a grueling schedule. During the journey I got to know two people from the team closely – they shape all perceptions I have about the Catering Team – they also taught me a few principles of management and life which no Peter Drucker or Stephen Covey could teach me

Aalam Bhai:

He was the Manager for the Staff at the Yatra. You never found him sitting at one place. He was always running around from bogie to bogie arranging for something, ensuring everything is fine, talking on his walkie-talkie with terrific animation in his voice and getting feedback from the yatris….

With Aalam Bhai at the Pantry

Lesson 1: It is all about the customer:
I vividly remember Aalam coming to our bogie during dinner and asking “sab theek hai na? [is everything allright?]” the ususal response was “Yes”, but incase it was a “ Nahin Bhaiya, Daal main swaad nahin lag raha [the Dal isn’t tasty]” or “Ab tak Mithai nahin aai [I haven’t received dessert]” …he wouldn’t wait for us to complete the sentence, he would rush to the pantry to get it sorted out!

Another day, a friend from our group just mentioned to him that he missed the Daal-Baati at home. The same day, guess what was there for lunch! Aalam Bhai really cared about us – the customer and that is what made all the difference
Lesson 2: Go that EXTRA MILE for your client:
It was 11:30 pm on my watch when I we came to know that it was one of group member’s birthday the next day. With limited time on our hands, we were not even able to buy her a cake! We were discussing .. “you know, a cake would make her so happy!…” when Aalam Bhai heard us! He asked “Kiska Birthday hai? [whose birthday is it?]”; we explained the entire situation to him….and at 12:00 when we went to wish her a happy birthday, Aalam was standing there with a bag full of cakes! How he got the cake on a moving train is something I still haven’t figured out, but we developed a special liking for him since then.
Lesson 3: Believe in your ABILITIES, not your DEGREE:
One evening when I was talking to Aalam about his family, home etc. when he told me his story: He was brought up in a village near Delhi. He ran off from home when he realized that he had failed the 10th grade. He worked in Delhi for some time, changed jobs, went up the “ladder” and finally landed here…but one thing he continued during this entire time was his studies for the SSC Board exams. He proudly told me “Dasvi pass kiya hai maine [I have cleared the Board Examinations!]..aur ab Maa Baap ne bhi phir se apna Liya [and now my Mother and father have also accepted me]”..when I asked him if he was scared that he was in a new city without any contacts or a educational qualification or degree..he said “Dar kyun…pata tha kar lunga [Why fear, I knew I would make it]”

Manoj Sakharam Kunjwar (MSK)

Our Group wit MSK (Tagged)

Lesson 4: People love You when You love what You do!
Everyone knew it when MSK entered our Bogie, because with him came his high-pitched comments..”Arre, itna hi kyun, jyaada chawal lo bhai[why so little, take more rice!]”..”arre itna hi khayega to kaise chalega [eating so little won’t do]”…”Bhill you thake thea? [will you have tea?]” A smile crept on everyone’s face when he arrived, because he carried his enthusiasm with him wherever he went! His sheer energy made you eat an extra puri or an additional helping of rice. He was always so full of energy and life that all I could wonder was “I hope I can love my job so much!”…Ben Jones in his famous essay 50Things wrote “If you need to get a job, find something that you actually enjoy. Just because it’s work doesn’t mean it has to suck.”….MSK somehow just LEARNED how to enjoy his job.
Lesson 5: When you’re at work, WORK:
On further proximity to MSK I realised that beneath all this energy, he was suffering from a lot of hardships. His financial and social condition back home was was very bad. Someone like me wouldn’t have been able to work like him everyday when I was so unhappy and disturbed inside. But he knew the importance of BEING at your workplace and his story still inspired me every time I feel tired of what I am doing

These are lessons which are etched in mind, they remind me of my choices ahead and inspire me to be the best I can be! These are the real Role Models – the unsung heroes of the Yatra.

8 thoughts on “It’s ALL about the PEOPLE: Catering Staff at Jagriti Yatra ’10 – ‘11

  1. Sahil good job with the blog dude . Keep on posting more of your experiences about the Yatra , am planning to go this year. Cant wait for the applications to start !!

  2. You should have started blogging much earlier. This is a very eloquent piece of writing with a very definied start, middle and finish. Very organized and wonderfully thought of!

  3. Wow! Such a heartwarming account! The catering staff on TJY can never be thanked enough.. they were so amazing! Really thoughtful of you to get the lessons we learnt from them in writing on your blog, Sahil.

  4. Sahil really a good blog and a good thought of a management lesson from the catering staff.There was a lot to learn. Recently I went to a marriage ceremony and was seriously nostalgic about the catering staff of TJY. I have forwarded your blogs to my friends. They are just amazed reading your blogs and the experience we share. Thanx for writing.

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