Thursday, March 25, 2004

A Jamshedpur detour

Of all the big business names in India TATA's is inarguably the most famous. From Tea to IT they own well over 150 companies and have a vast empire spanning an entire landscape. It is marked by more than a century of leadership, loyalty & legacy. The nerve center of TATA estates lies somewhere in a dusty town of south Bihar-- Jamshedpur to be precise.

I visited the TATA football academy in Jamshedpur this fall. The vastness of the place struck me. It smells of steel & sweat of a thousand working hands. The air holds still & almost draws you in by its aura. This township exudes work culture for ages now. The football academy has grassed side walks & trees that lead you to the stands. Early morning, I watched the boys in their maroons, a whole lot of them . They practiced in the lush greens with a hurried pace. The players were youthful, perhaps culled from all over the state, possibly employees with the TATAs . God knows All of them toiled hard at the ball, as if it were a prized possession, a king's emerald. One watched in amusement as they pulled & tugged at each other . The nets went on deep inside the morning till they perspired & wetted their shirts. All through, a middle-aged man with long flowing locks yelled & shouted at them. Coach, someone whispered. His incessant mutterings gave him an air of seniority . A long whistle. Pause followed.

Breakfast time. They retire to the 'academy mess' and instantly perch themselves on the furniture laid. Fruit juice , toasts, milk and jam. They eat but with an immaculate ease. Though tired they look vivacious. Talking rolls on entertainingly, jokes burst and pranks are Boys, I muse. The team bathes itself. A series of showers, all orderly done, makes a unique bathroom. It is an extended one, long and airy. Spick &span, it smells of new soap. The guys are all naked and enjoy their shower, all in a series, all once. A team isn't cumbered, it is free from inhibitions, I guess. A daze of freshness spills over & readies them for a hot day.

I approached and met with the academy management. They are warm and cordial .Very steady in their dealings, the officials go about their work, taking notes, planning schedules. Trophies & feathers won by the TATA team adorn the glassed racks. A pump office bearer was cleaning the panes hard. He shoos away a fly resting on one frame. They fly takes off, circles , returns & settles. The management informs me that their club is the defending champion of almost very major tournament in north India. They speak with a distinct pride that swells their chests. I can notice a commitment writ large on their faces. The feeling is learning as I leave the office. Discipline is our punch line, reads a little card on the exit. It shakes in my mind like a reed in the wind. Only if this were the tenor of our establishment, our society. Yet we cannot live our daily lives in a realm of pure ideas, I know.

I hang around the place. Everything is well managed. Each bar painted, every door numbered. Things get real in this part of the country, no doubt. I understand the reason why TATAs are fabled.

Evening session starts at half past five. The team is divided in two. Whites & yellows. I am told this fosters in - depth bounds. Many a supporters have turned up. There is howling & booing. The entire field gets electrifying. The boys run, skip, & sledge-all in the game. They side the football and toss it like a plumage. The yellows win 1-0. All hug in the end, no hard feelings, all friends. They pack their little bags. Ready for a real game, slated next week. Eager to take over. A legacy to carry forward, they translate inspiration into sheer determination. Specks or innocence mingled with the right touch of confidence.

I return with found memories of the place, the academy and the club. It sits in the corner of my mind. They win the game, I doodle!