Whenever trade unions announce an all-India strike, my friend Seenu lets out an agonised gasp. He is a retired public servant, who has painful memories of bandhs from his service days.
“I was working in Coimbatore when the last strike against economic reforms happened. The government announced that disciplinary action would be initiated if any public servant participated in the strike or absented himself on the day of hartal,” reminisced Seenu.
“I was in-charge of the arrangements for the smooth functioning of the office on bandh day. The staff were given the option of staying in the office overnight, since public transport was likely to be paralysed. I hired a good number of charpoys and pillows for staff who wished to stay back at office. It later transpired that nobody preferred to stay in the office. In those days, Coimbatore was a small town and it was possible to reach the office by foot,” he said.
His boss preferred to walk to the office and since he lived near my friend’s house, he asked Seenu to accompany him. I presume he was worried about his safety and sought my friend’s company just to feel safe.
In the office, absenteeism was checked and 99% attendance was reported to the headquarters.
Lunch for 200 employees was prepared in the office canteen. Lunch consisted of sambar rice, curd rice and vadas. The lunch was spartan, because vegetable markets were also closed on bandh day.
Seenu’s ravenous boss opened his lunch box at 1 pm, only to be interrupted by four members of the staff association, who barged into his room and complained that they were not given lunch. The boss rang my friend up and asked why lunch had not been served. “I replied that lunch was served in the office canteen. The association members insisted that lunch be provided at their tables and since there was not enough packing material to pack and serve lunch on each table, it was impossible to comply to their demand,” Seenu said. Meals were served in steel plates in the canteen like any other day. Then the members complained that lunch could have been better — they had heard through the grapevine that certain smaller offices had made arrangements to serve biryani with gravy and apples.
The furious boss told them that bandh day was no celebration. Lunch had been arranged for their hunger to be satiated. “Eat or starve,” he snapped. Sensing his foul mood, the rebels retreated. The episode left a bad taste in everybody’s mouth,” Seenu concludes with a shudder.