The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 21, 2001
Life Ties

When relationship building, not 'networking', bore fruit
Taru Bahl

VEENA had always been a topper. She wanted to take the IAS and had cleared her Prelims when her father expressed a desire to see his first-born married and settled. He was a heart patient and had two more daughters to be married off.

Veena complied and set up home with Bhaskar, an IAS officer. They moved on transfer to places, some not even listed on the map. The thought of pursuing a career took a back-seat. The defining quality about Veena was her calmness. Even at 20 she seemed tranquil and at peace with herself. She was in no hurry to scale the heights of professional success. For her, happiness lay in the precincts of her home. Being an intelligent and aware person, she kept her interests alive and continued to dabble in whatever came her way, whether it was helping the local orphanage, substituting as a nursery teacher or organising parties in her husband's division. Though the hierarchy factor is strong in the services, she managed to forge ties with people across all levels. The bachelors found in her an easy confidante who was also hospitable. The wives could bank on her to sort out their adjustment problems and give them correct advice.

Veena's non-threatening persona put people at ease. She responded to them without artifice which is why most of her friendships, alliances and casual acquaintances went beyond the surficial. A high level of affection and commitment was formed without conscious intent. She made a note of birthdays and anniversaries and never forgot to make a call or send a card. Transfers took them away and there were times she knew that her path would not cross with another's, yet she kept in touch. Her relationships were formed not on the basis of the utility factor but on genuine love and compassion. Given her sincere and amiable temperament this list kept multiplying.


When they moved to Nagpur on transfer, Bhaskar saw that Veena needed to continue with her intellectual growth. The children were grown up and she had time on her hands. Together, they identified a postgraduate diploma in travel and tourism. When they moved to Delhi on transfer, she joined the polytechnic as a lecturer to teach travel and tourism. From here, she went on to join a reputed management institute as head of their travel and tourism department. She adapted to the change in working environment and proved to be an asset. While structuring the curriculum and drawing up a list of guest faculty, her sole criteria was to add value to the course. There was something about her demeanour which made it difficult for people to say no to her. She had an in-built grace which lent itself to her interaction. She had no reservations about approaching senior people in the field and she did it with purpose and dignity. All her 'contacts' were never on back-slapping terms but they had the highest regard for her and would always do what they could or put her through to people if she needed help. She did not over-step this goodwill, did not ask for personal favours, and never imposed on their privacy. The turning point came when her daughter was to get married and her employers gave her barely a week's leave. Hurt and upset for the first time in her life, she decided to do something of her own. She wanted to be there for her children, whenever they needed her, sharing with them all their trials and tribulations. A full-time job was an unnecessary impediment. Never an ambitious career woman, for Veena her family always came first. Yet, it was not as if she tied her children to her apron-strings. She gave them roots and let them take flight with the secure knowledge that were they to return to the nest, she would always be there for them.

At 40, she felt she had the maturity and experience to embark on a new venture. One which allowed her to continue with her creative growth, brought in extra money and allowed her to pursue other interests.

The motivation of setting up her travel agency came when some of the people she was officially dealing with, reposed confidence in her abilities and prodded her to get independent. She could bank on their support. These were people from the travel trade and with whom she had shared a long association. Through the process of her creative evolution, Bhaskar encouraged, supported and appreciated her multi-dimensional talent, taking pride in their unique partnership. She did not expect her agency to take off as well as it did. Since most of the services were outsourced, she did not need a formal office area. Operating from home, she could juggle her different roles. If she did expand her professional net, it was never by design, it just happened. Untutored in formal management, she only had her gut instinct to guide her but obviously there must have been something that was right for work to steadily pour in by just word of mouth. There was a general good word that the agency was clean, efficient and apolitical. She was happy with what she got. In the lean months she reverted to studying, visiting libraries, writing and teaching.

There were times when people felt she ought to get aggressive. Her teammates wanted her to capitalise on the name she had in the market. They got her to invest a sizeable amount in 'professionalising' her endeavour. Fancy brochures were printed, mobile phones, answering machines and computers installed and special field staff hired on a commission basis. It was not as if Veena's efforts were trivialised or condemned. The general feeling was that one had to move with the times. Networking was crucial. Contacts had to be cultivated with the single-minded purpose of them translating into assignments. Veena watched indulgently. She neither belittled her enthusiastic juniors' aspirations nor gave explanations about her style of functioning. She told them they were welcome to professionalise and get more work, provided they were geared to handle the extra load. As a result of their initiative some work did pour in but ultimately Veena's agency survived on the work which came in from her earlier 'contacts'. Perhaps the newer clients were still reluctant to repose trust in the younger lot. For them, it was Veena who mattered and they felt secure if she was in charge.

Veena was content with what she had and did not believe in greasing palms or compromising on her dignity to get additional work. She was not angling to enhance the bottomline of her home-spun company. It was enough that she enjoyed her work. It was at a pace she was comfortable with, she was just a phone call away from her children and yet there was chota-mota work and money for everyone in the family. Yes, her small little agency actually helped many in the family. When one of her sisters moved to Delhi on transfer and wanted to do something, it was Veena who came to her rescue. By offering ready-made work, she helped her to learn by trial and error and develop her core competence. It brought in extra money and gave her sister confidence. For another sister who was bored and lonely in a quiet sleepy neighbouring town these part-time assignments lifted the gloom.

Veena's nieces and nephews too did part-time work while in college. Not only did it fetch handsome pocket money but proved to be an excellent training ground for honing their inter-personal skills. It gave them the confidence to deal with different situations, retain their poise while handling crises, develop managerial effectiveness and learn by seeing veterans around them. They used the conference platform as a stepping-stone to take a leap forward to better more challenging professions. Veena,in her limited way had done rather well, considering she belonged to a generation when women were not so much into working. In any case she was one of the early ones to vouch for the merits of flexi-working! But for her, happiness and contentment came from the fact that though she was pushing 60 she was cheerfully working, was still in a position to bail out many in the family by giving them paid work and a huge number of well-wishers and friends.

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