In 1985 to begin working in a private company right after school and attending evening college was indeed a big deal and matter of pride, practically for anyone in Calcutta – except for those who believed that one should get the basic education first, where basic education was not just about completing high school,start earning, so that one may contribute back to the family – but at the bare minimum complete a doctorate. I belonged to the class of people who did not take pride in jumping into a job even before college.
When Bimal Gati Roy, the managing director of Integrated Management Services Private Limited, a small time management consulting firm in Calcutta interviewed me, I had just completed my twelfth standard examinations. The questions were fairly simple – “what would you want to do” and “how much do you expect?” While the answer to the first question was fairly simple – I had no guidance nor no access to a “Salary.Com” to tell me the median salary for an entry level accounts apprentice, nor no data source – and certainly, least of all in the social environment that I lived in, in Calcutta of 1985. So, I calculated – an expected college fee, price of “Filter Wills” for thirty days, bus fare from home to office to college and back – and a few rupees more – and that totalled up to three hundred and fifty rupees – or less than 10 dollars at 1990 prices. Mr. Roy probably had no doubt in his mind that he’d be employing one naive school kid as an apprentice and that it would be his most gracious extension of his generosity (sic) to offer a monthly salary of three hundred and seventy five rupees, with the caveat that it will be reviewed after I successfully pass high school – which he did.
On 14th April 1985 I attended office for the first time at a salary of Rs. 375/- as an accounts apprentice. Six months later, once the results were announced my salary rose by fifty rupees and a letter issued stating confirmation of my employment and congratulating on passing school. Hilarious as it may sound, sooner than later I realised that the three hundred and seventy five rupees barely last me for the first three weeks of the month.
The middle-class mind-set of the then average Calcuttan, often turned out to be far alien to the way I would think. A certain intense distaste for typical average bong grew in my mind from an early age, and now, decades later, I find that mindset form a kind of mob-character, resonating across the state’s majority voting demography. When I shared the news of my first new “job” with one of the local elders, his first question, “what’s the extra that you will get?” beguiled me. It made me sick, when I understood what he meant by “extra”.
Many years later on September 16, 2009 – Shashi Tharoor ran into an unwanted controversy when several Indians equated human beings to cows, in what they made out of the former under-secretary of UN’s comment about “cattle class” – a class which I was fairly made aware of since my college days. While there is no doubt in my mind, that the media and politicians summarily re-enacted the story of the six men from Indostan by John Godfrey Saxe, the counter-argument to lack of doubt, has made many point out at my intellectual arrogance.
Soon, my days fell into a more rigorous routine than before. Start the day at seven, reach office by eight-thirty, get over with work at five-thirty, walk to college, finish by nine, take a bus to our south Calcutta joint, chat around till midnight and take the last train back home. Sometimes though I would stick around with my grandparents, closer to college.
The nuances of work-while-studying was more challenging than I had ever thought. For one, teachers or “professor” regularly failed to attend and conduct classes, during the Left Front Government regime for years together. The reason was “manifold” or “varied” as one of the blogs about home tutoring in Calcutta, as recent as 2012 notes: “Private tutors become necessity thing when there is over burdened syllabus. Often students find it difficult to catch everything that is taught in the class room. A student might not be good in all the subjects that are part of the curriculum. It might happen that a student is weak on any particular subject where as strong in some other subject. Therefore availing the help of private tutors for weaker areas of study is beneficial for the students. Moreover over burdened syllabus make it difficult for the students to grab everything in the classroom. The trend of having private tutors is increasing. The good thing is that they are not only pursued for school subjects but even degree level students are taking the help of private tutors to excel in their study…..Private home tutor in Kolkata is available for all types of subjects and level. One can get private tutors right from pre primary to post graduate level. Kolkata is having large pool of good and competent teachers. Teachers in this city are available more easily than any other city. The reason for this are varied. The prime reason for this is the high literacy rate and off course teaching is the favorite profession for people of Bengal.”
Indeed the college professors were busy conducting private classes through the day and often during college hours. Sadly enough, they too had their rationale – their salaries were too little to run their large families.
The bohemian mind digressed again, and needs to focus back on Taulia Dholai and Md. Ayub Khan.
The first and regular role of the accounts apprentice was to maintain “imprest cash” or “petty cash”. In simple accounting terms, vouchers needed “attachments” or evidence of expenses incurred. In one audit exercise, I found several of these hand written attachments that said “toulia dholai” – and while some would not want to offer a direct answer to my questions about this, others would even throw a smile. It took me some time to decipher that “toulia dholai” was what the cleaner Rajani would scribble for washing towels used by the managing director.
Md. Ayub Khan had this straight conical grey beard that he would occasionally color – but regularly dabble a few drops of excruciatingly painful fragrance of attar.