Friday, July 17, 2009


As an ‘aided’ college teacher in Maharashtra (‘aided’ means we get our salary from the state government coffers), I am ON STRIKE at the moment, along with the majority of my colleagues across the state, for the selfish-selfless cause of implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission pay-scales for teachers. To coin a slogan:


This has been a striking week for Mumbai. The overworked and underpaid government doctors went on an eight day strike, demanding better pay (but of course), and resumed work only after ministerial promises and some unfortunate deaths.

School and Junior College teachers went on a one-day strike demanding (guess what) implementation of revised pay-scales.

The bus-drivers and helpers and Group-D staff of my daughter’s school were on strike for a day, followed by the teachers the next day, in protest against the private management’s high-handedness.

All in all, a week of disruption, deviation and demands.

What ‘strikes’ me most, however, is the difference between Mumbai and Kolkata in the approach to strikes .

In Kolkata, we take strikes in our stride. In fact, the right to strike is regarded as the second most important fundamental right by most Bengalis (the first being the right to speakwherever, whenever, on whatever topic whether we know about it or not, and preferably in a public platform like an adda). Whenever strikes are announced (and they are usually thoughtfully scheduled on Mondays or Fridays to give us the benefit of a long weekend) we cheerfully start making plans for the ‘forced vacation’. Everybody is happy, and a festive mood prevails, with boys playing cricket on empty streets and only the businessmen-types and newspaper-wallahs and TV channel people getting hyper about the erosion of work culture. Don’t they know that the term itself is contradictoryif you work, when will you have time for culture? Bengalis have ‘THE BEST CULTURE’ (you know Rabindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, and, er, Bappi Lahiri?), so, obviously, dada, we don’t need to work.

In fact, protest is second nature to us (we will always remind the rest of you how we protested against British imperialism long ago). Protest is ‘in the Bengali blood’, much more than work is.

So it was a kind of a ‘culture shock’ for me to see the reluctance of my Mumbai collegues when the teachers' union decided to go on strike. Everybody was upset and worried that the students would face problems, that the syllabus would not be completed on time. Everybody willingly agreed to give up the Diwali vacation to teach extra classes should the need arise. They accept the strike as a measure to achieve certain ends, but are eager to resume work ASAP.

What a change from Kolkata, where we accept strikes as a pleasure to achieve an extra holiday or two till the next call for another strike? And with two obliging political parties trying to break each other's record for maximum strikes and bandhs called in an year, strikes are party time. Literally.

And me? I am caught between deep admiration for Mumbai’s work-ethics and a deeper genetic laziness which is making me enjoy a few days of unemployment. Blame my Bengali blood for that.


Nona said...

I truly hope the strike brings in relief(in the form of "aid") for you and your friends. Good luck!

Somehow, I'm not surprised at the Mumbaikar reaction!

I like the way Kolkata goes on a strike. You end up with a long weekend!

Enjoy your vacation and give us more posts. :)

Aparna said...

As a Bengali who grew up outside Bengal, I could never understand the passion for strikes in the state.Everytime I have been in Kolkata, my life has been hampered by bandh and dhormoghot.The strike by the doctors in Mumbai was painful. Workers all over the world protest, they never manage to kill other people in the process.
Cheers to your vacation...hopefully you will enthrall us by some fabulous posts.

Ugich Konitari said...

Whether it is done as a lifestyle hobby thing , or as an earnest protest aganst the deaf powers that be, one cant but be sympathetic about these strikes.

Contrast this with a reformed goonda, getting elected as a MP via immense money and intimidatory power, and getting a lifelong pension after just 1 term in Parliament, all voted for, by the MP's for themseves in Parliament and immediately implemented.

And those that teach and cure , have to fight for the implementation of something already sanctoned....

Its a case of Jai nahi ho.

Sucharita Sarkar said...

@ Nona,
Mumbai is really a workaholic city. And Kolkata is likable only from a distance, otherwise the reaction is like Aparna's.

Been there, felt the annoyance and the 'ashubidhey'...but now that I am away, my gritted teeth can relax into a grin.

Money and the rise thereof, are directly linked to power, not performance.

Meira said...

hmm...I'd love to go on a strike too..despite the tam-delhi-up-haryana-gult-jharkhand in my blood :D

Pradip Biswas said...

Strike or Bandh is a form of protest. But if it is to be translated as showing of power of party the sharpness of the weapon is reduced. That is what is happening in Bengal.To lure the public and to shut down the mouth of protests for so many Bandhs normally all the strike dates fall either in Friday or in Monday.

magiceye said...

mumbai is a city of migrants who come here to work hence any move to stop that is loss of money and time that is so precious. it is also unfortunate that in the present scenario the employers are taking undue advantage of (un)organised labour. threat of outsourcing and downsizing is the sword that hangs over every workman's head today.
best wishes to all of you!

Sumandebray said...

I guess strike was a symbolic way of staging a protest.... But this has been institutionalized in Kolkata. It truly has become a showdown of strength.
During our college days the guys who have not seen the college first lobby for weeks used to brush off the dust from his file and attempt to enter the class room if he was affiliated to the opposing party.
We had a surprise when we arrived in Delhi was expecting a total shutdown of the city as a strike was called to protest the mondal commission report of VP Singh. We thought we will escape a day of training but it was rude awakening for us ...the city was doing business as normal!

manju said...

It's a mystery to me why they do not implement the recommendations of the Pay Commission if they have been accepted. Good luck!

I have also noticed the difference in attitudes that you mention.:)

Priya said...

and sadly still...if you were not in the office on the bandh day work on saturday...:(...

but yes..."Bandh" in kolkata are really sad...they come up after every two months of working without a break..much like a dessert after a full course meal...ohh that comparison is not sad definitely...well sorry for those rubbish..not in a good office on a saturday.. :(

Lazyani said...

C'mon Sucharita,

Eat your heart out. We played cricket, had khichuri with iilish bhaja, slept in the afternoon after a little tryst with 'Padi Pishir Bormi Baksho'- all thanks to the great leaders who call such strategic Bandhs.

Give us 50 years and the entire world would wake up to our chintashil shongrami dhormoghots.

Vivek Patwardhan said...

Dear Sucharita,

As an Industrial Relations Manager I have closely experienced strikes/ lockouts and violence in Kolkata as well as Mumbai.

I have always felt that the 'striking class'[isn't that a better word?] is insensitive in Kolkata whereas the 'authorities' are insensitive in Mumbai. Both to extremes. I feel both must be taken to task, and some sense must be driven in their head.

Incidentally it is only Shiv Sena that openly supported productivity improvement plans of employers. All others including Dr Samant never did it. I feel it is also an outcome of the city's work ethic. [I must clarify that I am not a shiv-sainik].

Time for you to try some 'assal' maharashtrian food. May be Ugich Konitari and I would organise it for you,


Sucharita Sarkar said...

Naah, you gotta be a Bong to have 'striking at will' blood.

Maybe things will change after the coming assembly elections.

Strikes are effective only if they are used sparingly as a last resort.

I can understand the difference, because it was a similar shock for me, too, when i came to Mumbai and everything was open and functional on a BJP-sponsored Bharat Bandh (despite the strong presence of BJP-ally Shive Sena).

Education-spending is way down on the govt's list of priorities. And who wants to cough up the cash if you can make do with promises only?

One Saturday and you are upset! Spare a thought for us poor creatures slogging for ever on six-day weeks.

You lucky -----! Don't rub salt in old wounds!

Both the spouse and I (he is a journo with the TOI, I am a govt employee) are really really impressed with the work-ethics and professionalism of our adopted city. It is not without reason that Mumbai has become the lodestar of employment and enterprise.

As for the promise, do something quickly, I'm already salivating!

Babli said...

Lovely post.You have portrayed the true fact.I have experienced the strike in Jharkhand as I am born and brought up at Jamshedpur.Your each and every post is wonderful.

Peter Rozovsky said...

I am of a thoroughgoing bourgeois upbringing. As I child, I regarded the frequent postal strikes in Quebec as nuisances.

Now, in the United States, as a worker in an industry whose very existence is threatened, where power is being shifted from labor to capital daily, I yearn for the day when this country had a labor movement.

A lovely post, with a Bengali attitude toward strikes that seems close to the Italian one. I remember sitting outdoors at a cafe in Rome when a massive parade of striking postal and transport workers passed -- and some of the workers, including some cheerful, attractive, well-dressed women, took the time to stop for coffee.
Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

nsiyer said...

You write extremely well and with a lot of frankness and non chalance. Damn good and humorous.

Anrosh said...

i always thought cal was the bombay of the east - looks like it ain't ?

Anonymous said...

Its great to know more about bongs from you.Kerala too has his share of Bandhs or Hartals or strikes or whatever you call it. I am not too sure whether it is celebrated with the same fervor. :-)

Sucharita Sarkar said...

Striking is part and parcel of the Eastern india experience.

A strong labour union does help in bringing about some sort of parity in a disparate power equation.
On a lighter vein, Bengalis love Italians, too, especially Indianised pizzas (chicken tikka and pepperoni), Vittorio di Sica's The Bicycle Thieves (being used to both bicycles and thieves) and, of course, Sophia Loren.

@ NSIyer,
Nonchalance hides a deep disillusion.

WAS is the operative word. Kolkata was an industrial hub long ago in the sixties, till the Reds came to power.

Kerala Marxists have not given up on work as much as the Bengali cadres.

Moushumi said...

This was my experience back in 95-97. When there was a bandh, I expected that we could stay at home and enjoy a holiday. But what I saw was that people woke up extra early on that day and took to the roads - there was some stone throwing and other disruptive activities. But then everybody boarded the buses and went off to work. Everybody reached office in time and spent the whole day working.