My travel around the country for more than 200 days a year, brings me across wonderful experiences with places and people. Thanks to these travels, I get to see the country from various perspectives. And my photography takes me into the interiors of the cities as I am always excited about capturing the real country. These become a great exploring and learning experiences.
While these travels have helped me to capture and share the exciting experiences with the nation, it also has given me opportunities to study the people and process of organizations and institutions that I come across.
Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) is an elite security organization of the nation that takes care of most of the security needs of Governmental establishments – airports to steel plants to important temples too of the country. Though I have come across CISF at each of these places, the interactions at the airports have been interesting – at times pleasurable and many a times intense, especially at the ‘security check’ space. Obviously because, that is where most of the ‘encounters’ happen due to the ‘public’ character of the space.
I have a habit of writing down the names of the people, the context in which photo was taken, using the ‘ notes’ application on my mobile. I have been thinking of penning these airport encounters and this morning’s encounter (march 24, 2012) at the chennai airport compelled me to write this article. To be fair to the organization, I shall start with the most pleasurable one.
Mr. Bhalendu Datta – Dec 1, 2011 – Silchar airport
It was an early morning flight and I was rushing to the kumbhigram airport, a good, one hour away from silchar. The weather was very wet – heavy downpour. In the northeast of India, if it rains, it really rains days on end. With rains lashing against the metal and windscreen of the cars, the visibility was almost zero. The driver was careful as there were a few more vehicles, all rushing towards the airport. This deserted, yet picturesque route, laden with tea gardens on either side, leads only to airport as it winds through a couple of villages on the way. Finally, we arrived at the airport.
With wetness all around, moving the luggage to the gate was a challenging one. Once I was inside, I heaved a sigh of relief! It is always challenging going though the entrance check and standing in the long queues, first at the airline Check-in counter, then the wait in the hall where the mornings are always overflowing, with not even standing space, as there are three flights taking off within the space of one hour. With rain lashing, the entire area was slushy too.
I was waiting for the announcement for security check. The announcement for our flight was the last to be made. So, I witnessed the crowd jostling into the queue for security check for the two other flights that were taking off before ours.
I am always among the last boarder in any means of transport, as I do not want to contribute to the chaos. So was the case here.
Since, most of the aircrafts flying in the north-east are smaller ones, each with a capacity of about 100-120, three flights must have contributed about 300-350 passengers to the early morning rush at the security check.
Like elsewhere, you place the hand-baggages on the scanning machine. Being a rainy winter morning, the passengers had to get Extra jackets too checked. There are only two queues operational for personal frisking, one for gents and the other for ladies, being a small airport even when it was crowded.
I was waiting in the queue for frisking, and I was taken in by this 50 something CISF gentleman who was handling the task with aplomb. I could see the warmth and sincerity that he was bringing into the simple act of frisking. He was greeting everyone with a smile, and was talking to them while frisking.
Then my turn came. He wished me a very good morning as I approached him. I took the position on the elevated platform and he with his genial disposition, while doing his scanning and frisking task, was asking about the experience of reaching airport in the rain. He asked me where I was from and enquired about my visit, what do I do, where was I heading. We had much more time to continue our interaction as there was no one behind me in the queue for a long while. What amazed me was his enthusiasm and curiosity at his age, and after frisking over 250 passengers that morning, continuously bending, squatting, leaning and feeling each of the passengers. It was like doing 250 suryanamaskars in one go, without any respite!!
When I asked him, about the strain and his enthusiasm, he responded, ‘with Enthusiasm and pleasant interactions with each passenger, I do not even feel the strain during the task. It keeps me going. I have been doing this for almost 30 years. Without family being around, it is a great way to start the day with people. I want to interact with them and I feel good about it. Yes, at the end of the hectic day, I do feel tired, but I look forward to the next day. That relieves me of all pain’
I was delighted to listen to his philosophy of life, the approach to life. While waiting for the next passenger to frisk, who is not seen, he shared about his posting locations while asking about my travel and learning. Finally, I sought his permission to photograph him. He asked me to seek permission from his boss, which the boss gladly permitted knowing Bhalendu’s dedication, when I shared that I will write about his dedication towards his assignment.
That was about four months ago. After 100 more days of travel, 30-40 flights and a few disappointing interactions later, this morning I encountered the worst of the attitude from the ‘boss’ of the security check space at Chennai airport.
I had a hectic day yesterday at Tirupati, interviewing aspirants for IWSB. Finished my assignment and headed to the bus stand at 9pm to board a bus to chennai to catch the early morning flight. This was my third bus ride in five days, all in ordinary non-AC bus : kochi to Madurai, chennai-Tirupati, tirupati-chennai.
My principle is simple – I curtail all unproductive expenses. I will spend only if there is a dire need and when i do not have any choice. Even on this trip, at each of the cities, people asked me, why was I taking the bus when i could take a cab. Penny saved is penny earned! I would not want to forget where I started my life journey and I take pride in it!
After three hours of adventure at Tirupati bus stand I got into a bus, heading to chennai at 11:45pm. Managed to have 40 winks by the time I disembarked at chennai’s koembumed bus station at 4am. Saw a sea of humanity asleep on the floor of the station. Haggled with an auto driver and reached the chennai airport. The flight was at 9:35am. I thought of rescheduling it to an earlier flight as it was just 4am. I was told it would cost me Rs. 2,500 to prepone it to 6:30am flight. I chose to take my scheduled flight.
Entered the concourse, got my luggage checked, found a corner to power my laptop and went about reading newspapers online and working on my blog, editing photos etc. I did not even realize how four hours passed. I quickly packed, checked in and I was guided for security check to first floor as the Air India flight was scheduled to take off from gate 7.
Mr. Vinay Kumar Rai – March 24, 2012 – chennai domestic airport, first floor
As I stepped off the escalator and turned left, the area was unusually calm, bereft of much crowd. I headed to the que for security check. First, to the hand baggage scanner. There was a queue of about eight people. I started looking for a spare tray to place my laptop and gadgets that the CISF usually asks a traveler to place aside. I did not find any tray and to my surprise the entire line was waiting for it. There were five CISF personnel around the scanner – a lady at the loading side, yet another lady at scanning, one gentleman at the exit end of the scanner stamping the cleared baggage, one gentleman was standing at the repacking table where the traveler puts all his stuff back into his or her own bag, yet another personnel was standing in the area. There was only one person frisking the men at the security queue.
I asked the CISF personnel for a tray to place my laptop etc. I was told that the exit end of scanner is not cleared and only when it gets cleared, we will be given! This came from the gentleman who was standing at the packing table (i noticed his name to be Vinay rai, a little later, from the badge on his chest). All the travelers were looking at each other and smiling at the response. I asked Vinay, why not one of the personnel, perhaps he could, help in frisking so that queue there is reduced and the queue at the scanner will move as the hand-baggages are offloaded to the owners.
Imagine all queues waiting because of one bottleneck and he could have solved the problem by frisking 3-4 passengers and coming back to his post. Vinay’s response was ‘if anyone picks others hand-baggage or laptop, will you take responsibility?’ Five personnel jobless and waiting! And keeping two queues waiting. Vinay could have made all the difference. Being the senior most, of all the CISF personnel there, he could have set a great example. But he chose to set an example to the contrary. And he made the matter worse by arguing with a few more passengers in the queue. Vinay was even asking other personnel why people are being sent upstairs instead of security check done downstairs. This when the flight gates are upstairs, queues are short here compared to long ones downstairs.
Vinay did not move, neither could any other personnel move as the boss was vehement. They obviously feared taking initiative. I know the rule book and the role assigned can tie every one in knots!!
I recalled a significant question I had come across, ‘Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?’ This remained one of my guiding principles in life. I though this was the right question to ask and Vinay muttered a few statements that were not ‘people-friendly!
In a while the queue moved. I collected my baggage and shared with him, that he could have done better. He again argued on losing baggage. At that point, I told him that it is a good story to share how not be customer-friendly. I took the camera and captured him along with the screening space in the frame. He looked at me and so did others. In fact the lady who was monitoring the baggage screening recognized me. Just a month ago, she had apologized to me for another CISF personnel’s indiscretion at the very same place. She smiled at me, because we discussed about a few CISF personnel being not facilitators.
Meanwhile, I went and settled on a chair. I saw Vinay walking briskly towards me. It must have struck him, now that I have captured him and I can write about him. He asked me why did I take his photo? He demanded my boarding pass. I told him I will not oblige, and as a citizen of this country I can write about things I notice and especially about people who behave irresponsibly. He tried to intimidate and I stood my ground. He hurriedly went to bring his superior from downstairs. The superior was no less intimidating. He looked very livid and came at me demanding my boarding pass and inquiring about me. I told him about all of my credentials and details, but refused hand over the boarding pass. I was told “hum dekh lenge aap kaise board karenge”, (we will see how you will board the flight)? I told them, let us see. One more authority appeared a little later, asking what the matter was. I was sure he knew what it is. “Aapko aise karte hue shobha nahin deta” (your doing this does not give value to you). I politely refused to part with my boarding pass. He too got angry.
I asked them, “This gentleman, Vinay, and each one of you have all the time in the world to intimidate a citizen for being honest in raising the issue, leaving your respective security points for over an hour. And Vinay did not move ten feet to find the solution for deadlock. It is important to be a part of solution, than being a problem’.
I was then surprised to see a gentleman, in civil dress, who was sitting in the hall coming up and shouting at me, “people like you write all stories about security establishment and tarnish the image. I am part of the establishment and I know what they go through.” I shared with him, that “I have good stories to tell too, but bad stories are as important to be looked at and corrected. If willingness to acknowledge and take corrective measures does not exist then stories would be written about.” Then I heard him leaving, telling to the officer, “talk to him and resolve”
Though I stood by my point of view and did not budge, and did not give my boarding pass, I felt very threatened and was worried about whether I will be allowed to board the flight. Fortunately that ended there and I found myself in the flight that took off.
I thought, it is my duty to write this article, not just as a reportage on CISF, but to reflect and tell myself and the organizations I am part of – How we as leaders need to be very attentive to the smallest of the needs of the customer, facilitate their life, and be solution centric. Knowingly or unknowingly, we put blinkers to our thinking, and become part of the problem itself. At times we become the real problem.
Let us facilitate in such a way that none of the good eggs gets rotten. Thanks