Sunday, 12 May 2019

Visvanathan Iyer, trusted Tata Steel ally

Ramesh Kumar from New Delhi

The June 2019 issue of DRIVERS DUNIYA will be carrying an interview with Mr Visvanathan Iyer, believe me, Southern India Bureau Chief Sarada Vishnubhatla wrote in August 2016.  

Why such a long pause - almost three years before it sees the light of the day? 

Hence this preamble. Or is it an apology? Check it out...

I had met Mr Iyer in Chennai on a rainy day, at the behest of Harry Lagad, an invaluable resource for me in the world of logistics and supply chain. 

A phone call set the ball rolling. Iyer suggested meeting at 0800 hours sharp at the Woodlands, Mylapore, Chennai. 

I intimated him that my colleague Selvan Dasaraj of TransportMitra would also join at the venue. 

He had no objection. But he said, 0800 hours.

Selvan was residing with his sister in Perambur, on the outskirts of city. (Outskirts for a born-Mylaporean like me!).

On the scheduled day, it was raining cats and dogs since the previous night. I reached the Woodlands on time. Selvan did not. Met Iyer inside the restaurant where he was already perched and offered the opposite seat  to me. 

“Where’s your partner?” He asked.

On his way, I murmured apologetically and added: “Can we wait a little while…?
“No need. Let’s order food and discuss,” commanded Iyer. Punctuality is his other name!

He looked at the uniformed bearer, who nodded and left. No verbal order.

In a jiffy, plates of piping hot idli, vada, sambar, chutney came. Just for the two of us.

“Eat”, again he ordered.

We began. Between bites, we kept chatting. From how do I know Harry to my interest in trucking, travels etc.

Phone buzzed at 0820. 

It was Selvan. He was in the parking lot. I guided him to our seats.

He sat next to me and apologized for the delay.

Iyer took no notice of the apology.

He called the bearer and ordered: “The same.”

Selvan, looking into the menu looked up, said nothing.

Once the breakfast got over, he asked us to join for a visit to the Tata Steel yard at Thiruvallur, 40 km away, managed by him.

The entire journey lasting more than two hours via the rain-hit Chennai  thoroughfare was a super and dramatic educational trip. 

He was on the call constantly: Chiding some officials at times. Sweet talking some higher ups in some companies regarding load delivery. Proper directions to the office staff on financial transactions.

Yes, of course, in between we – rather, he found time to walk down his memory lane.

At the Thiruvallur yard, we saw two 40 TEU containers converted into toilet-cum-rest room for waiting drivers. Air-conditioned as well. Only cooking was not permitted. He meant every word he said about his concern for drivers welfare. Indeed, a remarkable person.

A few months later, we had an occasion to visit him at his tree-lined bungalow apartment in cool Bengaluru where we had at least two rounds of conventional south Indian “kapi”.

Everytime, I look at him or his photo, he reminds me of my transport guru late Chittranjan Dass ji. Carbon copy. Both remarkable personalities. There are many like them. It is just question of time, before I get to hobnob with them.
During my subsequent visit to Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, the logistics team knew of our meeting with Iyer. “He is an asset,” is what they simply echoed.

One last question: why Sarada’s piece submitted in August 2016 has to gather dust for three years. Valid, undoubtedly. I lost it in the deluge of input. Until one fine morning, I woke up when another old time school mate bearing the same name – Visvanathan -  buzzed. There the connect got reignited. Rest … you know it. Here it is… Sorry, Sarada!

It is not dated, except the drivers waiting for 3-4 hours at interstate borders. Now that is history, thanks to the  GST roll out.

Don't forget to read the full interview in DRIVERS DUNIYA. 

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Ramesh Kumar

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Why Islam Khan Went To Pune?

Ramesh Kumar from New Delhi

"Salaam alai kum... Have you ever travelled by Jhelum Express?"

It was a phone call.

No formal introduction.

No  need for it.

Because the caller's name was stored in my SIM. It was Islam Khan of Sushila Transport Private Limited (STPL), one of the well known two-wheeler & four wheeler carriers from OEMs to dealer points pan-India.

No, I said. Why is he asking?

"Sirji, am on way to Delhi railway station to go to Pune," Islam said, thus dispelling any confusion in my mind.

Okay, he was going to Pune to be present at the Jeep Transport Excellence Award event two days later and possibly to receive an award or something.

Going alone? Yes.

Will he able to manage?

Why this concern? Because he is visually-challenged from birth.

Who's he, by the way? Islam is Safety Counselor, if one may say so, working with  STPL since April 2018.

Visually challenged and Safety Counselor? Possible. It is. Having known him right from the day of induction in STPL and seen from close quarters, I know his calibre. His vision. His man management. Rather driver management skills. Amazing character.

In fact, DRIVERS DUNIYA magazine featured him on the cover in March 2019 issue. Sheer coincidence. Not plotted as such.

"Sirji, are you there?"

Uff. For a while, I got sucked into my own thoughts. Hence the delay in responding to his query.

"I never traveled in a train to Pune from Delhi," I told him.

"Haan, you're a truck man!" he quipped. Did I?

Few times: once from Chennai to Gurgaon in October 2010 via Pune. And a year later from Gurgaon to Bangalore via Pune. Of course, I  had to break the journey at Halol to visit Rinku Agarwal at Anand, Gujarat. He picked me up at Halol. Both times, with mint fresh passenger cars.

Islam convinced me that he had traveled alone  in the past also in train and hence, nothing to worry.

I knew nothing about the Jhelum Express (11078), running between Jammu and Pune covering a distance of 2,200 km. After an overnight journey from Jammu, it reaches Delhi 0945 hours and leaves half an hour later. Islam provided this vital input and added that it would touch down Pune the next evening.

On boarding the train, he called to confirm.

Two days later, I saw a few images of  him preparing for the Jeep event: black pant, white shirt and a black jacket. Of course, a naughtily worn neckpiece (tie)! No calls. Nothing.

A day later, again I saw few images posted in a  social media group of STPL.

FCA Head of Supply Chain Satyendra Lal is the primary cause for this "noble gesture" of recognizing someone like Islam Khan.

Lal, a great humanitarian, indeed. Known him almost for a decade now. Significantly, he had met Islam almost a year ago at STPL's Manesar workshop-cum-office when he had visited on a routine inspection of safety consciousness of his vendors who  ferry his 20 lakh plus Compass SUVs from Ranjangaon plant to multiple locations. That time, he attended the Daily Driver Meet held quarter to four in the Driver Rest Room where Islam was in full flow imparting gyan on safety and then general  tips on living. One has to be physically present to experience his zest and passion. 

Am sure, Lal would have carried a very positive image of Islam and his safety commitment. When post-event asked, Lal responded thus:

"During my last visit to all Transport Partners facility visit, I saw a man of positive attitude and confidence- Mohammed Islam , a driver trainer at Sushila Transport, Manesar. 

What I found that he beyond a trainer. He does a lot of early morning homework with tracking team for drivers who are coming back from l long haul trip, he understands how driver has performed his driving on road , speed management, neutral running, braking, etc. Then he prepare his self note in his mind and communicate the same to drivers during his session with them. 

He motivates not only on safety but also on health grounds during trip. His communication is manifold effective is such a way that drivers commit to implement for their future ride. Industry require such people. Though he is visually challenged yet a superb trainer - great cheers to  Hargobind ji and STPL team for giving employment to such wonderful person.

Of course, STPL owner Hargobind Pruthi's knockout selection of a visually challenged candidate who has had no experience in this arena to handle this tricky subject. Lal certainly  lauded Pruthi's drive. He also won an award from FCA.

Again, there was a call from Islam. This time, he was back in Manesar where he lives with his wife and kids, near the office.

Obviously, my question was: How did the event go?

"Bahut achcha tha, sirji!" The thrill and joy of being sent to a distant place and receiving an award was something unique in  Islam's life.

How was the train journey? I began.

It was a three tier sleeper and he got the lower berth. Co passengers were so cooperative that they wanted to offer food etc at their cost.

"I refused. Politely, of course. How can I when Pruthisaab has ensured that I travel with sufficient cash to meet my en route expenses?... I can understand their love and affection."

He was received by an STPL employee working in its Pune branch and put up in a lodge in Pune.

On the day of Jeep event, he got ready around noon, dressed for the occasion and reached the venue.

Again, a first time experience for Islam. Everyone around made him feel comfortable. "Lal saab spoke about me before handing over the trophy to me on stage. Bahut achcha laga."

Lekin ...

He could not deliver a short thanks giving speech which he had meticulously prepared! Ever since he was told about his participation in the Jeep event, he had been badgering me offering multiple versions of his thanks giving speech!

His return journey was by air. He flew into Delhi from Pune. First time again. His cup of joy was overflowing nonstop.

A flight ticket is akin to one of the long list of items ticked in his checklist. Islam certainly not a senior staffer in STPL. But a vital cog in ensuring the company's drivers were sagely counseled. To ensure Jeep vehicles dispatched for dealer points reach undamaged en route. And ensure STPL able to raise invoices towards logistics cost.

Thank you, Hargobind ji! Thank you, Mr Lal!

There was one more call from Islam, a little later..

"Before I forget, Sirji,  the pant, suit, tie, boots ... these were gift from Pruthisaab!... Pehle baar, I got to wear all these. I pray for well being of Pruthisaab and Lal saab," he ends in choked voice.

Ever grateful this chap is.

Such positive narratives make me feel that there are some good motormaliks too in the Indian transport ecosystem.

Why some?

Because there are some motormaliks who lock up drivers, unrobe them totally and belt them mercilessly for diesel theft. Lawless  and savage creatures.

Heartless, insane characters too. Kapish?

Friday, 5 April 2019

Tale of Two Drivers

Ramesh Kumar  from New Delhi

The temperature was hovering at 35 degree celsius plus. Coming out of meeting Ranchodbhai Ahir Patel of Ratnal and his friend Danabhai Ahir at his Gandhidham Transport Nagar office, we found our throats parched. Though  we had partaken paani followed by garam chai proffered by the most hospitable host, the thirst for something cold to wet our tongue and throat was unmistakable.

Moreover, the next scheduled meeting with Deepak Thakkar of Gujarat Logistics was another hour away, whose office was in the near vicinity. How to pass time? As we reached our vehicle, Selvan Dasaraj noticed a sugarcane juice vendor and he jumped at the idea of downing a few glasses. Staffing Solution Manager  of TransportMitra Syed Kausar Hussain was more than eager to gulp down at least one glass of naturally sugary cane juice. I opted out, courtesy diabetes!

Sensing my seniority or age and the hot sun hit chehera, few young sugarcane customers seated in the vicinity vacated one of the stools for me to occupy. I obliged, profusely thanking those unknown do-gooders.

That's when noticed a haggardly bronzy fifty plus, unbuttoned person seated next to me.

Location Gandhidham, a huge transport hub. And am on the lips of Transport Nagar.

Casually, opened up the conversation with this gent, who turned out to be a long haul truck driver Devi Singh from Udaipur/Rajasthan, with a stuffed, torn canvass bag lying at his feet. He is going home for his daughter's wedding. How long? A month. Is it a paid home visit? "What's that?" he wants to know. I knew in the heart of hearts, no motormalik would have given a month long "paid leave" to truck drivers. It's not in their DNA.

By  the by, Devi has been working with the same motormalik for several years. Still, no paid leave to conduct his own daughter's marriage. Maybe motormalik has given a few thousand rupees as his "gift" for Devi's daughter kanyadaan. I did not ask him. But  hope at least that much insaaniyat from the nameless motormalik.

Selvan offered him a glass of cane juice which he refused, citing that the cane juice vendor hails from his own village and known each other for long. Kausar chatted up to know the drivers' living  and working conditions in the Gandhidham-Mundhra Kutch belt. We exchange phone numbers and promise to keep in touch with him. Wish his daughter a bright future and then scoot out.

Forty eight hours later, I land at the totally refurbished New Delhi Railway Station via Swarnajayanti Rajdhani Express from Ahmedabad. The booked Uber driverbhai backs out on hearing my destination: Greater Noida.

Overhearing the conversation, Raj Malhotra, owner-driver of 15 year old Maruti Suzuki Esteem (not yellow boarded one!), offers to drive me home at Rs.1,500/- Says, he can't receipt me! There is a long queue at the pre-paid taxi counter and touts chase passengers coming out of the station like flies encircling the cut jack fruit on the carts of street corner vendors.

I notice Raj passing a few hundred notes to someone nearby and we move out of the crowded taxi stand. None stops. No questions asked.

Why few currency notes to that guy? I ask. It turns out that beneficiary is a tout who does 'favors' to owner-drivers like Raj without yellow board. Possibly this booty is shared with the occupants of pre-taxi booth!

En route, it transpires, Raj owns two cars operated by him and his younger brother. He owns a factory in Bawana making ceiling fan parts, employing 15. "Everyone wants Modiji to generate job. If one looks around there are opportunities one can encash. Look at me. Am not  asking Modiji to give jobs. I run a small business. Give jobs. My father told me: Beta, let you  be the Provider. Not Receiver.

While we wait for a traffic signal, he flips open his dashboard to  show a wedding photo of his eldest daughter married to someone working in Dubai. "They are happy. Am happy. My second daughter wants to do medicine. I told her, "Do, beta! No worries about money. ... Son is  class 7th."

I simply enjoy this kind of interactions. For me rides be it truck, bus, auto or pillion rides mean conversational opportunities. More than the educated segment, these marginalized souls have a better understanding  of life. They struggle hard and realize their dreams and their parivar's too. With less chest thumping.

At the next signal, he waves at someone in another car. Who's he? I ask, the curious cat. His younger brother ferrying another passenger to another destination. What's his name? Raju.. What? You're Raj and he  is Raju? It's me.

"Every generation has its favorite names. When we were born, Raj was the pet of  every parents maybe. I was named Raj. He, Raju!"

Both of us heartily laugh.

By any chance, their wives names too the same? "Luckily, no sirji!", says he, living as part of joint family.

Achcha laga, you kept talking to me. Most passengers will be busy tweedling their mobiles. You did not.

Mujhe bhi achcha laga, having met Raj Malhotra.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Why army driver project failed to take off

Ramesh Kumar from New Delhi

"I admit, it is a failure," concedes Ramesh Agarwal of Agarwal Packers & Movers.

What failure?

As we sat in the Conference Room lobby in the Labour Ministry for an interaction with Joint Secretary of Ministry of Skill Development & Employment Rajesh Agarwal to deliberate on the Driver Training Initiatives being bluepencilled by Automatic Skill Development Coulcil and Logistics Sector Skill Development Council, he blurts out.

More about the core theme later.

Back to Agarwal & the failure issue. Agarwal took the initiative to induct ex-Army personnel as truck drivers as part of  providing them post-retirement job opportunity and also to mitigate the driver shortage (18-20% as indicated by Mumbai-based Consultant Sushil Cherian).

"They were unable to adjust to the truck driving ground realities. Dealing with police and RTOs en route to whom these ex-fauji-drivers were expected to kowtow did not appeal to them. Hence, they dropped out," explains Agarwal.

Indeed, he is not off the mark. Three years ago, DRIVERS DUNIYA took the initiative with Brigardier (Retd) Vivek Sohal facilitating the interaction with the Army HQ. Subsequently, even Transport Mitra Founder Selvan Dasraj met the Army Welfare Placement Organisation Managing Director Maj Gen Deepak Sapra SM (Retd)* and Director *H(igh) V(oltage) Sharma* in Delhi in the same regard. It is  no exaggeration to say that the kind of conditions he was laying down to induct ex-fauji drivers were unimplementable.

Five days a week. Proper timing. The list is endless. These ex-fauji drivers are still expect the disciplined and regimented life they were exposed to all their lives in the Army. Expecting the same from the unruly highway authorities across pan India is  asking for the moon. What about the motor maliks? We know the reality about their humaneness!

It is a mindset challenge. Sarkari naukri, sarkari naukri hai. Transportation is not sarkari.

"How do you expect me to beseech a police or RTO?" is the key concern. Another challenge is their desire to be closer to their family. Having spent their entire career spanning 20+ years away from their family, they don't cherish long hauls which again will entail away from family for longer duration.

Will the much-trumpeted Rest & Relay format by Rivigo with no driver driving more than 250 km and returining home every alternate day is the remedy? No idea. Perhaps Rivigo can throw light. This  R&R format is very expensive proposition and the grapevine has it that even Rivigo is in the process of discontinuing. 

It is a sad state of affairs. Transportation segment will be glad to absorb them. But the job seeking ex-fauji drivers have to accept the ground reality. No one can change the corrupt, rent-seeking officials at state level through which the highways passes through. Eliminating this disease is a lifelong battle. Not on the borders. But right across the society.

What about the veteran non-fauji traditional drivers? What is their reaction to the ex-fauji induction into truck driving? Says Manohar Tiwari from Lucknow: "fauji kaam bahut asaan. Koi bhi kar sakte. Drivery us se jyadda mushqil hai. Woh log ayaga to bhi, tike ga nahi."

DRIVERS DUNIYA carried a cover feature on the same (December 2016 issue) ... 

This is what Brigadier (Retd) Vivek Sohal wrote:

The soldier-drivers retire at a rather young age, many of them before they touch 40, and they do need a second career. They mostly are trained and employed as drivers, besides basic military training, and thus would have little option for reemployment. They are disciplined, industrious, focused and task-oriented. Beside, the country needs them to 􀏐ill a major void in keeping the economy moving and robust; it’s a national commitment after all!

Sentiments are wonderful. Laudable. Both Ramesh Agarwal and Sohalsaab deserves a fresh round of applause for espousing the ex-fauji drivers'cause. But....

I rest my case.

Monday, 28 January 2019

Tornagallu Diary - 5

Ramesh Kumar

Handling long haul truck drivers is something akin to shepherding one's own children. Moody and uncooperative. Moody because both believe in unfettered freedom. So when they are confined to a restricted area, they protest silently. Their protest manifests via non-cooperation. With whom? Whomsoever they figure out working against their goal of joy.

Their reluctance to engage in any fruitful collaboration with the authority in sight - the Teacher in this case in a classroom ambiance - is doomed right from the word "go". Unless, a friendly atmosphere is created to convey that both the Teacher and the Taught are not adversaries during the tenure of time spent together for a day or more. But together for a common purpose.

It is a battle of wits between the two diametrically opposite poles. Children or Truck drivers on the one side and the Teacher/Coach on the other side. The tension has to evaporate as early as possible with some trick or other for any  semblance of "work" to commence. Basically, they have to be won over so that the rest of the class or session will function smoothly.  No child's play this is.

Yellapantula Raghuram Sharma, the Coach or Head of Training of TransportMitra Services P Ltd, knows this precept pretty well. Given his penchant for linguistic felicity coupled with coaching experience of more than a decade with Air India-Indian Airlines,  he is well prepared. Every single day is  a challenge because he has to confront 15 new "students" daily. Long haul truck drivers cannot be  held back beyond a few hours or maximum a day since the loaded vehicle is waiting at the yard to move to its destination. Getting educated is fine, but not at the cost of the motor malik losing business. The motor maliks, of late, are sensing the importance of an "enabled" workforce due to the very late realization among the corporate - the ultimate end users - of ensuring safety of their cargo and in the process, the fall out is their insistence on better vehicles and equally better trained drivers. Thus, class room education for  truck drivers is gaining prominence and Sharmaji is in business.

His gambit: ice breaker. Simply put, he unfastens the seat belt of his wards (truck drivers in this case) with a game. After a brief self introduction to the assembled 15 odd long haul truck drivers on the third floor of Kataria Movers in Tornagallu, Sharmaji invites them for a game of balloon.

He divides the assembled drivers into two, using their  nativity  as a yardstick. "Those from Azamgarh, stand here and others, those from Rae Bareli, stand there," he advises in his smooth voice.

The audience is perplexed. Balloons for grown ups? "Driverbhaiyon, I wish to awaken the child in you... as kids, we always loved balloons, no?" Sharmaji sets the agenda. Now, he orders them to fill them with air and hold in their left hand. Next, toothpicks distributed to each one of them.

Unable to hide their mirth, drivers pitted against each other exchange glances. Balloon and toothpick. Some inflate their balloons to the brim. Some, moderately. No uniformity. In the bargain, some balloons go burst and fresh supply for refilling with air.

The  maiden act of air filled color balloons and toothpick has certainly transformed the atmosphere. Witty exchanges among drivers transpire. Was it the same glum looking drivers hardly a few minutes ago when they trooped in? Good question. The balloon has done the trick, indeed. An air of carnival.

They anxiously await next set of instructions to play the game, whatever it is. Sharmaji spells out the rules. Over the next two minutes, both groups have to ensure the safety of their respective inflated balloons. At the end, whichever group has  the maximum number of undamaged but inflated balloons, will  be declared the winner. Simple, no doubt. So,  what for toothpicks?  A possible weapon to deflate rival's balloons? Your guess as good as mine.

Sharmaji directs both teams to discuss game the plan with their  respective groups: how to safeguard their balloons. Each team goes into a huddle for a minute or so. The whistle blown and the countdown begins. There is total mayhem. Both teams clash with each other, trying to prick other's balloon. In less than 30 seconds, most balloons deflated. Those left with undamaged balloons are chased around the hall by rivals. Taller drivers hold aloft their balloons and run to escape from the relatively shorter rivals scampering with their toothpick weaponry. It was fun watching these grown up men - ranging between 20 and 50 years plus - running helter skelter. Full throated war cry. Total hungama. Lot of noise. And bonhomie too. A real classroom or playground atmosphere. Typical child-like innocence. Fun and merry all around.

When the final whistle is blown, more torn unshapely rubber lying all around on the floor. No balloon safe. No  winners.  .

True, the ice is broken. There is bonhomie between Sharmaji and the assembled drivers who will be spending the next five hours listening to his lessons on various skill sets they are expected to learn and imbibe. He has won them over. Just the balloon did the trick.

On the surface of it, it is a simple game. As Sharma seats them in their respective chairs and explains the moral of the game. "My direction (to you) was to safeguard your balloons. I never asked you to burst them. ... All 15 of you would have been winners if you stayed put and avoided pricking others' balloons.  Unfortunately, you decided to run amok and in the bargain, there are no winners. Sad," post mortems Sharmaji.

The sadness on the face of drivers is perceptible. They fully agree with Sharmaji. If only they  thought through.... If only they understood the real meaning of the directions ....

"You believed that to achieve your personal victory, you have to affect others. That's wrong," adds he  with a tinge of sorrow. Over the fortnight long daily day long sessions with different set of drivers, the result is the same: all balloons burst most of the days. Rare are the days when 2-3 balloons remain unpunctured.

More than the import of balloon game, Sharmaji very quickly built up a perfect rapport with his core audience. They will joyfully sit through the full day session ungrudgingly. Just not the topics but the presentation and interactive nature of sessions made the exercise enjoyable for everyone.

Towards the fag end of the fortnight long workshop on "integrated smart driver training programme", drivers were demanding "once more" of some sessions.  Few simple physical exercise regimen  is one such much in demand session. Imagine, truck drivers used to lethargic lifestyle due to lack of any physical activity asking for repeats of such activities.

Simply put, Sharmaji shrewdly obtained a total "buy in" from his driver students via  a simple balloon game. Ustaad coach, Sharmaji is!

Who is Yerapantalu Raghuram Sharma? Find here

Where is Tornagallu? Check here

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Tornagallu Diary - 4

Ramesh Kumar

Yellapantula Raghuram Sharma dreamt of becoming a doctor so that he can treat and restore good health of his potential patient clients. That was the reason behind his selection of Chemistry Botany Zoology for his bachelor's degree at Jamshedpur Cooperative College in the erstwhile Bihar, now in Jharkhand. Alas, family financial condition did not permit the luxury of chasing his dream career. Undeterred he sat for another degree: this time in Commerce.

Coming out successfully with double degrees, he landed up  selling financial products for a short while in Patna before fate threw him into the sky, literally: as cabin crew in the then monopolistic national air carrier viz., the Indian Airlines.

For 34 years, this charming, multi-linguist sweet talker serviced thousands of  frequenting IA passengers: the high and mighty as well as the low and the marginalized. What is of importance was that he had spent a decade towards the last phase of his illustrious career grooming the  new recruits joining the Air India-Indian Airlines into the art and science of "customer service". Simply put, this Jamshedpur-born Telugu brahmin fine-tuned his teaching/coaching skills then.

Sharmaji, as he is known among colleagues, would not have bargained for what transpired subsequently. In a way, his dream to become a "doctor" became a reality. Though not as a qualified MBBS degree holder treating patient-clients at hospitals and or private clinics, Sharmaji turned into a "behavioral doctor"!

His so-called patients today are: long haul truck drivers. His consultancy or operations are conducted at unusual places: truck driver-frequenting highway dhabas, portside CFS premises, transport nagars, fleet owning transport company premises, mining pits and what not.

TransportMitra got him on board soon after it set sailing in early 2015 to head, what else, "training". Must admit, I had my doubts as to how a veteran cabin crew trainer with the country's own air  carrier where he dealt with polished and educated target group grooming them to be the best in their work will handle the underprivileged, less educated and a difficult-to-decipher long haul truck drivers.

Sharmaji, thankfully, proved me wrong totally. He took to coaching/counselling long haul truck drivers with a deep inferiority complex like duck taking to water. His repertoire consists of: wit  and wisdom. Ready to become a child to these unruly long haul truck driver kids and win their confidence and trust in the language of their choice: Hindi, Telugu, Tamil. In Hindi, he was adept at Bhojpuri even. Having born and brought up in the cow belt of Republic of India, his diction and choice of words was impeccable and unmatchable. A quick linguistic comfort or bridge got erected between the teacher and the taught.

This five feet four inches maestro dug deep  into the archives of TransportMitra to transform himself into an hands on expert in understanding the psyche of his subjects. Just not that alone. He traveled length and breadth of our country in the course of coaching his wards on how to become "smart".

"Arre yaaron, hamare phones bhi  smart ho chuke hain. Aap kyun nahi?" is one of his opening gambit in saral Hindi. His quiver is full of gyan and vigor. Life has not changed much for this Hyderabad-based  "behavioral doctor". In his earlier avatar with the national air carrier, he was always away from home most of the time. Like a nomad. Now again, the same situation: like a nomad, he is always on the move to remain connected with his new found love: the long haul truck drivers. .

What does he teach/coach? Wait for the next dispatch.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Tornagallu Diary - 3

Ramesh Kumar

April 2017. Yes, that was when I got acquainted with this steel city built from the scratch by the Sajjan Jindal side of the huge Jindal conglomerate for the first time. Once again, am back. One big difference is that it enjoys an air link via Bengaluru or Hyderabad. Earlier we used to fly down from Delhi to either of these two southern cities and train or bus down overnight in private sleeper coaches.

Just a recap. This is what I wrote in my dispatch Tornagallu Diary-1 that time:

Honestly I never heard of Toranagallu until my  colleague Selvan Dasaraj at TransportMitra spoke of it almost a year ago. Barring a few superb images shot with his Blackberry and loads of talk of this town or village by him post visit, I knew nothing. Yes, my only source of information was him, notwithstanding that my relatives even today live at Tungabhadra Dam and I did visit them a quarter century ago. The aforementioned Dam is hardly 40 km away from Tornagallu.  

How and why Toranagallu became a part of my lexicon? This warrants a dive into the origin of Transport Mitra, a for-profit business enterprise. Two of us - Selvan and self - met in 2013 due to our common interest in studying the lives of long haul truck driver and their families. He is a logistician with more than a quarter century past and me, a business journalist with specialization  in supply chain and logistics. (To know more about our "coming together", check out

In 2016, he heard about Toranagallu from a mutual friend and .... also about the huge industrial township of JSW Steel Limited in the heart of Sandur mining zone. However big or small the enterprise be, truck driver is one of  the key supplychain element. The JSW Steel Limited's India's largest integrated steel plant is no different. 

Then we were hired to transform their truck drivers operating between JSW captive mines and railway siding  and or manufacturing plant. TransportMitra completed the task over 100 days successfully.

Now again, it is  the same truck driver connect that has brought TransportMitra back to this integrated steel city. We have been synonymous with driver relationship management and one of our recent callers is the Kataria Movers/MD Movers, significantly serving JSW again on the finished product transportation. Earlier, we were in this steel city for a behavioral change assignment with the OEM. This time, it is for behavioral change of the OEM's logistic service provider.

Shashank Jain flanked by Raghuram Sharma (in blue jacket) of TransportMitra and Amit Varma

Kataria Movers is focused on steel movement for various iron & steel manufacturers spread across India. Tata Steel and JSW are two vital clients for this  Jain group. Thirtyish  Director Shashank Jain, nephew of promoter Managing Director Dharmesh Jain, in our maiden meeting at his third floor, escalator-free office in the heart of this steel town, hastens to add that they are "no way related to the Katarias" - another huge transport family spread across India focused on various niche segments.

Our task is to hold an intensive smart driver training program for his company-owned trucks' drivers (approx. 225) at Tornagallu, servicing JSW to begin with. Of course, Kataria Movers hire third party vehicles as well to meet their  client needs. But at this juncture, our training target is the company owned vehicle drivers only.

TransportMitra focuses on soft skills because HCV OEMs and other outfits are already well entrenched in that arena. Soft skill is an area where there are few players. The reason is not too far to seek. Long haul truck drivers are nomads, so to say. Catching  them and keeping them engaged in a class room session at a stretch for a couple of  hours is a Herculean task.

Having said that, we at TransportMitra have finetuned our skill set to address this lacuna over the past four years. Imparting finer aspects of living to nomadic truck drivers is a challenge. Not impossible. Doable. We have done. Now again at it to engage the drivers of Kataria Movers at Tornagallu.

Managerial expertise. Yes. Ground level exposure. Yes. Teaching or coaching talent. Yes. Patience. Loads and loads. Because the engagement with truck drivers warrants that criteria.

Our Integrated Smart Driver Training Programme, currently on is an engaging story.  This "Tornagallu Diary" narrative in piecemeal will capture the happenings on ground.

The pillar of this coaching/teaching is Raghuram Sharma. Who's he?

Watch out for the next dispatch.