If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Friday, 31 October 2008

Work culture in West Bengal, a historical view

Much has been said about the work culture or the lack of it in West Bengal. A common refrain is that the decline started when the communists came to plenipotentiary power in the state in 1977. Is the statement true? Please read this anecdote and find out for yourself.

I was about ten years then, it was in the early sixties. One day, my father sent me to his bank to cash a cheque, which was a familiar errand for me. As I studied at a morning school, I would come home at 11 and after that, attend to my duties like going to the bank and the post office.

Banks were well fortified those days, although the moat was missing. A four feet high solid wooden partition separated the front of the banking hall from the rest of it. Above the partition, a heavy wire mesh screen went right up to the ceiling. Customers were confined to the front part, while the bank staff sat within the big cage. It was not possible for an outsider to enter the area reserved for the employees. Inside, a counter ran along the length of the partition at which the clerks sat. Cheques and tokens used to change hands through small holes on the wire mesh. No one had heard of a teller then. One would deposit a cheque and collect a metal token in the morning and come back leisurely in the afternoon to get the cash. Life moved at a gentle pace.

I guess I was only four feet and a few inches then, because I could barely see through the wire mesh above the partition. I could see what was happening away form the partition, but could not see the desk right below, where the counter clerk sat; I could only see his head.

On that particular day, my school ended early and I reached the bank earlier than my normal hours, at quarter past ten. Although the office was scheduled to open at 10, I saw no head at the “current account” counter. There were not many customers either. I waited patiently for the clerk to arrive. But although quite some time passed, no one came. Gradually, transactions started to pick up at the other counters; some customers came and left, but there was no one to accept my cheque.

At length, I peeped through the wire mesh and tried to attract the attention of an officer who was some distance away. But he was too preoccupied to notice a small boy fidgeting on the other side of the partition. So I stood on my toes and looked around to talk to someone else. And what do I see? Right below my nose, the clerk manning the counter is fast asleep, resting his peaceful head on the desk!

(Words – 488)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yes, you are right, historically, they took advantage of the Bengali bhadrolok's antipathy towards hard work. But don't you think they have nurtured it diligently and resisted all attempts to improve the situation, because it suits their agenda? Don't you think one of the bribes they offered to the white and blue collar employees in exchange of unquestioned slavish loyalty was that the employees could take it easy in offices and factories? Therefore, I definitely think CPI(M) and all the political parties that have a trade union have contributed to the poor work culture in WB.

    I agree with you entirely about the hard-wroking Bengalis. I might add another category of hard-working Bengalis to your list: those who work outside the boundaries of the state to earn a living. I worked outside West Bengal for 15 years. I have found very few lazybones among such people.


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