The Road Less Traveled – Summer Internship with Tata Trusts

  WOW!! WOW!! WOW!!…. These were the only words I could mouth, as I stood amazed, studying the screen that showed the various companies that had offered internships to HR students in XLRI the previous year. The campus was buzzing with excitement and nervousness of what was to befall us in just a few weeks’ time. The panic inside my head was all together a completely different story. 2 and a half months into college and I was just as clueless as ever as to what I wanted to do and which field I wanted to go into. Amongst all this, we were suddenly told about Parivartan- Social Sector Internship Program, which was being introduced for the first time in XLRI. It was like a gift from the heavens. It was like suddenly I had found some path, which appealed to me. There were loads of issues though. Taking up the social internship meant saying goodbye to any chances of a PPO, no surety of which corner of the country you would be put up in, would you have access to basic facilities or not and most importantly how would you get your parents to agree with you when you yourself couldn’t decide on what was the right way to go. Numerous phone calls to parents/seniors/super seniors/cousins/siblings later, I decided to follow my heart and applied to Tata Trusts and was jubilant on being selected. For months I was happy and excited to see what would follow. My project brief arrived and it left me all jittery and nervous. ‘Development of fisheries in coastal Andhra Pradesh’ read the title of my project. I was expected to create a strategy for how the Trust would intervene and develop a roadmap for the project to be implemented. While people around me packed their HR course books relating to their project I felt lost as to how I would approach the project. I was out of my depth for sure. I gathered myself and decided to do some background research on the fishing industry and community before I left for Mumbai. Mumbai brought on a whole load of nostalgia, having spent 5 years of my childhood in the city and I just couldn’t wait to re-explore the city again. The Trusts’ Mumbai office in World Trade Centre was a sight to behold. Located on the 26th floor, it offers one of the best views of the city of Mumbai. I was nervous as I met my mentor for the first time but very soon he put me to ease. He was a young, enthusiastic guy and I was looking forward to working with him. Since my project was a live-project I was expected to work along with my mentor who brought me upto speed with what had been covered in the project till then. The Trust turned out to be very different from what I had imagined it to be. The office comprised of the entire 26th floor and there was no distinction between a new joinee and a well-experienced person with everyone sitting in adjacent cubicles. This served me just as well as I had people with 7-10 years of experience in my adjacent cubicles with whom I would keep discussing my project and they would share their insights on it. As I worked on my project and went through the bulk of the work that had been done before I had joined, I zeroed in on the various data gaps and looked for further action points on the project. Having set up meetings with various stakeholders such as research institute, export development authorities, banks, NGO partners etc I decided to visit Visakapatnam, where we would be piloting our project. A week-long field visit was planned and I was accompanied by my mentor. Though I had been apprehensive of the heat but to my surprise I found the weather in Vishakapatnam to be very pleasant. During the day we visited various agencies and institutes to find out further information to develop our project and in the evening we would go out sight seeing if time permitted. The clean beaches of Vishakapatnam amazed me specially when I compared them to the littered Juhu and Chowpatty beaches in Mumbai. I was also lucky enough to get the chance to visit Kailash Hill, which has an astounding view of the city, and INS Kurusura Museum, which is an experience in itself. During my stay I also visited nearby villages such as Pudimadaka, Bheemli etc to interact and understand the fishing community and gain insight into their lives so that we could tailor our program in such a way that it benefit the community to the maximum. Often reaching the place to interact with the community would require walking lost distances on a beach-cum-landing centre, hopping over the fishing boats and I smiled to myself as I thought who would have an internship which requires you to go to the beach for your work. Language was a huge barrier in our interactions with the community having no knowledge of Hindi or English but we were lucky to have a person in our team with complete knowledge of Telegu who was able to translate for us. Soon after, we returned back to Mumbai and I was glad that not only had our visit turned out to be very fruitful but also I had enjoyed myself thoroughly and all my apprehensions had been laid to rest. The next few weeks entailed a lot of documentation work with all our meetings to be filed for further review and compilation of the data to finally figure out the areas of intervention for our program. Most evenings in Mumbai, I would walk down the colaba causeway street, which was about 500 metres from the place where I had been put up and would end up indulging myself at some of the famous restaurants in the vicinity such as Leopold, Mondegar, Sanchos, Bademiya etc. Nights would be spent walking along the Marine Drive, which soon became my favourite place in Mumbai. While my social life was on a high, my project was proving to get very tricky. After having finalized our areas of intervention and activities, one of the major task given to me was to develop a model for a producer company in the fishery sector. While the agriculture sector has a lot of FPO models to draw upon from, the fisheries has till yet not seen many successful models. Numerous phone calls to NGOs and institutes were made and yet with just 3 weeks left to go I had reached a dead end. There were no leads and I was in a complete fix. It was then that a colleague of my father, whom I had met in Vishakapatnam for my project gave a lead and on following it up I was delighted. I had managed to find an NGO in Krishna District, Andhra Pradesh, which was developing a model around an ice factory and fish collection centres. Immediately I made a plan to visit the NGO to understand and see their model. This time though I travelled alone. I was apprehensive at the thought of travelling alone in a region I knew nothing about and where I did not understand the language. To add to it, I was to stay in Machilipatnam, a small town where I did not know anybody and was not even sure where I would find a place to stay. Further more I was to hire a cab to take me to the site (which would be 50-60kms from Machilipatnam) and I had no idea about the cab services in the city and how safe they would be. The internet search on Machilipatnam too did not turn up with much information on places to stay or cab services, which made me rethink my decision of visiting the NGO site. After much deliberation I decided to go ahead with the plan and set off for Vijayawada from where I would take a cab to Machilipatnam. My fears were soon put to rest as I managed to find a good hotel in the city and they offered cab services too. I visited the ice-factory and collection centres the next day, which were about 70 kilometers from my hotel. I would start off early morning so that I could return back in time in the evening. The visit turned out to so much more valuable than I could have ever expected it to be. Despite the heat (Vijayawada and surrounding areas were recording a temperature of 50 degrees at the time) I managed to go around the villages, interact with the community, visit shrimp and prawn farms, looked at and understood the fish drying process etc. One of the funny incidents I remember of my visit was when I was having a look at the ice boxes for storing the fish catch. Besides fish, those boxes would also have soft drink bottles kept in them to keep them cool. On seeing that I wondered to myself how would I like it if that soft drink was served to me and as if the world was playing a joke on me, in just a few minutes I was served the very same drink. While for a few seconds my irrational mind found the idea of drinking it repulsive but soon my logical mind took over and I drank it. Having lunch with the community was an experience I could have never imagined I would have. Even though I could barely understand the conversation they were having during lunch, but it felt as if I was a part of their family. On my way back, we drove along the Krishna river and the sight was mesmerizing. Lush green forests on either side of the river presented a stark contrast from the view of dry land without much of vegetation during my drive from Vijayawada to Machilipatnam. The visit to the Machilipatnam fish market on the other hand was a difficult experience with the overwhelming fishy odour but was a sight to see with the various varieties of fish/prawn/shrimp/dry fish etc being presented and sold. The next day I visited Nagayalanka, which is a small coastal village about 90 kilometres from Machilipatnam. It was a long 3 hour drive and the heat was becoming much too uncomfortable. Soon after, the air conditioning of the cab too stopped working and I morbidly wondered if I too would be among those hundreds of people who were losing their lives in Telengana due to the heat. The journey to Nagaylanka also required a ferry ride to cross the Krishna river which was very exciting and made me feel like Shahrukh Khan in Swades. After a good interaction with the society I began my long journey back to Machilipatnam. While returning, I was forced to wait for 2 hours for the ferry as it was lunch time for the operators. Standing in the scorching heat, I looked towards the water and reflected back on my trip. I had done things I never thought I would be able to do. I had fought back all my fears and apprehensions and had come out to be much more confident and sure of things in life. Truly it felt like a butterfly shedding its cocoon ready to take on the world. For a moment I felt a sense of clarity that had been missing in my life since quite some time. I returned back to Mumbai 2 days later with just a week left for my final presentation. Senior people in the Trust attended the presentation and their feedback helped me understand the various areas where I had erred and their experience helped me understand practical nuances, which could possibly affect the implementation of the program. The cherry on the cake was a chance meeting with Mr. Ratan Tata on the last day of my internship during an unplanned visit to the Tata office in Elephinstone Building. The internship taught me many things; the most important ones being- Learn to draw upon from the experiences of people around you, never lose faith and just keep going even if you feel you have reached a dead end and finally have the guts to take a risk, it might just give you the biggest returns. I am glad I took up the risk as in the end it paid off in ways I never thought an internship experience ever could.