When the going gets tough…

There are no two ways about it. India and the world are facing the worst crisis we have seen in the last century since World War II ended in 1945. Thanks to the Coronavirus, which, as I write this, has 933 confirmed cases and 20 deaths, we are on locked down in our homes. We are not supposed to go out, we are not supposed to be in physical contact even with loved ones, we cannot work except online.

Many of us are succumbing to anger, helpless frustration, full blown panic and depression. Women are especially hard hit, I feel, as they often carry the weight of families upon their shoulders, responsible for their physical and mental well-being, and often for their financial health as well.

Most of us sit in front of television sets, watching a continuous stream of largely negative news. The most heart-breaking is the sight of hundreds and thousands of migrant labourers walking to their homes from the metros – Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. These are the people who have laboured to build and serve. They have no social security, no insurance, no sympathy. A frighteningly selfish middle-class, panicked at the thought of going without, had turned its collective back upon them, leaving it up to conscience-stricken activists and NGOs to step up and do the right thing. I fear that whatever is now being done may be too little too late.

Against this background, I came upon an interview being conducted by Christine Tan of CNBC for its Managing Asia programme. On the screen, petite and composed, was Noni Purnomo, President Director and CEO of Blue Bird in Indonesia.

Blue Bird is a 47-year-old transportation company, defined by its taxi cabs. It was started by her grandmother and devolved to Noni via her father. And for the company it has been a rough ride.

As the company struggled with new technology for transportation, it was almost wiped out by the biggies in the ride-hailing service – Grab, Uber and Gojek. At one-point, Blue Bird lost 80 per cent of its market value. Attracted by large promises, its drivers deserted in droves. But it hung on, revamped its services and its employee policies and there was a turnaround. The big thing was that the drivers began to come back.

What brought this about? The fact that the company proved it was there, both for its employees and its customers. There were the big things – maintenance of their vehicles for one. And there was the perception that Blue Bird looked after the whole family, with health and education.  Plus, there were other perks that could be thought of perhaps only because there was a woman at the helm. Who else would think of redecorating offices to create more cheerful spaces, and upgrade dorms for tired drivers!

Asked what her ultimate ambition for Blue Bird is, Ms. Purnomo said matter-of-factly that she wanted Blue Bird to be remembered as a transportation company, not just a taxi company, a transportation company bringing people home safely”.

And I thought, this is what we do, we bring people home safely. In this time of deadly disease, when the world seems full of sadness and fear, we need to dig deep into our hearts and minds and find the courage to do what is right and best – for our nuclear families, for our larger friends’ family, the community family, and finally the nation and the world.

It’s what we do, right?

Carol Andrade

Journalist, columnist with FPJ, storyteller, media educationist, Dean at St. Pauls Institute of Media Education.

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