By Sumit Dasgupta
I am here on APJ Kabir Anand developing work that solidifies Apeejay Shipping’s ‘Unite for Wildlife’ sustainability goal. I cannot but marvel at how working in Apeejay Surrendra Group has made my dream of going on board and experience the feeling aboard a ship come true.
APJ Kabir Anand is a massive 76,520 MT DWT gearless panamax bulk carrier, acquired in 2018 by Apeejay Shipping Limited and named after our Chairman Karan Paul’s son as has been the Paul Family’s age old ship naming practice since the incorporation in 1948. I am here with our brilliant graffiti artist who is also a graphic designer at the Head Office of Oxford Bookstore – Surojit Banik. I stand on the deck dreaming about the magnanimity of a ship which is really like a mini town, floating on massive seas carrying hundreds of people inside it, in this case 1000s of tons of cargo along with people till my reverie is broken. The team reminds me that we have exactly 5 hours to start and finish our target of painting the “Unite for Wildlife” motif in the crew smoke room. The dock closes at 5 pm and all outsiders have to leave the Haldia Port by then!
I rush inside and find Surajit has created the outline for the motif. My job starts now, and me and another volunteer immediately begin infilling his sketch using acrylic colours. It is divine providence that my love for ships and my hobby of painting has come together to create this special moment for me through my job! I had learnt painting for 8 years during my school days and I was a pro at water colour so my hands remembered the brush strokes. The walls were slippery, so we were using thicker paint to avoid it slipping down outside our motif but many times, my hand would unknowingly smudge the painting. It wasn’t surprising! I had never imagined that one day I would be allowed in the recreation area of shippies aboard a ship which is no less of an asset than a 250 room star hotel, speaking to the crew and painting there! My hands ached badly after painting continuously for 3 hours, so we took a break for tea and biscuits. Soon I finished off my part towards this ongoing campaign, on all the vessels of the fleet, towards Apeejay Shipping’s Sustainability Goals adopted in 2015 and Wildlife Protection Policy adopted in 2016 just in time to have some time on hand to do other Internal Communications tasks on my List. As an Internal Communications manager, my primary work is to provide everyone with a shared understanding of the organization’s strategic business issues and goals while ensuring that as many as possible ‘whys’ and ‘whats’ get answers from me. This is best possible through personal communication with employees which is the work I now need to do with the ship’s team.
Travelling for work to this gigantic APJ Kabir Anand vessel, more than 130 km away from office, is perhaps the best kind of outbound training one can have. There are communication challenges, there is stress and fatigue to deal with, there are brand new colleagues to meet on a bulk carrier such as this, a job to decipher what people need from their circumstance, to study body language which goes well beyond the words they choose to speak to you in, and then there is strategic work of understanding and matching it with the company’s business and internal communication goals. Prior to this, my job at Group Corporate Communications had brought me to another of Apeejay Shipping’s vessels – APJ JAD. Corporate HRD & Corporate Communications were working jointly on an internal communication audit for Apeejay Shipping and I remember my thrill when I was asked if I wanted to visit employees on the 52,454 MT DWT bulk carrier docking at Haldia port along with our HR Manager. The meeting entailed a sit down with the ship’s captain and other crew. Not many employees have gone on board Apeejay Shipping’s vessels or any other ship. I was going to go aboard if permissions came through to board a vessel of Apeejay Shipping, which is a B2B business and a leader in the industry for years, all thanks to my Corporate Communications job in Apeejay Surrendra Management Services, Group’s shared services company, which allows me to take a peek into diversified industries.
I couldn’t believe my ears when I was asked for my personal details to apply for the necessary clearances required to enter the port and go aboard vessels. It meant that I was certainly being assigned this work and it was going to be my very first encounter with ships. Before this, I had watched them only on television just like any other person. I kept my fingers crossed. The D-day kept getting delayed until the ASL team finally green lighted our travel to his vessel.
We started out early in the morning by car so that we could reach Haldia Port by noon. Haldia is around 4 hours away from Kolkata, where I work in the Group’s Head Office on Apeejay House, Park Street. All through the journey, many thoughts kept running through my head – how big the ship would be, whether there would be other ships in the dock, whether we would sail out to the sea! Soon around 12.30 pm, we reached the port and after going through the verification procedure, we headed straight to where APJ JAD was docked. I remember seeing huge mounds of coal lining the path. I could see huge container ships lined up one after the other and coal being dismounted from them using huge cranes. It was hard to keep a straight face because I was awestruck.
Climbing on to the deck is like going up 2-3 stories of a building – pretty much perpendicularly straight up! The Captain and Chief Engineer were there to greet us and took us to the sitting room. This was the first time I had gone aboard a ship and was greeted by the statuesque Captain himself …For a while I was too spell bound to speak. There were a total of 25 crew on JAD. Normally, a crew sails for 3-4 months often docking at a port for off-loading their cargo (dry in our case). Annually, a Captain and his crew make 3-4 trips every year and are not able to see their families for several months at a stretch. Sometimes even for an entire year. The absence of communication with families, once they start sailing into high seas where network is tough, is the biggest issue a shippie faces.
Although sailing does look like an exciting profession from outside, which perhaps it is, however the life on-board is very tough. The crew have to be on their toes 24×7. A storm or huge wave crashing down on the ship is commonplace. The ship’s Masters as well as Chief Engineers, who I have spoken to so far, have all recounted their experiences of fighting a cyclone standing on the deck – quite literally putting their life on the line! Not only is the work back-breaking, but what further adds to their pain is the inability to see their families days on end and being hardly aware of how they are. It was a good lesson for me to learn. I have since begun to appreciate how lucky people like us were – those who work in the city and can go back from work to their families. Professionally, these off site vessel visits made me realize the crucial role played by communications in bringing together a large amount of people from different backgrounds, in different surroundings and making them feel that they belong to one company.
The assignments on ships have given me a unique perspective that some of my professional colleagues who’ve never left their office cubicles don’t have the opportunity to gain from their jobs. Visiting our vessels and speaking to the crew opened my eyes about ‘Going to Work’. It broadened my mind and brought in a new perspective about the purpose of the work I am doing and possible impact that I can create if I do my work in the best way I can.
This was also the time when I got a different perspective on ‘travelling’ to work. Every day, I take the same general route of travelling to work from home to Apeejay House, but those times when I am visiting our ships, travelling to work takes on a different meaning altogether – not only how one’s work can take someone to places that one had only seen in one’s dreams but also how travelling to work can make one motivated to look forward to going to work.
Take for example of why I am here this time around on APJ Kabir Anand. I am here as part of the Group’s employee volunteering programme, titled Individual Social Responsibility (ISR®) – an initiative which has added a whole new dimension to work at Apeejay by creating opportunities for employees to donate their professional skills to those in need, with no emoluments in return. I am here because I am part of the ISR team and have painting skills which I can offer. Under this programme, the skill sets that we donate as a Group range from teaching retail & hospitality management to school & college dropouts, to training tribals how to run a community kitchen catering to tourists, helping NGO staffs upgrade their knowledge in MS Office, teaching basics of computer and communication to youths coming from economically weaker sections of the society, using art & craft skills to work with autistic children as well as using skills of music, quizzing etc to create companionship events for senior citizens in old age homes.
Above is a picture of me sharing my love for movies with senior citizens of some time ago and today I am thankful to Apeejay for giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of going on board a ship and use my skill of painting too! It was a fan boy moment for me when I stood on the deck of the ship. It literally felt like being on top of the world. The allure of going on board a ship had been with me ever since I watched Titanic. The visit not only gave me a scope to realize my long cherished desire but also allowed me to connect with the lives of some incredible people who work day in and day out to ensure that the huge vessels run smoothly on the high seas.
Bon Voyage my Sailor colleagues!
Sumit Dasgupta is Assistant Manager, Corporate Communications