Vizag Features

November 2004
E-mail this

18th November, 2004

Some years ago in the US, an advertising campaign for a burger chain made (for some unknown reason) quite a splash. It featured a large and unattractive woman - who apparently had already ingested much more junk food than was good for her - demanding to know "Where's the beef?", a reference to the larger quantities of ground cow that this particular chain ostensibly stuffed its hamburgers with. The Grouch is not particularly large and, he flatters himself, not particularly unattractive, but of late he has found himself inclined to mimic Ms. Large-and-Unattractive and cry out plaintively, "Where are the fruits?".

I have in mind not the fruits of my labour (minimal) but the literal fruits of my misspent youth when Visakhapatnam was smaller, albeit just as noisy and noisome, but appeared to have much larger variety of local produce. The huge range of bananas and plantains (such as Mukhri, Chakkerakeli, Amrutapani) that was available in those days is a particularly vivid memory (the Grouch is approaching senility but is not quite there yet, and on his good days can recall details of his childhood fairly well).

I share the shameful inability of the majority of my countrymen (especially the city-dwellers) to identify by name most of the different species and varieties of plants, trees, large animals, birds, insects, and fish that surround us. Nevertheless, I can remember vividly the splendidly different colours and flavours that those bananas possessed - some impossibly long and thick skinned, others tiny as a finger but intensely sweet, some a dull emerald green, others an attractive russet. Most of these fruits made their appearance only during a particular time of the year, unlike today when everything appears to be procurable all the time - at least to those of us who have the money. But this intermittent availability, along with the different seasonal childhood pursuits hardly ever engaged in today (flying a kite, spinning a top, playing marbles), only enhanced the natural rhythm of the months of the year (otherwise marked in Visakhapatnam only by a progression of the weather from warm and humid to very warm and very humid to hellishly hot and humid, culminating in very wet and very warm before the cycle repeats itself).

A walk or drive, through the city today reveals mounds of attractively polished fruits (the vast majority are over-packaged, like almost everything else today, in cardboard and assorted materials derived from non-renewable hydrocarbons) on sale, around every corner. Look a little closer, however, and you will note that most of these have been procured not just from distant parts of this country but from around the globe! The Grouch is all for free trade but does anyone try to figure out the true cost of such imports - not just the added pollution and related environmental degradation involved in shipping (often in refrigerated containers) produce over long distances but the impact on small local agriculturists? These are people who have always worked hard and received little, now, they are probably out of work and receive nothing - unlike the kamchors / panidongas who infest our bureaucracy and political offices and fully deserve the bracing jolts delivered by globalisation and privatisation. Sadly, this obsession with things foreign and exotic has intensified at a time when the trend in the US and, on a larger scale, in Europe is towards farmers markets and organic foods (locally grown in most cases). Organic foods at this stage in India appears to be more of an upper class affectation - the middle class and the nouveaux riches still have not had their fill of fatty foods, refined flours, and excessive amounts of sugar. The poor, as ever, continue to starve or be malnourished.

I will admit that the mindset which identifies "plasticky", homogenised and American as good and organic, uneven, and indigenous as infra dig (if not bad) is not uniquely Indian. It features in most Third World countries. On a recent visit to Grenada (a country, or at least it attempts to pass itself of as such, in the Caribbean) the Grouch noticed billboards (which shall be the subject of an upcoming rant) sponsored by the British government exhorting the populace to consume more local produce - the islanders are spoiled for choice when it comes to fruits and vegetables grown locally but are inclined to prefer shrink-wrapped and tasteless rubbish (usually also over-processed and over-priced) imported from the US.

Some items such as Tegalu, Karrapendalum, Erra Dumpa (Sweet Potato) are now considered 'downmarket' fit to be eaten only by 'villagers'! I remember a time when women bare above the waist (Vizag was an innocent place then) sold these items at street corners.

Older residents of Vizag will at least remember (if not remember having eaten) fruits such as Regu Pallu, Parim Pallu, Eetha Pallu, Waka Pallu, Jeedi Pallu Black, Neredu Pallu, Thummi Pallu, Balusu Pallu. Now, we have fruit sellers in Vizag proudly proclaiming that their Papayas are 'Taiwanese' and Apples 'Chinese'. In Visakhapatnam and most urban areas of India, even fruits and vegetables that have been grown regionally look rather uniform and bland-most of the varieties that used to be available apparently having been displaced by a single strain that looks good but lacks character.

Think about these things the next time you instinctively bargain (to the point of driving out of business) for a few paise with a vendor in Vizag who has walked miles carrying a small basket of superficially misshapen and soil-smeared fruits and vegetables and also when you unquestioningly whip out your credit card and pay the price asked for some waxy looking (and tasting) apples grown in some place you have barely heard of.

13th November, 2004
As anyone running a business or otherwise in need of qualified staff will testify, there are not enough people available. If employees are the buyers, then a buyers market certainly exists in Vizag right now. 

Several trends are noticeable here:
  • The shortage is mainly for entry-level jobs.
  • Demand is to some extent tech-centric.
  • The pressure is being felt by large companies as well as the SME segment.
  • The demand-supply mismatch is not restricted to white-collar jobs.
  • HR companies have set up shop in Vizag.
  • There is a steady migration from States such as Orissa & Bihar where unemployment is high.
  • Surprisingly, there are still many who are (or claim to be) unemployed.

While there doesn't seem to be any single factor to account for this situation, there are several possible explanations. One reason is up-country hires with companies in the metros looking to smaller cities like Vizag for new employees. BPOs trying to lure unsuspecting youngsters could be another reason. The growth in retail outlets which require youngsters as salesmen and checkout clerks is also another contributor. 

Not surprisingly, this has a led to a situation where attrition is high and very mediocre employees with limited abilities behave in a Prima Donna-ish manner. ("I cannot come to work on time" (!!!!), "I cannot work on Mondays").

With the sole exception of one professional recruitment firm ('Interface' run by one Mr. Ramachandran) in Vizag all these years, recruitment was through informal channels and mostly through word of mouth. ("Accountantulu yevaraina vunnara?" "Na akka koduku CA chesthunnadu"). Now there are several professional staffing companies such whose services are in demand but who seem to be facing the same problem - getting qualified staff. 

There is a positive side to this story - people are not leaving Vizag in droves "for better prospects" the way they have been doing over the last 2 to 3 decades although there are still some who feel that they have made it in life only if they get out of Vizag - even if this means having a degree in engineering but working in a garage changing oil in some distant country! "All that is changing now. There are several local openings", says Jaideep Avasarala who is the Center Head of Ma Foi- management consultancy - an HR firm, which has recruited over 700 people to work at a local BPO outfit in Vizag. 

G. Eswar Kiran, Assistant Manager- Corporate sales, of the job portal, which started its operations in this city recently, also feels that Vizag is a promising destination for job seekers even as his firm concentrates on hiring for upcountry employers. 

"What was once a fresh graduate's dream in this city, to walk away directly with a remunerative job immediately after graduation, is a reality now as entry-level job prospects for fresh graduates in Vizag are bright", says Praveen Sankhla, Center head of 'Peopleone consulting', another HR firm. 

Without exception, all the HR firms lament the lack of proper communication skills of Vizagites in the job market but given the current situation are willing to provide necessary training in soft skills to make employees job-competent.

One major drawback of the job market in Vizag is that it is basically youth-centric with abundant openings for entry-level jobs while middle and senior level positions are still hard to come by though this is expected to change in the near future.

Another interesting feature is that the shortage is not just for 'office workers'. Just try getting a cook or a maid or a driver and it is the same story.

So where have all the Vizagites gone? To claim that there is a shortage of people in a city with a population of 1.3 million where many are still unemployed means that there is quantity but not quality available. Another possible factor to explain this unwillingness of Vizagites to enter the job market is the 'government job' mentality in which they are on the lookout for those 'dream jobs' (which, unfortunately, actually exist!), where the work load and accountability are low, but job security and perks are high. 

These thoughts raise issues that are not comfortable but ones that should nevertheless be investigated addressed.