Power of 1

It was one of those unusual days when Susmita and I were traveling with a lot of baggage. Our driver had pulled up in front of the Biju Patnaik Airport at Bhubaneswar. As we got down to unload the heavy bags, a porter came along to help. Nothing unusual, except that the porter was a woman.

The frail, sari-clad woman was almost non-descript; had it not been her unusual profession, you could easily miss her in a crowd. She came forward with the trolley, I thought for a moment that I could just tip her for that and take over the task of loading, pushing the trolley and do the check-in myself. No, that was not going to be. Politely but firmly, she took the suitcases from my hand, refusing to be assisted and then led the way. She went past the policeman at the gate, showing her photo-identity card, turned back to see if we were coming behind. “Please go to the check-in counter, I will get the x-ray done and will be there”, she said. We simply followed instruction.

All the time, I was trying really hard to recall where in the world I had ever seen a woman porter at an airport.

After a couple of months, I was there again. This time, after alighting from the plane, as I entered the arrival lounge, there she was. She smiled at me; it was like family returning and she asked me why Susmita had not come along! I was very surprised; every day she sees hundreds of passengers come and go with degrees of indifference and insularity.

We chatted for a while until my small bag arrived. I did not object as she lifted it to load on to a trolley and deftly took it out all the way to the waiting car. I paid her a tip. She paid no attention to it. “When will you return”, she asked. When I said when, she simply said, she would wait for me. Lo and behold, there she was when I was on my way back after a few days. I let her take my bag and to check-in even though I did not need help. After loading the bag on the weighing scale, her job was done but I was yet to take the boarding pass because the agent was on the phone. I needed to wait. “The line at the security gate is long today, I will stand in for you while you pick up the boarding pass”, she told me and she was gone. Afterwards, when I said goodbye to her, she told me, “This time, come back with your wife”.

When Susmita and I came back last week, we decided to ask her to tell us the story. She was very reluctant. She did not want to be written about lest someone take umbrage. After some cajoling, she told us how she became a porter at the airport — to my knowledge, the only woman working as an airport porter anywhere in the world.

Her name is Sanjukta. She is 38-years-old.

Sanjukta was born in a village in the district of Cuttack.

She has studied up to class 7 and like many village girls in India, dropped out of school to be eventually married off.

She made Bhubaneswar her home where her husband Sukanta Hati worked as a porter at the airport; she was content raising a girl and a boy. On a Sunday morning in March 2007, misfortune hit the family. On his way to work, Sukanta collapsed; his Union colleagues came to fetch her but all she could do was to take his body to the village and cremate him.

Then she returned.

She went to the Union to check if she could get a job. They were sympathetic but wondered what job could she do? They could probably check if she could be a janitor.

No. She wanted her husband’s job. She wanted to be a porter like him.

Today, Sanjukta has reasons to be proud. The single mother has taken destiny head-on. She has saved her family from destitution. Six years have gone by since Sukanta died. Today, daughter Sarita has graduated from college and is currently looking for a job. Son Lingaraj is an undergraduate student.

Next time you pass through Bhubaneswar airport, do stop to say hello to her. She is going to look out for you. Don’t offer Sanjukta your sympathies. She just wants your bag.

Maarten Hansson Says
Monday October 29th 2012

Great to see how people can be intrinsically motivated to grow, excel and take pride and joy in their work!

Monday October 29th 2012

There’s story every where in this world, all we need is an eye to capture. This is clearly one of the cases, where you have noticed the humbleness of Sanjukta because deep down you have appreciated her vision and you have gazed into the life of a hard-working lady.

Good one Sir.
Thank you

radhakrishnan r Says
Tuesday October 30th 2012

very touching proves the quality of dignity of labour only such souls need all the encouragement all kudos for her determination and also to you to bring her to light for others to emulate her thank you

Tuesday October 30th 2012

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

Tuesday October 30th 2012


Akash Mohapatra Says
Tuesday October 30th 2012

Great capturing of insights from a lady porter life story…Truly motivational…

Tuesday October 30th 2012

Truly a great lady with high self esteem and confidence..

Satya Says
Tuesday October 30th 2012

Surprising! I am from Orissa and never had this fortune of this kind good behavior at BBSR airport, as it is mostly run by Bengalis!! They are very rude to say the least and think BBSR airport as their fiefdom.

But, next time, I will definitely find out and meet Sanjukta. I have tremendous belief on the power of women from Orissa (I think the most resilient a lot I have seen across India) and thank you for posting on it.

PS: They say in India, airport personnel are not polite and I am not using this comment to say they are not polite. Bangalore, where I stay, airport personnel are quite polite – I think the best in India perhaps.

Sampad Mahapatra Says
Tuesday October 30th 2012

That’s Subroto Bagchi for you ! This great man has an uncanny ability to see the extra-ordinary in what generally passes off as pretty ordinary for most of us. I for one have never even noticed the lady although I have been visiting the Bhubaneswar airport quite regularly for the last few years. While I salute the courageous woman Sanjukta and her spirit, I can not help taking a bow in honour of Mr Bagchi who has never allowed his sense of humility and empathy to desert him despite scaling such great heights in life.

Shakti Prasad Mishra Says
Tuesday October 30th 2012

She purely represents the determined women of our motherland who are never perturbed by the odds in life. They take anything head-on if it concerns the family. I salute them!

Prashant Kaushik Says
Wednesday October 31st 2012

I am very proud as an Indian. But I feel very shame to be an Indian due to not giving respect to women for their unusual prideful work. With all these regret from an Indian society women have been showing their determination through fight to life for their children.I am very proud off Sanjukta.

Thank you very much Mr.Bagchi.
We will meet you very soon.

ravi Says
Friday November 2nd 2012

Very inspiring story

Monaj k Pahari Says
Sunday November 4th 2012

A lot of exemplary tasks are being held day by day but your illustration of these tasks open a new vistas to your followers.

Venkat Says
Sunday November 4th 2012

There are, I am sure, quite a handful of them in India like Sanjukta in different profession. It takes someone rare, compassionate like Subroto to feature them. Being human is above all else; in this rat race world, pleased to see one of a kind corporate leader.

Janak Says
Monday November 5th 2012

This is indeed inspiring and motivating. I am touched by the fact and courage Sanjukta-ji has exhibited to bring her children. Its difficult for a lady from rural India to take bold decisions and take pride in whatever they do. India’s prosperity is in the hands of rural India which our Politicians fail to capitulate and uses them as vota banks.

Anusha Says
Tuesday November 6th 2012

Humbly bow to you Sir..all of us are blessed with 2 eyes but rarely engage our mind and heart to capture the realities of lives like Sanjukta. Airports are places where we stare at the infrastructure, some new mechanisms and then things to shop for/ read to make the best use of time…you are super!

Abhilash Kumar Kannan Says
Wednesday November 7th 2012

Very touching and inspiring!

Tanmayee Says
Wednesday November 7th 2012

Sir i work with Air India n was actually present at a distance when you were clicking photographs of this lady . In fact i was wondering why on earth a pax is taking photos of an porter. Then when you turn around i realized that was none other than Mr Subroto Bagchi, my favorite author. I wanted to come near the Jet Airways counter n greet you but then i could see u were too busy noting down the details of this lady. In fact i was expecting this article to read on your blog and felt it would not be prudent on my part to disturb you at that point. Then i waited for sometime but you along with maa’m went inside the security hold area while talking with sanjukta. then when sanjukta came back, i asked her whether she knows You??? she was clueless about your identity. but she simply replied that you were too good a human being. I must say she was a wee bit scared too as to why you took all those details. but whn she came to know about you she was extremely happy n relaxed.

    Tanmayee Says
    Thursday November 8th 2012

    I would like to share another incident where the noble gesture shown by sanjukta was witnessed by me few months back. It was the time of Rath Yatra , when the king of Puri was crossing by Bhubneswar Airport. As per her routine work she has assisted the Maharaja in checking his luggage. Maharaja offered her a tip, to which she politely refused by folding her hands which conveyed the message that she considers him as the incarnation of God.
    In such a materialistic world where everybody is running after money , not very often we get to see such noble gesture from a poor lady which itself was a sight to behold.

Srinivas Says
Wednesday November 7th 2012

Bhubaneswar,25 years ago, small shops opposite GPO… Does anyone know whereabouts of the young disabled vendor?

Narendra Says
Thursday November 8th 2012

Heart Touching !!!
Nice presentaion

Francis Mohanty Says
Thursday November 15th 2012

Its when a work done with full heart and then paid or tipped gives ultimate satisfaction.

I could remember and reiterate the same scene in Cuttack Odisha, when my father decided that he can’t sit on a rickshaw pulled by an old man and that too for mere Rs. 20. He told that he will place the luggage and walk beside the rickshaw. But the old rickshaw puller refused and told that he does not find satisfaction in taking that Rs. 20 with a job half done…We should always do with heart whatever we do.

Friday November 16th 2012

Greetings from land of Sardar Patel, H M Patel and Verghese Kurien.

I work as Professor of Medicine at H M Patel Center for Medical Care and Education at Karamsad, Gujarat.

The leadership of the H. M. Patel Center has focused attention on fostering a culture of professionalism, which is now integrated throughout medical college’s undergraduate and postgraduate education programs. To restore the values of “the good doctor,” the center has decided to create a platform for discussion on professionalism in health profession education. We expect that about fifty experts and stakeholders from India and abroad will debate the following themes:

• What do we mean when we say “professionalism”?
• How can we teach the concepts embodied by the term “professionalism”?
• How can we assess the attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge of students and faculty in this domain?

By the end of the consultation, we hope to:
• achieve consensus on the meaning of professionalism
• explore methods for teaching professionalism
• describe reliable and valid tools for assessment of professionalism
• prepare recommendations for health professions educators in India
• design processes for developing faculty skills to teach and assess professionalism

I look forward to hearing from you. We wish that you could give valuable inputs to this debate.

Himanshu Pandya

S S Says
Saturday March 2nd 2013

The last line, makes all the sense in the world.

M.S.Sunil Says
Thursday March 28th 2013

Very inspiring story

Vikas Dongre Says
Thursday April 25th 2013

Your blogs are touch the heart. I read your books articles. Greatly inspired by your passion, work, minute observations, simplicity and sentiments

Siddhartha Says
Friday July 26th 2013

It does not matter who are you..You should be a human to recognize a human like you.

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Tuesday April 28th 2015

good story

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