Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My first internship

Did my summer internship at Uniatlantic Travels. Some of my friends got very good Travel Agencies to intern with from college. SOTC was our dream travel agency. We all loved our college professor Darryl who worked with SOTC. He was the best teacher of the bunch who taught us at Sophia Polytechnic. The faculty was really sad for the Travel and Tourism course. For me the comfort of staying in the college campus was great. But Sophia Polytechnic in essence lacked the goodness of Sophia main college.  We were protected and looked after in the Sophia main college hostel. It had a very healthy mix of all kinds of people. I would go ahead and say more of good and rare of bad. Hostel surely kept a strict vigil on the girls and it really worked well for all of us. Though at that time it seemed rather strict.  Sophia Polytechnic was a different ball game completely. The staff was catty to the core and so were the girls. There were a few exceptions. Joe from the canteen was a true gentleman and a kind soul. Polytech as we called it was this typical urban soul cutting place. The spirit of competition was crazy and the teachers did not inculcate it in a good fashion. The will to succeed was horribly on display. I know we all learn things wherever we are, with all people and at times not aware of what we learn. I definitely learnt a lot in Polytech which helped in my career. We had a teacher who taught us Fares. Those days there were no computers in travel agencies and no internet anywhere. The international fares of airlines had to be calculated manually with help of two fat books. She was a young teacher wearing printed dresses with shoulder length hair and a fringe in front. She was very good in her teaching this tough subject. I got my love for the hotels because of the entire teaching staff of the Polytech. Have some bad taste in my mouth because of two teachers but that would be in another post. Never liked the Polytech and did not make any good friends there. Once I started working, I kind of managed to wipe off Polytech from my mind. They did help me get a working mindset. Though I saw a lot of games at play by the two teachers. All the years that I thought teaching was a noble profession was somehow broken by these two ladies. Now when I see my friends teaching in schools and colleges and my children's teachers, my faith is restored.

I was upset to get a travel agency which was not famous and it was not in Colaba, Churchgate or Fort. It was in a far off scary corporate area called Nariman Point. Not too many class mates got their internship in Nariman Point except one Sonia. Sonia was hardly a friend. She was hep, rich, fair, tall, blonde hair, reeking of perfume and cigarettes and very hot and cool at the same time. The travel agency  where I was placed was owned by some people from Kerala or Mangalore. Thanks to my Travel and Tourism course, I knew they were two different places in South India. They recruited and sent people to the Gulf. Gulf in my mind was only Gulf and did not have any cities or countries. The staff was all male and the clients were all labourers. The owner met me and then sent me to their third floor office. That was like a small travel agency. I could see women and laughter too. There was a long running desk with a glass barricade running along the long room. We all sat with our back to the wall facing this glass partition. Across there were three cubicles. First one was for the owner's son and the second one was for his daughter. Third cubicle had a media, public relations cum customer service person He was a Bengali guy with specs, tall and fit. At the far end of the room was a T shaped partition. Accounts staff sat there. A small toilet and a pantry right outside the toilet. The tea and the toilet smell all were nauseating on most days. Behind the glass partition, we had the ticketing counter with Piali, Jackie, Annette, Bhagwaan. I was ensconced between the domestic and foreign ticketing teams. Piali and Jackie taught me very well. The ticketing was manually done. We had to physically write names, flight number, PNR number and fares with Departure time in each ticket. The work did need a lot of attention to detail. The agency functioned very well. Everyone of us left on time. We were not expected to work late or hang around after office hours. The owner's daughter was Annie who interviewed me. A completely unhappy non smiling girl. May be she was just strict. Piali was a north Indian to the core in her mannerisms. That time I did not judge people as "North Indians" because Shiv Sena did not have that on their  agenda in the early 90s and MNS did not exist. She was very pally with the peon Pandyan. I used to assume they were having a scene as they used to walk to the railway station together. It was so simple those days to put two and two together. Penny looked like a plump version of Lady Diana. She was brainy and did not have patience with mindless stuff happening around her. Ishwar was a Gujarati who came to work with an Orange tikka and lot of sweat, fair and thick moustache. He talked very loudly to the clients on the phone and was mentioning airports I had never heard of. He used to write wrong fares or route the journey very badly. All that work was manual in those days and some clients came back with harrowing stories. Madam Annette was beautiful, short curly hair, thin, tall with specs. She had an open smile and was in charge of visas and international  group ticketing. Once she sent me to get some airline tickets stamped at a foreign airline office. I was mighty thrilled. When I came back, I was told by my Domestic ticketing colleagues that it was the Peon's job and did not require any brains. They told me I had come here to learn work and not faff. Next time Annette gave me a job to hold the receiver as the Airlines had put her on a long hold. The tickets had to be confirmed by making phone calls to the airlines. If you knew the ticketing agent at the airline counter on the phone, chances were your client's tickets got confirmed more easily.
Lot of professionalism in this small place full of people from diverse backgrounds. I will always have a smile when I think of it.

(Have changed names intentionally)




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