Humans of Sharjah

By Sandhya D’Mello

An encounter with a beautician and a food vendor can teach you management lessons that a business school can’t.

This is the tale of two extremely ordinary people — perhaps as commonplace as the sand in this desert — yet, setting an extraordinary example in the densely populated area called Rolla, Sharjah. Whilst Vanita is a beautician, Gopal makes bhel and chaat at the popular Al Rajwah Cafeteria under the brand Raghuvanshi.

Before you speculate, they both don’t know each other and no, this is not a love story in making. So then, what is common between the lives of Vanita and Gopal? It’s the serpentine queues at their respective workplaces, as people demand to get served by only them.

What compelled me to share their stories with you? The selfless attitude both these souls display at their jobs cannot be described in words, but can only be experienced.

Meet Vanita Sarang Jadhav, 52. An eighth-grade drop out, who supports a brood of 15 people at her home in Mumbai. She has spent close to 14 years in the popular Aisha parlour, wrestling day in and out for her survival. What makes her special? Despite a lack of education, her skill set to serve customers is worth sharing, as she believes if the customers are happy they will return and seek out Vanita for their weekly parlour ritual.

Vanita recalls, she started working at the age of ten in Mumbai, doing odd jobs like doing dishes in homes and then took on a role of a vegetable vendor for some time, before moving here to become a beautician. Many Emirati women and expats wait patiently in the queue for their turn to be attended by Vanita. She is extremely disciplined and at times, hurls instructions to the new staff if they are caught slacking and wasting time on irrelevant things at the cost of the customer’s precious time. She is fondly called “Vanu didi” in the shop. The affection display towards her does not buy any special privileges to her co-workers. She is as strict as a matron in a hostel.

As women start pouring into the parlour, you can witness Vanita storming in and out of its rooms. She gets busy catering to women of all sizes, shapes and colours; imparting her wisdom and home-based remedies for beauty queries, from acne and hair fall to pale skin and excess facial hair. I’ve seen Vanita offering tips that challenge allopathy, homoeopathy and every other practice under the sun.

Vanita flaunts her smartphone and occasionally loves to play games on it; a sign that age and education have not stopped her from being tech-savvy. Customers love her, pamper her, and seek her advice. If time permits, she occasionally lets her motherly instincts overtake as she assists busy, working mothers, who come in with infants and toddlers. It is a scene where you witness humanity at its core.

Now, let me take you to the adjacent road on Bank Street to meet Gopal, 35, from Uttar Pradesh. Again, despite no academic qualifications, the demand for this man’s culinary offerings is huge. The never-ending queue at Al Rajwah Cafeteria can leave you annoyed. It can get so bad that you may try to break free from the queue, leaving other customers furious. But please understand, these are all Gopal’s loyal customers. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked Gopal how he manages to bring alive Mumbai in every plate. “I was trained in Mumbai at the popular eatery called Kailash Parbat — most Indians will connect to this brand.”

Gopal has been working in the same cafeteria, 5pm to 10pm, for almost a decade now. Walk in and you’ll be touched by nostalgia — as the first morsel of the Mumbaiya bhel touches your taste buds.

What keeps bringing people back to Gopal? Customer loyalty and the smooth service that he offers with a smile.

Does that mean both Vanita and Gopal have no problems in life as they smile and serve selflessly? No. The secret is that their objectivity and professionalism have helped them deliver results day in and out, and they have succeeded at their jobs. Something most of us can learn, right?

At times, I wonder where the difference lies — between those who learn from life and those who accumulate degrees? There does exist a fine line between being knowledgeable and tutored in life by circumstances and experiences than merely having an academic qualification. The business jargons that I learn or strive to learn about customer behaviour and consumer preference seem pointless as I watch these two individuals work.

If Vanita and Gopal have survived in Sharjah sans education or less education and yet made a place for themselves, how much more would both these souls achieve were they empowered with the right education and exposure to management skills?

In the UAE, there are numerous such people, who put their soul in their jobs and deliver the results. As for us, there are extraordinary lessons to be learnt from ordinary lives.

Sandhya divided one evening in between writing this piece and dreaming of eating Gopal’s bhel

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