Satara is like Malgudi twenty years after R.K. Narayan stopped documenting it. It is a retirement town with large bungalows and cool banyan trees. It has its own eccentricities- self-proclaimed gangsters and lonely exotic dogs stopping to kiss local frogs. Satara has a pulse of someone who has had a speedy recovery after a bypass- with bikes moving like in video games, hearty over-familiarity, ardent consumers of Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali and (simultaneously) Dominoes’ gulab jamun influenced chocolate lava cake. Not surprisingly, it is a place of enterprise, of small to medium scale industries which give people skills, agency and affords them their infectious familiarity.
I have always been drawn to small/medium businesses or organizations, the way they make ripples in changing corporate culture, alter the community they are working in and the community they are working for. The organizations I’ve been a part of usually have something to do with arts or culture. They oscillate between being passionately motivated and spiraling into some sort of hopelessness regarding the future of arts restoration/preservation/education.
This time I was headed to see the inner workings of a business whose sector I knew little about. Located in Satara, Bartakke Electrofab Private Limited specializes in making “enclosures for electrical and electronic appliances” for various industries. Parineeta Bartakke- the heiress of the business and a close friend- moved back from Scotland to handle the marketing and ensure that the business is on the path to being environmentally friendly and self-sustainable. After luring me to Satara with pictures of her adorable Beagle puppy, she was keen to show me around her factory.
I honestly did not expect to be captivated learning about metal enclosures, especially when I had an eager, unwelcome travel companion with me. This companion was Sheethamma, what we Tulu people affectionately call ‘the mother of all colds’ (literal translation.) I imagined Sheethamma to be a funky old lady with grey hair, a sari and electric blue heart-shaped shades. She frequently appeared just when I was about to embark on a journey. I suspect she loves traveling and stays back in another body if she likes a particular place too much. Poor old spirited soul.
Sheethamma and I tried our best to keep each other under control while we were shown every phase of production and development. We both stopped to examine Kaizen sheets, fascinated by the creativity and dexterity of the production workers. Bartakke Electrofab Private Limited has inculcated the Japanese lean method of production. In the language of lean, Kaizen means improvement. Workers were actively encouraged to write down their problems during production and work towards innovatively solving them. Each Kaizen was painstakingly filed, reviewed and rewarded. Most Kaizens were a seamless mix of Marathi and English that took a while for Sheetamma to let me grasp. Kaizens didn’t necessarily mean lower production costs in the short-term, but were simple, cost-effective, boosted morale and made day to day life easier for workers.
An employee, who patiently and politely deciphered Kaizen files for me couldn’t fathom why I found these innovations so exciting. Perhaps because the company was full of them. The water from one of the steps of production was treated so that it could be used for the factory gardens. They’re currently looking into options of treating the water so it can be reused for production! Bartakke Electrofab Private Limited is also majorly investing in solar panels for self-sustainability. I was told about another innovation they have patented called riveting. Riveting cuts out the welding process and reduces transportation costs by allowing several enclosures to be transported at once. It is also exceptionally convenient (even fun in an addictive bubble-wrap popping sort of way) for clients.
Bartakke Electrofab has a peaceful but busy energy from the production to the administrative department. This is in sync with the vibe of the Satara and is a win-win for both the community and the company. The employees work as if the company is their own and the company cultivates that culture. While larger industries still pay unequally, Bartakke Electrofab offers equal pay for male and female employees. This is truly commendable.
Here is a company that makes an active effort to use as little of Satara’s resources as possible and give back in terms of employment, ideas and local business seminars. I wish news of such positive entrepreneurship spirit reached more people- big city cynics as well as business and political commenters.
Satara’s silences and irregular heartbeats also gave me a glimpse of a new age of proud Maharashtrian culture, something that is not so clear in cosmopolitan Mumbai. This culture takes it’s time and likes to sprawl but is also quick-witted and entrepreneurial, using clever puns to reveal and conceal it’s refreshing modernity. As one flits between countries and within cities, one longs to stop for a little longer but is terrified of some sort of anticlimactic homecoming. But perhaps homecoming is not so bad if you love the nuances you notice only because you left in the first place.
PS: (Sheethamma felt the same and stayed back with Parineeta for another week.)