Bansi, a ‘starter’ like no other
Some institutions over a period of time become associated with legendary figures who work silently and efficiently, providing invaluable lessons in firmness, humility, character and professionalism to all members of the institute. These silent workers may be way down in hierarchy, but their contribution to the value and success of the institute is often underrated and more often than not, not given its fair due. Golf courses invariably have “starters” whose primary responsibility lies in ensuring that “four balls” of members’ or guests “tee off” as per the assigned plan for the day, which depending upon the club’s rules and regulations is either pre booked online, by phone or, depending upon the time of the day, on a first come first served basis. Apart from ensuring the orderly and timely movement of tee off timings the starter also controls the pace of play and ensures that the golf course policies and dress code are followed while providing a high quality of customer service to the members of the club / institute. This job, unenviable as it seems, has no proper formal training and the people who do it learn hands on at various golf courses where they are employed.
The challenges of this job include odd hours of work that start well before sunrise as golf courses start humming with activity, past sunset when the last “four ball” completes their game and in some courses even at night where the facility is available to play under floodlights. The starters have to cater to the whims and egos of the members who do not hesitate to treat them as lesser mortals and admonish or insult them at the slightest pretext as they go about doing their job honestly. This only gets accentuated in armed forces golf clubs where, apart from the need to maintain discipline and decorum, the starter has to cater for seniority and hierarchy of not only serving officers but also veterans, many of whom demand special / VIP treatment because of their past seniority, age, and at times inflated egos. The job of the starter thus becomes even more difficult and unenviable.
Synonym for golf
The Air Force Sports Complex, Race Course, New Delhi has a nine hole golf course which adjoins the polo ground that hosts polo matches in Delhi. At this sports complex, Bansi is synonymous to the game of golf. Bansi joined the Indian Air Force as a non combatant (enrolled) in 1991, after spending his entire adolescent life in this golf course as a caddy. Ever since then, he has been performing the duty of starter at this golf course, barring a few short sojourns to Thoise and Gandhinagar and a year’s stint for a United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Sudan. His continued stay at this course with the starter’s job speaks volumes of his uncanny knack and ability to handle this high pressure responsibility. Bansi’s phone starts ringing from four o’clock in the morning and carries on incessantly throughout the day. His ability to be firm while being polite with senior officers including retired chiefs and air marshals is a gift that has no parallel. Being just and fair, he rarely displays the predicament that he probably feels while dealing with a just retired senior officer or a senior veteran. The fact that he has been handling this precarious responsibility for so long is a tribute to his stellar attributes of tenacity and unflinching devotion to duty. The acceptance of his instructions and directions unanimously by all the members of the club, irrespective of rank and seniority, bear testimony to his impartiality and fairness in dealing with everyone.
Some veteran golfers tee off well before sunrise while it is still pitch dark. While glow balls have made their foray in the golfing world, they remain a luxury for most people. Bansi’s eagle eyes are imbued with infrared features that can detect the ball’s profile from the moment it leaves the club. His directions to the golfer and the caddy never fail, leaving one bewildered at his prowess to literally see in the dark. Bansi’s stern, yet compassionate demeanour with all the caddies, admonishing them when due, has not only earned him their respect but also endeared him to the entire staff at the course. Bansi unassumingly and candidly ticks off any golfer when he finds that person not properly attired for golf according to the club’s regulations.
The quiet icon
There is a lot that one can learn from the game of golf as it has much to offer in the way of life’s lessons to be learned, lived and imbibed. While that would make another story some other time, there is a lot we can learn from Bansi. These silent, unassuming, sincere and honest workers, many of whose contributions to the seamless and efficient working of some institutes we fail to recognise, must be acknowledged and applauded. Bansi has become an icon for the Air Force Sports Complex, where one cannot imagine beginning the day’s play without his eagle eyed supervision. His legacy and contribution will not only live for time immemorial, it also has invaluable lessons in leadership, proving the adage that some leaders are just born and not made on earth, as also that rank and hierarchy don’t automatically confer leadership to a person.
AVM Anil Golani is a veteran from the Indian Air Force, presently working as Additional Director General at the Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi
From HT Brunch, October 10, 2021
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