Unsupervised excellence

October 22, 2009


When we set out to restore Arco Iris, there was very little that Beni or I knew about what we were getting into. Suffice to say that it was completely uncharted territory for us and with a little more knowledge of the process we would have shied away. Ignorance does have its benefits.

In the process we have come across “professionals” and artisans covering the entire spectrum of reliability. We have had contractors with impeccable credentials abandoning the project midway. The fact that we were in Bangalore most of the time compounded the problems. Amidst this general chaos and climate of unreliability, the attitudes of a few people involved in the restoration process have been the saving graces. It would be to assume that but for their presence, we would have abandoned our efforts a long time back. These are the instances of what Subroto Bagchi would call “unsupervised excellence”.

A case in point was Upinder. He came to work on the project following a good reference. To begin with, he was reporting to the site contractor and his mandate was to reconstruct the columns that were holding the balcony in front. The contractor he was reporting to disappeared one fine day and we were left high and dry with components like the roof (a tiled one to further complicate issues), plastering and masonry in different stages of completion. Upi refused to be fazed by the turn of events and he carried on with his column. His commitment to perfection was such that he did almost everything himself, be it making the mould, casting it, etc. This did affect his pace of work, but inspite of constant rebukes from us, requesting him to delegate more and increase his workforce, he steadfastly refused and continued along his chosen path. Not one to be easily satisfied with his output, much to our chagrin, he had to undo and redo his work a couple of times. There were times when his apparent intransigence was exasperating. Our eyes were opened only after he finished his first column (out of a total of 10). It was only then did we realise that Upi was better left alone to follow his own methods. He was, first and foremost, answerable to himself. To him, our approval was incidental. Considering our ignorance of his field of expertise, he could have gotten away with a lot less. But his attention to detail and most importantly, pride in his work ensured that he delivered way above our expectations. All this was even more commendable considering that he was being remunerated NOT on a time and material basis, but on a fixed contract basis.

Gradually, we started entrusting Upi with additional work and he continued to maintain his high standards right till the end. With him around even the requirement for a site contractor was alleviated. He required no supervision. Encouraged by his comforting presence on the site, we were becoming more and more ambitious in terms of the aesthetics of the house. Where we would have been delighted with plain plastering, we started demanding intricate patterns, moulds and motifs. Upi never refused. In fact, as would befit an artist, he seemed to look forward to such outrageous demands. Upi's piece de resistanceAnd never did his output fail to impress. Watching Upi painstakingly and diligently work was a lesson to someone like me who has rarely managed to see the human effort that goes inside producing anything worthwhile.

We were almost emotional when the time came for him to depart. It was at this time that I noticed how gnarled his hands were. Seeing them one would be hard pressed to believe that they are capable of producing such exceptional work.

Upi, literally, left no stone unturned during his association with us. Having known him during this period it is unlikely that he would not have done the same anywhere else. I wish I could say the same about myself. The least I can do is write about such examples of excellence. I am looking forward to another post along similar lines shortly.

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2 Responses to “Unsupervised excellence”

  1. Glen and Savi Says:

    That’s nice 🙂

  2. Raja Das Says:

    Nice columns. I guess thanks to Upi


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