-By Raj Bagh
My ancestors were ‘brought’ to Upper Assam, from what is now the state of Odisha, to work in the tea plantations. My father started working as a daily rated worker at Apeejay Tea’s Kharjan Tea Estate and is now an Assistant Fitter at the Kharjan Tea Factory. My entire childhood was spent at Kharjan, with my friends and extended family of cousins. I now work for Apeejay Tea and I am posted at Apeejay Tea’s Borjuli Tea Estate. I was absorbed into the Management Trainee programme of Apeejay Tea and have been away from home for the last nine months! I took a short 2-day break and went back home to visit my parents. My relatives and neighbors came to see me and called me ‘Sahab’ as is the tea industry norm of calling people who are part of the estate management. When I went to their homes, they felt so proud that ‘I’ had come to visit their house. But I have not changed. I am still the tea tribe boy from Kharjan but the pedestal on which I stand has changed.
How it all started…
My father had wanted me to do MBBS but I wasn’t able to fulfill his dream. However, I feel proud that I had been able to compete with so many applicants and get selected to take up a managerial role in the company that my father has been employed with for two decades! I was overwhelmed and emotional at the same time, as were my parents. My parents have done a lot for me, so much of it beyond their apparent caliber, giving every child equally what little they have, in education and other needs, spending almost all of their earnings.
They got married at a very young age. My father is only 48. He is my first role model. Even though he belonged to a family who had never seen the face of a school, he was a visionary on the role of education in social empowerment. He went to school, completed his HSLC with lot of difficulties as he earned and schooled himself side by side. My mother is 43 years old. Behind every successful man, there is a woman and she is the woman behind my success so far. My mother is a homemaker and has never gone to school. It was her determination to ensure that I and my siblings take education seriously that made her sit with me and my siblings when we studied. She is my next role model because just by watching and being with us making us study, she learnt to read and write! Under their constant guidance, I completed my Class X from Montfort High School, Chabua, and then went on to do Higher Secondary from K.V. Dinjan following it up with a Bachelors in Zoology from Dibru College, Dibrugarh University, and a six month tea training course from TRA in 2016. Mr. Sudesh Kumar Singh, manager of Apeejay Tea’s Kharjan Tea Estate, is a father figure for me and helped me prepare for the different phases of the recruitment process. I had heard about Apeejay Tea’s Management Training Program in Tocklai where I did my tea training course and after a bit of research I decided to apply. A job was proving hard to find and I joined Montfort High School as a teacher.
And then one day, a big leg up from my father’s employer Apeejay Tea changed everything for me! It all seems to have happened a lifetime ago with an email from Mr. Ramakrishn Ghosh, General Manager, Human Resource Development, Apeejay Tea that said – ”Congratulations! We are here to offer you the position of Management Trainee at Apeejay Tea limited”. Many rigorous written tests & interviews later, I was called to Kolkata at the Head Office of Apeejay Surrendra Group – the over 108 year-old diversified group which owns Apeejay Tea. I was amongst the selected 18, who had reached this stage from the original number of 62 applicants! I was thrilled when they told me Apeejay Surrendra Group Chairman Mr. Karan Paul was part of the MT interview panel! I remember breaking into a cold sweat with nervousness as I was going to meet a person whom I had only heard of and hardly anyone from Kharjan had met. Mr. Karan Paul asked me about Kharjan and how I could be useful to Apeejay Tea as well as a lot of other questions, which were asked by the interview panel who were sitting alongside him. At the end of my interview, Mr. Paul asked me to pass on his regards to my father which melted my heart. The interview and the conversations with the Chairman during the interview was an experience and it was also in a strange way an achievement to me! I had always dreamt of joining Apeejay Tea where my father was happily employed for the last two decades or more.
In a few days, to my joy, I received the letter and was asked to report to the Induction Program and my Dream had come true! Ever since that day when the wish came true, I have been filled with hope and happiness.
My journey begins….
I was posted in Borjuli. Within one week of my joining, I found myself in the management of a division of almost 300 hectares where the staff, I mean my subordinates, were elder to me. Apeejay Tea’s Estate Manager in Borjuli is Mr. Nasfiqur Rahman. He has stood behind me every single day giving feedback and support, be it professional, emotional or behavioral. Every day I learn something new from him and I thank him for providing me such a strong foundation in the Tea industry. I have gradually learnt to get used to being in tea, have completed over 9 months and I’m still going strong! “It is not important from where we have come from, but rather where we want to go”, Mr. Rahman says. I am lucky and blessed to have him as a mentor.
There are always two phases or two parts in our lives – the learning phase and the phase where we implement our learnings. My journey from one phase to the other began the day I joined the ‘management’ as an MT. My shift from the learning phase to professional phase has been a herculean task with lots of hurdles along the way, but with the grace of God, prayers and support from my well-wishers and parents, I am on my way to becoming ‘management’ in the industry my family and ancestors as tea tribes have worked as ‘workers’.
The lives of children, like me, who go to school and live in tea plantations are different; our struggles are not similar to the other children of the same economic or social class living in small towns or big cities. We have our unique limitations. Education is the only medium for us to establish a bright future and change our life’s narrative. Both my siblings too are on their way. My elder sister is a teacher at a school close to Kharjan and my younger brother has just finished with his Class XII Board exams.
It’s been 9 months now. I don’t know how the days went. I could not visit my home for Christmas last December as I had joined Borjuli in November. So I invited my family over and they stayed with me for a few days. This was the first time in my entire life that the Christmas gifts were bought and given to them by me! Everything’s changed! I’m a tea tribe child who has become management of a tea company! And I’ve just started! In a couple of years once I complete my MT program I will be in the managerial scale! And I’m just 25 years old!
Raj Bagh is a Management Trainee at Apeejay Tea’s Borjuli Tea Estate