By Kamal Teli
I am the first Tea garden Assistant Manager in my family, just as I was the first B Com graduate from my village – Muttrapore! I was born in Apeejay Tea’s Muttrapore Tea Estate in 1988 where my father, Lakhiram Teli, is a Health Assistant. We are a family of 7. I am my parent’s first son, I have three younger brothers and one elder sister. My ancestors were brought to Muttrapore village to work in tea gardens, by the British in the early part of the 20th century. My forefathers were village heads. In 1934, the then government gave us land and property certificate.
As the eldest son in the family, my education was very important to my parents. They had to struggle a lot to ensure that we get proper education. Our school was 14 kms away and although there was a school bus, we had to travel to school on our own. We used to leave for school at 6.30 in the morning and return home at 5.30 in the evening and therefore, got very little time to study. When I was in Class 6, I started going to the paddy field which my grandfather had set up and used to work there. When I was in Class X, I created a tea nursery in our field and it soon grew to become a plantation. It was here that I first learnt what goes into tea cultivation. The plantation exists till this day!
By the time I reached Class X, my father made it known that he wanted me to study either Science or Arts. But my heart was set on Commerce. In those days, nobody wanted to do commerce and the ones who did would drop out because it was very tough. Hence, my father was against me taking up commerce. But I had confidence in myself and decided to take up the challenge. I pursued my Plus II from Sonari Commerce College and then did my Bachelors in Commerce from Sibsagar Commerce College. Here I must mention the name of my teacher – Ranjan Goswami – who helped me a lot in Plus II in understanding accountancy. He even came to my home to teach me. All throughout my school life, I was drawn to books and used to visit the school library often and read up on various types of books. I became the first guy from Muttrapore to complete B Com. Many young boys and girls who wanted to take up commerce saw in me a role model and inspired by my success, followed my footsteps into B Com studies.
My next target was to become a CA or CS. Studying further to become a cost accountant or a company secretary was my dream but in those days in 2010, my family’s economic condition forced me to become an earning member. My job prep started with a 3-month training as guest service associate at Ginger Hotels in Guwahati. My eye was on joining their Accounts team but by the time I came to the end of it, my father suggested that I do a tea management course and join the tea industry instead. Tea Research Association (TRA) Jorhat required a sponsor – someone who is a TRA member . My sponsor for the 5 month course I enrolled in was Mr Binod Rajbonshi, who was the manager of Muttrapore Tea Estate at that time and now is our Deputy General Manager! After completing the course, I joined Nagajanka Tea Estate as an Assistant Manager in July 2011. I worked there from July 2011 to December 2012. It was during that time that I gave my resume at Apeejay Tea’s Talup Office and subsequently got an interview call. In August 2012, I appeared for the interview and after a month or so, I got a call that I had been selected. On 1st January 2013, I joined Apeejay Tea’s Hilika Tea Estate in Dibrugarh as a Trainee Welfare Officer.
Establishing good communication with the workers and excelling at bridging any gap that unintentionally comes up between workers and garden management is a welfare officer’s primary contribution to the business. Many don’t find it an easy task but gradually, I developed a very good rapport with the workers & their families, their children, teachers and health staff who service the community of residents of the tea garden. I soon started addressing and resolving issues that were faced by the workers be it a water problem at the Lines or a health problem or a house related problem or a problem related to children studying in our schools.
I also fell in love with production of tea especially field operations such as plucking, pruning, preparing the field and hence spent a lot of time overseeing such activities along with my welfare role. Within a year, I was encouraged to oversee activities of a division (big tea gardens are divided into divisions for easier administration. Hilika has two divisions – Line Side and Pathar Side). In 2016, I applied to Apeejay Tea’s Welfare to Operations Transformation exams called KBT (knowledge based training) at Talup but I wasn’t ready with my knowledge and failed to get through. In 2017, the HR sent me off to an outbound training focused on leadership, motivation and teamwork along with 25-30 of us Welfare Officers and Assistant Managers from various estates of Apeejay Tea to Kaziranga Golf Resort. By June 2018, I was promoted to a Senior Welfare Officer and in Feb 2019, I applied again to the transformation exam which was conducted on 14th February 2019 at Hilika and I was one of the five who got through and promoted soon after as Assistant Manager!
In the last six years posted at Hilika Tea Estate, every day I have learnt something new and now in my Assistant Manager role, newer learnings and additional responsibilities have just begun! Hilika has been blessed to be the charge of many excellent managers. I learnt the most from Mr Chandan Borchetia; Mr Christopher Rampal who was then Deputy Manager at Hilika; Mr Sabikuddin Ahmed, who is now in Kharjan Tea Estate as its manager and Ms Manju Baruah, who recently became manager of Hilika – the first woman garden manager in the nearly 200 year old tea industry! Mr Ahmed taught me that self-learning must precede the learning of delegation, that one has to first learn how to do a task and then delegate someone to do it. Mr Ahmed is also a brilliant people manager and has excellent people management skills. I have learnt from him how to handle pressure situations and people issues. From Ms Baruah, I have learnt how I can fine tune my job and output. I learnt from her how we can make any job given to us better and finish it properly each time.
It is my first manager Mr Borchetia who turned me to sports which was an invaluable lesson he taught me beyond work. He asked me if I could play lawn tennis. At that time, I had no idea how to play the game. So, he sent me off to practise in my free time and I soon became drawn to the game. I started taking part in the annual lawn tennis tournaments that takes place at Doomdooma Planters Club and emerged Runners Up in American Doubles thrice – the first year I joined in 2014, the next year and even last year. That’s a big thing for a person who had never touched a racket in his childhood!
My sister is a teacher at a school in Amguri, located in Sibsagar district of Assam. One of my brothers has completed his studies while the other two are doing a course at Industrial Training Institute after finishing Class XII. My mother, Laboyno Teli, is a house wife, and has nurtured us all. Being the eldest son of the family, I knew that it was my responsibility to look after my younger brothers and sister. Hence, I decided to look for a job after completing my graduation. But deep down, I also had a desire to pursue my education. So two years back I enrolled for a Masters Degree in Commerce at Dibrugarh University to educate myself. Although it is difficult to find time out to study after working in the garden, I have already appeared for my 1st M Com exam in 2018 and am determined to complete the course within 3 years!
After joining Apeejay in 2013, I shifted to Hilika while my family stays in Muttrapore. Ever since I joined, I have not been able to spend much time with my family as I became fully engrossed in my work right from day 1. I feel very proud to work in Apeejay Tea as I have grown up seeing my father work here and the respect that he had got from the local people. I would say that my father was my main inspiration behind me joining the tea industry. I also feel proud because I was born in Apeejay and later on started working in the same company where I had grown up.
Kamal Teli is Assistant Manager, Hilika Tea Estate