She lives two lives — that of a queen and a commoner. A Chandra, the “Cinderella” of Kerala’s tea gardens, juggles her dual identities with ease. A school dropout, Chandra is one of the directors of the Rs 105-crore Kannan Devan Hill Tea Plantation Company, formerly owned by Tata Tea.
Every year, Chandra “parties for two weeks” when she dons her Sunday best to rub shoulders with top management honchos. She shares conference space with the board of directors. Once out of the air-conditioned confines of the boardroom, Chandra swaps her party dress for the three-metre “lungi” and goes back to plucking tea leaves.
Her life turned magical in July 2006, when she became the workers’ representative on the board of boards by sheer dint of performance. The board has eight directors.
Management jargons may be Greek to her, but she knows the “pulse” of the bushes. Last year, she smashed her own record by plucking 261 kg of leaves a day.
Her earlier record was 194 kg. A strict boss and a sincere worker, the 37-year-old still draws a paltry salary of Rs 82.65 for a day’s work like the rest of the crew.
“For the past 15 years, I have been winning the best plucker’s award. My attitude helped me get to the boardroom. Initially, I had problems adjusting to the new role. But now, I am confident,” Chandra said.
Boardroom intrigues do not baffle her any more. The quizzical glances have become passe and so are the “friendly overtures” of colleagues, which she takes in her stride. Her resume is simple. Education: class VIII, address: a two-room rented apartment. And she sends her son to the nearby government school.
Chandra is red to the core, but not blind to the new wave. She fuses her concerns well: wage revision and employees’ rights vie for space with thoughts about the financial health of the fledgling company, billed the largest participatory management tea firm.
“I am not here to advise anyone. But I can tell you that there is no substitute for hard work,” says the young boss. Her brood of admirers is large. “A quick learner like Lalu Prasad Yadav, she can teach the B schools a thing or two,” says one of her colleagues.