One cannot plan for the unexpected. (Aaron Klug)
I was standing amongst a group of villagers, interviewing them in Telugu, behind me were a herd of buffaloes and for the furthest I could see there were no pakka houses or roads. I was in a village named Boinavaripalem; 70 km off the nearest city, Guntur (Andhra Pradesh).
How did I find myself here? I need to track back a little to explain it better.
I joined ITC as a summer intern on the 4th of April 2018. All of ITC’s interns from across the B-schools of India had landed up in Bengaluru and were staying at the grand ITC Windsor hotel for a common 2-day induction session. Here, we got to hear and interact with the who’s who of ITC. After the induction, I met the intern coordinator of my division (Agri-Business Division). The next day, we boarded a small Indiana Jones type aircraft that could accommodate about 70 passengers and flew to Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh). From there, it took us about 1.5 hours by road to reach Guntur where the Agri-Business Division’s headquarters is located.
In Guntur, there was a divisional orientation session planned. I had a chance to interact with the heads of various functions across the division – Crop team, Export team, Sustainability team & HR.
The next day was planned for me to understand the entire value chain of the business. I was taken to Ongole where I witnessed the tobacco plantations, barns, auction houses and the warehouses.
After ITC purchases the tobacco leaves from the farmers through auction houses, they are sent to a tobacco processing factory. ITC has 3 tobacco processing factories: Chirala, Anaparthi and Mysore. I was to be posted in the Chirala factory for the 2 months of my internship and this is where I headed after my induction in Ongole.
Since I had spent most of my life in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai, my first impression of Chirala felt like I had stepped back in time. It was as if I had done a time warp and had been transported to the past by a few decades. I would see wrinkled old men and women sit on the benches outside their homes gossiping, buffalo rearers transporting their massive livestock on foot, and where you’re more likely to be awoken by a rooster than morning traffic. Cars were a rare sight in Chirala. The common mode of transportation were motorbikes, cycles or sharing autos. For Rs. 10, the auto driver would take you from one end of Chirala to the other. The flip side is that in a 4 passenger auto, there would be 6-7 passengers travelling. No urban ‘necessities’ were available in Chirala, No Domino’s, No Subway, No Café Coffee Day.
Chirala is known for its sarees. ‘Chira’ meaning saree in Telugu. Handloom weaving and agriculture are the main occupations of the town and its nearby villages.
With all of this going about in my mind, I entered ITC’s Chirala factory. The factory is almost a hundred years old employing about 1,700 workforce. They are the predominant employer in the region. Most workmen’s family lineage can be traced back as being workmen at this factory. Their grandfathers, fathers, uncles and brothers had all worked in the same factory.
I was given a tour of the factory. It has 3 lines of operations, all processing tobacco. In between the factory runs an old railway track reminiscent of the early days of the factory when the product was transported to the required destinations via trains. I then met with the factory manager, personnel manager and the assistant personnel manager who would be guiding me throughout the internship. My project was to generate alternate employment opportunities for a targeted workforce. It seemed like a herculean task and in the next few days of my internship, I seemed to have proved myself right.
My project required me to do interact with various stakeholders: villagers, workmen, worker’s union, factory managers, divisional managers, senior managers of other companies, NGO’s, government agencies and vendors. I was a complete fresher to the corporate world and such interactions gave me immense insight about the workings of various organisations. For two weeks, I would spend the first half of the day working at the factory office and the next half travelling to various villages nearby Chirala to collect data. It was an eye-opening experience for me to see how the majority of India (70% of India’s population live in rural areas) lives, eats and goes to work. Language wasn’t a barrier to me since I’m fluent in Telugu. I would speak to the workmen in their homes, farms, on the roads and wherever I could manage to locate them. They would warmly greet me, offer me something to drink and tell the stories I had been waiting to hear.
Most urban people would think of rural India as a life of hardship but for me, it felt like an escape from the urban noise. Every day I would wake up and walk to the factory looking at people cycling to work, filling containers of water via handpumps and some still lazing around in front of their houses. It felt too unreal for me to be here but I felt accepted.
Since I was living with the same people I work with, the employees at the factory became like family to me in the short duration of 2 months. We would work long hours at the factory and then eat together at the same dinner table. Each person I spoke to at the factory would give me their complete support and helped in making my project successful. My 2 months at the factory felt like the most satisfying work I had ever done.
Even then my greatest takeaways aren’t about the functioning of organisations or even HR. It's about adaptability, unrestricted thinking, perseverance and humility. I was put in an environment which forced me to habituate to the life of Chirala while coming up with ingenious solutions to the company’s long-standing business problems. And the best part? I made some lifelong friends along the way.
About the Author:
Manish Pinisetti is a second-year student in TISS, Mumbai HRM&LR. His passions include Public Speaking and Writing and he loves to play BasketBall during his free time.