Makaibari's Intrepid Manager - Mr. Das
The title, Manager, Tea Estate, seems so unassuming. In actual fact though, the Manager of a Tea Estate is, in equal parts, king, champion, shepherd, COO and tea master. At most tea gardens in India, the highest ranking person is The Manager. He wields absolute authority and is the arbiter of quality and taste. At Makaibari, with the beginning of the 2018 season, Mr. Sanjay Das took over the mantle of Manager, for the first time, without Rajah Banerjee's daily guidance. Rajah, 4th generation owner of Makaibari, stepped away as Chairman as of March 2018.
Mr. Das learned from the best. Although he has over 19 years of valuable tea experience, he had to become deeply immersed in organic and biodynamic agricultural practices essential to run Makaibari. Rajah taught him the finer points - composting, biodynamic preps, village quirks, the norms of the Fair Trade joint body, the advocacy of women, attention to the soil. Mr. Das has come into his own.
I visited Mr. Das at Makaibari earlier this year to go over our annual requirements. It was critical that he understand our leaf and profile needs. Several grades are manufactured to our precise specifications, among them our very popular Long Leaf Green, and I needed to assure myself that quality and efficiency, from the leaf to timely export, were going to be given priority. As the year progressed and high quality first and second flush samples made their way to us, I became more reassured. I checked in with him a few weeks ago to get his assessment of the season.
How has the weather been so far this year for 1st and 2 flush?
Mr. Das: We've had 40 inches less rainfall this year. First fortnight in June was the most wet with misty conditions. Temperatures were lower by a degree or so. Because of this, we expect a reduced tonnage of leaf this year.
This is your first year without Mr. Banerjee's daily guidance. How are you applying his principles and past leadership to your daily activities?
Mr. Das: Just keeping the basics right. As he said, we should spend time in the field assessing which is the best manure and try to do it along with other colleagues. Other activities - BD practices, organic field methods, planting of trees, grasses, legumes - this is the main work of the season. We still follow the morning tasting of Ghanis (leaf rolls) at the factory and evening tasting of Invoices although we miss his master strokes. Yes, it is very tough to maintain our daily activities without him but we are enjoying the challenge of survival.
Describe a typical day for yourself - do you spend time in the fields, the factory or the office?
Mr. Das: During 1st flush, I used to reach the factory as early as 2 am along with Niru, our veteran factory guy, and complete the manufacturing by 5.30 or 6 am, then go back home and return later for the morning leaf. I would feel rejuvenated after spending time in the fields motivating the pluckers for quality leaf plucking. In the evening, after just an hour's break for all, we would then meet with the supervisors and division heads for planning and strategizing. We would end by checking the day's deployment and allocating the work for the following day through consensus decision-making. The day's work would be completed by entering the data into the corporate systems for the head office at Kolkata.
What part of the day do you enjoy the most?
Mr. Das: In the field, of course, with the fresh air, the chirping birds, the people - the wave is different, no tensions. Next would be the factory - seeing to the manufacture of the teas and then tasting them. Office would be my least popular and usually the last place I want to go!
Do you manufacture Tea for us differently than you manufacture for domestic use or for other buyers?
Mr. Das: Of course - you are the spine of Makaibari. We take special care in making of your teas - particular leaf style and cup quality - and also adhere to the suggestions you have been providing like the use of metal detectors, more light, netlons for carrying leaf, tidy weighment sheds with tarpaulin underneath. Health and hygiene of the community workers is the top priority. We are also keenly aware of the use of plastic and keep it to a minimum.
Mr. Das has been at Makaibari 5 years. He brings valuable experience from many years at Duncans in Dooars as well as from other Darjeeling properties. Mr. Das lives at Makaibari with Sudeshna, his wife and daughter Satakashi and son Sloke. Their well-loved labrador Toffee whiled away countless hours at the Makaibari house with my sister, Srirupa. Rajah re-named her Brigitte Bardot for her beautiful light coloring.