Sometimes odd things stick in your mind. What sticks in my mind about Ambadi is the Cannonball Tree (Couroupita guianensis) at the entrance to my office, with its extravagant flowers and fruit which gives it its name. Another is the lily pond at the entrance to the bungalow, just as you take the final turn into the porch. It was a privilege to see this beauty, every day.
My planting story ends on a very happy note which always brings great happiness to my heart. After spending three years in Ambadi, I decided to quit planting and seek my fortune elsewhere. One year later in 1994, I launched by consulting company, Yawar Baig & Associates, in Bangalore and have never looked back. Planting was a very beautiful part of my life which I thoroughly enjoyed. I made great friends who I have remained in close contact with ever since. In Ambadi, when I announced to my staff that I was going, they were sad but understood why I believed that I needed to test the waters in the outside world. They organized a farewell party where people spoke about what they believed they had gained by working with me.
As the speeches were going on, a taxi drove up and Mr. Perumal, General Secretary of the CITU got out. Mr. Prem Kumar who was the President of the Staff Union and the convenor of the meeting that was in progress, was sitting next to me. He murmured to me, ‘Now what does he want? They can’t leave us alone even today?’
Mr. Perumal came into the room and folded his hands in greeting. Then he said, ‘Can I have permission to speak?’ Indian hospitality is such that when someone comes into your space and asks permission to speak, there is no way that you can deny him that permission.
He went up to the podium and said, ‘I have come here in my personal capacity and not as the General Secretary of the Union. It is not our custom as the Union or as the Communist Party of India that we speak at farewell functions of Managers. But in the case of this man, I must speak because he was not just the Manager of Ambadi and at times we had our disagreements, some of them serious. But he was our friend, our guide and our advisor. I have asked him for advice at times and he always gave us good advice with total integrity. We respect him for his truthfulness, his integrity and his courage.’ And he continued for the next 30 minutes in the most beautiful Tamil bringing to bear his skill of public speaking. He was a man whose life and work was to make speeches and that day when he spoke there was not a single dry eye in the room.
It was a very special confirmation for me that integrity and courage always work. If you stand for the truth and do that with dignity and respect for the opposite party, irrespective of the result, you gain respect. If you are fair, people respect that and will honor you for it. People watch you all the time, more so in the plantations because you are living on the job and are the subject of every conversation. Your life is an open book because you are surrounded by servants, all of whom watch you and talk about you in their circles. What you eat is news. What you speak is news. If you quarreled with your wife or yelled at your child, that is news. The only way to come out of this 24×7 scrutiny is to live by your ethics and values so that you always do what is right, not because someone is watching but because that is who you are. It is not about others. It is about you.
After Mr. Perumal finished, Mr. Prem Kumar made the final address and then presented me with the citation which is below. I have no words to describe my feelings. I tried to reply in my speech thanking them. But then I realized that some things don’t need to be said. I knew, they knew, and I knew that they knew. That is enough for me.
Planting is an unbelievably beautiful part of my life for which I am most grateful. I carry those memories of the wonderful people, times and experiences in my heart and there they will remain until my last day.