It was in the last year of my college, we had an opportunity to work as interns in a local factory called Crompton Greaves Igarashi Motors inside MEPZ (Madras Export Processing Zone) near Tambaram Sanitorium. I was not only excited to earn few extra ruppes to buy books for studing ICWAI, but also to the fact that I am going to have first hand experience of a factory worker. I had to report to work at 9 am to be taken as a daily wage worker, for a stipend of Rs.75 and a token of Rs.2 for a subsidised lunch inside the factory canteen. I was longing to get the uniform that other girls on the normal employment used to wear, but the floor supervisor was fine to allow us in casual wear as we were college students. We used to embark our trains at Tambaram Sanitorium after hanging on the footpath enjoying the metro electric train journey and catch the company vans to reach on time. We used to undergo a security check and then leave our personal things in a pigeon hut provided and go to the shift on time. There the fun begins.
Few girls trained us on how to handle each manufacturing process at a time. We were training on one activity for the day. My job was to hold each rotor and put it in the machine that keeps running in circles and take it out with the correct precision of timing...just 10 seconds for each rotor. CG Igarashi motors used to manufactur micro motors and rotors especially for use in automobiles, power tools and house hold appliances. Automobile industry uses close to 90% of its manufacturing output.
One quality manager explained to me why the precision timing is important to the job I was assigned. I felt like running away. For simple reasons that I beleive it creates the circles inside the rotor for every second I hold the rotor in the machine, and cars use these rotos in the door locks. So if the precision of the rotor is more or less, it creates an extra circle inside the rotor and it is a scrap during the quality check. And for any reason, it slips and gets into the car manufacturing assembly line, the car itself would be considered having a faulty door locking system and the door assembled will have to be replaced. For any reason, if it escapes the quality check of the Car Assembly line, a child sitting in the car seat may have a jerk of her or his life, when the car door opens up on drive. I told the quality manager, that he scared me enough. But a small mistake during my job that day can have dire consequences is the lesson of the day. I managed to pull out close 600 routers that day at the end of my 8 hours shift and quality manager pattered me back and said that there were only 2 defects., which is quite common. I gave the biggest sigh of relief. At lunch, I chatted with the girls working in the factory for many years. They were full of life. I know they jobs were hard and their lives were on toes the whole day. Especially Gayathri, a girl who worked in the chemical mixing division had a tough task of combining blue color chemical to create a paste kind of thing. She said, only if that could be automated, her life would be better. But during lunch, they all giggled, discussed movies, kids and marriages, love affairs, and commented on an old supervisor. I found a meaning of hardwork that day. End of the day, they used to change to their casual clothes, board the train together, buy hot samosas or butter biscuits in the train and disperse. The food in the canteen was not only nutricious, delicious but also fresh and economical. I know that most of the girls working there are not even tenth passouts, but the kind of attention, commitment and liveliness they bring in to the workplace is amazing. Today after a decade of experience in IT, I still try to find a similar liveliness filled with unconditional acceptance of the quality need, kind of hardwork and commitment somehow missing across the industry. Not ever one does like the girls in the factory used to do today.
This manufacturing unit created jobs for semi-educated youth,.especially to more number of women providing employment, self- reliance and confidence. I only wished more EPZ's are encouraged and give way for creation of more jobs to common people than to only those blue collared high tech workers.
My second experience was again related to manufacturing plant... this time a pure automobile plant of Ashok Leyland Manufacturing and Assembly unit in Ennore. Experience was quite different from what I experience as a student intern. As a IT specialist, I had a different challenge. This time, without knowing I had lot of complaints unlike the girls of CGI. May be because, we in IT are used to some royal treatment. Unlike my parents who worked all their lives sitting in wooden chairs with a pedostal fans in office and having racks of paper files pilled with dust and aging around them and a tea walla bring in tea twice a day, we are used to fully airconditioned sophasticated cushion chairs , rolling. Tea vending machines and full furnished rest rooms. So when I was assigned to this plant to be on my first "Onsite" model project., no doubt I showed some resistance. Today after 3 years, I feel bad about it and would surely apologize for my expectations. But same time, I overcame all my inbuilt insecurities working at a place, close to the borders of Tamil Nadu, dominated by men....what dominated, just filled with men in uniforms. The only two ladies I used to see in Ashok Leyland Ennore plant were the middle aged receptionists and one day who worked in the ERP and who never spoked to me. So to see a young IT worker was a feast to all those men, who used to look at me and other 2 girls who joined later in my team as if were are some aliens. I used to sometimes enjoy the attention and sometimes get frustrated. It wasnt like a usual IT office where you go in what ever you like to. I had to wear sandals that dont make noise, wear fully wrapped salwars with duppatas or sarees, no jeans or shirts allowed. Though it had been my usual way to work, somehow when someone puts that as a protocol or restriction, we restrain...thats nature I guess. I used to get all respect for the good work from senior IT managers there and they used to respect my punctuality and work. I used to be the first one to get on board of the car pooling Qualis, and call each one in the line to be ready as we reached near their houses and get them on boards and with the ongoing construction of Padi Bridge, Anna nagar flyover, Koyembedu trafffic, I used to feel like a conductor of a bus. My manager used to joke that there is lot of similarity between me and Rajnikanth...somehow, sitting between 6 men in the car, they used to joke on everything on the road, which I failed to see. They used to giggle saying, after all, its boy's matter!.
Fun apart, coming to the work at Ennore plant. , there buses and lorries used to be assembled. known for its eco-friendly engine technology, and as the largest commercial manufacturing unit in India, for commercial vehicles that include trucks, buses, emergency vehicles (fire trucks) and militiary vehicles. They also manufacture and assemble engines for industrial and marine needs. The factory used to be largest job creator since 1948 when it first started. Even today, many people look upon the Ennore plant for employment. Ennore plant also keeps its technology updation on track. They aim at catering to the modern day needs., provide economical and competitive advantages to their products and aim at quality deliverables. The scrap garage is a witness on how the company respects quality. The road test centre opposite to the plant where we used to park our cars, is a sheer joy to witness the first rides of many buses and trucks. Driving for 4 hours a day to the plant up and down, amidst the Chennai harbour bound trailers wasn't fun always. We witness so many so road accidents, careless driving, drunken drivers, and eve teasers. But to us, improving their ERP division and provide IT support was the key agenda and everything around looked small in front of our gigantic task to be part of the technological revolution happening in the company. I used to love watching the men, transported in the company provided busess numbered from 1 to many... to all corners of the city. They used to sleep, sing, talk politics, cinema, families, cooperative society that allowed them to buy provisions and groceries at cheaper rates, education, IT, and the company's progress. This wasnt much different from the girls of CGI. All these men used to work overtime and on holidays when ever possible to earn few extra ruppes... to support their families. I saw wonderful fathers, brothers and sons in them. Who are responsibile, consistent and wonderful. I still remember the day, one Mr.Vaithyanathan who worked in IT Finance came and showed me a Pen he bagged as a token of appreciation for 25 years of service. To me, it was the day of amazing understanding of being loyal and committed to the organization. He was so elated that he and his friend got the same in the same function as their families were also welcomed to be part of the function. They were humble, sinciere, loyal and modest and nothing in par.... And bang came the Dussera celebrations...the whole factory was lighted up in the festive eve... the decorations using paper banners and colors was a feast to the eyes...We were welcomed to the celebration where every machine was worshipped as God on the Ayudha puja day. I stood spell bound with the beautiful and dedicated singing of NC, their Chief officer who mesmerised the audience with his songs and devotion...not just to the god, but the work they have been doing for years.
I also had a collegue who was named Ashok, just because his dad worked their since his marriage...I had no words
Here too we had the privilege of having the company provided lunch,..along with all their factory workers. To me those were the best of lunch times, for I used to see the comraderie, sinciere care and consideration to fellow workers, unity amogst them, their participation in the Union and addressing issues, their cooperation to the local adminsitration, their consideration to Nature and waste management discussions. To some of us today, it is a topic for Speech in AC halls. But to the ordinary factory worker, it was an every day topic, to be considerate, responsive and reactive to the needs. And during factory elections, we used to see Obama's there. Orators who spoke with so much zeal and enthusiam, so much knowledge and understanding of people's problems and needs., constructive thoughts on innovation, technology and expansion projects. This is what is called grassroots empowerment. Enablement at the ground level. Governance at the best.
These were very transforming experiences and gave me knowledge and awareness that no book or teaching can bring...You have expeirence it, feel it and realize it for better You. As I travelled from Ennore to Pontiac, another hub of automobile revolution, in midst of Detroit called as the Global Automobile city, I had more experiences that gave me better insights of manufacturing plants. Will write my thoughts and experiences in the GM plants in my next post...till then, thanks for reading