I feel very grateful to have met so many kindhearted and inspiring people at Shahi over the summer. One of these individuals was Chitra, the person we had been assigned to work with and who was in charge of supervising us in Bangalore. Not only was she our boss, mentor and to some extend a “motherly figure” to us while in Bangalore, but she also became a friend, someone that all four of us will greatly miss.
Chitra our boss/mentor
Chitra was a thirty six-year-old woman educated in social work. She worked in the OD (organization development) department at Shahi and had a team of HR under her supervision. She and her team would tackle various non-technical issues (such as attrition and health of the workers) and look at ways to help the predominantly female workforce achieve better wellbeing, for example through personal empowerment programs or health initiatives. Chitra also worked closely with factory heads and general managers and would participate in the decision making process at the corporate level. She was very knowledgeable about Shahi policies and about the factories’ current situation, especially pertaining to the workforce state.
I really appreciate how welcoming, generous with her time, supportive and helpful towards our projects she has been. Given the fact that the four of us were interns, studying at the bachelor level, who had little relevant experience in the garment industry, knowledge of the language and familiarity with the culture, we were very lucky to have been taken so seriously and to have received so much attention from the people at Shahi. For instance, when we arrived, we received more than one week of orientation during which we met various factory heads and teams, and visited different factories in the region. The project I choose to work on was to design and implement a buddy system for workers after establishing background research to assess their needs. Later on during the internship, I would frequently visit Chitra in her “cabin” (cubicle in which she would work, which had grilled windows to avoid monkey attacks!) and ask for advice and feedback about my project. She had a lot of experience and practical intuition and was very good at helping me establish a plan of action, prioritize tasks and understand mistakes. I also want to thank her for bearing with my numerous questions (anyone who knows me will know that I tend to be rather inquisitive!).
I have learned a lot from working alongside Chitra, seeing how she managed her team and got her work done. She was always very direct and would speak her opinion frankly with everybody. (I remember at first being slightly unsettled by her candidness). However, she would always listen attentively to a presentation before reacting to it, and would phrase her criticism in a constructive manner: helping the interlocutor understand his mistakes and orienting him in the right direction. As an example, the four of us have been able to witness her style of handling feedback one day when she summoned her team to give a presentation of various training modules they had elaborated for migrant worker recruits living in hostels. Even as outsiders, we could see that some of the modules had not been thought through correctly, had been elaborated with a too big use of the Internet and insufficient on-the-field observations. To the coworker who suggested to teach to the workers in hostels the benefits of making their beds in the morning, she kindly suggested that the coworker in question go visit one of the hostels and observe that the workers did not sleep on beds but on the floor without any cover attire. But most of all, I admired how, despite being a team manager, she would devote some time in performing more ground level operations such as interviewing workers herself or leading training sessions for them. In doing so, she would always listen attentively, show patience while teaching and do her best to relate and interact with them on an equal-to-equal foot.
On top of being our boss, Chitra also was to a certain extent a second mom to us while we were in Bangalore. She constantly displayed little signs of attention, which meant a lot to us. She watched out for us, helped us solve potential issues with our hotel, and gave us advice on things to do and places to go on our days off. On Kendra’s birthday, she prepared a card and flowers for her and organized a pizza/ chocolate cake surprise lunch with a few of our closest coworkers. On the last weekend of our internship, she invited us to her place for a delicious homemade breakfast of dosas and introduced us to her family: her husband, two young sons and mother in law. After breakfast, we spent some time interacting/playing all together and then looked at some picture of Chitra’s marriage and of Vastav’s, (her eldest son) naming ceremony.
But more that being a mentor and a “mom”, Chitra also became a friend, someone with whom we got to share fun moments as well as have more serious/personal conversations. Chitra liked to make jokes and tease us (…and we liked to tease her back). She would take life with a grain of salt and would remain open and friendly even when she was stressed. On Kendra’s birthday, we held clandestine lunch in a temporary cubicle we constructed using white boards in a room of the HR department. That day she told us, joking, “I like breaking rules”.
We also held more serious conversations with Chitra and got to ask her all the questions about cast, marriage, love, food in India that came to our minds. As much as we were eager to learn about Indian traditions/beliefs/ customs, she was very curious about “American culture”. At first, she would ask me various questions about American high school life that I, having gone to a French school in Paris all my life did my best to answer (sometimes using facts I had seen in movies as my sources I must confess…)
Saying goodbye on the last day was hard. It is not that often that you meet someone who is so good at endorsing all three roles of boss/mom and friend at the same time. I will miss her.