V Ranganathan, a friend of mine from my Teluk Intan days in the early 1980s, celebrates his 100th birthday on 12 April.
Many of his age may wish to spend their time in leisurely activities, social work and quality time with family and friends. But not Ranganathan, who still works part-time as a planter – a remarkable feat.
Endowed with good health, Ranganathan has eight children, 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. This seasoned planter embraces life with fulfilment, optimism and passion for his work. His work as a planter has been a lifelong labour of love.
Ranganathan beams as he describes his daily routine: “Waking up by seven in the morning, I am in my jeep driving 40km to Mon Repose Estate, located about an hour’s drive from Teluk Intan.
“There, I walk two to three kilometres supervising the harvesting, transporting of the palm oil fruits to the mill and other day-to-day activities such as spraying and weeding.
“By noon, I make the hour-long drive back home to Teluk Intan. It is a daily routine from Monday to Friday.”
Ranganathan arrived in then Malaya when he was just 10 and grew up with his younger siblings – 10 brothers and three sisters. Upon completion of his Senior Cambridge in 1939, he enlisted at the Cicely Group estate hospital as a probationary dresser.
His father passed away when Ranganathan was 22, and the young man then shouldered the responsibility of taking care of his family, continuing even after he married two years later and started his own family.
World War Two and the Japanese occupation of Malaya brought dark clouds and uncertain times. But Ranganathan kept himself busy, looking into the wellbeing of those around him.
His various initiatives did not go unnoticed. The Japanese requested him to accompany them on their visits to other estates.
For cooperating with the Japanese, Ranganathan received a letter threatening harm to him and his family if he did not cease assisting the Japanese.
The Japanese offered him a revolver for his protection, but he politely declined.
In 1954, Ranganathan launched his career as a planter, starting as cadet assistant and working his way up to senior planter. He later managed the Bagan Pasir Estate, on the outskirts of Teluk Intan, before moving to several estates in Negeri Sembilan and Selangor. His last posting before he retired in 1980 was as manager of the Sungai Siput Estate.
Ranganathan was then offered a position as an assistant manager with United Plantations. He later joined the Dutch-owned Mon Repose Estate, a 300-acre property, where he is still manager.
The management of estates has evolved over the years. In the past, there was no shortage of labour. It was also easier to manage an estate as workers were able to effectively receive instructions. So fewer problems or issues arose.
“Today it is vastly different due to the shortage of labour, which poses major challenges to the industry unless automation in estates is intensified,” Ranganathan says.
According to the veteran planter, certain values and a solid work ethic are crucial. Workers and staff must be fairly paid to ensure daily productivity targets on the estate are met.
Ranganathan holds the distinction of being the oldest living member of the Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP).
The seasoned planter believes the role of the ISP is critical, as it is a conduit for closer collaboration between the planter and the plantation industry.
Planters, he says, should “seize the opportunity” to become members of this established association. “The contributions of the ISP are crucial in facilitating planters’ upgrade (of) their agricultural knowledge.”
Carpe diem or seize the day has always been Ranganathan’s motto. Somehow, this old hand has combined his hectic schedule with charitable work. Some of his initiatives have included work for his alma mater, the Anglo-Chinese School in Teluk Intan, the Lower Perak Indian Association, temples and sports associations.
Like any father, Ranganathan is proud that his son Gopala Krishna has followed in his footsteps in the plantation sector and lauds him for being a committed and passionate planter. Father and son frequently exchange ideas on work-related matters.
Ranganathan’s daily routine shows that age has not slowed him down; neither is he about to call it quits. Currently, he lives with his daughter in Teluk Intan. His wife of nearly eight decades, M Pathma, now a nonagenarian, accompanies him everywhere, he fondly mentions.
Ranganathan is grateful to be blessed with good health and the accomplishments of his children. Come what may, the work in the plantation sector still gives him tremendous satisfaction in the sunset of his life.