‘Siddhartha Treated Us Like Family’: K’taka Coffee Estate Workers
Hundreds of estate workers and villagers gathered at VG Siddhartha’s funeral in Chikkamagaluru.
Rajesh, 23, ran along the narrow road leading to the Chatnahalli estate in Karnataka’s Chikkamagaluru. Catching his breath, he asked those returning from the estate house ‘if it was done’. The passerby assured him there was time, but he needed to rush.
With no vehicles allowed, Rajesh had to walk close to three kilometres to reach the estate house, but he had never met or spoken to the man he was rushing to pay tribute to. He only knew of VG Siddhartha, the man behind the sprawling CCD empire, from his father’s stories.
“I have seen sir a few times, but have never met him. But, I have heard a lot about him from father, who used to work as a supervisor in the estate. I couldn’t pay my respects at the public function, so I came running here,” he said, after the cremation.
On Wednesday, when Siddhartha was finally laid to rest in the same estate from where Café Coffee Day’s journey began, hundreds of estate workers and villagers stood by his family, sharing their grief.
Laid to Rest by Son
The son of a coffee plantation owner, Siddhartha comes from a family that has a 140-year history of growing coffee. Although he tried his luck in the stock market in his early days, he eventually returned to the family business.
Chatnahalli estate was the epicentre of Siddhartha’s expansion plans into the coffee business and was one of the reasons why, even though the cremation was announced to be a private function, hundreds of villagers and estate workers gathered around the house.
On Wednesday, Siddhartha’s son Amartya lit the funeral pyre after the last rites were performed, as per the traditions of the Vokkaliga community, breaking down several times while performing the rituals.
While the cremation was underway, Gangaiah Hegde, Siddhartha’s 96-year-old father, was in a private hospital in Mysuru, where he had slipped into coma, unaware of his son’s death.
‘We Thought He Was Kidnapped, Never Thought of Suicide’
The Chatnahalli estate employs 68 labourers, five staffers and two drivers. Mallesha, 36, is one of the two drivers.
Standing near the row houses within the estate, Mallesha said that he had met Siddhartha last week, when he had come to Mysuru for his father’s treatment and later dropped by the estate.
“He didn’t say much. He wished us as usual and said that his father is hospitalised. Before leaving, he gave me Rs 500 and asked me to eat dinner with his driver. After that, we heard the news of him going missing (on Monday),” Mallesha said.
When the news of Siddhartha’s disappearance came to light, the thought of the suicide didn’t cross his mind, Mallesha said. He believed that his boss had been kidnapped.
“But when I saw on TV this morning that his body had been recovered, I couldn’t believe it. He has tackled some tough situations, so we never thought he would do such a thing,” Mallesha added.
‘He Gave Us Respect, Treated Us Like Family’
Lokkapa, a supervisor working at the estate, said that he has seen Siddhartha grow up. Right from him childhood to his last days, he never differentiated between anyone, be it a labourer or the chief minister, he said.
“He respected us and never used to consider himself as a landlord or us as workers. And if one of us or our family members fell ill, he used to ensure that the hospital bills were paid. He treated us like family,” Lokkapa said.
On Tuesday, when news of Siddhartha’s disappearance broke on TV, he too believed that the CCD founder had been kidnapped. When asked about the debts his employer had incurred, he said: “We all have debts. He could have repaid any debt he had. But we have lost a man who was like god for us.”
‘He Gave My Sister a Job’
“My sister searching for a job and then one day, we went to meet Siddhartha sir. He wrote a recommendation letter and my sister was hired by Cafe Coffee Day,” recollected Ranjith, a 27-year-old resident of the nearby village.
For Ranjith, Siddhartha was an inspirational figure. According to him, Siddhartha not only created a brand like CCD but also changed the lives of people living in nearby villages, who all were dependent on the coffee business.
“When he started ABC (Amalgamated Bean Coffee) the coffee farmers here got their dues,” he said.
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