I was just 11 when we left the last place where Dharmam and my dad worked together (as they had done for several years), and we never met again. And, even though I had never had much contact with Dharmam myself, the memory of who he was appears to have remained quite vividly. I suppose that’s because my father always held him with such a great degree of respect
I began working on a book based on plantation life in April 2013, first interviewing Uncle Sin (NSV Sinniah), who had started his career as a tea planter in Ceylon before moving to E&A, followed by a few more with other Ooty locals that year. In March 2015, I interviewed Ravindran and Ram Adige in Bangalore, both former E&A employees and colleagues of my father. It was a wonderful session, but the book took a back seat to other projects. So, when Ravindran told me in June 2019 that he had a collection of stories he wanted my help in publishing, I agreed at once and have enjoyed the process of weaving in context and fleshing them out with memories from him and others, including my own.
|Seated: Dharmam (his son Bimal Rajasekhar is standing next to him), Saaz, Situ, Bob and Ravi Savur. from Saaz’s album. High Forest, 1967|
|From Planting Directory of Southern inDia, UPASI, Coonoor (1956)|
As I wrote this down, an image emerged from the deep recesses of my memory: the door to ‘Aladdin’s Cave’, a dark and perhaps windowless restricted-entry room in the Prospect factory, Dharmam’s secret stockroom. When anything needed fixing, Dharmam would retreat into the cave and emerge carrying a piece of scrap or spare or strange-looking tool, and get it working in a jiffy. Victor remembered that he never threw anything away; that he used discarded lorry shock absorbers to make stools to sit on.
My brother and I even had a car, which Dharmam had made using discarded metal sheets, a marvel of technology with a working steering wheel, a discarded lorry horn and discarded bicycle pedals.
Chittu is long gone too. One evening at Kodanad in the 1980s, he went off as usual to run around and do dog things, and never came back. “Dog eating panther,” as the butler English of our days described it, not an unusual end for an estate dog, much mourned by all of us, especially my dad, who would now have to ride out to the fields on his own.
Meet the writer:
Do you have a chai story of your own to share?
Send it to me here, please : firstname.lastname@example.org.
My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. I started this blog because one of the things that I wouldn't want us to lose in a fast changing world is the tea story - a story always told with great seriousness, no matter how funny - always true (always), maybe a tall tale, long, or short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull.
Happy reading! Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea!