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Monday, July 22, 2024

SURVIVING THE MONSOONS

 by Aloke Mookerjee

Hello, dear readers! I was delighted to find a new story from Aloke in my inbox. "It's hard to believe I am writing about times sixty years back. I remember those days so clearly," he wrote. Yes, so clearly, that I felt I was there! Enjoy your read, friends.- Gowri

The impending monsoons had us looking up at the skies darkened by heavy clouds hanging low and moving in ominously. For planters, this was arguably the most strenuous season of the year, what with huge harvests to be handled daily and the long hours, with the factory running day and night. The rapid growth of the tea leaves and their high water content drove away the quality of the second flush that we had been so far relishing, transforming the ‘rains teas’ to a plain watery brew. It was now the time to manage volumes.

The monsoons were, undoubtedly, the most awesome in the Dooars. Hugging the Himalayan foothills, Nagrakata was known for its frequent cloudbursts when the brooding cumulonimbus clouds rolled, crashed and thundered while unburdening their watery contents with ferocious intensity. Menacing flashes of lightning, often striking alarmingly nearby, accompanied the deafening rain. The proverbial ‘pouring buckets’ aptly describes those thunderous downpours. And when not pouring, a steady and continuous drizzle, sometimes for up to two weeks, virtually without a break, turned each dismal day into hours of dreary and damp misery.

Not to be outdone by the gloomy weather, we would counter it by zesty club activities with unabated vigour. It did, indeed, bring cheer in those doleful times. The weekly movies were, as always, well attended. The rain gods were not about to dampen the spirits of a true planter, for even when the old tin roof of Nagrakata Club sprang massive leaks, it did little to deter the members from their unstinted support. They arrived well prepared with umbrellas in hand and ‘wet’ (in more sense than one) gatherings continued to prevail at the bar to keep its usual air of conviviality fully intact. The Western Dooars Club in Mal, about fifteen miles from Nagrakata, held a ‘Mid-Rains Ball’ every year in August with a live band from Calcutta in attendance. It was always a success.

The inter-club football matches held across the Dooars were meticulously organized by the sports committees as were the now forgotten rugby matches. Since only a handful of Indians (and Anglo-Indians) played the quintessential English game of ‘rugger’, the sport remained a preserve of the expatriates. It was an amusing new experience for me to see the mud splattered players invading the bar after a match, to quaff their rounds of frothy beer as a deserving reward, while upholding the age-old tradition of rugger songs belted out lustily enough to reverberate across the premises.

It was football, though, that remained the bright ‘star’ of the monsoon sports, particularly among the estate workers and the junior staff. Each plantation fielded its own team for the popular inter-garden tournament. The selection process of the team was taken very seriously by the estate management, ably aided by the advice and recommendations of the junior staff. The contests generated huge excitement and emotional outbursts, reaching a high pitch during matches between the best rival teams.

These vigourous activities did much to break the mundane and monotonous work routine of the monsoons. Nevertheless, our CMO would now also remind to start our daily course of Vitamins as a precaution against the common ailments of this debilitating period. Perhaps it helped, for we did remain in good shape. Yet, despite all the precautions, some still succumbed to the viruses pervading the air. It was then, that the ‘cure all’ solution, in the form of a luridly red liquid, prepared and bottled by the garden ‘Doctor Babu’, would come to our rescue. Even if we were never quite sure of its true worth, it seemed to restore our health pretty quickly!

Nagrakata received almost eighty percent of its yearly rainfall during the few monsoon months between June and September. The voluminous rains helped vegetation grow and spread at a prodigious pace. With herbicides yet to be in vogue, weeds were controlled manually either with a hoe or a sickle, but with harvesting given the highest priority, almost all the plantation workers would be diverted to leaf ‘plucking’ and weed control left languishing for another day. This was particularly so in the aged low yielding tea blocks which received the management’s lowest priority in the weed control programme. It inevitably led to a dense knee-height growth of weeds in these neglected areas!

The thick undergrowth would become a perfect breeding ground for a host of ‘creepy-crawlies’. Mosquitoes swarmed and flies buzzed. Caterpillars crawled about the ocean of succulent green foliage, devouring with vicarious delight, the chlorophyll laden nourishment that nature provided in abundance. Colourful moths, often with wing spans of up to eight inches, sat motionless on tree trunks, exhausted after having laid their thousand eggs in the cracks and crevices of the old gnarled surface. Beetles of primordial visage emerged from their hideouts to creep along saplings or just cling stubbornly on without a movement, seemingly with no purpose left in life. Leeches would multiply with enormous speed and start emerging from the undergrowth, probing and searching the warm-blooded mammals for which to attach themselves. A walk through the weed infested blocks in that wet and gloomy weather would find many of these slimy creatures attached to our bodies, relishing their fresh blood diet. We would return home to often discover several still unpleasantly stuck to us, a revelation, that lent substance to the age-old proverb!

If all this was not enough, large intimidating tarantula like spiders would suddenly begin to appear, in that damp shadowy gloom, to cast their silken webs, from across one dark and dripping shade tree to another, creating eerie backdrops reminiscent of a brooding, surrealistic canvas by Salvador Dali! Occasionally a slithery snake would suddenly appear but being wary of confrontations, they would retreat quickly without causing harm.

Adding to this encounter with the multitude of ‘snakes and snails’, a seemingly life-threatening (but in fact quite harmless) monitor lizard would sometimes make its silent appearance in the undergrowth of the tea bushes, blissfully unaware of the fatal consequences its presence would create amongst the blood thirsty humans! The tribal workers considered these oversized reptiles (some up to five feet in length) a culinary delight and at the sight of one, work would come to a quick dead halt. Moments later, the lull caused by its portentous arrival would suddenly shatter, as if by some kind of telepathic signal, with all the male workers making a mad dash for the creature at the same time. Wielding their garden implements with yells and shrieks of unbridled excitement, they would crash through the tea bushes in a wild and boisterous chase. The doomed creature would be caught, killed and triumphantly carried out, dangling by its tail. I was often offered a ‘prime cut’ of their prized catch with assurances of its delectable flesh being tastier than chicken. I admit having no evidence to corroborate this claim!

Despite the umbrellas and waterproof aprons, distributed to the workers as a protection from nature’s elements, the insidious and virtually perpetual rain penetrated their wear to turn their clothes droopingly damp. With their dank clinging clothes, clammy hair and wet muddy feet, the workers’ mood would turn as dark and doleful as the depressing overcast skies. To extract productive work under such conditions was a challenge.

The advice of older planters to remain alongside the workers in those dismal times and keep their spirits buoyant with doses of humour and genuine empathy went a long way. And it lightened their mood no end seeing the ‘chota saab’ wet to the skin in soggy clothes and squelchy shoes looking as woefully bedraggled as they were. With the drenched and unkempt ‘Chota saab’ by their side, the workers stayed on and work progressed in a somewhat cheerfully miserable way!

Happily, even the worst of times is not permanent. Soon enough we would see the last of the rain clouds and look forward to the wonderful clear weather of autumn and the crisp ‘cold weather’ that was to follow.

Meet Aloke Mookerjee:

 
I am a planter long retired from the Dooars  as well as Assam and Papua New Guinea where I worked in tea and coffee for several years. I have been writing about my life in tea. These are really ...the early impressions received by a young 'greenhorn ' of those times upon his arrival at the plantations.
 
Even after all this time, tea remains alive in my thoughts; those were the best years of my life.  I have relocated to Goa recently and its hot and humid weather is taking me back to my 'tea days'. Alas, I cannot say that of the cold weather here. Nothing could beat the wonderful cold months of NE India!
 
Other interests? Always loved jazz music - still do - and have written about this incredible genre. Love vintage airplanes (thus my love for Dakotas!) and cars, and intend to make this my next focus.'  
 

Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. 

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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! 

Happy reading! Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea! ADD THIS LINK TO YOUR FAVOURITES : https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/

Saturday, April 20, 2024

A jumbo ‘earthquake,’ from the eyes of a nine-year-old

by Sudipta Bhattacharjee

I was delighted to get an email from Sudipta. She wrote: "I decided to put my work aside for an hour and write about the elephants in the tea garden. I just let some words tumble out from my memories..." So glad you did, Sudipta. I loved reading this. So will you, dear reader. - Gowri

This season of earthquakes and tsunamis across the globe reminded me of the terrifying sensations of feeling a house, especially a wooden one in a tea garden, rattle incessantly in the dead of night, aeons ago, when I was a little girl. My uncle, Sukumar (Dhruba) Sengupta, a tea planter, was then posted in Assam’s Udalguri district, bordering Bhutan, in a garden called Majuli. To a nine-year-old from the bustling city of Calcutta, the flight to Guwahati and the long but smooth drive through scenic countryside to the sylvan foothills was nothing short of a magical journey.

Majuli. Pic sourced from the internet by the author
 We visited my uncle once in four years, and this as the first time I was old enough for the impressions to register. Once the blue hills, possibly those of Bhutan, began to materialize in the distance, my genes (being the granddaughter of forest officers and being blessed with botanist parents) exerted themselves into a random dance of joie de vivre.

Once the neat rows of tea bushes heralded the garden zone, we wallowed in the fresh fragrance that nature bequeaths on the plantations. As we left the main road for the garden trail, there was a delicious sense of anticipation of seeing the manager’s bungalow.

We loved it on sight! My aunt Tanima, famed for her flower gardens, had also made fruit and vegetable patches along the lawn. She took me on a tour to show the raspberry patch before we could sample her delicious raspberry jam for tea. Of course, we had not been inducted into the joys of drinking tea then; a huge glass of milk, courtesy the garden cows, was in store for us!

We were tired from the lengthy journey and the excitement of travel and went to sleep after an early dinner. The call of crickets was the last sound I registered, before the calls of the boukathakou bird (possibly the Indian cuckoo or Cuculus Micropterus) woke us up at the crack of dawn.

My uncle had two dogs. A German Shepherd called Rex and a tiny pup named Tipu Sultan! I was terrified of dogs at that time and avoided the duo all morning. I was perched on the swing near the gate when my uncle returned from his morning rounds. He disembarked from the jeep and strode purposefully in my direction carrying something. Before I realized his intention, he dumped Tipu on my lap! Frozen with terror on the swing, my feet separated from the sanctuary of terra ferma, it took me a few minutes to realise that the warm bundle nestling on me was looking up with more than a modicum of trust and craving a touch. Guided by my uncle, I tentatively touched the little head. The tail wagged a wee bit, encouraging and fostering what has turned out to be a lifetime of canine adoration!

That night, high on the accomplishment of my foray into the animal world, we went to sleep. Only to be jolted awake a little later with a thundering sound. There was the unified chorus of a herd of wild elephants trumpeting at the bungalow doorstep. The rooms shook and rattled. As we cowered in fear on our beds, the sounds were compounded by shrieks and shouts of the garden workers, beating on metal and holding burning torches to drive away the jumbo family.

The chaos continued with Rex and Tipu Sultan barking inexorably, adding to the cacophony. Finally, after what seemed like ages, the sounds subsided and the herd possibly moved off. But not before leaving their mark on the vegetable patch and devastating my aunt’s prized flower garden.

We were on tenterhooks every night for the rest of our brief stay, but other than seeing mashaal (burning torches) in the distance, we were spared other close encounters with the pachyderms. Years later, I learnt that Udalguri was an elephant corridor and can now applaud the efforts being undertaken for their conservation in the tea garden zone and elsewhere in this Assam district.

Meet the writer:

 Sudipta is a career journalist who joined The Telegraph in Kolkata as a trainee in 1985 and retired at the end of August as Resident Editor (Northeast). She moved to Shillong in 1992 after her husband was transferred to Meghalaya on a three-year posting and continued to report for The Telegraph from there. She travelled to the United States on a Fulbright Research Fellowship in 2004-5 and returned to base thereafter. Her tryst with tea gardens began as a four-year-old to Kakajan in Upper Assam, where her uncle, Sukumar (Dhruba) Sengupta was posted. She and her family visited him in Majuli Tea Estate in Assam in 1970 and 1973 and by herself in December 1975 to the Dooars, when he was posted at Damdim Tea Estate. She has visited gardens in Darjeeling (where a tea tasting session was hosted for her), the Nilgiris and Munnar, Sri Lanka and hopes to share her experiences through this blog, of which she is an avid follower.

Sudipta is now adjunct professor of media science and journalism at Brainware University. 

Here is the link to all the stories Sudipta has written for this blog: http://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/search/label/Sudipta%20Bhattacharjee

Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com.

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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world!

Happy reading! Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea!

ADD THIS LINK TO YOUR FAVOURITES :

https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A Taste of Honey

 by Gayathri Ramachandran

Hello again, dear readers! I am most happy to bring you another piece by Gayathri, who loves her cup of tea and everything to do with it. Read on to see how she makes a most interesting connection between tea and honey. - Gowri

When I went to a workshop titled 'Ghats Honey- Wild Honey Hunters'…little did I know that I would be tasting, squeezing the combs, chewing a little bit of the comb with the honey and wax still intact !!

Honey is a brown, sticky, sugar-saturated solution made by bees. Honey bees or forage bees collect nectar from flowers and add some enzymes to the nectar. Voila! Pure honey! The similarities between tea and honey are mind boggling. 

What is the connect between tea and honey? Tea plantations have highly skilled workers at various levels. Apiculture has specialized skill in people who locate, harvest, taste and recommend honey that we are looking for. We know how sommeliers explain with such elan how different types of tea, coffee, wine or honey challenge your taste buds and you are left with a lingering memory such as ‘Wah Taj’, ‘Want a Cupa’ or ‘Hi Honey’. For example, the Stingless bee honey leaves a fruity and lemony taste first and leaves a sweet taste on the second helping.

Honey differs in aroma, taste and feel on the tongue and these are specific to the region. So also with tea, and it is this quality that makes some prefer one type of tea or honey over the other!!

As in tea plantations, the specialists - in this case apiarists - know the terrain, the season and the location, furthermore how nimbly you can take out honey with just hands without any machinery to harvest it. The hills, the forests, the thick growth are easily accessed by the hill people and hill tribes. They have special skills to locate, and then to climb the daunting terrain and get to the beehive. The tea plantations don't have such challenging terrain to harvest tea leaves! Note from editor: I know planters will disagree!

The benefits of both are innumerable. Have you ever tasted the best tea served with brown sugar, karupatti (palm candy) or honey ? 

In the one-liner 'Coffee, Tea, or Me' I would love to replace 'me' with 'honey'. Pure honey without going through the factory regimen, stays completely pure and unadulterated. The health benefits of tea and honey combinations are numerous.

Bee keeping or apiculture is an awesome industry. Technology helps to develop and extract honey as a cottage industry. In the Western Ghats the apiculturists strive hard to get unadulterated medicinal honey. They call it Ghat wild honey.

The expert in the 'sensory attributes of honey', or honey sommelier, is an authority in the way honeys taste, smell and feel in the mouth. They assist people in understanding the differences and subtleties that arise from different regions, flora and seasons, so they can gain a much deeper appreciation for honey. So also expert tea tasters.

Similar to tea, the health benefits of a spoonful of honey everyday include diabetes management, healing bones and joints, cancer management and better heart health. By adding a teaspoonful of honey to tea, we can enjoy a plethora of metabolic boosters.


Meet the writer:

Gayathri Ramachandran  

My grandfather Mr TS Mani Iyer and his younger brother Natesan Iyer had a transport Company in Pollachi which transported chests of tea from Valparai to various places. My grandmother, clad in the traditional nine yards sari, would entertain her British guests - the 'dorasanis' - to tea with impeccable taste. 
 
However, I was brought up on a diet of coffee till I moved to New Delhi after marriage. There Tea became 'the word' gaining all importance. Living among the Punjabis, this exotic beverage became a centre point in socialising during wintry afternoons. I was introduced to kadak chai, adhrak chai, masala chai, cardamom chai, green chai and white chai. 
 
'Chai ho jaye!' is familiar sweet music welcomed with cheer while you play cards or just have some plain 'gup shup'. Oh! my taste for tea grew and the bitter 'after taste' of coffee was replaced with the milder invigorating drink. I enjoy tea in various forms, white, green or golden, with or with out milk, sweet or just black!!!  
 
 

Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife.

I started this blog in 2018 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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! 

This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/ Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!

 

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Back in the Day - Part XII

 by Shipra Castledine

Hello again, dear readers! I'm delighted to bring you the latest from Shipra Castledine: Part XII of 'Back in the Day', the engaging account of her childhood in the tea gardens. Thank you Shipra! - Gowri

The other day I was talking to a friend who is a keen Bridge player. For those who are not familiar with it, Bridge is a card game played with four players. There are two types of Bridge games, one is Contract and the other is Auction. In the tea plantations indoor card games became a part of tea life alongside Mahjong. It stands to reason that this happened as there were not many social distractions in tea life that a city might offer.

As a child growing up in the tea gardens a Bridge table became a familiar sight. I have talked about the club days we would have on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the nearest tea club, mainly the Western Dooars Club in my lifetime in tea. With many getting their outdoor sports of tennis and golf in, there were others who did not partake and card tables would be set up inside the club. Good numbers would make up the four needed for a Bridge table and a number of tables would be active. This was serious stuff. Often a married couple would be ‘partners’ for a Bridge table and believe you me a few games of Bridge and the journey home could almost result in a marriage break up, the conflict was so fierce about how a partner had played!! Not to mention that many trips to the generous bar fuelled one’s emotions!

 
All images sourced from the internet by the author

My parents used to play Bridge too but they hardly ever partnered each other at the same Bridge table. Very sensible! Not so with my to be in laws. They always partnered each other when they were available for a Bridge table together. Oh my!! I have witnessed the arguments that ensued after a session! One of them could be positively virulent accusing the other of ruining the opportunity to come out on top as it was a points game. Sometimes there would be competitions going on so the points mattered.

I know of married couples leaving a Bridge session separately and going home as the conflict heated up that much! And that’s not an easy thing to do as going home was often vast kilometres away 😆 Hence my relief that my parents were never Bridge partners. I learnt how to play Bridge from my father. He was a cool man and played an intelligent game. But he never got into Bridge to the point he was consumed with the moves of the game almost all the time like some others were. He and I would practice playing Bridge with each of us playing two ‘hands’ meaning playing the part of another player. And Dad would go over what I could have done better so I could sharpen up my game.

Right around tea, meaning whether the Dooars, Darjeeling or Terai which were most of the tea districts in North Bengal, Bridge competitions would be held between the various tea clubs. These created opportunities for tea planters and their families to meet others and grow the team community. And as always they were occasions for hospitality to shine, with healthy rivalry amongst tea families as to who was doing a good job 👏🏻 🥪🫔

As I mentioned earlier my childhood in tea was in tea estates that had Western Dooars Club as our district club. My parents Sudhin and Gouri Bose would take me every Wednesday and Saturday to the club. My mother was not into outdoor sports. Dad would go off for a round of golf followed by a game of tennis. Mum would join other ladies after seeing to the tea items she would have brought from our bungalow. The ladies would either sit around and chat or arrange a card table where they played either Rummy or Canasta. I will mention here that my trips to the club would have been before I went to boarding school at age four and a half or otherwise when I was home for a school holiday.

Dad, who was not much of a drinker would often join a bridge table after the very lavish tea set out on long tables in the club. The card tables had an area of their own in Western Dooars Club, giving the players some quiet. As I narrate these memories the images come clear in my mind. Children playing outside as well inside on the wooden floors that acted as indoor badminton courts when there were players. Little ones would go to sleep in the cloakrooms, their ayahs in attendance and forming their own little social circle.

Mahjong was very popular too but it was more the ladies who played Mahjong. I would be fascinated by the sets that many homes owned. Some of the Mahjong sets were made of ivory! My mother owned a set and I can still see it in my minds eye. I did learn how to play and I would watch over my Mum’s shoulder as she would sit at a table of 4 again and pass a very pleasant few hours usually in the morning with another 3 ladies in our bungalow. Delicious morning tea, called elevenses in our world, would be served by our bearers. Thinking about these images now makes me appreciate what a privileged life I lead in my childhood.

Individual families would regularly have friends over to set up Bridge tables. A Bridge morning amongst the ladies was popular but there were many evenings whiled away to late hours where very serious Bridge would be played. Drinks and dinner were very much a part of these social get togethers. Children would play separately, have their dinner separately much earlier than their parents and at their own children’s table. We would often go to sleep at the host’s bungalow and have to be carried by our parents when it was time to go home.

Tea plantation life evolved from the time tea planters first started that lifestyle and I would credit these indoor games along with the contests and competitions as an occupation that contributed to the sanity and mental health of the tea population.

 Meet the writer: 'My name is Shipra Castledine nee Shipra Bose (Bunty). My parents were Sudhin and Gouri Bose. I am a tea 'baba' of the 1950-s era. I spent a part of my life growing up in the Dooars and another large part of my life married to a tea planter's son the Late KK Roy son of PK and Geeta Roy of Rungamuttee TE in the Dooars. I continued to be in the tea industry for many years as KK was a tea broker till he passed away in 1998.' Shipra recounts her childhood in the Dooars and her school days in Darjeeling in a series called 'Back in the Day' of which Part VII went up in August. Read all Shipra's posts here: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/search/label/Shipra%20Castledine

 Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. 

My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. I started this blog in 2018 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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! 

This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/ Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!

Monday, December 25, 2023

Going to School

Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoying the hols.? Rajeev Mehra stopped by to share his memories of those magical holidays at 'home' in the tea gardens. You know I love all the stories that 'cha ka baba-baby log' share. Many of you readers will be lost in reminiscence after reading this. Do drop me a line and tell me what your schooldays were like! Cheers! - Gowri

For tea kids who went to boarding school, the tea gardens which were home to us were also synonymous with holidays. In fact, our lives were organised between time spent on the gardens and time at school. It was indeed a magical time for us as our childhood resembled a picture book.

Going to school was a huge undertaking for us as we had to travel afar. All our things needed to be packed for us - personal effects like clothes, sports items, books etc - to last an entire school year. Our parents would lovingly arrange these items while we took stock of where each thing was so that we could find it easily.

My formal schooling began at the age of five and a half years in 1985 at the prestigious boarding school called Saint Paul's School in Jalapahar, Darjeeling. Earlier, I had attended pre-boarding classes at the local Saint Mary's School in Doom Dooma. I used to be dropped at school by the driver in the morning and picked up by him again in the afternoon. On our return, we would stop for "chana". Mummy insisted that "chana" was good for a growing kid and hence, "chana" was a regular item at tea time.

On finishing with Saint Mary's, our options were to either go to the local school in Digboi: Carmel, or to go to some boarding school elsewhere in the country. My parents chose to send us to Saint Paul's School in Darjeeling as it had a good reputation and had been recommended to my father by a colleague. A lot of our friends - other tea kids - went to boarding schools around the country. Popular amongst them were : St Lawrence Sanawar, Sherwood Nainital, Mayo Ajmer and Welhams Dehradun. Later on, the Assam Valley School also joined the ranks.

So there we were, in 1984. I was barely 5, and our parents had decided to enroll me at Saint Paul's School. I had to pass an entrance test for which I was taken to Darjeeling to meet the rector, Mr. Hari Dang. 1984 was also the year that they were changing rectors in school. Mr. Jefferson Anderson Gardener would be taking over from Mr. Dang. 

St Paul's School, Jalapahar, Darjeeling
I remember visiting Mr. Dang in the rectory at Saint Paul's. He ensured my parents that my candidature for the entrance test would be looked into and that I could begin schooling in 1985 in Class One.

Living on the gardens, in Doom Dooma, attending school in Darjeeling was quite an affair. While going to school was by flight on an Indian Airlines airplane from Dibrugarh Airport at Mohanbari, the return was by "school party" via Guwahati. Indeed, the school had instituted a system whereby a Master would accompany a group of children to the nearest airport. We were thus part of the Guwahati school party; the arrangement being that children would be met at the Guwahati Airport or put on 'Night Super' buses by the Master in charge in case they had foward journeys to undertake.

It was thus that I took many a trip on the 'Night Super' bus from Guwahati to Doom Dooma, to be picked up finally by the driver at the local petrol station next to Hansara tea estate and finally driven home. Our arrangements were thus : On the way to school - Flight from Dibrugarh to Bagdogra airport (via Guwahati) or Night Super bus to Guwahati airport and subsequent flight to Bagdogra airport. A bus would be waiting for us at Bagdogra airport to ferry us to school. Roll calls were taken to ensure that all were on board. 

On return from School, School party would drop us at Guwahati airport with parents or put us on the Guwahati - Dibrugarh flight or Guwahati - Doom Dooma Night Super bus. As kids, this was quite an adventure for us.

Usually, when the school party was running the route, we would stay overnight at the Urvashi Airport Hotel. This was an occasion to party with boys from the neighbouring estates and we often got into a celebratory mood. Needless to say, the hotel rooms were trashed by our antics!

School holidays lasted the entire winter season - it was much too cold for us to study in the mountains of Darjeeling, and we had to be let off. The holidays began in the last week of November and ended in the middle of March.

Throughout this period, we were at home, in the plains of Assam, enjoying the winter season with our parents - who themselves told us it was the lean season as far as cultivating tea was concerned.

We would spend our days playing in the bungalow with the servants and our evenings around a log fire in the living room. Often, we would head to the club for a round of squash or a game of golf. Sometimes we ended up playing billiards or would watch a film at the club. The club also had a nice library which was stocked with "Life" magazines and a few novels. I got into the habit of reading, thanks to the club library and because of mummy's insistence.

Winter was also time for the various annual meets of the district clubs and Doom Dooma had one in December. It was a fantastic time where we were supposed to arrive in fancy dress to be adjudged in a competition and take part in the various activities. There were tennis competitions, squash tournaments, Golf tournaments and the Flower Show. There was also a lottery in the evening along with a prize giving ceremony.

Our holidays in tea were extremely enjoyable.

Yes, growing up as a tea kid was a lot of fun. 

Meet the writer: Rajeev Mehra

As I mentioned, our time in Tea was spent  around the town of Doom Dooma, in the Brooke Bond Gardens. My father was earlier in the North Bank area, around Mangaldai and Bishnauth Charali; and even North Lakhimpur - however, we kids grew up in the Doom Dooma area.

I was a toddler in Daimukhia Tea Estate and then grew up in the Hansara, Mesaijan and Fatikjan/Beesakopie bungalows. Schooling was in Darjeeling right from the age of 05 years and a half until 18 at the prestigious St. Paul's boarding school.

After school, I studied International Hotel Management from the Indian Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad and came to France to pursue a Masters Course in Hotel Management from Institut Vatel, Nimes. I stayed back to work and am now involved with the Hotel Industry, here in Nimes. On the way, I picked up the French language which is of great use to me professionally. I keep visiting India, and was last in Assam in 2018 for a trip to Shillong, Balipara, Kaziranga and Majuli area - but that will be the subject of a forthcoming story.

 Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. 

My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. I started this blog in 2018 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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! 

This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/ Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!

 

 

Thursday, November 30, 2023

My World in a Teacup

 Dear friends, I am most happy to share this little mood piece by Mansi Chaturvedi. I started reading and was wafted away to a much loved place and another era. Do get yourself a cup of tea before you settle down to lose yourself in Mansi's world. -Gowri

I remember sitting in the verandah of my huge bungalow, amidst the green of the tea garden, where the silence around me was disturbed only by the sound of the falling rain on the roof top and all around me. I remember seeing giving a nice wash to all the plants that I had arranged around my bungalow. There was no one to be seen, I guess they paused work for a while as they were waiting for the downpour to stop.

I was looking out and enjoying the rain, and it is really beautiful to watch it from where I did. The tea tray had been put down and tea was poured out from the tea pot. A few biscuits just as add-ons to enjoy this tea. I have had tea for many years. I remember making it - you know how the Indian masala chai as it is called - is made. It is left to simmer till you are satisfied with the aroma of the fresh ginger in the tea and the colour that you would want it to transform into. Here I was, sitting with someone serving me tea in a proper tea set. It took me a while to realise that this was it, for every time it was brought and served that way, I would feel like a guest in my own house. Why so proper and why do I get a different flavour and colour that I never ever knew tea had? It would get more complicated when I would be told it is tea from 'the first flush'. 'A very delicate flavour', they would say, and I would just sip on it, in the most dainty manner I could.

Tea for me is an addiction, something that I cannot start my day without. Always an early riser, I would quickly have the first cup made all by myself in my way and it would just energise me and I would be ready for the day. But what never changed was having tea in the verandah, looking out at the tea garden around my bungalow and it would just feel like heaven. The silence was something most welcomed by me, coming from a city. Yet to enjoy this silence I needed my companion, my cup of tea. Getting up early, though normal for me, was a punishment for the watchman in my bungalow who never thought he would have to be on his toes so early in the morning. The moment the bungalow servants were in my tea would transform into a different flavour and colour. No matter how many times I would explain to them to get me tea the way I wanted, they would stick to their elaborate serving of tea throughout the day.

Tea was really different in a city and in a tea garden which I realised once I was there. The entire process from tea leaves being plucked, carried to the factory, the aroma of fresh tea being prepared and then getting to taste the tea fresh is an experience in its own. Never did I imagine I would be enjoying tea sitting amidst all the greens in my verandah watching the rain fall and sipping the 'first flush'.

I think many others might relate to this story and experience.

About the writer:

My name is Mansi Chaturvedi. I am based in Kolkata. I am a published writer and a blogger. I had been part of the tea family for 15 years as my husband was working for Tata Tea. We had a wonderful experience in tea gardens both in Dooars and Assam. 

Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. 

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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! 

This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/
Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Caught in a Shootout

 Hello again, dear friends! It’s so good to have another new post on the blog! This is Vijaya Sarmah’s second story here. The first, ‘The Wedding Invitation’ (link in writer’s  bio below ) was a most amusing account of one of those quaint customs that you could only find in a tea garden. This one is in a different vein - and it is a reminder that life in Tea is no picnic! Enjoy your read! -Gowri 

This incident took place when we were in Achabam T.E. of Dibrugarh district.

It was at the time when militancy movements were strong and the entire state was under the Armed Forces Act.

(The AFSPA is now operational only in eight districts of Assam. Dibrugarh is still one of them.) It was hard to believe that in the lush green tea gardens there lurked dangers. That amidst the greneery there were incidents of gunshots and fire. That beneath the placid, serene environment there were terror and trepidation and days were lived in constant fear.

The voice of Bishnu, our chowkidar, woke us up.

I switched on the light and saw the clock showed the time as 2:20 am.

'Sir, army aya hain’, Bishnu said.

I got jittery. Why was the army coming at such uncanny hour? Were they actually army people or dacoits in army fatigues?!

My husband Jayanta however immediately went outside.

I was greatly nervous. I looked at the boys who were sleeping on the bed next to ours.

Thankfully my fears were unfounded, as Jayanta came back and told me an Army officer had come to inform him that there would be a search operation in the garden in the morning and they were waiting for the first light of the dawn.

The army's intelligence wing had got information of some militants hiding in our estate.

At 6 :15 am Jayanta left for office.

It was another rush morning hour for me.

Both the boys were young and needed my help in putting on their school uniforms, buttoning the shirts,wearing the ties, tying the shoe laces.

I had to be on my toes most mornings.

So just like other days I dressed up the boys, packed the tiffins, cheked their bags and finally readied myself for the day.

I worked in the same school ( St. Mary's Naharkatia) where my boys were studying.

Like all other days, I looked forward to the day, my classes, meeting my students and colleagues.

The small incident of the night was completely forgotten in the warmth of the morning sun.

It was like 'Raat Gayi, Baat Gayi '.

At eight a m the Estate School bus honked outside our bungalow. The three of us and the boys' nanny Wahida hurried to the bus.

Younger son Zit's classes got over at 12:30 pm.

Since I had to be in school till 3:30 pm Wahida collected him and returned in the same bus at half time.

The bus made four up and down trips everyday.

Like all other days the bus was full with school children.

There was another teacher from St.Mary's.

So including myself, Wahida, the teacher, one driver and one bus conductor there were five adults.

The rest were all students studying in the town's different schools.

Our bus had moved just a few meters when we heard a commotion.

The driver stopped the bus, as some army men shouted to him 'Bus roko, aage goli chal rahin hai '. ( Stop the bus, shootout is going on ahead) , one soldier said.

It was then that the forgotten incident of the night came to my mind.

So there were actually militants hiding in the estate somewhere amidst the tea bushes.

I was almost in tears.We were caught in a real army shootout. We could not move forward or go backwards. Caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. I also had to guard the students, particularly the senior students who wanted to get down from the bus.

It was a hard time controlling the boys.

It was almost forty minutes of breathstopping moments . It was for the first time I felt time going slow. Each minute was like an eon. My heart was in my mouth. We sat helpless inside the bus with only prayers on our lips.

'Please keep the children safe, please let this moment pass'. I pleaded to God.

From the bus window I watched the world outside .

There were no signs of any troubles or turmoil outside.

The tea bushes stood so peacefully . The tall shirish trees stirred in the light morning breeze.The sun was warm and appeasing. The autumn sky was clear and translucent.

It was also for the first time I saw the serenity in the green of the tea bushes and the blue sky.

In the hurried rush pace of my busy schedule I never cared to pause and enjoy the beauties so close to me.

How tranquil is nature's world compared to the world of humans.

Nature is not selfish or greedy like man. Nature has no demands or needs. She gives herself wholly to  spreading happiness in every heart without asking rewards.

In that distressing moments I also realized how uncertain is life .

A stray bullet might fly and hit anyone in the bus that autumn morning.

Just a few minutes previously our petty worries on life and livelihood became meaningless in those few moments.

After forty minutes, the army gave us the All Clear signal and our bus could move.

No one talked, not even the young children who are the most talkative, uttered anything till we reached school.

We reached very late and had to make  a long explanation to the school authorities.

Meet the writer:

Vijaya Sarmah 

It's been twenty two years in tea. I used to write one or two poems here and there for my college magazine but that was all. I did my Masters in English from Guwahati University.

Worked in local schools, wherever my husband got posted  - sadly nowhere more than two years - from Hatigor Army School to Bagrakote Army School in Dooars, then Naharkatia St. Mary's, again at Shankardev  Bidya Niketan, in Mazbat, Assam. 
 
We have two boys, both live away from home. I don't work anywhere at present, like to wield my pen now and then as I have nothing much to do in the house. I've published some poems in The Assam Tribune and  The Woman's Era magazine.


Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com.

 My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. I started this blog in 2018 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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/ Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea! 

Monday, June 5, 2023

Tea Party

 Hello again, dear friends! Gayathri Ramachandran is back with an invitation to a tea party, so off we go! Cheers to all of you, and thank you, Gayathri! - Gowri 

by Gayathri Ramachandran

“Hey, Let’s discuss this over a cup of Chai”. The Americans say, "Over a cup of coffee". The British say, "Over a cuppa!" What do the Chinese, and especially, the Japanese, say? They are the original inventors of the elaborate Tea Ceremony.

In the time-honoured Tea ceremony, Japanese chadō or sadō (“way of tea”) or cha-no-yu (“hot-water tea”) is rooted in the Zen principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquillity. Tea has its unique identity and recognition in various parts of India - Theneer, chaya, chaha, Cha, Cheeya and Chai in Indian languages.

Tea served in style


After we moved to Coimbatore from Delhi, Ooty - the Queen of Hills - beckoned us to the cool climate, lush tea gardens, and mainly the mountain air. What a change from the heat and dust; the shivers and biting cold of Delhi! The tree plantations in Coonoor are very lush in growth and grown at elevations of almost 2500 metres above sea level. The special Nilgiri tea is unique in its taste and aroma.

credit: Coonoor Tea Factory

Tea tasting is akin to wine tasting. I have been to the wine tasting rooms in Coonoor, and in the vineyards in Australia and the USA.

The sommeliers swirl the wine around their mouths with their eyes closed in exhilaration “AAh’. Something like ‘Wah Taj’.

Tea tasters are highly disciplined. They preserve their taste buds and olfactory senses by abstaining from smoking of any kind and staying away from drinks. I am not punning. They become Teetotallers!

Do we have tea tasting tours in India? Yes, we do!

There are well conducted tea tasting Tours in Assam, Dooars, Munnar and Darjeeling. The tea factory in Coonoor, TANTEA, is a Tamil Nadu government run factory outlet where one can be educated about tea gardens and learn about the history of tea growing in India. TANTEA is one of the biggest black tea producers in India.

I am in awe of Tea Tasters, Tea Sommeliers, Tea Masters and the Tea Connoisseurs. They ensure the quality of tea and standards for identifying different tea samples. One could call me a tea connoisseur. I am a tea enthusiast!

Tea has etched its mark in History

The Tea Party is very much an Indianized concept that the influence of the British is hugely a colonial effect. The setting for ‘High Tea' is in an urbane and relaxed atmosphere. The invigorating golden brew of tea is either steaming hot or chilled, and definitely will take its centre stage served with an assortment of accompaniments such as samosa, murukku, pakoras, vada-pav, gol gappa, alu-chaat, cheese-toast and the very enticing thin-cucumber sandwich. The various chutneys and fillers that find an honorary position on the high-tea table are the excruciating ‘tests’ for the culinary expertise of the hostess. Many would definitely go through countless, sleepless nights!

The invitations for chaat parties, birthday parties, get-together parties, tea parties, keg party, socials, hen-party, soiree, masquerade and just house party, kept us busy in the social circuits during the 50 years of life in New Delhi.

It is said that there is a wide difference between high tea afternoon tea. Afternoon tea was a ritual in Britain in the early 18th century consisting of finger- sandwiches, scones, tea cakes and sweet pastries, cream and jam.

 Another version is 'Open House’. The all-time favourites in the form of steaming or cold tea, coffee and cocktails and mocktails are served with élan and flair. Life in Delhi introduced us to many stories from tea plantations and those who cherish their tea gardens and their life style.

In 2014 my husband and I moved from New Delhi to Coimbatore, at the foothills of the Western Ghats. I am fortunate to have been introduced to tea gardens in Coonoor, Ooty, Munnar and Valparai and also to those wonderful people who work there and manage the plantations. Our much-awaited getaway from city life is always in one of these awe-inspiring places. Anaimalai and Valparai, the Sinna Dorai Bungalow and the Peria Dorai Bungalow that are known for providing extraordinary comfort, squeaky-clean ambience and the delicious cuisine. The surrounding tea gardens, misty mountains and birds that come to the trees are a visual treat, and a walk through the tea-garden slopes is tremendously refreshing.

Why is it, that the air in the tea garden is not bursting with the aroma of tea? Apple orchards, rose gardens, jasmine gardens and vineyards-- all have their own fragrance.


Pictures of Origin of Tea from Tea Museum and Tea Factory-Coonoor The Highest Tea Factory. In COONOOR

On a lighter note, The Tea House of the August Moon- a comedy film made in 1956 - was my favourite movie. The misfit Captain Fisby is sent to Americanise the village of Tobias in Okinawa to help build a school but the villagers would rather have a tea house!

Meet the writer

Gayathri Ramachandran 


Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. I started this blog in 2018 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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/ Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea! 

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Tinsukia Town

Hello again, dear readers! It’s great to welcome another new writer to Indian Chai Stories. And there is something very special about the stories told by children who grew up in tea; the Cha ka baba and baby log. I’m sure you will all enjoy reading Rajeev Mehra’s recollections of a cha bagan childhood in Upper Assam. Cheers! - Gowri 

An outing to Tinsukia town was a much awaited feature during my childhood in the tea gardens of Assam. My father was working for the Brooke Bond group of companies that owned the seven gardens around Doom Dooma town : Daimukhia, Hansara, Mesaijan, Samdang, Raidang, Beesakopie and Fatikjan.

During our time in the gardens, we lived in most of these gardens, starting with Daimukhia, moving to Hansara and Mesaijan and then finishing in Fatikjan where dad finished off as the Manager of the two gardens Beesakopie and Fatikjan combined. I was a wee toddler when we were in Daimukhia and grew up to a more conscious age in the Hansara and Mesaijan bungalows.

It was during these childhood years that we developed a passion for the outing to Tinsukia town. These were far and between, as Tinsukia was a good distance away and the road leading to the town wasn't very good near the Makum Junction. Besides, Mum always said that our rations and weekly shopping could be easily procured from Doom Dooma town itself. So, we jumped on every opportunity to head out to Tinsukia. It was a coveted outing and we looked forward to it eagerly, often pestering our parents to take us there.

There were a few main attractions in Tinsukia town that we pined for. The first of them was the Ranglalls shop. This was THE shop to go to to get clothes like Park Avenue Teeshirts and Raymond shirts. We often pestered mum and dad to buy us teeshirts from there.

The other attraction was a Sardarji's shop that we used to go to buy snacks and eatables. We often made a beeline here to get sweets and candies along with Chocolate snacks and Chips from this shop. This was another place that we pestered our parents to bring us to.

The live fish and vegetable market was the other draw in town. We used to love looking at the live fish freshly caught and bought in to the market with the shopkeepers shouting out their prices and quality. We were completely mesmerised in this small and loud microcosm of hawkers peddling their wares, drivers and bearers from neighbouring gardens haggling for a good price for their Memsahibs, Membsahibs themselves inspecting the produce and the public milling to haggle a good bargain.

We often got the Ari and Rohu fish here, which the cook produced in a "planters curry", with potatoes. This was often a meal that we looked forward to and it was a favourite with my brother and me.

And finally, the biggest draw in Tinsukia town was the Highway Restaurant. We would go there for Dosas and Sambhar once in a while and these visits were pined for as we waited days and months for the Tinsukia trip.

All in all, we had a wondrous and exciting childhood in Assam. And we pestered our parents for these outings. It was truly fun living on the gardens and enjoying the "Tea life".

Meet the writer: Rajeev Mehra

As I mentioned, our time in Tea was around the town of Doom Dooma, in the Brooke Bond Gardens. My father was earlier in the North Bank area, around Mangaldai and Bishnauth Charali; and even North Lakhimpur - however, we kids grew up in the Doom Dooma area.

I was a toddler in Daimukhia Tea Estate and then grew up in the Hansara, Mesaijan and Fatikjan/Beesakopie bungalows. Schooling was in Darjeeling right from the age of 05 years and a half until 18 at the prestigious St. Paul's boarding school.

After school, I studied International Hotel Management from the Indian Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad and came to France to pursue a Masters Course in Hotel Management from Institut Vatel, Nimes. I stayed back to work and am now involved with the Hotel Industry, here in Nimes. On the way, I picked up the French language which is of great use to me professionally. I keep visiting India, and was last in Assam in 2018 for a trip to Shillong, Balipara, Kaziranga and Majuli area - but that will be the subject of a forthcoming story.

 Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories! Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : indianchaistories@gmail.com. 

My name is Gowri Mohanakrishnan and I'm a tea planter's wife. I started this blog in 2018 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, maybe long, short, impossible, scary, funny or exciting but never dull. You will find yourself transported to another world! 

This is the link to all the stories on this blog: https://teastorytellers.blogspot.com/ Be sure to add it to your list of favourites! Happy reading!! Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!