by Rajesh Thomas
Prelude: Unlike the interviews in North India, the interviews in the plantations of South India required the candidate to visit the estates and stay with one of the Managers for a few days. The Manager would then assess the candidate’s suitability. The General Manager would use this assessment and his own judgment to make the final call.
The young lad sat nervously in the passenger seat, albeit the drive from the estate office to the Managers bungalow was a short one. The stockily built gentleman driving the car, though short in stature, was a towering personality and also the PD ( Peria Dorai: the Burra Sahib equivalent in South India) of the Estate. A fearless horseman and a skilled big game hunter, a knowledgeable planter and someone whom the workforce greatly feared, admired and respected. The respect and admiration also flowed down to the Managers and Assistant Managers of the neighboring estates.
The young lad attending the interview and was supposed to stay with the PD for a couple of days in which the PD could assess whether the lad was of suitable material to be an Assistant Manager and give his recommendations to the General manager before his final interview. The General Manager greatly valued this assessment and generally went by it. There was a lot at stake for the young lad - after all a planting job those days was a gateway to a good life. He was determined to put up his best show.
After tea and a shower, they met up in the drawing room for the customary drink before dinner. In the middle of the second drink, a discreet cough by the doorway indicated the presence of the Butler. He announced that a contingent of workers had arrived at the bungalow saying that a herd of elephants had entered the workers housing line units and were feasting in the kitchen gardens and they wanted to inform the Peria Dorai.
Ah, elephants! Exclaimed the PD turning to the Young Lad “I bet that you have never seen elephants at close quarters come I will show you“.
In a few moments, the Ambassador car was on the way to the workers' line units suitably armored. An excited crowd greeted the duo. In the dim moonlight, shadowy figures could be seen over the fencing of the kitchen garden at the far end between two labour lines. The rumbles from the stomachs and the tearing of the banana trees were clearly audible over the excited murmurs from the crowd.
The Peria Dorai acknowledging the salaams, marched into the scene, as some of the supervisors and the older workers shooed off the inquisitive adolescents who were inching forward for a closer look of the anticipated spectacle. In true big game hunting style, the PD leaned on his .450 express rifles to assess the situation and called the young lad closer and pointed out the grey forms, then promptly handed him a roll of fire crackers. He then indicated to the young lad to go and fling it at the pachyderms.
When he sensed a hesitation in the youngster, he remarked in all seriousness, “Don’t worry, if the buggers charge I’ll stop em”. The young man anxiously lit a cigarette and inched towards the herd as a nervous silence coupled with anticipation descended on the crowd.
After he had judged he was close enough, the young lad lit the bunch of crackers with his cigarette and in one action threw them over the fence into the vegetable garden - and ran back as fast as his legs could carry him, without a backward glance. Fortunately for him, the jumbos bolted in the opposite direction away from the crowd and into the neighboring tea fields. The crowd dispersed slowly, a bit disappointed at the anti-climax.
Only the General Manager knew what the PD wrote in his confidential assessment, but the young lad got his appointment letter in a few weeks. Many moons passed the young lad, now a PD himself was holding court as a bunch of young Managers and Assistants in awe were listening to the tale being related.
In the end, he wistfully looked up over his whiskey and confessed that he was scared as hell, wondering what he had got himself into, and that he'd half expected to feel a trunk on his run back.
The writer, Rajesh Thomas introduces himself:
"A second generation planter. Born and grew up in the planting districts of Southern India. Started my career in the High Ranges and Annamallais Planting Districts for twelve years. Had a stint in Africa for two years. Since 2009 been planting in the Nilgiris.
Is this your first visit here? Welcome to Indian Chai Stories!
You will meet many storytellers here at Indian Chai Stories, and they are almost all from the world of tea gardens: planters, memsaabs, baby and baba log. Each of our contributors has a really good story to tell - don't lose any time before you start reading them!
Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : email@example.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, long, or 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/Indian Chai Stories