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Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hawa Pani - from a tea bungalow

by Gowri Mohanakrishnan
Moraghat Tea Estate, early 2000's

After a long dry spell, we're waiting for rain. It’s a brilliant morning. The sunlight is blinding, even at 8.00 a.m., and the heat and glare are harsh upon the malis working on the lawn. The tea bushes shimmer in the heat haze outside.
Hydrangeas sizzling in the midday sun!
I finish off with my instructions to the 'head' mali very quickly.  Mithoo and I rarely see eye to eye, but today we've formed an alliance: our common enemy is the heat. I ask him why none of the other malis has carried an umbrella to work. The pluckers out in the tea area have. He doesn't have an answer. 

Time was when you couldn't part the tea garden worker from his umbrella. He wore it crooked into the back of his collar, rain or shine.
Mitkoo, another mali, posed for this photograph I took when I wrote a piece about umbrellas. With one Mithoo and one Mitkoo, there were a lot of people getting confused! That's Mitkoo in the first picture as well. He died some years ago.
When my husband comes back for lunch he tells me what a hot day it is. The heat has slowed the pluckers down.  It's rain he wants, and quickly too. I leave him to his 'afternoon lie-back', that great tradition established by planters of old. He's off again at about three thirty, when I come out - to find everything's changed.

The Bhutan hills had disappeared in the morning’s heat haze, but now there's a mass of black clouds in the direction where they lie. Overhead, there are clouds of different structures and shapes. It’s as if an artist had gone to work on the sky with an all gray pallette. Surely we're in for what is called 'hawa-pani' by the garden folk: literally, wind and water, a mild name for what is to follow!

In some places, the clouds are already swirling, forming a whirlpool in the sky. That's something we only see in this season. And soon, the wind starts off. I say wind, but it's practically a cyclone.The verandah is like the set of a disaster-on-board movie. Anyone who wants to stand straight in there has to cling to a pillar. No standing around, it's all hands on deck as chairs, tables and flowerpots have to be got out of the wind to safety.

We're all laughing, now that it’s so cool and beautiful. It isn't advisable to go outside any longer. The trees are thrashing about wildly and at any time one may fall. Suddenly a loud crack of thunder is heard and our dog howls in fear. The lights go out at once. Somehow, the electricity just dies with the appearance of a storm.

Then we hear it, a rushing sound, as if something huge is moving towards us. It’s rain - a moving wall of water - which we can see  before it's actually with us. The verandah is open in three directions and now it seems to be pouring in from everywhere. 

Strong gusts of wind lift and carry the huge water droplets. Soon it’s crashing down on the tin roof. We shout to make each other heard. Lightning rips the sky apart in blinding flashes and thunder applauds loudly, often after a stunned pause. I send up a heartfelt prayer of thanks that there's no hail, only rain (For all the drama, there wasn't much damage anywhere in the garden, and no one was hurt). 
Later in the evening, Mohan tells me there’s been an inch of rain. Is he happy, I ask, to which I get an inscrutable shrug. Planters! They're a superstitious lot. He doesn't want the weather gods to think he’s complacent!

Meet The Writer/Editor: Gowri Mohanakrishnan  

 I was teaching English at Indraprashta College in Delhi when I met and married my tea planter husband in 1986. He brought me to the tea gardens - a completely different world from the one I knew! Life in tea continues to be unique, and I began writing about ours many years ago.

Early in 2018, I started Indian Chai Stories to collect and preserve other people's stories from tea.

The first chai stories I ever wrote were for a magazine called 'Reach Out' which Joyshri Lobo started in the mid eighties for the Dooars planters. Some years later, Shalini Mehra started 'The Camellia' and I started writing there regularly. Shalini put me in touch with David Air, the editor of Koi-Hai, who gave me a page there.  My family has always believed that I can write, and that is what keeps me going, whether I agree with them or not.

Here is the link to all the stories I have written at Indian Chai Stories -

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 : 
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!



  1. Brilliant. What a treat; i felt like i was there. Brings me back to my days at Aenakhall TE in Cachar district. I loved sitting in the veranda listening to the rain on our roof. Thank you for sharing. -Piyush Patel

  2. What a beautiful word painting of the Dooars monsoon. Can picture it all. The magic of your words takes me back to Dalsingpara. Miss it all in this dreadful North Indian heat.

  3. Always loved a storm in the estates - those raindrops clattering like an army of cats on the hot tin roof! The weather is a quick change artist in the Bengal spring!
    You've brought it all back, Gowri!

  4. Dhiraj Kumar BarmanApril 29, 2018 at 8:25 PM

    Being a person from Shillong we have a liking for the mesmerizing sound of rain drops falling on CGI sheet roof tops which gave us a sound sleep at night. After joining tea we have realised the importance of rain and ofcourse the devastating April hail storm of Cachar made planter in me superstitious...

  5. I can hear and see everything you describe, and I live through that hawa pani. Palette of words creating that drama of the skies. And the hydrangea, simply love them.

  6. Lovely story Gowri - it reminds me so much of my days in Assam - when I was at Nagaghoolie TE in June 1964,the bungalow was struck by lightning one night - the bedroom punkahs all went phut and sparks dropped on to the bed. The main supports of the bungalow were buzzing and you could not touch them. For two days after this event the taps in the bathrooms would give you a kick if you touched them - they had to be handled by using a bit of lakri - the DC power supply to the bungalow was provided by a Lister Start-O-Matic engine in a small building about two hundred yards away from the bungalow. These generator sets started automatically when a light switch or punkah switch was turned on, and shut down when all switches were turned off - however, occasionally the engine would give a problem and the speed would drop - this caused the lights to get dimmer and dimmer until they went out. This entailed a walk to the engine room with a torch and spanners to rectify the fault, and get the bijli supply up again. Not very handy if the engine failed during a monsoon downpour!! Out you went with the chati and cursing the engine, and removing the leeches on your return to the bungalow! - great memories of a wonderful life. Alan Lane

  7. Gowri... words fail..for that little time as my eyes move on from one word to the next i find myself standing in the verandah against pillar...feeling drenched and exhilarated. 'Hawa Paani' tiggers the memories for all of us who have been witness to those monsoon months in Tea. The heavy downpour, the din on the tin roofs... flooding drains.... submerged garden roads and dullungs ... are the images immedeately come to our minds.
    Rains, on one hand brought the elixir for tea bushes and bliss for the planters, at the same time could played havoc around. Those times our lives were so closely knitted with rains as if one existed for another. In city how i miss it!!!!!! Gowri love it ... write more often and tell us if rains still visit gardens like old times.

  8. So much nostalgic. I could feel the 'hawa pani' and hear the sound of rain falling on the roof. Thanks Gauri for this lovely piece. Hydrangeas are beautifu...

  9. Thanks, Mrs Krishnan for this beautiful story ....... right Now sitting in Jaipur, Rajasthan .... I can feel it ...... as I'm sitting in tea garden .... Really tea life is always wonderful & mesmerizing , filled with thrill.... I miss it a lot

  10. Wonderfully written, Gowri. Reminds me of the time my verandah resembled the venue of a drunken brawl... smashed chairs et al... after a terrific storm. What 'alarums and excursions' scurrying to save the carpet, furniture, cushions, potted plants, knick knacks etc, and then cleaning up the debris once the storm was over. Beautiful hydrangeas, by the way. Kudos to late Mitkoo.

  11. Absolutely mesmerizing portrayal of 'hawa pani'.
    So true to life. Love your writing Gowri!

  12. Rainy season when one went out got drenched and smelled the dry earth when the first water hit the ground.

  13. Lovely, still soo evocative, many years later


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