“I hear the sounds, of distant drums…. Far away, far away…………………….”
I remembered these words from an old Jim Reeves song, and thought nostalgically about the rhythmic, hypnotizing sound of the drums that would waft to our bungalow from the workers’ Lines every evening, borne gently on the breeze. It was an integral part of an evening in the tea estates of Assam during my childhood. In those days of simpler living on the estates, sans such things as TVs, the workers would sing and dance to the beat of the drum after a hard day in the field. Now, the drums come out during festivals only. Whenever I hear them, I’m taken straight back to the halcyon days of my childhood. We used to join enthusiastically in the ‘jhumur’ dance when the workers came to the bungalow to dance on a special occasion. By the time we learned the steps of one movement, the dancers had moved on to another! But it was great fun, and as the song says - “The rhythm is gonna get you” - it did!
|Dancers, photograph by Venk Shenoi, Nagrakata area, Dooars, c.1963-'64|
Another sound one hardly hears nowadays, is the howl of the foxes. One of my younger sister’s favourite words, (‘sounds’, rather) was ‘hukkahuwaa’ - this being her take on the foxes’ cry. I must say, it was a fair imitation! We were taken out for a walk every evening, and it was the first call of the fox which told the ayah that it was time to turn back home. First, one fox would call, then another, and another, from different sides, till there was quite a chorus going on, happily joined in by my sister! After I got married in the early 80s, I wondered where all the foxes had gone till one shot across the garden road one evening sometime in 2005. My husband was surprised at my excitement, which, to him, must have seemed rather excessive. But, to me, it was like seeing an old friend after a long, long time. My only regret - the fox hadn’t howled!
An old dastoor on the estates was for the factory chowkidar to beat a gong (ghanti) on the hour, every hour. Other strategically placed gongs all over the estate would follow suit, till everyone knew the time. The sound of these gongs was another integral part of life on the estates. I had quite forgotten this, till some years ago when I spent the night at an estate that still follows this practice. At first, I was happy to hear this lost sound from my childhood, but, I must confess, it became less and less enchanting as the night wore on… my sleepiness wore off… and my nerves wore thin! However, after I’d recovered from the experience, I was nostalgic about the gongs all over again!
The other sounds I miss are the sounds of words no longer heard on the estates. Everyone says ‘factory’ nowadays, but when my father was a mistry sahab his duty lay in the kol-ghar! In those days we had someone called a din-chowkidar, who came on duty in the afternoon when the other bungalow servants went home for lunch. One rarely hears of a maliani (female mali) these days, and certainly not of the gobar-buri who used to come to the bungalow every day to make fuel cakes out of dried cow dung and coal dust for that huge cooking range! Gone are those ranges. In fact, gone are those kitchens, separated from the rest of the bungalow by a long passage-way. Now, the kitchen and pantry are one entity, and so the word botol-khana is going out of the bagaan vocabulary too.
I suddenly and most unexpectedly heard the sound of a cricket (cicada) two nights ago on my 7th floor balcony here in Kolkata. I was rooted to the spot physically but taken back to the tea estates mentally…that constant, shrill sound that irritated me no end while I was there, is actually music to my ears now!
Most of all, I miss the sounds of birds cheeping and chirping early in the morning. Here, it’s the hoarse ‘caw caw’ of the crow that awakens me! I would welcome the sound of the factory siren any day in place of that!
Change is inevitable, and most changes take place for the better. However, like scents, sounds are also evocative, and these lost sounds, if heard unexpectedly, take one back to certain places or happy times in one’s past, where one dwells in spirit for that infinitesimal moment, and comes out smiling.
Editor's note: The video ( of the cicada in the tree ) was shot at Burra Bungalow, Thanai T.E., Assam
Meet the writer: Sarita Dasgupta
"As a ‘chai ka baby’ (and grandbaby!) and then a ‘chai ka memsahab’, I sometimes wonder if I have tea running through my veins!
I have been writing for as long as can remember – not only my reminiscences about life in ‘tea’ but also skits, plays, and short stories. My plays and musicals have been performed by school children in Guwahati, Kolkata and Pune, and my first collection of short stories for children, called Feathered Friends, was published by Amazing Reads (India Book Distributors) in 2016. My Rainbow Reader series of English text books and work books have been selected as the prescribed text for Classes I to IV by the Meghalaya Board of School Education for the 2018-2019 academic session, and I have now started writing another series for the same publisher.
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 : 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. You will find yourself transported to another world!
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Sarita mentions this lovely old song - for those of you who started humming it, here's the video!