by Dilip Syam
Hello again, dear friends! Please welcome Dilip Syam, who has written four very entertaining "chotta" stories for all of us. Dilip writes that he "has decided to pen
down his adventures, stories and learning ...for people to laugh with him. His Chai Bagan stories ..attempt to make people enjoy the
lighter side of life and experiences, especially for the new generation
of tea planters and his granddaughters."
Before joining tea, I had had some exposure to the Hindi language. When I heard prior to joining the tea industry in 1962 that Hindi is generally spoken as a medium of communication in the tea gardens* between the staff and workers and the tea management, I felt confident that at least I knew and could speak the language even though I might not be extremely fluent. However, I had a rude awakening and dent to my confidence in Hindi very soon.
On my first day at work as a Trainee Assistant Manager, under a British manager, Mr. Macgeah, I reported sharp at 8am to the Garden Office & was waiting patiently at the assistants' room to meet my new boss and report to duty. After a while, the office peon of Burra Sahib(manager) came to me and said- “Burra Sahib Nuton Sahib ko salaam diya”.
Well, in my head, Hindi translation meant–‘Burra Sahib is saying hello to new sahib (me)’& I immediately replied to him “Burra Sahib ko hamara salaam doh”. The office boy was shocked. He repeated himself again and I again responded in the same manner. I told him to tell this to Burra Sahib. He kept on coming back and forth with the same message-“Burra Sahib Nuton Sahib ko salaam diya.”This went on two-three times &I noticed both peon & other assistant managers were watching me and listening to the conversation and mysteriously smiling to themselves.
After the fifth time, a six foot tall English gentleman stormed into the room and said, “Who the hell has come & has the audacity to ask for me”.
I stood up trembling with fear & said “Sir I am not from hell but from India only”.
At this moment the assistant manager interjected and took charge of the situation and explained the comical situation & told the manager that the new assistant(me) did not know the meaning of “Salam daw” which I should have learnt.
He then explained to me that “Salam daw” in garden Hindi means “you have been summoned/called”. The manager had a hearty laugh. I sheepishly joined in but was mortified and still trembling from my own experience. I did not know if I still had a job or would be sacked even prior to joining.
I was still trembling, and Burra Sahib literally pulled me to his room. He was still laughing and took it in the right spirit and thankfully I still had a job at the end of our meeting. Since then,I earned the nickname of being called by my colleagues as “Salam daw sahib” during my initial training days!!! Well, I don’t mind the nickname, at least I still had a job.
*This tradition of speaking Hindi still continues to date.
|Dilip and Mrs Syam at the Lawrie Plantations PLC Office in Kent|
Time - GMT - Have you heard of it?
If anyone asked you what GMT means, well like most people you would automatically think about the 'Greenwich Mean Time,isn’t it? Well let me tell you a story where you will come to see another meaning to it!! And I must take you with me travelling over time to the period where I had just joined my first job in the tea gardens as a fresh graduate just out of university, happy to get a job as an assistant manager. I thought this was the best thing in the world,my life of financial independence begins here. I was excited as well as nervous about the new way of life,language,lifestyle and there was me as an eager freshman.
Within a month of joining,I had my first shocking exposure to the garden lingo(bhasha). My manager in Urrunaband TE* told me that every Saturday,we must go to the club day at Happy Valley Club in Koomber TE which was about 15 kms away. He told me he would give me a lift and to be ready at three pm. I had just finished my lunch at 1:30 pm and with ample time, planned on a quick afternoon siesta (I had so much time so why not).
Suddenly at 1:50 pm,I was woken up abruptly with a blaring car horn blowing at the gate of my bungalow. I looked at my watch, saw it was not yet three pm and went up to the gate to check out the commotion. Well, it was my manager, and he wasn’t happy to see me not ready. Without speaking a word, he glared at me and turned around and went away. I thought well he will come back again at three pm.I really couldn’t understand what had happened and/or what I had done wrong. I changed and waited and waited. Three pm came and went and still my manager did not come.
The next day when I reached office,I had a message from my manager to come and see him immediately. I had all my nerves telling me, I shouldn’t be worried, I had done nothing wrong. In fact,he had stood me up, not coming at three pm as agreed.
When I went to his office, he gave me a stern look and asked me for my watch. I gave him my watch and he took it and changed the time and moved it forward an hour! He then told me, that while I was working in the tea gardens, I needed to learn and work by GMT (Garden Manager’s Time) and not IST (Indian Standard Time). I needed to accept it now as my new way of life and adapt to it if I wanted to have a job in the garden. I came to know that most of the tea gardens in Assam maintained GMT -one hour ahead of IST, and that was it!
This GMT episode (45 years of tea life later) and my watch has shown me a lot of embarrassing situations throughout my tea life. People often stared at my watch if ever in view and often get confused and recheck their own watches too, just to ensure that their watch was still working. Sometimes I enjoyed the laugh and at other times, feeling guilty- I reassured them that their watches were working fine- just not mine!
By the way, I hope I mentioned that my first episode with GMT got me penalised by my manager with a month-long night duty in the tea factory for not being ready on time for my boss ontop of regular normal field duty. Double whammy and thus I dare not forget the significance of GMT.
Three golden tips for success in tea
So thus begins my 45 years career in the tea industry.I learned to live, breathe and drink tea and today I can say proudly that I had a great life as a tea planter and built my expertise in it.
When I joined the tea garden, many seniors advised me and shared their worldly advice and tips - they advised me to learn three things at the earliest to be a successful planter. Today I am sharing those three tips with you which I was given almost like a mantra for success.
Learn to play bridge (card game for foursome) which can take up most of your day, mind and concentration and believe me when I say they can get very competitive even though it is the least physical game).
I was fresh out of college, no knowledge of cards or the world of bridge. I did try my utmost, bought books, asked my colleagues to teach me but poor me failed miserably. Everyone I played with was kind but at the end, it was more to save themselves a sad loss in the game, my seniors decided to spare me my misery of trying hard. I just did not have the concentration for bridge and almost after a couple of years of trying hard still could not progress further than a beginner. I retired from the game without the slightest regret.
Play tennis and golf- There was me, having had no exposure to either of the games before this new life I had joined,and eager to learn and be accepted in my tea fraternity, gave it my best shot. I picked up tennis quickly and learned to play the game fairly well, even to the extent of representing my club and fraternity in many events over the years. I even played against Bangladesh tea fraternity in Dhaka. There ends my success story with games. Golf was another extreme for me. I tried several times to learn and understand the game. I was lucky enough to spend quite a few years living a stone’s throw from Happy Valley Golf club in Koomber Burra Bungalow, but there ended my stint and experience with golf.
My boss had even gifted me a golf set, but it never saw the light of the day unfortunately at least not with me. He made me shadow him often during his own games to inspire me, but it just didn’t motivate me. I was happy to encourage others to play the game. My sons picked up the game like fish in water and Subro, my eldest, even played and won several tournaments at Tollygunge Golf Club in Kolkata in years to come and made me proud becoming Junior Golfer of the Year in 1996/1997. My youngest son, Devjeet, and son-in-law Rahul are keen golfers too and still make me proud with their prowess and interest in the game,but I cannot say with any certainty if tea life had any part to play here.
The final mantra was ‘drink without getting drunk’. If one can command this aspect, they would be a true planter (as per the golden advice). I saw many of my burra sahibs and colleagues attain mastery in this art and believe me, it is an art and takes years and years of practice. When I started in the tea industry and tried to keep up pace with my colleagues, many times, I found myself more in the toilet throwing up rather than at the bar enjoying myself. I have had many headaches and hangovers trying hard practising the art of drinking and my wife and family have been embarrassed spectators but unfortunately, I could never become more than a social drinker without embarrassing myself and others around me. That’s my confession here, I decided after a few years of trying that dignity lies in a quiet dignified withdrawal from the race of becoming a great tea planter who can ‘drink like a fish’ and not ‘get drunk.’
So that is the story of my tea life-had all the mantras but never could be master of all the three. Did I ever become a true tea planter without these mantras? Well, that for you to judge and me to ponder - so late in life with 45 long tea years under my belt. Your guess maybe as good as mine!
|Koomber T.E. Burra Bungalow in Cachar|
Well, I confess today that even if I have survived 45 years of garden Hindi and being a Bengali, feel I can understand a good level of Hindi fluency, if my children are to be believed, my Hindi is incredibly atrocious and embarrassing to them. My Hindi, they say, can make people turn in their graves!
I often had important company guests visit me from Head office and often at short notice. My Managing Director, once decided to come at short notice. He had a particular liking for Barak River Rohu fish which was famous as a culinary delight. Due to the short notice ,my wife could not buy the Rui (Bengali for Rohu) fish.
I tried hard to source it for my guest. I contacted the garden agent and requested him on the phone to send me good quality of 5 kgs of ‘Rui’ to the garden at the earliest for the MD. I advised my wife to expect the fish shortly. When I came back from work in the afternoon, she told me that no fish had come but there were two jute bags of cotton wool which had been delivered earlier. She asked me what I had told the agent and on questioning me further, I discovered that my Hindi (or lack of Hindi) had let me down(again)!
The agent was a vegetarian North Indian gentleman and he literally translated ‘Rui’ to Hindi ‘cotton’ and sent 5 kgs of cotton in two bags in the next vehicle into garden. I was highly embarrassed, and my wife and kids just could not stop laughing. I asked my wife to send the cotton wool to the hospital.
On his visit to the hospital, my MD enquired about such a huge sudden purchase of so much of cotton. I was embarrassed, confused and was still thinking about the appropriate response when the Medical Officer told me that the price of cotton was going up as such I might have ordered and stocked up. I nodded sheepishly.While driving back in the car, I shared my story with my guest. He cracked up laughing at the story - the fact was my Hindi word of ‘Rui’ to my local agent was misinterpreted & misunderstood. ‘Rui’(cotton) was sent to the garden but not ‘Rui’(Rohu fish).
I attempt very hard to think before I speak Hindi, but I still make silly mistakes with the language. I am a true Bengali who can speak Bengali-Hindi (if that could be a language). I am sure you have seen and heard many other Bengalis trying their hand at the delicate language of Hindi, well I am not proud to say, I belong to that group who is still trying to learn.
Meet the writer:
|Dilip at the Koomber office|
Dilip Syam is a seasoned tea planter with over 40 years experience in the lush tea gardens of Assam and North Bengal and across borders too. Eldest of 3 siblings, Dilip and his sisters were raised by his mother singlehandedly after the loss of their father at the tender age of 7years. His maternal uncle played a significant role as a father-figure guardian of the young family. Dilip was a keen sportsman since youth and even had dreams of serving the nation in the defense services. He was honored to represent his state as a NCC cadet during the Republic Day Parade in Delhi on 26th Jan’1960. Unfortunately, family responsibilities took precedence and Dilip started his career in Tea in 1962 (4th generation in Tea following in his father’s footsteps).
Dilip started his journey in tea as a Trainee / Executive Asst. Manager with M/s. PC Chatterjee Group and grew slowly and steadily in his career. He joined Koomber Tea Estate in 1967 then a part of M/S Jatinga Valley Tea Co. (London) & in 1975 it came under Koomber Tea Co. Ltd. (part of Goodricke Group of Companies, incorporated in India). He covered multiple roles in India and Bangladesh with Goodricke Group of Companies. He finally retired as the Managing Director of Koomber Tea Co. Ltd. in 2004.
During his professional stint, he received many recognitions & awards – most notable ones being ‘The World Aware Award for Social Progress -1995’ from Her Royal Highness Princess Anne in London for his role in Goodricke Group, ‘Bharatiya Udyog Ratan Award’ under IEDRA (Indian Economic Development & Research Association) from Govt. of India in 2001.
Dilip has decided to pen down his adventures, stories and learning spanning his life as a tea planter for people to laugh with him. Every one of us has a story to share and his Chai Bagan stories are an attempt to make people enjoy the lighter side of life and experiences, especially the new generation of tea planters and his granddaughters. Dilip believes that without the support and patience of his wife, Shipra and family, his stories may not have seen the light of the day.
Do you have a chai story of your own to share? Send it to me here, please : email@example.com.
Happy reading! Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea!
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