Dave Lamont

 This page is dedicated to Davey and Lana Lamont

         and below we have them celebrating

" The bringing in of the New Year 2012"  in sunny Australia but in

                         a very Scottish manner

And now for the reminisces from Davey

May 18 2012  

This story is copyright and no parts may be used without my permission of the author


After a precautionary circuit of Kumbirgram Airstrip in Cachar the converted DC3 landed with a none too gentle bump on the WWII runway and taxied to a halt beside the shed that served as the terminal. Steps were rolled up to the door and among the passengers two new arrivals to the world of tea planting stepped down. I was one of them.

Jack Bruce and wife Marjory met me with little ceremony   then we were off to Silchar, some fifteen miles away. From the car I could see small clumps of trees, tiny villages consisting of two or three thatched houses built from native materials and empty fields that would later be planted with rice, I thought. In the distance were hills. We passed through Silchar which seemed to be a fair-sized town, to the ferry or ghat as it was called over the Barak River. We continued over unsealed roads another twenty or so miles to the tea estate. The terrain on the way to the tea garden was quite different as we left Silchar, turning to patches of dense jungle the further out we travelled. It hadn't been a very welcoming arrival but I had too much to see and absorb to let it worry me.

Kalline Tea Estate is one or two kilometres off the Silchar-Shillong road. It is in the southern foothills of the mountains that make up Meghalaya so is home to indigenous tribes such as Assamese, Mikir and Khasi and a large population of wild animals such as elephant, tiger, leopard, sambar, barking deer, pig, porcupine, greener pigeon and several species of snakes.

At the estate I was introduced to a very nice Bengali couple,  Sudhin and Jutica Bannerjee who had moved into the Mistri Sahib's, (engineer assistant), bungalow from Sandura outgarden and with whom I lived for the next several months. Sudhin was the outdoor assistant or kamjari Sahib.

This was where I was introduced to tea in 1957.

Being Bengalis, the Banerjees had a love of RED HOT curries munching chillies with relish; seeing how they ate and enjoyed them, I decided to try one ---they both nearly choked laughing at me trying to put out the fire in my mouth, but a banana took away the heat and I survived to live another day and grew to love a hot curry--- curry bhat. Juthica instructed me on how to pay my cook every week with enough money to go to the market and buy a young goat, veggies, eggs, flour, sugar, etc. The goat lasted more than a week but he would hold extra money over to next week and get fruit and veg from Shillong when in season. I kept the same cook till I left Kalline. I learnt that it wasn't wise to compliment the cook TOO much on any particular dish---I'd end up getting it served on a daily basis. But the cooks were very good people, likewise the bearers. I always employed a Muslim cook and bearer. This kept them apart from tea garden labour. On observing what good people they were, how devout they were at Ramadan, etc., I used to think that if I were ever to change my religion, I would become a Muslim. Listening to the Muslims of today in Europe and America, I could never become a Muslim!

Without the companionship of Sudhin with his ready, wide smile and the quieter but equally friendly Jutica, I doubt whether I would have lasted with Bruce. He was extremely uncommunicative, and taught me absolutely nothing about tea making or anything at all. Two Mistri Sahibs had preceded me and left or he got them sacked. I couldn't help but hear him saying to another planter, "I saw two of them coming down the steps at the airport and knew which one I wanted, but I didn't get him" Marjory Bruce was none better; one of those people who won't meet your eye and stare at a point above and to the right of your head when speaking to you.                        

Enough of the bad stuff!


Son? Marjory, Jack Bruce at Kalline TE           Sudhin, a friend, and Jutica at Sandura pool

Kalline manufactured orthodox tea so had more men on rolling tables and machinery and women in the sorting room than would have been necessary in a CTC factory. Power to the factory was by wide belts driven by a 120 rpm, 120 hp Crossley engine. I loved the simplicity and silence of it. All that could be heard from my bungalow was the slow regular chuff, chuff of it. The engine room was kept absolutely spotless-being wiped and polished constantly                                                                     As I recall, we made nine grades of tea. Dust, Pekoe Dust, Pekoe Fannings, Orange Pekoe Fannings, Orange Pekoe, Broken Orange Pekoe, Flowery Orange Pekoe and top of the range, Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. The last two were hand sorted by women. They picked out the Golden tips individually---the gold and silver tips are the pubescence on the underside of the bud and are the real sign of quality. Not all bushes have it. Later on I attended Toklai Research Institute to learn about Cloning tea bushes to get the best quality and quality.  With the advent of CTC manufacture, high quality individual teas are virtually non-existent---CTC teas come out of the dryers and get a quick basic sort to determine the size of dust. What might have been FOP, GFOP are all mashed up together. What a shame! There are some plantations that cling to orthodox manufacture in these days of tea bags; the best of luck to them!

Not long after arriving at Kalline, the Banerjees took me into The Retreat Club in Silchar where one of the first people I met was a Scot, Sandy Fraser. Hearing my Deeside accent and name, Sandy speired, "And where d'ye come from?"

"Braemar" was my reply.

"An d'ye ken Maggie Lamont?"

 "Aye, that's my sister"

"Weel, weel, I ken Maggie weel enough----- we were in the same class at Banchory Academy"

So started a friendship that carried on through Assam and Papua New Guinea and here we both are living happily in Australia. 

 Although polo was played in Manipur first, the Retreat Club has the distinction of being the first registered Polo Club in the world.  Another more important first for Cachar was the discovery of indigenous tea plants in Cachar in 1855 then the setting up of plantations in 1856. China tea had been tried before that in the Assam valley with disastrous results.

 The Club was where I met other assistants for a drink or two, for a game of tennis or a visit down the rags. (Red light area) Scotch whisky was astronomically priced so everyone drank the local brew or the popular Carew's Gin. (Returning to the UK and asking my brother for a gin and tonic in a bar in Southampton, I was met with an astonished look! "You don't want to ask for that kind of drink here---only poofs drink G and T." So I immediately weaned off gin until my return to India and resumption of Carews at the end of leave.)

Back to the Club! It was a very good Club, in my eyes anyway. You could get a meal, haircut, scalp massage, dressing rooms and bath after tennis, stay the night and get brekky. I heard stories of planters who rode in on horseback and after several drinks, be helped onto it and let the horse find its own way home

Bill Young, another Scotsman, had a general store called Smeels in town and was in the habit of leaving his car right up against the verandah. I was one of four assistants who lifted it up onto the verandah sideways so it could not be driven off and would have to be lifted off in the same manner. By the time he emerged from the Club, we would all have been on the way home. Poor Bill. He calmed down by the time we turned up the next Club day!

The Bannerjees kindly took me in and out to the Club till I bought my own car, from a friend of theirs. I taught myself to drive in the bungalow compound -----was there such a thing as a driving school? I don't recall such a thing.

  Silchar was a fair sized town with a good bazaar and shops. I bought material for making curtains and sewed them up myself. I should have used the durzie, the garden tailor but nobody suggested it so I carried on and made them. Later on, I got a durzie to make shorts for me and became one of the many planters wearing the famous Bombay Bloomers. (Bill Addison still wore his after settling in Australia; he must have attracted some comments! I have included a photo of Bob Simpson and myself in Bombay Bloomers.)

Ferries on the river Barak allowed vehicles to cross and access roads to villages, tea estates, towns, etc. The ferries usually accommodated two or four vehicles and propulsion was from an old lorry engine.

On Kalline, while the factory was in production I learned all I could from the Head factory babu (clerk). Hindi-Bengali I learned a bit from Sudhin and Jutica. I attempted to learn garden Hindi from Giriga the Cat Mistri (carpenter) who was the double of Mahatma Gandhi even down to the specs. It took some attempts before I realised not to point with my finger when asking, "Ayta key?"  Giriga's answer was always "Anguli"--a finger! After that I learnt to point with my chin and eyes and started learning vocabulary and grammar. Giriga spoke mainly Assamese so I spoke a weird mixture, but it got me by in Cachar. In Cachar, women tea garden workers were called rendi or rendilook; in the Assam valley, that meant prostitute or prostitutes. Mykey or mykeylook was how woman or women were addressed in Assam.             

With the advent of the cold weather, it was time for the overhaul of virtually all factory machinery. It was all orthodox manufacture so a straightforward stripping of each machine and examination of bearings on the rolling machines followed by stripping and thorough cleaning of dryers and chains and so on through the entire factory. Any part that I thought might fail in the next season was replaced. Lorries were checked and put in order ready for the examination of road worthiness. It was during the evening preceding the test in Silchar that I, plus mechanics and jugalis experienced the corrugated iron workshop being struck by lightning,!----the whole inside was transformed into a violet light (I still can see it) and the earth shook as if from a blast of explosive.

                                      Kalline Tea Factory  1957

Included in the Mistri Sahib's duties was maintenance of all buildings, roads and bridges, labour lines, hospital and stock take. The Sandura suspension bridge was top of the list for preventative maintenance so was inspected meticulously

The Doctor Babu had been primed and was ready with a list of wants as long as your arm!! He was a pretty good Dr Babu and got most of what he requested---well, within reason.

Labour lines were inspected and faults rectified---bunches of cannabis hanging upside down from the rafters I ignored. The labour had not many extras and if they wanted to smoke or chew cannabis, that was fine with me, as long as it didn't interfere with work. They chewed betel nut too. I didn't like the red spit from it so never tried it. 

The cold weather was a time to relax a bit after the busy, busy plucking season when the factory started at midnight or one am to comply with Customs and Excise Rules. (Tea couldn't be processed the same day it was plucked.)

We could spend a bit more time at Silchar Club or go fishing on the rivers. I borrowed Sudhin's 12 bore and did a bit of shooting; Greeners (large pigeons) were not uncommon and I was fortunate one morning to bag a pair with two shots---a left and a right barrel. Singles were relatively easy prey. They were first class eating.

Around this time too, the garden labour engaged in pruning were being terrorised by a leopard on Konapara outgarden---it was in Sudhin's ‘territory' and he asked if I would shoot it. I had been shooting in the rifle range in Braemar for years and represented C coy in The Parachute Regiment (TA) using Lee Enfield .303 rifles so was well used to firearms.

I borrowed his 12 bore again and practised using the cartridge loaded with a single charge---the spherical ball it was called. I practised shooting with it in the choke barrel and followed up with LG s in the other barrel---this was insurance in case I missed with the first shot. I also made contact with a tribesman who would accompany me on shikar (hunting). I instructed him to see if he could find leopard tracks where we might set up a trap. He found some on the bank of a tiny stream and made a machan, a small platform up a tree on the edge of the jungle near the tracks using old branches. The scent of newly cut wood or branches may have alerted a wild animal although the scent of newly pruned tea was in the air. Cats hunt by sight so don't have an acute sense of smell like a dog. Nevertheless he took no chances so old branches it was. Through the leaves and branches of the tree there were only a few yards of trail visible from the machan.   Next step was to buy a goat and chain it securely to a tree so that any predator could not carry it off while we hid up on the machan.  The goat did its bit, bleating loudly and attracted the leopard which sniffed warily around for ages until he killed it and tried to make off with it; the chain defied its efforts. By the time dawn broke he'd had a good bellyful.

When it passed by our tree using the game path the shikari had found, I shot it keeping the LG s in reserve in case I missed with the spherical ball and it charged up the tree at us. Neither of us wanted to share the space with an enraged, wounded leopard so my finger was already on the second trigger as I fired the first barrel. My aim was good however and the Chota Baag (leopard) never took another step. We transported it back to my bungalow to be skinned and find out why it was not hunting its normal prey. It had porcupine quills in one front paw so was unable to hunt.

A few days later another leopard appeared, took its place and met the same fate. This one seemed to have been gored in the stomach by a deer or pig perhaps.

Incredibly, yet another leopard took a goat from the labour lines not far from the factory a couple of weeks later, and  Bruce insisted this time that the Teellah Babu (clerk in charge of plantation foremen and workers) get a strong bamboo trap made and a goat be tethered inside it. It was a simple enough device with the door falling into place and trapping the big cat. A broken tooth was probably the reason for this one's inability to hunt and kill. I shot this one inside the trap and gave the head to the Teellah Babu.

             Myself with trophies                                               Shikari with leopard and gardener

Any of these leopards could have turned maneater quite easily being disabled and close to human habitation. (It was reported recently that a number of villagers had been attacked and taken by leopards. A large part of the problem nowadays is the encroachment of civilisation on the customary territory of wild beasts---wild elephants are attacking villages on the North Bank not far from Tezpur and killing people)

After the shikari had skinned each animal, older men, retirees took away the carcasses for food. They ‘dug' a ‘wishbone' from the chest area of two of them and presented them to me. They were curved and seemed to be freefloating in the fleshy front part of the chest. Unfortunately they've got lost in our many moves over the last fifty four years.

There were many leopards around Kalline and on several occasions the Bannerjees or I had to stop and sound the car horn, yell and flash headlamps to get them up off the kutcha road where they gathered to soak up the heat from the day's sun. I've seen up to eight spread all over the road and loath to get up or move.  We would come upon them at night on the way back from the Club. Wild animals don't seem to realise that humans are inside cars until they step outside.

Only a few years later, while on Kamjari on Sandura outgarden, John Lane spied a tiger lying on the verandah of the unoccupied bungalow. I was unfortunate to have never seen one ----perhaps that should read, I was fortunate that one never saw me, when I went out on Shikar by myself!

Herds of elephants used part of Kalline during their annual meanderings along the foothills. During my stay, a herd broke the water supply pipe up in the hills. Sudhin accompanied me to locate, inspect and repair the damage---I wondered why my feet were so wet when the terrain had been relatively dry. I got the answer on removing my shoes----loathsome leeches festooned the gaps between my toes and some, having had their fill, dropped off in the shoes spilling blood. Barely resisting the urge to tear them all off, I burned them off with a cigarette end. Yuck. I never got used to them and after that always carried cigs and matches.                                           

John Lane reckons quite rightly, I think, that many of these elephants were ones or descendants of them, that Elephant Bill had released into the jungle and hills especially on the Manipur border of Cachar.

Mosquito proof wire protected the bungalow against most insects and there were always the tictics (small geckos) to eat any other insect. The ceilings were stretched hessian cloth sewn along the long edges and had been whitewashed. Quite often there would be a commotion in the ceiling space followed by a ‘something' scurrying across the hessian making indents then a squeal or just silence. This I was told was the resident gecko killing a rat or mouse. I saw geckos after that but never came into contact with any, till one landed on my bare back on my opening the verandah door the better to observe a large venomous snake speeding across my lawn. The sudden splat of the gecko was enough to make me nearly jump out of my skin!!! Its feet felt like suction pads as it ran down my back but thankfully didn't try to get under the waistband of my pyjama pants. The snake disappeared I know not where.

Later on I trapped a gecko to have a look at it and was quite surprised to see the speed as it swivelled round and lashed out with its tail in similar fashion to a croc. It was about nine inches long and did a sterling job of keeping my bungalow free of small snakes and rodents. I wish I had taken a photo of it---it was very miniature crocodilelike.

Coming from Braemar in the Highlands of Scotland, where the annual precipitation is a mere 30 inches, and although I'd heard about the monsoon rains, I was astonished at the sheer volume and ferocity of the rainfall at Kalline. It came in May or June and measured 120 inches per wet season!! We were not very far from Cherrapungi higher up in the Khasi hills; it ‘enjoyed' the reputation of being the wettest place in the world with a rainfall of more than 450 inches.                                             

The monsoon was when the factory women revelled in the dryness of the sorting room, but it did mean that tea had to be packed the same day as it was dried and sorted and had a moisture content of three or four percent. Due to the high humidity, occasionally the tea had to be fired again before packing.                                                                                              It was pretty hot too, but as I've always liked the heat, it didn't bother me ---air conditioning had not been thought of yet and overhead fans we had in the bungalows were adequate. The kamjari Sahib (outdoor assistant) worked out in the rain but usually had a bit of shelter at leaf weighment to keep his book dry. This was the time when the young lovelies arrived to get their baskets of green leaf weighed. Their beautiful deportment, hips swaying under the plucking baskets balanced on heads and wet saris clinging to their bodies like a second skin was something to behold. The men and older women were soaked also but never attracted the attention the chokries (young/ teenage girls) drew!! I wonder why??!       

Talking of plucking and weighment, I remember the very refreshing tea the labour drank; I often drank it. It was a quite weak drink of cool to warm tea with salt in it, poured over a banana leaf and caught in your hands, carried to the pluckers in four gallon tins by the charwallahs.

A few yards behind my bungalow stood the Kalline Club. It was quite small but had a snooker table. On the one occasion I recall it being used, Mrs Bruce told me to bring a plate of chips wrapped in a newspaper as one would have got from a fish and chip shop, which I did. I remember Sandy Fraser and his friend Tony Crampton were there along with Mrs and Bill Mackie from Jellalpore, 12 miles up the road. We played snooker and had a drink although I never drank much in those days---but soon learned! Two things I remember that night was Bill telling how he could hear the shooting across the river from his bungalow. It was East Bengal before it became East Pakistan then Bangladesh (Home of Bengalis). The other thing was Bill asking my first name---Bruce never addressed me as anything other than Lamont.  The Mackies were a real couthy, homely couple, typical Aberdonians. 

Bill told me of escorting Indian refugees out of Burma on foot in the early years of the war---- two of his outstanding memories were the hordes of butterflies that descended on corpses (he hated butterflies after that) and the fact that the complete sole would fall off the feet of dead refugees. I don't think that had anything to do with the butterflies! Many refugees died on the way. Lacking medical help and transit camps, they were driven onwards by the fear that they might be overtaken by the enemy and shot.                                                                                           A book by AR Tainsh  .....'and Some Fell by the Wayside' describes the enormity of the trek of the North Burma evacuation which Bill Mackie took part in. Looking through names of planters who drove the ITA (Indian Tea Association) road from Dimapur, Kohima and onward to the Burma border in only eight weeks, an incredible feat, I saw the initials JD Bruce. I presume it was the same Bruce who was my manager on Kalline. What a pity he never spoke about it.  I would have loved to hear of his experiences first hand.

One other very interesting character I met at Kalline was a retired man called Massey Shaw. I recall him a being a big man living with his Assamese wife. Where I don't know---I'm sorry now that I never found out.

He told the story of his father being the first Chief of the Fire Brigade in London and indeed he was, being Knighted by Queen Victoria. Many years later, Lana and I with our sons were walking over one of London's bridges and I was delighted to see and explain the history and significance in the name of the fire fighting craft we saw on the river below-‘Massey Shaw' or it may have been the ‘Sir Massey Shaw'. A boat of the same name rescued troops from Dunkirk.                                                                                                                                             When I was transferred from Kalline I lost contact with Massey Shaw (I'm sorry I don't recall his first name) but being an elderly gentleman in 1958 he no doubt passed away soon after.                                                                                          Does anyone remember him or any more about him from his Tea Planter days? He must have had a noteworthy past becoming a Tea Planter in the 20's perhaps?

Colin Gill on Bhubandhar Tea Estate needed an Engineer Assistant and I was transferred there. I renewed my friendship with Sudhin and Jutica most weeks at the Silchar Club when they came in. I had enjoyed my time at Kalline---it was very attractive to me in a wildernessy kind of way. It must have been quite isolated and close to the jungle. There was plenty of wildlife with hunting, fishing and a good labour force. I don't recall any trouble there.

What a breath of fresh air Colin was after Bruce. Colin welcomed me, introduced me to his wife, showed me round the factory explaining any questions I had, showed me my bungalow and generally showed me what a good bloke he was.

Bhubandhar was a similar distance from Silchar and diametrically opposite, being closer to the Lushai and Manipur Hills in the south east instead of the Khasi Hills in the north west.

I believe that Jock Armour from Aboyne--- 30 miles from my home in Braemar, had opened up new parts of Bhubandhar with Lacky Narian who I befriended. Lacky Narain was a local and one of these patriarchal figures who stand out and command respect. He loved to recount tales of how he and Jock travelled out from Silchar on buffalo carts, how land was cleared and tea planted. One of the regrets in my life is not meeting Jock.

Ernie Lees, the English Crossley Engineer arrived to convert the engine from gas to diesel so it was nice to have him stay with me and give me a good run down on the engines. Pistons were changed, new main bearings fitted and extra lube oil fed. All went well for the start but then the governor seemed to not work, the engine going faster and faster till the concrete floor shook and the mistris ran outside. I watched Ernie use a lever to jam open the intake valve and gradually momentum was lost-too much lube oil was being fed in so despite Ernie shutting off the fuel the engine would have self destructed I think.  Nothing would have stopped that huge flywheel! Anyhow, all's well that ends well and I continued to overhaul the factory machinery and carry out normal maintenance throughout the factory and estate. (Ernie was one of ten Crossley trained engineers who had the unenviable task of overhauling the large Crossley engines that provided power for tea factories throughout Cachar and Assam. The limited period when they could do this was defined by tea production being finished and the start of a new season.)

A night or two after Ernie left I was wakened by whispering and stealthy footsteps. Investigation revealed a chowkri (young girl) about to be shown into my bedroom. I got really bad vibes about that and chased the man and young woman out of my bungalow. Telling Colin about it at Office next morning and describing the man, it turned out Colin had had trouble with him previously. He would have brought relatives round and accused me of raping her, inciting them to riot and goodness knows what. My instincts were 100% right to chase them out. Around this time too, Bunny Chander, gave me his wee dog, Pinto. It was a Spaniel Daschund cross, good company and immensely brave. He used to accompany me singing --- yowling. I think he was telling me he could sing as well as I could and wanted to accompany me---what a duet!! Certainly silenced cook, bearer and mali chowcri's chatter as they ran for cover.

 Bunny had been on Bhubandhar previously as had Walter Johnston. They had been ‘friendly' with sisters Noadi and Parboti and they wished to carry on the ‘friendship' with me. How could I refuse two attractive young ladies?

After a month or two, Colin told me that Bruce had given me a bad report but he, Colin was very happy with me and sent in a good report. Soon afterwards, the Macneill and Barry Visiting Agent, Godsell did his inspection and quizzed me on Bruce and his wife---why did I get a bad report?  After we chatted for a while, he said to forget it, it was wiped off the records!

Colin gave me a good insight into plucking, pruning, fertilising, weeding, spraying and the many aspects of tea production so although I was primarily in charge of the factory and tea making, etc. Colin involved me in everything, I loved it. There were a few badmash (trouble-makers) among the labour on Bhubandhar and neighbouring villagers would come onto the estate and steal leaf at night. Colin's very clever solution was to promote the leader, the biggest badmash and give him the authority he so craved. Yes, he and one of his pals was given the responsibility of patrolling the fence line where the villagers were coming through. He carried out his duties diligently, bringing in recovered, stolen tea leaves. One morning I passed by him squatting outside Colin's office, he was eating rice from a bowl. Nothing unusual in that, except that a villager had taken a weapon and hit the badmach on the skull. I had a look at the wound and could see his brain pulsing through the hole. The Doctor Babu stitched it up and the last I heard he was still going strong!

Separating the two distinct halves of the tea estate was a long and quite wide bamboo bari. I decided to go hunting in there---big mistake!! I had only gone into it what seemed a short distance when a movement caught my peripheral vision. It turned out to be a tortoise, but when I turned around to go back out, I had no idea where I had come in. It was completely featureless---no shadows, no sun, bamboos in every direction, floor covered with bamboo leaves so no footprints. Don't panic I told myself. I followed the rule for getting out of a forest of trees i.e. put your back against one tree and march straight forward to another tree and repeat the process. After some time, maybe five to ten minutes, I saw daylight. What a relief! I've never been inside a big bamboo bari since. But!! Not far from my bungalow, was a clump of bamboos where pigeons roosted.  Sometimes in the evening, to break the monotony of reading, I would take a torch, shine up onto the pigeons who peered enquiringly down and, with a simple squeeze of my air rifle trigger have my supper fall into my hand. Repeated three or four times and I ate like a king.

Out walking with Pinto one Saturday morning, he got into a tremendous scuffle with an eight or nine foot python in the ditch at the roadside. Pinto had it by the throat/neck and it was trying to get coils round his body-however, I was carrying my air rifle and put several pellets into its brain. I felt quite sorry about it but Pinto came first--- small pythons are generally harmless to humans, some folk even having them as pets.

When Colin was on leave, Bob Simpson took over with his wife Jessie. They were a beaut couple. Jessie took great delight telling folk how she told her cook to cook potatoes in their jackets----or as Jessie told him,--in their copra (clothes in Hindi). The important guests were mightily impressed when the cook served up boiled potatoes in a tea towel!

An old rogue elephant, a massive tusker which had probably been supplanted by a younger male and been kicked out of the herd, had entered the estate and was heading away from one of the tea growing areas. It was frustrated and bad tempered thrashing about with its trunk.... it must have been hampered in its progress through the tea by the triangular planting which had been in vogue in earlier years. The bushes had been planted in five foot triangles---not at all economical for production but ideal for stopping large animals. The bushes spread wide and the branches were strong; it meant that humans too had to move zigzag. I photographed it with the tea in the background knowing I was pretty safe and had the protection of a four to five foot wide nullah between us.     I'm not sure if the tea had been planted five foot triangular as a safety barrier or if that had been the planting norm in early days on Bhubandhar that period. Other parts of the estate were planted conventionally, ie square or rectangular so lines were straight and easy to walk along or through.


Bob Simpson and self-- note Bombay Bloomers          Wild Elephant with tea in Background    

One of the most interesting projects I undertook in tea was at Bhubandhar, at least I think it was Bhubandhar; it was the only garden I remember that had a lot of Bheel. (Bheel is similar to a peat bog and great care must be used when draining it).Thus not an impossibility to sink a tubewell down 200 feet by hand---no machinery. I have explained to folk since and seen the look of incredulity on their faces so I am going to attempt to describe it here. Old koi hais (tea planters) may have done it so know what I'm talking about.

A site was chosen with care and speculation, taking into consideration the proximity of trees, past and present, how adjacent would it be to houses, run off into drains etc. Once that was determined, galvanised pipes were brought, basic tools such as a step ladder, hacksaw, pipe wrench and soft rope (not nylon-I don't think they had nylon ropes then), timber to make a tripod, and a length of rounded timber to use as the fulcrum. Water and a fair quantity of gobor (cow dung) was needed too. Strangers to India and the East do not appreciate the importance of gobor. It is used in so many ways and in this instance it was to be used to line the walls of the tube well to stop it collapsing inwards---ingenious. A depression was dug and filled with well mixed water and gobor, one length of pipe cut in half, held upright and tied to the fulcrum that lay over the extended legs of the tripod. One person was delegated to hold the pipe vertical while the fulcrum was operated to raise and lower the pipe vertically into the depression. At the same time a third person was up the step ladder holding his palm over the top of the pipe, creating a vacuum which filled with water and soil. At each stroke of the fulcrum, water and soil was allowed to escape up the pipe and the pipe would sink deeper into the ground taking gobor with it. This operation carried on, water and gobor in the right consistency being added as required and new lengths of pipe screwed on. Eventually the man on the step ladder would cry out that he was catching sand in his hand which meant water had been found. At least six feet deeper the pipe went and if it was good coarse sand with clean water still coming up, the fulcrum was used this time to raise the lengths of pipe very carefully. A six foot brass filter was screwed onto the end and it all lowered into the ground again. The gobor demonstrated its worth when all the full lengths of pipe were finally down without the walls collapsing into the hole, especially in the sandy, water bearing strata.  Next, a concrete pad was laid, this formed the base for the Deckie hand pump and it was ready to use as soon as the concrete dried.                                                                                                 

A triumph for ingenuity.....I wonder who devised the method.

It went well most times but on one occasion, an ancient submerged tree trunk was hit so a withdrawal and new start was made a few feet away. I did cut sharp teeth on the end of one pipe in an attempt to cut a hole through a sunken tree but on this occasion it didn't work. The galvanised pipe was too soft and the tree too hard---the pipe seemed to bounce off it. 

Bhubandhar (means to hold the world -remember the hit song ‘He holds the whole world in his hand') was the end of the road; a Temple had been built on top of Bhuban Hill. At that time pilgrims, all women desperate to bear children made a pilgrimage to the temple passing a Shiva Linga on the way. I walked part of the way up there but felt that I would be ‘trespassing' on holy ground so turned back. The image of the huge Shiva Linga, about four or five feet tall is imprinted in my memory -but why was it painted white?

Recently, my friend Shona Patel put me in touch with Sajal Nag, Professor in History in Silchar University who kindly made enquiries about Bhuban Hill for me.

Quote-‘the temple is still there, in fact now there is a church as well. The temple has been built and extended. Nagas, who revered this so called Shiva Linga, which is supposed to be a Hindu God, have in the mean time become Christians and built a church. So now it is a pilgrimage centre for Bengalis and other plainsmen as well as the Zemi and Kabui Nagas who come all the way from Manipur and Assam for their annual pilgrimage. Interestingly, a new faith called the Heraka faith has also been started here by Nagas who want to go back to their original indigenous faith. So it is a centre for multiple religious faiths and tribal, non tribal, Hindu, Christian and Muslims all go there for an annual fair on top of the Hill in the months of January-February'-----unquote.

It must be a truly wondrous place when all these diverse people and faiths can intermingle at their own shrines for two months. Muslims obviously don't try to convince others that theirs is the only true faith and Allah the one and only God. Now, of course, I wish I had gone to the top of the Hill. (The Hindu God Shiva is sometimes depicted as a phallus)

Another memory of Bhubandhar is Ian Clyde, manager of Rukni T.E .It was the last and closest tea estate before Bhubandhar. Any time I dropped in for a drink he loved showing his ‘prowess' with his pistol, sitting in his lounge chair and shooting tic tics or just shooting holes in the ceiling. What a character! And was the spitting image of David Niven.

Next move for me was to Burtoll Tea Estate, part of the Dewan group. Tom Angus was Superintendent. Bob Docking was my Burra Sahib, another real good bloke. Andy Hutt was renowned for having a Pahariah (mountain) Myna bird which was an excellent mimic. "Bearer, peenayko doh" ("bearer bring me my booze") was Andy Hutt's voice exactly. It would also do a realistic imitation of a servant cleaning his tongue in the morning. They scraped their tongues all the way back to their tonsils almost with a split bamboo making themselves retch loudly.

While I was on Burtoll, John Hare was Manager on Dewan---he and his wife kept and bred Corgis and were worried about a big civet cat which was eyeing up a puppy and asked if I could shoot the cat for them. It was high up in the crotch of a limb half of the body draped over each side. I did shoot it but the skin was spoiled as the bullet shattered the shoulder and made a huge exit hole. What a shame.

Johnny Hare had been told to cut down numbers in the labour force i.e. retrench workers so obviously older people were first to go; they hung around his legs crying Mai-Bap. (Mother-Father) I really felt for them. No doubt John felt the same way, but orders are orders and there was no way out for him.

John had been captured by the Japanese in WWII and miraculously survived the almost unbelievable privations on the infamous railway built by slave labour and prisoners of war leading up to and over the River Kwai in Thailand.

I was Mistri Sahib in the Burtoll factory and when Namgyall the Nepali Assistant on Balladhun was transferred, I asked  Bob if I could have his job. "Yes" he replied to my delight. Although I liked working with machinery and making the best tea possible, I was always envious of kamjari sahibs for the freedom of the outdoors, the weather, the variety of things going on, plucking, weighing of leaf, spraying, fertilising, pruning, etc.etc. Now was my chance to find out if I wanted to be one.

It will save a lot of time and effort if I transcribe the article I wrote about Balladhun on Nov. 2010, with some alterations and additions.

Subject: Fw: BBC News - 'Elephant Man' who staged daring WWII rescues

I appreciated the article about the evacuation of Indian refugees from Burma in 1942 to 1944 and would like to add some of my own reminiscences 

When I was on Balladhun Tea Estate in the fifties, I was told the story of Jimmy Sinclair, a Scot- one of my predecessors.

Jimmy's/my bungalow was situated on top of a 'Teellah' --a wee hill about 40 or 50 ft high with tea bushes planted all over and a path up to it.  

In 1942, Jimmy had been sitting on the verandah and saw several elephants carrying people and a European on the lead one. Jimmy's question was, "Faur are ye comin' fae an' faur are ye gaun tee?" ("Where are you coming from and where are you going to") "You'd better come in for a dram".

This was Elephant Bill Williamson who rescued many Indians fleeing from Burma---Elephant Bill was in the teak and other native hardwoods business and used elephants to drag the timber out of the forests. In Cachar, he made himself unpopular with tea planters letting his many elephants loose to graze in the jungle near the tea once he had delivered the refugees to safety. 

As mentioned previously, Bill Mackie from Aberdeen walked/ led/ escorted groups across the border around the same time.  

My little bit of experience on Balladhun using an elephant was to build a long, wide footbridge. There was no tractor or vehicle so only tea garden labour would use it. It was a great experience to see a working elephant doing what I directed the mahout to carry out.

There were 8 or 9 hundred acres of tea but no factory so the tea had to be plucked then transported on a wee railway---no engine, but pushed all the 7 miles to the factory on Burtoll by labourers. Those rails made it tricky driving a car straddling the track all the way back from Burtoll or the Silchar Retreat Club. Like Jimmy, I was there on my own---the nearest car and European was Bob Docking on the main Garden at Burtoll then some 20 -30 miles further to the Silchar Club.

Not long after I'd arrived on Balladhun, a single rail was reported missing. Sometimes labour and staff like to try out a new Sahib to see how strong he is, what his reaction will be -- you come to accept it and act according to your instinct. This time it seemed to be villagers, tribal people who had stolen the rail. Trying me out??

I got a couple of the labour to come with me and we set off   immediately to catch the culprits who undoubtedly came from one of the local Assam tribes, Mikir as it turned out.  I seem to recollect that they saw us first and dropped the rail they had just stolen. We caught one of them who was carrying a Khukri (Nepalese knife) he said had been made from a rail stolen previously. Seeing as it came from our railway, I thought it should stay with me. I still have it. They reckoned the steel was very good for making knives of all kinds.

The next weekend, I got a contractor (I think he was Nepalese) to come with me and we visited the village he said was responsible for the thefts. I spoke to and admonished the headman who declared it would never happen again. After passing round a bag of sweets for the kids and anyone who wanted one, I took some photos of the villagers and left. It was a nice clean, well kept village, an hour or more walk from the estate.

        Mikir tribal people                                                      Pulling a log to build a bridge

My bungalow was not accessible by road and had no garage so the car had to be left in a wooden shed and the river crossed by means of a narrow swinging footbridge. About 50 yards or so along to the left, the path to the bungalow appeared on the right, leading up to the top of the teellah. Not very funny in the pitch dark at 10 or 11 o'clock and the thought of a leopard or tiger watching or stalking me. No lights on unless I had left the Listor engine running which I seldom did. It was the usual Cachar outgarden generator, 450 rpm and 4 1/2 horse power, hand cranked to start and very reliable. It was a very soothing and comforting sound. Come bed time, everything was made ready, sheet turned down and doors ajar before shutting down the engine. It was say twenty or thirty yards away, so I would dash outside, shut it off then inside and into bed before the lights finally died. They faded away as the engine slowed. So pitch black you couldn't see your hand in front of your face and deafeningly quiet. That brought home the isolation. But that was nice too.

On these old engines hp seemed to match rpm ---the two cylinder Crossley engines in factories ran at 120 rpm and gave out 120 hp. I do remember StartoMatic bungalow engines on one estate---might it have been Bhubandhar or Sandura, I wonder. The engine started when the light switch was turned on. A StartoMatic would have suited Sudhin Banerjee better.

Balladhun was the end of the line, jungle, mountains and the border beyond so heaps of wild life. One night in particular I remember sitting reading and these yowls and fierce barks were right up to my window---I don't know if they were Jackals or the Lahl Kukur ---the wild dogs of India that hunt in packs and run down ANY ANIMAL. (The Lal Kukur could possibly be the ancestor of the Australian Dingo, whose introduction four to five thousand years ago coincides with the extinction of the thylacine, an indigenous kind of ‘dog' portrayed in Aboriginal rock art.) Either way they were pretty fearsome so I kept still and back out of sight. Mosquito mesh over the windows would have been no protection and I had no gun.

Did we have radios? I don't remember having one. 

I had been warned to look out for Jimmy's ghost by other 'helpful' tea planters in the Silchar Club---"Have you seen Jimmy's ghost yet" Well one night I thought this is it! I never had a torch or anything like that and was wakened by the sound of bare feet, Jimmy's?? slapping on the concrete floor along the passage outside my bedroom door, slap, slap, slap---"Kone Hai" (Who's there) I called and the walking stopped----only to start again a few seconds or so later ----again I called "Kone Hai" and the noise stopped. This time I realised it was my dog Pinto, licking his groin under the other bed!!! I'd laid Jimmy's ghost! Another tea estate factory was said to be haunted, but the pundits swore it could not be Dougie Subold's ghost. He never visited the factory!!!

Python at Balladhun                                        The python was 19 feet long and 21 inch girth

I've attached photos of a python which had eaten a village dog and the villagers captured it and carried/ floated it to my bungalow because of its considerable weight. I kept it tied outside my bungalow for a couple of days and laid a Sunday Post and a brick alongside it for comparison. It was nineteen feet long and twenty one inches in girth. Wonderful set of needle sharp teeth on it sloping backwards----once it had a grip there was no escape. When it curled up to sleep, the height of its coils was about 2 feet by 3- 4 feet wide.

I was a bit worried that it might get loose at night and come looking for me as the floor was only two or three feet off the ground. But it never did. I'm still here as living proof. I still have one of the prehensile legs however. They are used to grip when mating. Nowadays, the average length of an Indian or Burmese Python is only over three metres making my one at five metres eighty a real monster.  

   Mum's shoes and hand bag on Naga cloth and bags.    Note prehensile leg bone to left of shoe.

I reluctantly let them kill it as the villagers were afraid of it and wanted it for food. Python flesh is said to have special medicinal and health properties and this one was big enough to feed the village.

My Mum got a pair of shoes and hand bag made from the skin. (Above)

Balladhun had an aura about it. Whether it was my imagination or the fact that planters and labour had been murdered by Naga tribesmen there in the last century, I don't know. Or was it Jimmy's ghost? For whatever reason, it was a special place to me.

In February this year 2012, Julie Warren contacted me through David Air on the Koi Hai web site. Julie is writing the autobiography of a relative, Larry Stephens who was in 5 Army Commando during WWII, and came across my page about Jimmy Sinclair, Elephant Bill and Balladhun Tea Estate. Julie kindly passed on some very interesting information to me about the situation in those years on which I have elaborated using my local knowledge to conjecture quite accurately I think.

Fearing a breakthrough into India by the Japanese Army at the siege of Imphal, 5 Army Commando which was taking part in Operation Screwdriver was sent urgently from the Arakan by rail to Silchar arriving on 11th April 1944. From there some of them must have been transported to Balladhun where they set up a forward camp. The track from Bishenpur and Imphal in Manipur emerges from the jungle at Balladhun.  The Commando would have set up camp on or east of Balladhun so as to be near this track.  Military Commanders had the foresight to construct an airstrip as close as possible to where a likely incursion might be. While this airstrip, ‘Kumbirgram' was being constructed by the ITA (Indian Tea Association) 5 Commando manned dugouts around the perimeter in case of Japanese attack such as happened at the Battle of Imphal. Requirement for wartime airstrips was little more than solid flat ground with no high trees or mountains at either end. Not having jet engined aircraft there was no need for long concrete runways. Officers and men befriended Jimmy and would visit him whenever they were in the area wanting to use his local knowledge, ability as a translator and his contacts. He was a friendly and welcoming man who although loving the isolation also loved company when he could get it. Through Jimmy they learned of Elephant Bill, who instructed a number of them in jungle craft, trapping, killing wild animals, finding edible jungle plants such as bamboo and fern shoots, etc.-in short, living off the land. 

Another section of 5 Commando patrolled and safeguarded the supremely important railway line from Calcutta to Dimapur which carried supplies for the 14th Army that was engaged in fighting the up till now, victorious Nippon Army. A number of anti British Indians had been harboured and indoctrinated by the Japanese for several years before the war and were intent on welcoming the Japanese army, so sabotage of the railway lines would have been a major success for them and a disaster for troops fighting and tea garden managers and labour building the tar seal road from Dimapur to the Burmese border. The head quarters for 5 Commando were at ‘Kasipur' Tea Estate. Larry Stephens patrolled from ‘Dijun' Tea Estate. 

During the Seige of Imphal, the Japanese army cut the track to Cachar, but soldiers from 5 Commando blew the bridge up rendering the track into Balladhun and Cachar from Imphal impassable, thus safe from immediate invasion. I wonder what other havoc 5 Commando caused. Did they participate indirectly in the Seige of Imphal? 5 Commando stayed in Assam and Silchar till the end of July when the Japanese army was defeated and retreated from Imphal.

(As mentioned later in my memoirs, John Clayton (Kotalgoorie Tea Estate) was an officer in the Gurkas at the siege of Imphal, his wife Shohonya was a Naga. 

One of John's maxims was "Always go to the sound of the shooting." Obviously picked up at Imphal, but very good advice for life in general. Go to the source of any trouble)

Have a look at a good map or Google Earth to see how relatively close Kumbrigram airfield, Balladhun and Imphal are. Elephant Bill and Bill Mackie almost certainly used the same track from Bishenpur near Imphal to arrive at Balladhun with their evacuees.

These highly trained Commandos were all young lads and spent a lot of their spare time with Jimmy, who, living in the isolation of Balladhun would have loved the companionship and camaraderie of them all, also being part of the war effort must have been rewarding. Jimmy came from northern Scotland so would have related to the desolate moors at Spean Bridge and bleak wintry mountains around Braemar where the Commandos did their specialised training.

One Braemar lad disobeyed orders while serving in the Gordon Highlanders based in Kent and joined the Commandos. They had been told specifically not to join them. On joining, he was told to join his unit at Spean Bridge. That was it! No money, no rail pass, no transport. He was given I think 24 hours to get there. Show your initiative. He did just that and after fierce relentless training became a Commando. This was the kind of lad whose company Jimmy loved.

 5 Commando were to go on to further glory in the Arakan where they were an important part of the forces which drove the Japanese Army into further submission and denied them Rangoon.

After the war, Larry Stephens went on to be a scriptwriter for the Goon Show with Spike Milligan hence the frequent references to India. He must have been a remarkable individual to come from the horrors of war and start anew with a zany sense of humour.

Bob summoned me to his office with the bad news I was to be transferred again. Not only was that bad news for me, I loved it out at Balladhun but the transfer meant I was to be Bruce's assistant again!! I told Bob about our unfriendliness and that I had no wish to see him again let alone work for him. I wrote to Head Office in Calcutta pointing this out and Bob kindly forwarded it with his comments. They explained that the schedule had already been arranged for the period and I was to go until another substitution could be worked out and I would be transferred again.

Ah well, being a bachelor, I had little and few accoutrements so said my thanks and farewells to Bob and drove up to Shillong, stayed the night then continued on to deliver some papers to Swifty Bell on Bukhial Tea Estate.

There I was introduced to Rab Grierson who had been on the same tea estate for most of his time in tea----it was said he could face in any direction on the estate and see at least one of his offspring among the labour.  ‘Le Droit de senor!' was enthusiastically carried out by Rab it seems! Swifty told me how he came across Rab one day servicing the wife of one of his babus through the fence!

The ferry trip over the Brahmaputra was thankfully uneventful and I remember the feeling of the immense power of the water. I must have had a driver who knew the way as I don't recall how I got to Bhooteachang Tea Estate. It's quite a long way from the ferry. I was met by Bruce and shown to my bungalow and the next morning at office was shown the factory. He was apologetic saying that he should have never been given a brand new assistant.

I settled in quickly and carried on for the next several months.  

Hector Meston had been a well known shikari and created a wildlife ‘haven' approx five miles long by three miles wide ----no shikar to be carried out within its boundaries. A tigress with at least one cub lived and hunted there. I came across her tracks one day when she had been carrying a deer or hooved animal across her back----the hoof dragged along making a groove and her pads were splayed so much that I couldn't reach the outer edges with outstretched fingers and thumb. The pad print must have been no less than ten inches wide. Tigers carry large prey holding the neck in their mouths and manoeuvring the body across their backs.

The Club wasn't very far away and one of the cubs would occasionally run alongside a car at night, chasing it as a dog might. No elbows sticking out the windows there! I didn't want it chasing my wee Morris Minor, (it's head would have easily reached up to the window,) seeing as Pinto was in the habit of rushing out to welcome me home and might have ended up a nice wee snack for the cub-it was about the same size as the mother.

Bruce cleared a few acres of jungle to make a tea nursery----the labour thought the cleared land would be ideal for growing marijuana round the edges and did that till planting time. The tea seed had not long been in the ground before a herd of elephants on their annual wanderings discovered their route had been interfered with and gave vent to their feelings, destroying the area. The site was abandoned and marijuana was planted again.

Duleep Singh was Kamjari Sahib---we got on really well---he was the Rao Rajah of Jaipur, his uncle was Rajah. Duleep had a beautiful sister who had been educated in the UK, as Duleep had; he was going to introduce us but it never happened! Drat! I might have become in- law to the Rajah and spent my days playing polo and reclining on big fluffy cushions puffing on a hookah in my harem. DREAM ON!!!

Duleep and I went on shikar by elephant; peacocks were our target. Although they were plentiful, we returned empty handed. Good fun hunting by elephant although the spine of an elephant is most uncomfortable to sit on and its hair is stiff and sharp on the inside of your thighs so to say it was uncomfortable is an understatement. However we loved the experience and resolved to make padding for the next time.

           Pinto-Bhooteachang Factory                          Duleep Singh and I ready to go hunting

Not much more to report about Bhooteachang except that a rumour went round the Club that I was to be watched, I had connections in high places in the Calcutta Office!! Wonder who started it?

Next tea estate for me was Kotalgoorie, by Mariani. John Clayton was manager, Alec Hay, Mistri Sahib and Norman Pattie, Kamjari Sahib. All really nice people. Alec was another Scottish bachelor whose place I was taking. (In 1962 we toured round Europe in his car---but that's another story. He reappeared some forty years later in our Sporran shop in Braemar with his Canadian wife. We had their address in Canada but regret to say when we tried to contact him he wasn't to be found.)

On one occasion Alec had paid the factory labour force and instead of them disappearing towards the market as usual, they threw the money at him-----their wages had been cut for turning up very late to start the factory and they didn't like that. It was a helluva job getting them out of their beds even when I resorted to going round the lines personally at midnight.

He warned me about that so I was always on the lookout for the same treatment on payday. I enjoyed pay day for the factory labour; it taught me to count very quickly in Hindi and it got to the stage when I could count quicker in Hindi than I could do in English. Using all their fingers and joints, babus counted at incredible speeds going up long columns of figures muttering to themselves. To witness one of them on an Abacus was a revelation.

Supervising rice rations was another duty that gave one a chance to meet the labour on different terms. I think the ITA bought rice in bulk and subsidised it free to the labour force. 

As mentioned before, Johnny Clayton's wife Shohonya was Naga as were all their servants. Any time Johnny was involved in what might have become a heated dispute, Nagas appeared silently round the group and the dispute was swiftly resolved. Nagas only gave up headhunting officially in 1936 but fear of them was a real thing. This was the only garden I was on that had labour trouble. The opium line from Burma passed through Dimapur and Mariani and was said to contribute to addictions and unrest.     

When the pi dogs in Mariani or on the Tea Estates delivered pups, Naga tribesmen would appear from the Hills beyond Dimapur. Being larger dogs usually, the Sahib's puppies were most sought after and stolen if the opportunity arose. I'm not sure if the tribesmen paid owners for the puppies of the pi dogs or if they helped themselves, (did anyone own a pi dog?)  Dogs went mad barking at the tribesmen. It was said the Nagas gave the pups lots of water to clean their insides then fed them rice, as much as they could eat. After cooking on the embers of the fire, ready stuffed puppy was on the menu. Ingenious!

A dai boorie (nurse or nurse aid) from the Kotalgoorie tea garden hospital retired and was paid her full Provident Fund as was normal. A day or two later, her body was found hanging by the neck from a tree with her knees touching the ground in a dried up bit of the river bed. When I was called to investigate it wasn't hard to see what had happened. The dai boorie was quite a heavy woman, too heavy for her smaller husband to lift up and arrange a rope noose around her neck. A large bump was also apparent when the bun on her head was loosened. Police were called and the husband arrested with the Provident Fund money in his possession. Strange to say that he was released the next day minus the money---but John Clayton sacked him from the labour force and garden. Having no home or employment and people shunning him, he hanged himself. Poetic justice!

The Patties, Norman and Irene were super neighbours and treated me as family. Norman was Kamjari Sahib.

Sitting down to Christmas dinner with them, we had to leave it to investigate a ‘something' amiss in the labour lines. A family had not been seen for 2 days and the door was locked from the inside. We broke open the door to find the husband hanging by the neck and his wife and small child hacked to death---another tragedy brought on by drugs perhaps? Who knows?

Family planning was introduced by Dr Charles Emmet and I was the one being given the opportunity to explain it all, said Charles. Rat!  I'm pretty sure not one of the labour knew what a condom was and there was huge hilarity, jostling, giggling and wriggling among the women when I showed them one. A practical demo was what they wanted so I selected the oldest, wrinkliest woman there and said,"Toom carrega?"thinking she would back off, but no,"Ham carrega, Saheeb, challo" she jumped up enthusiastically and wanted to get on with it. "Challo, challo, challo, carro, carro, carro" they all chanted excitedly with much ribald laughter and gesturing. It was much, much more fun than the open air movies. They were actively participating in this their own drama. They just loved it. So did I.

Meetings were very popular after that and most of them went away condom in hand. It gave me an excuse to tease them the next day and be on good terms with them all. In the next days and weeks, some of the young single girls wanted a personal demo.  For couples who already had two children, a vasectomy and two weeks wages was offered and taken up by some men.

Open air movies were always well attended as were the dancing troupes that toured. Labour came from neighbouring gardens and sat at the back or sides. People sat on both sides of the silver screen totally rapt in the story and admiring the beautiful actors and actresses.

Mariani was our Club, and what a Club it was! It was a little more than a basha with a well stocked bar but what an atmosphere. Everyone seemed to be at ease and the young and older assistants played all sorts of ‘games, competitions and new ideas' usually after most of the older couples had left.

John and Shohonya met friends from neighbouring estates like the Nags with their two beautiful wee daughters, Mithoo and Shona, Sid Penman, the Robertsons, Frank ? of Hunwall. I don't recall most of the names but still see the faces. Names that do come to mind are, Alan Leonard, Bob Bachouse, Alastair Minto, and Charles Emmet, our Doctor. Among the ‘games' we played were ‘how many chin ups could you do from the wooden rafters by the bar', ‘place a matchbox on end between your legs and pick it up with your teeth, hands behind your back'. Mrs Robertson and I tied often in that. ‘Toes behind a line and see how far you could ‘walk' out balancing on beer bottles, stretching out as far as possible to place a bottle then a one handed press up to regain the upright position was another'. When I queried how Mr Robertson (I wish I could remember their first names) always beat me, he said "Easy, stand up and stretch your arms as far as you can sideways." He stood in front of me and although we were the same height, his outstretched arms were more than half a hand longer than mine. But he was too bulky to beat me at the one ‘where a man would sit upright facing forward on a chair and climb, manoeuvre around the back/outside without any part of his body touching the ground then regain the original position'. Nimbleness and good weight to strength ratio is important in this one. The last I remember is where two men sit on the floor facing each other with soles of shoes touching and legs straight then link hands and try to pull the other upright.

I was on the committee and had a hand in the design of the new Mariani Club---I wanted the front of the Club to have the ceiling/roof slanted outward and upward to benefit from the wonderful view of the mountains. Being bar member of the old Club, I was aware there was a lot of money tied up in old stock so devised a way to get rid of the old stock and fatten Club funds at the same time.

All single assistants would sit round the table (late at night of course). First man would nominate a drink, second pay for it and third drink it. We got through old bottles of Green Chartreuse, Creme de Menthe, liqueurs, sherries, ports and all the ancient bottles that hadn't seen the light of day for years. It was good fun nominating some obscure potion knowing that the third person was going to have to drink it, and dreading when it was your turn. Peals of laughter when someone says, "Oh no, not that!" I had more fun in Mariani than any other Club. Many a morning I peered over the verandah rail of my bungalow to see if my car was there.

The head bearer in the Silchar Club contacted me to ask if there could be a position for him at the new Club. Knowing him well and respecting his integrity, I said "Yes" so he arrived to take over his duties and was still there when I left Mariani Club.

We sometimes visited Jorhat Club for dances but never really took to it. The Patties and I shared a car as it was much further away than our Club. I met new faces there though. John and Pat Waters, I remember well, also Ian McMeachan. Ian turned up in Braemar many years later.    Ian and I decided to visit Aunties one night but all the lovely young Khasi ladies were busy entertaining customers and it started raining. We cursed our luck for being late and set off home. The rain got heavy and we heard later that all the men were trapped in Aunties due to the bund (was it the railway line?) at the exit being turned to wet mud, so we had been fortunate being late. Some of them were able to get a push through the mud on to the road.   

It's said that Prince Phillip was a customer of Aunties before his marriage to the Queen.

I'm not sure where the illicit distillery was that spread its rotting fruit smells over the road on a still evening. Was it between Jorhat and Mariani or around Dibrugarh? I never sampled its wares.

I often resorted to typical bachelor ways of ensuring my bungalow was kept tidy---leave things lying around, flick cigarette ash under the chair, etc. My bearer and cook were very good but the jarouwallah (sweeper) at Kotalgoorie was suspect. I berated him for something and the next night when I came in from the Club I followed my usual routine before turning in, namely winding up the clock on the mantelpiece. A small snake about fifteen inches long had been hidden behind it. Poor wee thing, I cut it to pieces with the khukri. It transpired that there was a nest of them under the bamboo chattyies below my bungalow. Bearer and I moved them and I set Pinto on them. Being a smooth cement floor, the snakes didn't have much traction. Pinto was very quick, snatching one, throwing it up in the air and was onto it before it regained its senses, shaking it around and dispatching it with a bite. He killed all of them like that in no time at all. The jarouwallah got another bullocking and the sack. 

                                     Dibrugarh town 1962

Margaret, my sister came out en route the UK from New Zealand to visit me on Kotalgoorie just after the snakes incident and was impressed with our new Club and meeting the members. The Patties, Marg and I drove down to Kaziranga Game Reserve one weekend, staying in the Dak bungalow. It was pretty basic but good enough. Next day we rode out on elephants and were fortunate to see a white rhino---elephant was the only form of transport that would have gained us access through the tall grass and wetlands and the weather was fine. Marg enjoyed it for the two weeks she spent in Assam.


White Rhino at Kaziranga Reserve                                      Venomous Banded Krait in my bathroom at Balladhun                   

The next transfer took me to Thanai T.E. where Jock Powrie was Manager, another helluva nice bloke. Everything was well established and run well--land all flat - boring! I believe it flooded when the river burst its banks, but I never experienced that. I had grown to love the undulating terrain and teellahs in Cachar and the excitement of different things, whether good or bad going on on Kotalgoorie and Mariani Club. Here, on perhaps the richest tea soil in the world, there weren't many diversions except to play golf, drink and eat curry bhat lunches at the Club at weekends when we weren't busy at the factory. We produced top quality teas so managers' commission would have been worth having.                                                              

One unforgettable incident on Thanai certainly made me jump                                                                                      Although rabies was not common, it did occur when a rabid jackal attacked and bit a pi dog. The dangers were well known so everyone kept well clear if a dog was suspect and the manager was advised. I was having breakfast on the verandah one day and Pinto started to rush growling at a pi dog that had entered the compound. It looked distinctly bizarre, tail straight in the air and a high stepping gait. "Come back" I yelled and thankfully Pinto ran back, the pi dog staggering at his heels---I'm sure Pinto realised all was not well. I ran round the round table, Pinto at my heels and the rabid pi dog after him. After the first circuit, I dashed inside the verandah door with Pinto at my side and slammed the door on the pi dog. Closed all other doors and yelled a warning to my bearer and cook. Jock engaged someone to shoot/destroy all the other pi dogs 

Played golf with Stewie Thow and we won the Tappit Hen at Doom Dooma. I think Nan and Tom Cavers had won it often and fancied it was theirs, so not too happy faces when we two young unknowns walked away with it.                      

Visited Panitola Club once or twice; once when there was fancy dress ball. Jock Mc Kean came dressed in kilt but under the kilt he had two oranges and a banana hanging.


          Self, Charlie Anderson, Ralph Kynoch, Clem Brown at Panitola Club

Next and last transfer was to Digulturrung; Dick Street was acting manager for Ron Cooper---Dick's father had been manager on Kalline and I think Dick probably grew up there. My next door neighbours were Charlie and Ailsa Anderson with Archie Lennox, the manager. Charlie was one of God's own---as Ailsa said, we even looked like brothers. He came from near Alford not far from Braemar in rural Aberdeenshire.

 I also met Bill Addison and Dennis O'Connor at DoomDooma Club. Bill's father had been a Ceylon tea planter----Bill never lost his Portknockie accent and as he spent some of his childhood at Glenlivet we became good friends, Braemar not being very far away. We went on Shikar a few times on elephants; the first time I went on the lead elephant and after almost being decapitated by ‘lawyer' and ‘wait a bit' thorny vines, learnt to hold the rifle vertically in front of my face and duck.

   Ready to go on Shikar---I was on lead elephant.                      Dick and Bill following up in the rear

Elephants eat constantly and would tear leaves and branches down as they walked along; thorny vines didn't bother them in the least. Whether we caught or shot anything I disremember but it was a diversion from the usual cold weather weekend.

When women and children were flown out of Assam during the invasion of India by the Chinese army in 1962-3, we five, Dick, Dennis, Bill, Charlie and I worked out our own escape plan. We could hear fighting in the mountains, and decided that if need be, we would load up a Fergie tractor with fuel, food and bikes and drive up the old military Ledo/Stilwell road as far as possible and bike down into Burma. It never eventuated of course as the Chinese overran their supply lines. And would we have done it and left the labour to fend for themselves?   No, no; that would have never happened.

At that time in the Doom Dooma bazaar, I saw one of the most pathetic, sorrowful couples I had ever seen. Two refugees from high up in the Himalayas walking hand in hand completely bewildered by all these strange people and strange sights. Their clothing was dark full length coats or ‘gowns' with some embroidery, eyes quite slanted/slitted, faces bronzed and wrinkled. Not youngsters. They looked like they could have come from Tibet, but Doom Dooma is several hundred miles east of the nearest entry to Tibet, Darjeeling so that was unlikely. Tribal people from high up in the mountains of Arunchal Pradesh who were experiencing their first taste of ‘civilisation' perhaps as a result of the invasion and artillery we were hearing seemed likely.

I had been unsettled after returning from leave in the UK and I decided to leave Assam to join family in New Zealand. In the fifties, my Mum, one sister, two brothers and family plus uncle, aunt and cousins had settled in NZ in addition to several other Braemar friends. New Zealand was THE destination for Braemar and Ballater folk and offered a new experience for me so I took the opportunity. Being in India I was halfway there.

                                                     Digulturrung Bungalow

Had I been married, the choice may have been different but being a bachelor I was as the saying goes, footloose and fancy free. I had got engaged while on leave but she didn't want to come out to India---her father would buy me a pub in Stonehaven, she said. Any woman who wouldn't travel with me was no good to me, so I called it off. I might have become my own best customer in my own pub anyway, so not a good idea!

This was when I returned to Digulturrung from leave. I wanted to speak to my fiancée and booked a phone call--the soonest was three weeks hence. Three weeks came round and I set off to Dibrugarh to make the phone call; what a waste of time and effort that was! The only sounds I could hear clearly were the schreeching and atsmospherics; they drowned out everything. What a change from today's cell phones which allow one to phone clearly from almost anywhere in the world AND see the person on the other end.

As mentioned at the beginning of this section about Digulturrung , Dick Street had been acting Manager for Ron Cooper, who almost as soon as he returned arranged a welcome evening for Lord Inchcape which all Mac Neill and Barry personnel attended and were warned to be on best behaviour. While chatting to Lord Inchcape, he asked me why I had given notice, didn't I like the life? I recounted to His Lordship, the gist of the third paragraph back about being unsettled etc. and although I did love the life in Assam my family and New Zealand was beckoning. He wished me the best of luck there before we parted.                                                                                Among the many Mac Neill and Barry tea planters were David and Flora Somerville---Flora's sister was to marry a Braemar friend in years to come. Flora wanted to know what I had been talking to Lord Inchcape about. I had been thanking him for setting up this farewell party for me, I told her. She was staggered but believed me. She reminded me at an Assam dinner in Aberdeen and I let her carry on believing the story. It wasn't true, Flora. Sorry!

Ron Cooper, who had been at Banchory Academy with my oldest sister, again tried to talk me out of leaving, extolling the virtues of being a tea planter, and although I loved the people and life in Assam, I had always felt it would be a temporary stop as I couldn't see me living the rest of my life there. The Government was getting tough on non indigenes in India, and I could see the writing on the wall. Time to go!

I have always believed there are signposts in one's life. One pointed me to India where I had so many marvellous experiences and made me fall in love with a small part of it, Cachar and Assam. The next signpost to NZ has become equally clear over the years; meeting up with family then touring NZ and helping build a trimaran to sail round the world!  However............................                                         

WE GOT SHIPWRECKED!!                                                                                                  

So that was that.

I met Lana who unhesitatingly accompanied me on my next adventure to New Guinea where I once more became an employee of the Inchape Group.                           

But that's another story!

I have digressed! My apologies.

Local Leaves in Calcutta. 

Two or three years before deciding to leave, Ernie Lees and I had gone on local leave to Calcutta, staying in an apartment in Park Road. It was on the opposite side of the road to Karnani Mansions entrance gate. On one occasion, a young lad took to firing an air rifle at us from a first floor window----our answer was to hurl the small decorative flower pots in our room, across the road at him. When they hit the big stone balls above the entrance pillars they shattered and showered passersby. They looked up and abused the youth so he retreated defeated. Naya Pice was the only coin that tinkled when dropped from our fourth floor window; they started a scramble on the busy street and bullock carts and pedestrians got entangled and drivers quickly became vociferous but thankfully didn't look up to see where the money was coming from. On another day, Ernie and his girlfriends were teasing me through the bathroom door so I quietly climbed out through the window wearing only a towel, inched along the ledge to the quarter circle of spikes designed to stop thieves, then very, very carefully negotiated the spikes and climbed into my bedroom. A quick change and reappeared casually outside to the astonishment of Ernie and company. I had no fear of heights in those days! Nowadays, two pairs of thick socks and I get vertigo!                                                        

Nizams was a definite Calcutta favourite, delicious enda parattas wrapped round mouth watering spicy kebabs cooked on an open mud and gobor fire in a narrow alleyway. Shona PateI thinks he might have been a Kabuliwallah (an Afgan) and tells me the place and the wonderful food is still the same. Another favourite place for recreation for bachelors and seamen was Isaiah's, a night Club in Freeschool St. which must have been known the length and breadth of East India. Lots of beautiful willing girls, Indian, Anglo Indian and Tribal. The Police raided it the night we were there and there was a mad scramble to get out the window; what a laugh! Men diving headfirst out, squealing girls among them landing on top of each other, cries of "That's my f---ing face you're standing on, get off', high heels of some of the girls producing more laughter and squeals and profanity in many different tongues as they struggled to stand up on the pile of bodies. The most hilarious thing Ernie and I had ever seen! We got up and legged it before the Police came round although I got the feeling that the Police didn't really want to catch any or many. We ran till we thought we must be clear and doubled up holding our bellies with great roars of laughter. Bystanders joined in not knowing what it was all about. They were probably accustomed to pugla (mad) sahibs.

I met Cecil Duncan another year and we decided to visit the ‘rags' to fill in time one evening. It may seem odd but all we did was to go into a brothel, chat to the Madam, admire the girls, buy a large bottle of beer, drink half then leave with the bottle. The wisdom of this came to light when we were about to be surrounded by a group of youths shouting abuse. "Backs to the wall', yelled Cecil as he smashed his bottle against the wall. I did likewise and we prepared to sort them out. Thankfully they backed off and only minutes later around the corner came a Police car. The Police chased away the trouble makers and took us back to the Great Eastern Hotel, much to our relief!

Dr Charles Emmet sent me to Woodlands Nursing Home in Calcutta to get my varicose veins stripped when I was at Kotalgoorie. It was the first time I had been in such a place and I was very impressed by the whole setup. On waking from the operation, I was quite astonished to hear Hoolucks in the trees nearby. Hoolucks (so named for the cries they make) are the Gibbons ape and quite easily tamed I think; Duncan Scott had a domesticated one at Mariani and it played with his son.

Before buying an airline ticket to Australia and New Zealand, I had to go through the rigmarole of Tax clearance, etc. The value of my car was equal to my tax bill fortunately, then it was time to go, so farewells all round at Digulturrung and Doom Dooma Club, then spend some time in Calcutta before catching a flight to Bangkok, Australia and NZ. 

Waiting, filling in time at the hotel in Calcutta gave me the chance to mull over and marvel at the circumstances leading to my being where I now was.   

Three weeks before the end of my Engineering apprentice-ship, I spied a two line ad in the Aberdeen Evening Express, it simply read, ‘Engineers wanted for tea plantations in NE India' and a phone number. That was enough for me to call Bill Williamson, have a successful meeting with him then he arranged an interview with Henry Bannerman at MacNeill and Barry's head office in Mincing Lane (I think), London. (What a coincidence when I spied an almost identical ad for an engineer on a coffee plantation in a Brisbane newspaper three years later. That took me to New Guinea where I spent nearly ten years!)

Three weeks after my meeting with Henry Bannerman, I was on board the P and O Liner, Chusan, sailing first class to Bombay. I'll never forget the feeling as I watched Britain receding into a wee line on the horizon and saying to myself "What am I doing here---I know no-one at all in India and have 3 weeks wages in my pocket, twenty one pounds" The voyage on the Chusan was uneventful, although a storm on the Mediterranean did lay passengers low apart from two of us. Soon after, a bit of excitement came from six of us young Scots being chased by a mob in Port Said and gladly charging along the pontoons to the armed soldier on duty at the side door of the ship. The ship's funnel, over the top of Simon Arts Emporium was a guiding beacon.

Being met at Bombay by MacKinnon and MacKenzie and given an advance was a relief (they also squared up my Chusan bar tab!! Most thoughtful --but they'd done it all before for lads like me) before being booked into the Taj Mahal Hotel and a sightseeing tour of Bombay.  Grant Road must ring a bell with a lot of you single men. Any gaps in my education could have been filled in there and then. Next day I caught the train to Calcutta.

 All the new sounds, smells and sights were titillating, exhilarating experiences to a Scottish country lad. At every stop the train made, traders of sugar cane, sweetmeats, samosas, curry, roti, fruit, oranges etc. appeared at the rail side, each vendor loudly and insistently extolling the virtues of his or her particular product. The oranges had strange green skins, their protection against sunburn I was told.                                                            

A strange thing I saw from the train was men squatting in the fields to have a pee. It's very difficult for a European man to squat and pee. I couldn't help but notice that women in the tea gardens stand up and pee! It was obvious when I sometimes happened on a new puddle where a woman had been standing before. That's the main difference between westerners and Indians I thought.   

I was met again at the Railway Station in Calcutta and booked into The Great Eastern Hotel before flying to Kumbirgram airstrip in Cachar in a converted WWII DC3.                         

And that's where my story started so this is where it will end rounding off nicely my reminiscences about the very enjoyable years I was fortunate to have spent in Assam.

Now here I was in Calcutta completing the full circle with only a set of golf Clubs as hand baggage and ready to set off for new horizons.

What a wonderful life!

Davey Lamont

April  2012

The maps below were loaned to Davey by Alan Lane, Davey much appreciates Alan's help

Below are three maps of parts of Assam (there is a fourth but the Editor is having a minor problem posting number 4)

Please click the names  and then the word OPEN below, it takes a little time to open
After it opens you can go to the top of the page you have opened and change the
size and position to your own needs








Thanai: http://08.enable.com/fusion/getfile.asp?k:A6W:24:DE:11:83:60:D6


Dave Lamont is from Braemar and he went to tea in the early 50's.  He joined MacNeill and Barry and was posted to the outgarden of Burtoll TE and later to the  Kalline outgarden, in Cachar. He later had postings in the Mariani and Doom Dooma Districts. He was a keen sportsman, a shikari and a good Club man. His exploits at Mariani are well known amongst his contemporaries!

After tea in India Dave and his wife Lana, spent some years in tea in Papua New Guinea before returning to Scotland.

On his return, Davey applied his skills to Sporran  making. He was very good at this and had accreditation from the "Great Council of Scottish Chiefs"  Two of the more famous recipients of Dave's Sporrans were Billy Connolly and Prince Charles. Billy's was a bit outrageous whereas Charles's was more sedate.

While they were in Scotland, Davey and Lana got an annual invite from Charles to have tea with him at Balmoral-and some day Dave will tell the stories. However,just one amusing one for now!  At one of the visits, Charles was looking at some of the sporrans that Dave had made. One was very small and he could barely get his hand in it. He asked Dave: "David, why is this Sporran so small?"  Dave, with a twinkle in his eye replied "Och,your Highness,that's specially made for an Aberdonian!"


 Bob Simpson and Dave Lamont

Digulturring Bungalow --It had an elephants skull at the foot of the stairs

At Doom Dooma 1962 Dave Lamont, 
Charlie Anderson, Ralph Kynoch, and Clem Brown

Dave Lamont in lead Elephant taking a picture of Dick Street and on the Elephant behind him --Bill Addison

Monster Python brought by Villagers 21 ft Long

Result of three weekends of Shikar--all prospective Maneaters-Kalline Tea Estate

  Dave Lamont

Shikari who helped Dave

Sudhura and Unknown and Juthica Banerjee fishing at Sendura Pool ---
Sendura was an out garden of Kalline

Baladhun ---Working Elephant

Bhooteachung-My dog Pinto
--Bhutan Hills in the background