Gerry Halnan

All the stories on this page are by courtesy of Gerry Halnan--and we thank him for sharing
some of his  reminiscenses with us for us to enjoy 

Please click the heading you wish to read:

Never underestimate the common man

There's always the unexpected
 Tiger on Foot
The Governor's Sweep
India Invaded 1962
A look back at maternity 
Tiger Tim
A Fishing Story-Jaldacca
Derek Perry's Hole in one

December 9 2013

Never underestimate the Common Man

By Gerald Halnan December 2013

My first acting management was of Sarugaon Tea Estate in the Dooars.

750 acres of tea surrounded by rice khets and seven miles of private road from the main ‘rasta’ which I had to keep maintained to get the tea out. At that time it was more or less than a profit maker, and had the reputation of killing the manager a couple of years before.

The labour force was represented by the ‘Revolutionary Socialist Party of India’ and relations were delicate.

Nevertheless, despite having married only 3 years before, and having my young wife Joan, and a daughter Jennifer age 2 years and an infant son of two months, I was projected into the challenge by the company, and at 30 years of age, I accepted it with enthusiasm.

It was 1952, and destined to be the worst year for tea prices ever seen.

Initially work progressed satisfactorily, and relations with the labour force were hesitant and exploratory as the tea market slumped.

At the height of the monsoon, a director from Calcutta came up to see us and proposed we switched to the manufacturer of green tea which had a promising market in Afghanistan.

Few planters will be able to appreciate the problems of switching from black tea to green in the middle of the rains, as a green tea infusion has to be as clear as gin, and the whole factory, including the driers, had to be washed down over midnight and the new process commenced.

The director had brought a series of note papers on which were sketched instructions for the manufacturers of green tea and we had to invent and improve the necessary additional equipment. I will spare you the details!

It was amazing how the factory staff and labour force adopted to an entirely different regime of manufacture once they got the rhythm going.

Meanwhile outside the rain pounded down remorselessly.

At the same time, the temperature continued with the extreme humidity and Joan and I slept in a wire room projecting out over the front entrance of our bungalow and overlooking the compound.

At 1 am we were awakened by shooting from below, and peering out, we saw through the driving rain two figures with a swinging lantern one of which was the Head Factory Babu (clerk) who shouted up at me. ‘Sir, River is Rising!’

I could see the two people were standing in ankle deep water in which their silhouettes were reflected and it was flowing!

The bungalow stood on the highest point of the factory area, and realising the gravity of the situation I descended at once and repaired to the factory where manufacture was churning away, and organised the defences, fitting gunny bags with tea waste, soaked and stacked in all doorways.

That night over 700 labourers climbed up to the leaf sheds, together with children, dogs and goats, cows being tied up at the ground floor.

A child was born that night and named Bana.  At dawn’s light, I borrowed a home-made boat from a labourer and paddled my way through the immediate lines where people were perched on their roofs, but fortuitously the water level was falling.

Back at the bungalow I scanned the surrounds with binoculars and moving sea of water was flowing southwards as far as the eye could see, in all directions. The only land visible was the hills 10 miles to the North. Large trees, banana trees, cow and buffalo corpses floated by endlessly. In those days there were no telephones and we were cut off from the rest of the world, until about 10 am. I heard the sound of an engine, and Pinto Kerr, a planter from the Bhutan border, who had a private plane, came swinging round the bungalow at 100 feet and waived to us. We then knew that the outside world had not been inundated and that our plight would be known.

Meanwhile the water was receding back to the river, leaving silt and sludge knee-deep everywhere, with debris and many heavy objects from upstream scattered all around.

Several houses had been demolished, food stocks destroyed, but, thank god, no fatalities. We heard later that Tondu Tea estate had lost over 150 lives on the same night. Many were saved from tree tops by Liz the elephant who was a strong swimmer.

Back at Sarugaon, the flood receded gradually but we were cut off from outside for a week before a tractor could re-negotiate the original track.

Meanwhile Joan with our bungalow staff had organised the cooking in large ‘dekchees’ (cooking vessel) whatever was available from the rice ‘godowns’ (warehouse) which served to feed those who had lost all their own stocks.

Eventually the district doctor, Dr Dracup was able to get through (by tractor) and surprise the evacuation and treatment of the labour force and the decontamination of the wells.

One mile downstream there was an out- garden of 100 acres called Guava where a number of workers lived on a slight mound in about 25 huts. We could not contact them for 2 days until a few of them reached us in a small boat and we were able to send them back with some supplies of food and water. It was another week before we were able to reach them on the back of a large elephant which with great difficulty was able to negotiate silt and mud up to 2 feet depth and swim the river. In view of our experience, I was determined not to be caught out in this situation again and immediately requested the company to permit me to purchase a boat, large enough to carry up to 20 persons. This they agreed to, cautioning me against spending too much money!

I then discussed it with my Head Clerk and estimates were sought from boat builders situated on the banks of the Teesta river 30 miles away.

Their prices seemed a bit high (with memory I believe it was about a 1000 Rupees).

My head Clerk suggested that we could build a suitable boat ourselves for half the cost! ‘How?’ I asked.

At that time I had 3 carpenters one a Sikh and the other Bengali. Of the three the Sikh and a Bengali were superior while the other Bengali did not have much finesse and I only gave him rudimentary tasks to do.

My Head Clerk stated that this man was the man who could build a boat: as he came from a family of boat builders

I could not believe that this man, who could not make a chair without a wobble or a perfect rectangle picture, was capable of constructing a seaworthy craft and argued my point with my Head Clerk. He however was certain that this man could accomplish that task adequately.

Eventually the difference in price persuaded me, and, with some trepidation I agreed to the purchase of timber, the allocation of a helper and the uses of an open shed as requested by my carpenter.

Off he went and purchased the required planks etc. and set to, about his task. I still had my misgivings.

Thereafter I left him to his own devices just looking in on him a couple of times a day.

I became fascinated with his accomplishments without tape measure and using string he measured and marked out lengths of plank and ribs.

In the floor he erected a small charcoal fire over which he heated curved bow sections which had been cut to size and soaked then fastened with pegs and ropes to the floor and gradually twisted into shape by a rotation of a stick thrust between the ropes. All measurements were done by string and eye.

Although my confidence was mounting in observing his apparent capability I still hesitantly feared that the boat might end up the shape of a banana and sink.

Now I began to see the shape evolving with keel and rib.

He then started to lay the plank sections in place and knitted them together with flat pieces of metal the size of a collar stiffener at both ends and cut out of flattened steel sheet from a 45 gallon drum.

Cutting slots in the planks with the regularity of shoe lace holes in the planks he laced one plank to the next and thus the boat grew into shape.

At last the day came where the boat was ready for launching in the river, some fifty yards away, and on a Sunday a sizeable crowd had gathered to observe the ceremony; and contribute their efforts in the launch.

Now, I could see the completed craft which was about 25 feet long, and appraise it for its beauty in plumb and line. It was perfect!  A thing of beauty: in perfect symmetry.

She slid into the water as graceful as a swan and a cheer went up from the crowd.

After initial soaking she was perfectly watertight and skimmed across the surface to the manipulation of the oar at the stern.

Thereafter we added a canopy and attached a single outboard motor to the stern and I commissioned the trials of putting her through her paces upstream and down. Her performance was impeccable, and I know we could face future floods with a sense of independence and security which we previously could not.

Later it was found that the boat could be used to fetch the plucked leaf from the out garden instead of the buffalo cart with less handling and in better condition.

In all, a success story but one that taught me to never underestimate the potential of your fellow man, since which, I have witnessed many times.

In the photo, notice the smile of happiness and triumph on the face of the Bengali carpenter as he guided the launch at the bow of his creation, all by skill of hand and eye, plus, I feel, with guidance from above.

We are delighted to have another story from Gerald Halnan, the master story teller


August 29 2013


                    There’s Always the Unexpected


Written by Gerald Halnan 


In the early spring of 1958, my wife Joan had flown to England to put my two children to school and to be left alone for the next nine months. I was happy to receive a call on my ex army field telephone from my assistant Macdonald in the Chota Bungalow, asking me if he could beg a lift to the Biniguri club next morning as Sunday service would be performed by the Presbyterian minister on his monthly visit.


With contrite heart, I warmly agreed, and so, we set off from Banahat, full of pure and happy spirit on the road south. After two miles the road turned sharp right and crossed the main railway line at an un-manned crossing and thereafter sharp left which I negotiated and began to pick up speed on the straight.


I was driving my Ford Prefect and chatting to MacDonald when a female who had been walking on the left hand side suddenly rushed across my front on an angle of 45 degrees. On the opposite side was walking another female, later identified as her friend. They had both visited the Banahat Bazaar and were returning home.


I swung the car sharply to the right and applied the brakes smartly but she kept running faster and if I continued to swing away from her I would have collided with her companion.


Thus in a split second I made the decision that the culprit had to suffer and immediately there was a thump; and she came sailing across the bonnet of the car, hit the windscreen and disappeared over the roof, reappearing in my rear mirror as she descended over the boot in a flurry of sari etc.


Trying to swing back on to the road I felt the car begin to heel over and having passed her companion I plunged over the embankment and down into the ‘khud’, crashing through bushes and jungle, mercifully missing small trees and the roadside Jackfruit trees.


We came to rest, and I shouted to Macdonald to leap out and ascend the bank to give assistance to whatever had transpired which he did like lightning.


Somehow, in first gear I managed to reclaim the road  - to this day I don’t know how I succeeded, as I’m sure those in tea will know the steepness of the embankments.


The scene revealed was anxiety prompting to say the least.


 The girl lay inert on the side of the road, her friend kneeling beside her and poor young MacDonald standing in hesitant perplexity, embarrassingly not knowing what to do. I pulled the car up alongside and found that the girl was breathing but unconscious, and sending  her friend back up the road to collect her sari I gently picked her up and placed her on the leather seat at the back of the car.


In wartime as a soldier approaching India for the first time, we had been warned by our MO ‘never to touch an Indian, it would constitute an assault!’ 


I was mindful of this as I laid her down, and was not in the mood to consider etiquette or admire the female form. I will confess a tingle as her skin felt like silk. Her friend got in beside her, restored her modesty as best she could with the sari and off we set for Telepara T. E. the garden on which she worked.


 Passing the Binnaguri club house en route where no doubt the church service was well underway we soon arrived at the Telepara T. E. hospital where our casualty was soon installed in a ward bed under the diligent attention of the Dr Babu, who knew her well.


MacDonald and I then hastened back to Banahart where we reported the accident with full details to the policeman in charge of the ‘thana’.


 Back at the Burra Bungalow we reviewed the damage to the car, the most evident signs which were the grill, whose chrome vertical bars brackets (mercifully yielding) had been moulded into the shape of the human posterior and along the bonnet was a shallow groove depicting the impression of a human forearm at the wrist end of which were two deep dents breaking into the metal through the paintwork, obviously made by a pair of heavy silver bangles. Otherwise there was no mark on the roof and boot.


This was alarming to the extent that such force could have caused major injuries.


I sent a chit to Mr Simpson, manager of Telepara T. E. expressing my anxiety and concern.


The next day I motored down to the Telepara hospital, spoke to  Mr Simpson and was allowed to visit the patient in the ward.


Much to my relief, she was sitting up in bed and actually smiled at me.


I was allowed to talk to her and she appeared quite coherent. 


Suddenly, like a devil from the wings of a play, her brother burst into the ward mouthing expletives, accusing us as drunken sahibs, reckless drivers and other associated complaints! I let him exhaust his ‘plaint’, by which time I was bristling and gave him the benefit of my tongue, saying that his ‘pugli’ sister could have been the cause of serious injury or worse to four persons and the complete write-off of a car. After which he quietened down!


The following day, happened to be the weekly visit of the District Doctor Dr Dutta, who after his review would join us at the Burra Bungalow for a cup of tea and chat. He and his wife became great friends of ours.


He told me that the patient was well known to him. That she had been one of the best pluckers on the garden, but after the desertion of her husband had deteriorated in health, dejected of spirit and an unreliable worker, subsequently showing symptoms of T.B. and of erratic behaviour.


Weekly thereafter I enquired about her health and was assured by Dr Dutta that she had only sustained a single fracture of the forearm and was progressing favourably back to good health.


A month or so later he told me that she was back at work and had resumed her reputation as one of the best.


She had put on weight and all symptoms of T.B. had disappeared!


There must be a lesson, somewhere in this event, though I would not go so far as to suggest this as a shock treatment for T.B. it does give some credence to the old saying ‘that it knocked some sense into him!’


On a Sunday, on my way to church to pray in all innocence, this should happen to me!


In mitigation I would add that in 66 years of driving I have had no accidents nor made any claims.


As my Head Babu once said to me when I had finished expostulating on the negligence of an employee, saying, with up turned arms.


Accident is Accident! There is always the Unexpected!


August 15 2010 
Here we have a great story told by the master storyteller Gerry Halnan--
we also have to thank his lovely daughter Jennie who has done all the
typing for him




Where sheep may safely graze,' a delightful melody was composed by Bach in more
idyllic times than today. 
Then, the world was clad mainly with great forests, prairies and
areas of pastured clearings.
Even when I arrived in India in 1945 Assam and North East Bengal had vast tracts of
Reserve Forest, linked up by Tea estates with their thatch and bamboo baris and
grazing grounds giving free range for wild life to roam at random.
With less than half of today's population the requirements of firewood and game
conservation were controllable.

Hunting or Shikar was still a popular and acceptable sport for the few planters
who enjoy it and bona fide sportsmen were allowed access to Reserve Forests
if they were members of a Game Association, which had strict rules to conserve
wildlife and support the local Forest Officers in stamping out poaching.

However, in those days it was not unusual for an estate to be afflicted with
nocturnal visits by leopards and the occasional tiger. The former carried off
dogs and goats and sometimes took up residence to kill cattle regularly as
often as twice a week.

Naturally the labourer, whose milk cow had been taken, expected some help in
dealing with the menace, which was somewhat beyond the capability of his bow and arrow.

Hence, a Shikari would be requested to deal with such intrusions The undertaking
was not without some risk.

It was thus that I became involved in such an appeal.

I therefore offer you the following account of such an incident which turned out to
be more exacting than anticipated: -

Tiger on Foot ---By Gerald Halnan 1999




After the disastrous and impetuous invasion by the Chinese Army across the Mac Mahon
line, through mountainous Indian territory, and down to the banks of the Bramaputra river,
they had just as magically withdrawn and vanished whence they had come, I decided,
finally, to quit India.

This communist intrusion had commenced in the middle of the night, in late November
1962, and resulted in the outflanking and capture of 10,000 Indian troops above the
snow line, all this has been accomplished in not more than a few days, including their
lightening withdrawal.

Joan had rejoined me from Calcutta, to where she had been evacuated by the R.A.F.

Mounting a rescue exercise from their base in Singapore, and we were winding down
our home, disposing of all but our most precious possessions, and preparing to catch
the flight home on Thursday 14th February.

On Saturday 9th, Ginger Truss, an old shikari friend, and fellow planter, contacted
me, and proposed that I should accompany him, to help a friend in need, about
90 miles to the East.

This mutual friend, a young Indian tea planter named Sagar Mehta was managing a
small Estate 
Called Phaskawa, in the Eastern Dooars, miles off the beaten track and
wedged up against the foothills of Bhutan.

Married, with a young wife and small daughter, whose pony was being harassed
nightly by leopard attempting to effect an entry through the walls of the thatched
stable, Sagar's plight was unenviable.

I had sold my .470 Manton heavy rifle, and was about to dispose of my .30/06
Springfield, thinking of giving up shooting altogether.

In my present mood I was not inclined to embark on a hunting expedition.

However Ginger's entreaties prevailed and we set off in his car in the late afternoon,
and after a tortuous and bumpy journey lasting several hours, arrived at Phaskawa,
where we were greeted wholeheartedly by a smiling Sagar Mehta and his wife.

When Sagar smiles, the whole world smiles with him. A tall benign Indian from the
North, with an impish sense of humour, he was liked by all, but although a very
competent tennis player, had never fired a gun.

We dined well, and were early to bed.

Up before seven, we sat down to an early ‘full' breakfast, during which we discussed
strategy. Outside the glorious morning unfolded.

We were told that the ‘lying up' location of our leopard was known to be within a
small block of timber, covering about thirty acres.

This was divided into three sections of equal size, separated by buffalo cart fire
lines and abutting the forest-clad foothills on Bhutan.

As the shikari members of his labour force appeared so sure about their quarry
there seemed little point in inspecting the area of the stales for signs or pugmarks.

After checking our guns and ammunition, we accompanied the thirty or so beaters
directly to where the first beat was to commence, which was probably a quarter
of a mile from the bungalow.

The morning was bright and crisp, as only Northern India can guarantee day after
day, throughout the month of February, with the dew still dripping from the leaves.

The forest hereabouts was magnificent in its primordial state.Trees of many species
grew randomly, interspersed with secondary jungle, cane and creeper tangled, with
here and there a small clearing. 
Narrow game trails zigzagged their way haphazardly
through the vegetation, and these would be the focal points from which driven game
would be most likely to emerge.


Somra Sirdar, the head shikari, paced his beaters along the fire track, and then led
Sagar, Ginger and myself by a circuitous route to the next fire line, and indicated
which locations he thought most likely to give the best field of fire covering as many
probable exit points as the game trails afforded.


As there were only three guns involved, to cover a front of about three hundred yards,
It stood to reason that the shikari's knowledge of the ground, and the habits of local
game, would be vital to the recipe for success.


Ginger and I had reservations about allowing Sagar to partake actively, as his shooting
experience was limited to handling an air rifle, and a ‘quick fix' instruction in the use
of a 12 bore with L.G. in the left barrel and ball in the right, left us with misgivings.


However he was valiantly adamant, in taking part in a venture, which he had proposed,
and in which he had the principle interest. We insisted he was given the least likely stand,
on the flank, and escorted by a reliable shikari, who carried a formidable spear.


It goes without saying that we were ‘on foot', no safe machans or convenient tree branches
to sit in.


Both Ginger and I, had in the past, dispatched efficiently, several leopards with the.30/06
rifle, and consequently were quite confident in our ability (with the aid of Lady Luck), to
nail ‘Spots' in the broad light of day. However, from a defensive point of view, a 12 bore,
loaded as described, is a much safer proposition, at close range.


The beaters were a collection of Mundas, Oraons, Santals, and the like, originating
from forest villages in the Central Provinces, where they had inherited their skills and
enthusiasm for the hunt.


Armed with traditional and country made bows and arrows, spears and machetes, they
were prepared, for a small sum, to enter the arena, and play their onerous, yet exciting
and potentially hazardous role. They loved adventure.


They also carried with them a few small drums and kerosene tins, which together with
tree beating and shouting, created sufficient ‘din' to drive any animal but the most
audacious predator, before them.


So at a shout and a whistle from our Sirdar, the first beat commenced, and we waited
tensely for any sign of movement to our front.


The drumming and beating continued towards us, with occasional excited shouting as
some animal or bird was disturbed. Several jungle fowl came sailing through the trees
and over our heads, and a wild pig broke cover halfway between myself and Sagar.


These, we ignored, but eventually the beaters appeared and were soon on the fire line
with nothing to report. 
We repeated the process through the next ten acres with similar
results, although the beaters had managed to bag a barking deer, with their arrows, as
it attempted to break through their line.


This was great luck, for whatever the outcome of the hunt it would justify the expedition
by having something for the pot, on their return home, apart from raising morale.


We were beginning to have doubts about the ‘kubber' we had been fed by our
knowledgeable  shikaris, guessing our quarry would have long since left the field. 
However, nothing daunted our Sirdar Somra again deployed his beaters, and led
Ginger, Sagar, and myself to randomly selected stands.


Sagar was placed on the right flank, in a clearing on slightly rising ground, while
I moved up about ninety yards to the centre, and Ginger another eighty or ninety
yards to my left.


It was during the approach up a muddy ravine to these stands, that I noticed the
large pugmarks of a tiger crossing and re-crossing the nullah, and more than
one animal at that.

Several large droppings were displayed prominently, here and there, on the sides
of the trail indicating recent ‘in residence' activity possibly during the previous night.


I dismissed this as having no bearing on our current business of flushing out a
leopard, assuming this trail to be a popular routing for tigers ‘lying up' in the
heavily forest clad Bhutan hills above, and used for nocturnal cattle forays into
the Indian plains below.


Arriving at my appointed station I selected to stand in the shade of overhanging
bushes and trees to my rear, while in front of me was a small round glade.

A few yards to my front was an isolated boulder, rounded off on the top, and the
size of a kitchen table. For a further ten yards of flat ground, the grass had grown
to a height of a foot or two, and beyond that had grown higher and ranker, and
interspersed with small azeratum bushes, which merged with the thick dark forest,
at the foot of the hill, over which the beaters would soon be driving.


The tree stand here was fairly thick, composed of mixed Sal and Teak, growing to  
considerable height, with good top hamper of foliage.The forest floor was invisible,
due to the glare of the forenoon sun, as the day temperatures began to rise.


After posting Ginger, with his gun bearer against a tall tree, ninety yards to my left
and part way up the incline, which was hidden from me, Somra returned to me and
stood silently to my rear.


I shouted to Ginger and Sagar to make sure they were ready, checked my rifle
was loaded, with one up the spout, safety catch on, then signalled Somra to start


Somra gave the signal, and once more we could hear the sounds of the beaters,
at work, calling, shouting and making as much of a hullabaloo as possible as they
forced their way through the dense undergrowth towards us. The sounds were
somewhat muffled, by the ridge of hill and the thickness of the forest cover, but
gradually the sounds grew louder, until we knew they had cleared the crest, and
were making their way down, through the trees.


The beat proceeded normally, with the regularity of an approaching steam train,
until, suddenly, a roar rang out above the pulsating din, then repeated again and again.


It was awe-aspiring. The powerful challenge rolling down hill, echoing and re-echoing
up and down the valley, and then and there was utter silence! You could have heard
a pin drop, despite the sand underfoot.


Ginger, from his stand, nearest the line of beaters, shouted for some explanation and
received a reply that a ‘bagh' had attacked the men and attempted to break through
the line but had turned and disappeared in our direction.


A ‘bagh' in Hindustani can mean a leopard or a tiger, depending on the prefix, ‘chota'
(small) indicates the former, while ‘burra' (large) denotes a Tiger!


Despite the volume of the roars, I was still expecting a leopard.


At Ginger's exhortations, the beaters renewed their cacophony and were approaching
us hesitatingly and cautiously.
He shouted he was climbing his tree for a better view,
when, simultaneously another almighty roar and crashing of jungle, silenced all sound
and halted the beaters where they stood.


The turmoil sounded in the direction of Ginger's tree, and I cried out to know what was
happening? His agitated reply was: ‘It's a tiger and it's coming your way!' 
I slipped the
safety catch forward and prepared to raise the rifle.


Searching and straining to see into the dark shade of the forest thirty yards to my front,
I still found it difficult to believe, that at any moment, I might be faced to face with Nature's
most efficient and fearsome killer.
Knowing that in my shaded position, I had the
advantage of surprise, I was equally aware of a tiger's superior eyesight and faculty
of instant perception. 
Moreover this animal was ill disposed, already disturbed,
and in an attacking mood. I was in the direct line of escape, and patently aware
of the indecency of my .30 calibre rifle.


Through the gloom of the forest overhang, some distance up the slope, a
brilliant shaft of sunlight pierced the canopy and illuminated a small patch on
the forest floor, there was no other light in that dark recess. As my gaze
centred on this spot a brilliant flash of russet gold glided through it from
left to right, and was gone.


Instinctively, I knew, the moment of truth had arrived. Raising the rifle in the
direction of sighting, I froze. 
Then she was there, emerging into the arena of
grass and bushes, by which she was mainly obscured.


The trail, following the forest edge, ran from right to left diagonally across my
front, and all I could discern, was fluttering glimpses of white, black and red as
the tigress passed behind clumps of high grass and bushes, twenty yards away,
closing with me on its wavering route.


I was looking for a heart shot, but no way was I going to be afforded as accurate
view of her flank. With my .470 double, a raking shot, mid body, would have
been permissible,
but in the circumstances, my .180 grain soft nosed bullet
would rely on the precision of the matador's thrust, to deliver a ‘coup de gras!'


I recalled the advice of an old Scots shikari, describing this predicament of the
light rifle, if confronted by a tiger head on, when stalking, where best to place a shot.
He answered, ‘If you wanted to stop a man, where would you hit him? On the nose,
laddie, on the nose!'


Suddenly the tigress sensed I was there and stopped abruptly, her body still
obscured from view, and raising her head above the bushes, looked me straight
in the eye, down the barrel of the rifle. Her nose and head were held high and
horizontal, so holding the bead of the open sights on her nostrils I squeezed the trigger.


The crash of the shot reverberated around the hills like a cannon, and what was
eclipsed by a snarling roar, as the animal catapulted into the air and fell back to the
ground in a cloud of dust, its back towards me. In split seconds two further bullets had
entered the spine. It never flinched nor moved after impact with the ground.


A cautious approach, with loaded rifle, confirmed she was dead, and I was able to
give the ‘all clear' to guns and beaters, that it was safe to converge.


Immediately, Ginger, Saga, and the beaters, so silent a minute before, were
surrounding the kill with beaming smiles, shouting mutual congratulations and
admiring this magnificent and intrepid animal. Saga Mehta was almost in tears
with emotion.


There she lay, finally identified as a tigress, 8' 9" between pegs in full prime and
vigour, resplendent in her winter coat.


The bullet had just missed the point of the nose, glanced along the bone near the ridge,
and entered the right eye, lodging in the socket, sufficient at 2500 feet per second to
knock the animal out cold, but not enough to penetrate the thick skull bone.

The second and third shots had been essential to ensure a clean kill.

Experiences were being exchanged, each member of the hunting party having
his personal tale to tell.
Ginger had climbed up to get a better view, when simultaneously
the tiger had charged and tore savagely at the tree trunk, scattering bark in all directions.
His bearer had vanished taking the rifle with him, while Ginger, just out of his reach,
was hanging on for dear life.

Earlier in the first encounter, a beater found himself, without any warning, facing a
charging tigress. He raised his bow and arrow in defence, and took a step backwards,
falling into a space, landing on his back in a deep hole, at the base of an uprooted tree.
There he lay, winded and helpless with fear. The tigress skidded up to the lip of the
crater above him, looked right then left, as if to say ‘Where the devil did he go?' spun
round and thundered off.  
Ginger's torn button-bald bush shirt, badly grazed stomach,
and the beater's dirt and jungle filled hair, told it all!

Triumphantly but reverently we tied the tigress to a pole and carried her back to the
bungalow, where the whole labour force filed in to see this majestic beast, which
had so recently been harrying their cattle.

A quick lunch, thanks all round, and Ginger and I were on our way home, the tigress
spread-eagled over the roof of the car, head above the windscreen, tail hanging
over the boot lid.

As we passed through the only village of significance on our route, at sundown,
I recall seeing a group of Sikh army officers, chatting on the roadside.  Suddenly
they noticed what the passing car was carrying. Hardly believing their eyes, they
gesticulated wildly with their swagger sticks, mouths agape, as we swirled past.
An approaching cyclist focussed on us fell off, almost in our path, before being
obscured in our dusty wake.

We arrived back at Choonabhutti after dark, and lights were rigged up for photography.

Joan and Marie Claire, who had spent the day together, emerged to admire the trophy,
and afterwards we celebrated with superb meal, and ample toasts

Lady Luck had certainly been with us that day, and whether the tigress was indeed,
the midnight marauder of the pony stable, or an unlucky dupe, will remain her secret.

July 15 2010

The Editor and his lady had the privilege of staying with Gerry and his daughter Jennie and son
in law John He is a fund of stories of life in Tea and we managed to extract the following story
"The Governor's Sweep" Please enjoy

Another great story from the Master

Gerald Halnan

 The Governor's Sweep



It was nearing the end of 1953 , in Sarugaon, when I received in the post, a letter containing a book of tickets for the Annual Governor's Sweepstake,to be held in Darjeeling at te end of the month.


    No gambler, I dropped them into the waste paper baske, together with other unwanted envelopes and torn letters, next to the rear door of the bungalow.


    That evening, on my return from the office, Joan told me that Gurucharan, our bearer, when emptying the basket, had noticed the tickets and asked the ‘memsahib' if they were really meant to be thrown away, and if so, was it possible for him to have them ?


    My immediate reaction was to remonstrate.


    Gurucharan was an inveterate gambler with a leaning , when not on duty, towards having a wee drink, and had a responsibility for bringing up a small family, which his modest salary would adequately cover, if not exploited by foolhardy excesses.


    I was strongly inclined to refuse, and admonish him.


    Joan, however, pleaded adequately on his behalf.


    Thus, when he approached me on the matter, I started by reading ‘the riot act', thus about rectifying his wayward habits, but seeing his impassive features with a steady ‘fix' on mine and only an occasional glance at the ceiling and back, I shrugged my shoulders, and grudgingly gave my consent.


    His face beemed, his teeth gleamed, he ‘salaamed' bowed slightly, and withdrew.
    Next morning, at breakfast, Joan brought up the subject again. Gurucharan had asked her to intercede on his behalf, and ask if the sahib would kindly do the ‘clerking' and administration involved in checking out the tickets, when he had sold them, and see the entries were sent off correctly in the post.


    I felt I was being dragged into area, I did not wish to explore, however  outnumbered and out maneuvered, I agreed.


    So Gurucharan, unbeknown to me, commenced selling tickets to other members of our domestic staff./


    Later, I learned the details.


    As ‘najor domo of the household servants,rather like a butler of a ‘great house', his word, below stairs, was law, and therefore he had little difficulty in vending a ticket to the cook, the sweeper, the pani-wallah, the ayah, and several of the malis.


    In any case most of them were of similar ilk, and were all for a small bet on the side.


    But our kitmagar, (assistant bearer), was made of sterner stuff and cast in a different mold.


    Young Bannu, then about seventeen years of age, although Gurucharan's understudy and in most things utterly obedient to mhis will, in this instance would have nothing to do with it.


    A devout Christian, and supporting a widowed mother and a young sister  (his father having some years before been found dead in a ditch, after a night of debauchery), he first refued the offer, then spent the best part of two days hiding and attempting to avoid coming face to face with his tormentor.


    In a confined household, with fixed duties, this became more and more difficult, and ultimately run down and cornered, he ‘gave up and surrendered  his rupee to our triumphant bearer.


    The Devil had triumphed !


    And so it came to pass on the third day, that Gurucharan approached me after breakfast, proffering in outstretched hands the completed counterfoils, and with a    beguiling smile, in Joan's presence said " I have sold all the tickets except four, would it not be a nice gesture if the sahib would purchase one for himself, one for the memsahib, and one each for the two children.


     Swallowing an instinctive response, I capitulated, completed the counterfoils with names and nom de plumes, checked over the rest for correctness, slipped them in an envelope and consigned them to the post.  Among the non de plumes I had noted one, particularly because of its peculiar contradiction in terms, it was Mohammed Singh, this being of course a combination of a Mohammedan and a Sikh name, a most unlikely and incongruous identity..


    For anyone in India to bear such a name would smack of the outrageous!  I noted that the inventor of this piece of mischief, or, hopeful wishing for the future, depending on one's viewpoint, was none other than Bannu, who, candidly I was surprised to find, had bought a ticket.


    Principles aside, I knew him to be careful with his money.


    Having sent our entry on its way, I sighed, knowing that I had helped to shovel good money down the drain, and happily forgot all about it.


    Several weeks later, I received in the ‘dak' an official looking letter with a Darjeeling franked stamp.  Opening ‘same', I realized that I was looking at the results of the Governors sweepstake draw.


    There, before my very eyes, against No. 1 the winner, was the nom de plume ‘Mohammed Singh'!  That certainly rang a bell!


    I sent to the bungalow straight away, calling for Gurucharan to fetch the ticket stubs.  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Bannu had won!


    The look on Gurucharan's face could not be deciphered.  He, the instigator and organizer of the event, against all opposition, had forced the boy to purchase a ticket, which could so easily have been his!


    To laugh or cry, was his uncomfortable dilemma.  Slowly he recovered his composure, and his face broke out into a huge grin.  We all laughed with joy at the result, but the largest laugh was Bannu's!


    I carried on with the follow up administration, and in due course a weighty cheque arrived, which I helped him to cash.


    To cut a long story short, Bannu bought himself the latest Raleigh bicycle, complete with all the extras, gears, dynamo lights, delivered from Calcutta by air freight, as was a brand new sewing machine for his widowed mother whom he set up in a tailors shop in the Chamurchi bazaar.


    He then, through protracted and legal negotiations, bought the freehold of 10 acres of prime rice growing land, just south of Sarugaon, on which he erected a bamboo and thatch hut, for housing a resident agricultural ryot who would till the land and harvest the crop for him in the age-old and traditional Bengali rural arrangement of ‘Aadi-Aadi' (half and half).




    For Gurucharan, the Devil's disciple, who had contrived it all, he bought a beautiful gold wrist watch.


    I would not be surprised if Bannu later became a millionaire, whereas poor old Gurucharan, we heard, died in humble circumstances, following a cycle accident, some years after we had left India for good.  A better and more loyal servant never breathed.   



Left is : URBANNU (kitmager) Right is GURUCHARAN (Head Bearer)     




October 17 2009

India - Invaded - 1962  
the story of Mohan driver of Banarhat Tea Estate

Peter Hardy's article in the January - March 2009 edition of the Camellia magazine prompted me to let you know what it was like in a different area of tea to receive the shock ‘news of an invasion.'

In late October 1962,  when I was the manager  of Banarhat  tea  estate  I was wakened  from a deep sleep  at 3am by the ringing of my recently installed telephone. The voice of Brigadier Hugh Stevens, OBE, secretary of the Dooars branch I.T.A was on the line. For my sins, I happened to be the Sub District chairman at the time and thus he was on official business despite the hour! 

Then ‘hello Gerry this is most urgent'. The Chinese have broken through the Macmahon line and infiltrated Indian territory at alarming speed. The Indian army up there cannot cope and the main body of their forces are coming across India from Goa by train. I want you to get as many vehicles, (lorries and jeeps etc) as you can muster from your gardens, and get them down to rail head at Siliguri by 8am if possible. Do your best and keep me informed.

From that point onwards I lifted the phone at least 15 times in quick succession and passed the vital message on.  Many and diverse were the responses I received, especially from one or two Scott's planters not pleased with being roused before ‘murghi-dak'!  However they all soon wakened up to the necessities and confirmed that they would do their best.

I was requesting a minimum of two vehicles per garden which would leave us with tractors and the odd car to run the estates.

I then roused Joan, my wife, put her in the picture and sent chowkidars to rouse my drivers who attended the burra bungalow promptly. I explained the situation to them and asked for two volunteers to drive our almost new three ton lorry and my two year Willis jeep ( in pristine condition) to Siliguri a distance of 100 miles, pick up the troops and deliver them where directed by their officers. All three drivers were willing and I chose two of them. Mohan driver was selected for my jeep and he returned speedily wearing an ex military great coat, beret, woollen socks and canvas shoes.

Tanked up, they were on their way by half past three and subsequently I learned that they had made the R.V. on time.

Soon we heard of troop trains passing through Banarhat railway station bound east wards and fully laden with soldiers.       

Rumours were rife of planters passing through the district in various forms of transport and dress, (one in his pyjamas) mostly heading west.

We also heard later in the day that many garden lorries, packed with troops, including our own vehicles had been seen passing on the road Eastwards through Dalgaon district.

Meanwhile, work continued on the garden almost as normal.

I went down to Brigadier Stevens's bungalow, about 4 miles away, where several senior planters from estates further East, had gathered and were sitting with a memsahib on the veranda. Soon Hugh Stevens arrived back, carrying his D.B.B.L 12-bore on his shoulder, at best, a token of defiance!

Plans were outlined to prepare for possible evacuation and we went our various ways.

In the next couple of days we divided our attention between normal work and keeping abreast of the latest media reports from the front.

Very promptly an R.A.F. troop transport plane landed at Telepara airstrip from Singapore to uplift wives and children and fly them to Calcutta. This I managed to organised without a hitch.

Soon troops were arriving in the district and being camped out in the various Reserve Forests, such as Moraghat, which I discovered when I drove into the latter before dawn and even challenged by a Sikh soldier at a camp perimeter, with loaded rifle and fixed bayonet.  I quickly submitted with hands held high and retreated whence I had come! 

Thereafter much was confusion we could get no information from any source apart from the Calcutta Press whose headlines proclaimed that 10,000 Indian troops had been surrounded and ‘put in the bag' in the Sela Pass area above the snow line!

We expected the worst! The Chinese would be all over us in the next few days. Binnaguri managers decided we would see it through with our labour force and do what we could to alleviate matters in the event. Willie Cheyne of Dumchipara T.E suggested that we be given machine guns and we'd sort them out!!! That was Willie! The rest of us expressed more sober solutions.

Suddenly and within a day or two of the bad news, we were informed of the magical and lightening withdrawal of the whole Chinese Army back into Tibet. Surprise, surprise, not to mention relief!

After two weeks my lorry and driver returned ‘battered but intact', but the driver could give no word about Mohan and the jeep, apart from seeing him on the first day.

I was approached daily by his wife, with child in arms, asking for news of her husband. No request for information yielded any fruit from civil authorities, military sources, nor from Head Office.

My Chinese carpenter (probably nearer sixty   than fifty years of age) had been arrested and trundled off by the police to ‘God knows where' and his wife and children were a daily demand on my concern.

Shortly after, my lorry driver's return, I received a small postcard from Central India addressed to me. As I remember, it read like this:

‘Dear Sahib,

I am sorry to report that I have lost your jeep in Sela Pass. I have lost one foot by frostbite and fear I may loose the other. Please ask my wife to purchase one black cock and one white cock and do a puja for me and pray for my health.

Offering my salaams,

Your obedient driver,

Mohan '

The memory of this poignant and pathetic little chit, still brings a tear to my ageing eyes, whenever I think back to those days.

There was no return address, although he was obviously in a military hospital somewhere in central India.

I passed the note on to his wife and she performed the rites requested.

I did not learn the fate of Mohan, nor of my Chinese carpenter, before leaving tea for good in February 1963, which I did for family reasons. My feelings were very mixed. It was as if I had two families and therefore split apart and I left with much sadness.

In 2008, accompanied by my daughter, Jennifer (born in Darjeeling in 1950) and her husband, I re-visited India, taking in Darjeeling, the Bengal Dooars and Assam, and enjoying the great hospitality of Ronnie Babycon Managing Director of Andrew Yule Tea Department.

I visited all the estates on which I had worked as assistant and later manager from 1947, staying in the bungalows of Karballa T.E. and Khowang T.E. This was an extremely enjoyable experience and the warmth of hospitality extended, was overwhelming.

During my visit to Banarhat T.E I learned that Mohan driver had returned to the garden and his family, a hero. His other leg completely healed. He had received a medal and a considerable compensation. Unfortunately he had not banked his reward, but foolishly kept it in his house where one night he was attacked and killed by dacoits and his fortune stolen.

I was further informed that my Chinese carpenter (whose work would have challenged Chippendale), had probably been sent back to China, in an exchange deal, for captured Indian soldiers.

How unfair can life be?

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these accounts, but they were told to me in good faith.

What I can confirm is that my old dhobie came running to me shouting ‘I knew that face,' salaaming most profusely, and he contacted my Kitmagar, Banoo, whom I visited the next day in his home (which he reminded me had been built in my time as were over 400 others, and still in good condition).

Banoo was ailing and at 72 had been dressed to meet me, surrounded by his extended family that spilled out into the road.

There were quite a few other workers who remembered me and I was most grateful to see that they were well nourished and better clothed than they had been in my days.

Come to think of it, so am I !

I offer my congratulations to their present day ‘Mai-Baps', who are carrying on the old traditions, of care for their flock.

With apologies to all well - meaning accountants I recommend my old school motto:

‘Deo non Fortuna' (For God and not for fortune) probably they would prefer ‘Deo et Fortuna' (for God and for fortune) with which, after further consideration, I think I would agree.

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October 3 2006
Our thanks to Gerry Halnan 
These two stories about maternity care in the remote tea areas are sure to evoke memories for men and women who had similar experiences.

A Look Back At Maternity-Part 1

I have three photos, discovered in a dusty drawer of a tea garden office desk, long ago.

They depict a factory building, a Burra Bungalow and what purports to be a dispensary.

Taken in the early 1920's they all have a dejected look, particularly the latter, with its forlorn and shabby porch and walls, verily a mean structure. What medical aid was `dispensed' from this unwholesome and unhygienic structure one shudders to think. Maternity could hardly have been a consideration.

However, in the fifteen years following World War II giant strides were made towards modern medical support.

New hospitals were built and extra staff enrolled. My estate offered a main building accommodating 28 beds and an isolation wing of three wards.

It was staffed by 2 doctors, a nurse and a midwife, the latter recruited to support the then drive by Government and the I.T.A to encourage mothers to give birth in hospital, rather than `at home', which was part of the campaign to control the birth rate.

As this was `fronted' by a well meaning and highly qualified matron, in flowing sari, who lectured our medical staff on how to persuade the labour force to `abstain' and/or `insert' the prescribed preventatives.

Unfortunately the lady although mature, had never had any children herself and my two Dr Babus had families of 7 and 9 children themselves which hardly presented a shining example.

However, the scheme went forward with some success as child bearing in hospital rose to 60% from 5% in about 4 years. Birth control measures however were less successful. Like the proverbial `Curates Egg'- good in parts. Good for a laugh was the case of one labourer, who complained avidly that his wife was again pregnant, despite his swallowing the tablets regularly as directed, not having realised that they had been prescribed for his wife to 'insert'!

So we reached a stage of enlightenment, but back in the 20's arrangements were very different as my old Burra Sahib Jim Harper informed me.

Recently married, he was posted to a small tea garden in the plains, surrounded by paddy fields and jungle and connected by a private road, seven miles in length to the trunk road. This had to be repaired and maintained by the garden itself, and in those days was little more than a cart track, deep rutted and nigh impassable in the rains.

Malaria was rife, and the `delights' of kala azar, dengue fever, hookworm and the like, were rampant.

Notwithstanding, nature would have her way, and in the height of the Rains, Jim's wife Claire was ready to give birth to her first child.

Somehow, Jim had been able to communicate with the district doctor, who owned a model - T Ford, and even that rugged machine was unable to negotiate the boggy estate track.

Arrangements were made (by runner) for the Dr Sahib to meet Jim and his wife at the junction with the main road, and he would convey the pregnant wife to Darjeeling Nursing Home, a distance of some 140 miles.

In conditions of atrocious Bengal storm she was `placed' as comfortably as possible on a secured `charpoy' in a covered buffalo cart and the seven mile journey commenced to the main road.

Jim accompanied his wife, insisting he travel on foot, helping to heave the cart wheels out of the deep sludge pot holed ruts. His description of that journey was harrowing, to say the least, and how many hours it took I cannot recall.

However, contact was eventually made, the precious cargo transferred and husband and wife went their separate ways.

Reunited some weeks later, mother and healthy son were back in the old dilapidated bungalow, but happiness was short lived, as the infant contacted some virulent disease and died before medical aid could be obtained.

Several years later when Jim had been promoted to Choonabhutti T.E. in far more `civilised' surroundings, Claire, I believe, went off to a suitable hospital to have her second child, a daughter, who grew up healthy and eventually married and had a family of her own in England.

The loss of his only son, left in Jim's soul, a stress of pain and anguish, manifestly obvious in the intensity with which he recounted the events to me, many moons later.

25 years on, my own trials as an expectant father were yet to come.

A Look Back At Maternity-
(Part 11)
After six years of courtship and three years of engagement, much of which was spent in writing to each other from distant locations, half way round the world, my company beneficently permitted me to fly Joan out from England (at my expense) which 5 - day flight was quite expensive in 1948. We were married in the old Cathedral, Calcutta, and after festivities accompanying the nuptials, we headed north by train for Siliguri, and thence to the Binnaguri district of the Dooars.

Two years later, we were living in the Chota Bungalow on Palashbari Division of the New Dooars Tea Estate, and in January Joan, to use the old expression, was heavy with child. The district medical officer at that time, was Dr Mahler.

A Jew, born and domiciled in Vienna, he and his wife Olga had been `whisked' into a concentration camp by the Nazis, and no doubt survived because of his proficiency as a `medic'. This experience and exposure, had bred in him a tough exterior, and a bruskness, which when balanced with his capability was perfectly acceptable to his male patients, was hardly conducive to the bedside assurances normally desirable for a young woman expecting her first child.

On one visit, Joan overtly complained to him, that he was upsetting her. His curt reply was, "Then I will not come!"

Tearfully, she withdrew, and after placatory overtures, I gained from him the advice that I should make arrangements as soon as possible for my wife to be transported to the Darjeeling Nursing Home, as his diagnosis indicated a 1 month premature birth was imminent!

My 1936 Austin 7 was without an engine, the latter being rebuilt on a table in the spare room, as and when I had time.

Although our plight was known in the district, offers of assistance were conspicuously absent, and I contacted my previous Burra Sahib, Jim Harper some miles up the road requesting help.

Unfortunately his car at that moment was also off the road, but he suggested, and arranged for me to collect the old Chevrolet ex - NBMR ambulance, which had been lying unused for three years in the care of a planter in the Dalgaon district.

The vehicle, though old, appeared to be in reasonable condition, apart from the custom made bodywork, which though sound, was heavily constructed, which together with the spongy long leaf spring suspension, combined to allow the wheel arches to thump and chafe against the wheels at every turn. However, the engine was sound and I embarked in good heart.

My only bearer had to remain to look after the bungalow, so having stowed Joan horizontally in a stretcher like bunk, the rear doors were closed and I `took off solo at the wheel.

With Dr Mahlers warnings ringing in my ears, I was at pains to drive carefully, avoiding every pothole, particularly when having to negotiate the rutted verges.

Stopping every half hour to apprehensively open the back doors to see how Joan was riding out the oscillations of her high perch, and dreading the sound of pain, or even infant voices!

In this way we reached Siliguri in about four hours and prepared for the ascent to Darjeeling.

This was new to me, and as darkness was gathering, I put on a spurt, short lived as I entered the first bend. Night closed in fast, and with it a shrouding mist prevailed, cutting visibility, despite the headlights, down to 10 yards. There were no road markings, but fortunately the continuous stone wall was my guide, as I negotiated one hairpin bend after another. My rising confidence was cut short by the shriek of a steam whistle which sounded almost alongside me, and suddenly I remembered the narrow gauge mountain railway, snaking its way in and out of the road path, crossing at times by tunnel, but most frequently by unmarked, unmanned level crossings.

This became obvious and unnerving to me as the glint of rails would suddenly appear through the mist ahead, simultaneously with the audible `chuff- chuff of a locative. Slowing down appropriately, it nevertheless became for me `the night of the long knives', etched into my memory for ever, but we survived and reached our destination intact (if not virgo!).

Locating the Nursing Home, Joan was swiftly and safely installed and kept in overnight, while I retired to the adjacent Planter's Club for a well earned `tot' or two, among congenial, if bawdy and `mickey taking' Koi - Hais.

Next day, sobered up I visited Joan and was informed that nothing had happened, nor expected for some time! I left and wended my way, (this time safely by daylight) down the hill and back to New Dooars.

Subsequently Joan was lodged in an adjacent small hotel, owned and run by Mrs. Wrangham-Hardy, who was kind and attentive, having been herself a midwife.

In the event, despite daily exercise and the climbing of multitudinous Darjeeling slope steps, the birth delayed until its due date, though `delivery' was complicated, and a healthy little daughter weighing only 6 lbs was born, to be later christened Jennifer.

The next six months in the remote Palashbari Bungalow became at times quite harrowing, as Jennifer developed serious intestinal problems, and fetching the Doctor Babu out from the main garden 11/2 miles away in the middle of a monsoon storm at midnight, and on bicycles, is an experience I will not forget.

Thereafter all drinking water was boiled, filtered, and boiled again!

Breast feeding was curtailed and Jennifer was succoured on tins of powdered Cow & Gate, or Ostermilk, purchased (at great cost) from the store of Kali Babu, in the Banarhat bazaar.

Having left the army with £800 in the bank, I had been relatively well off, but after a costly marriage and 3 years in tea on junior assistants salary I was in danger of dipping into the red despite our austere standard of living.

Fortunately my parents, sensing the predicament, sent me a cheque that `tided me over' and `we three' having been moved up to the `Maj ala Kote' duly boarded the S.S. Canton for a relaxing and enjoyable `cruise' home, on long leave.

The saga of my hardest years in tea, was over

Jennifer is now 56, happily married, as is our 54 year old son Clive, (born in Darjeeling in 1952). Joan and I have 5 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild.

Jennies eldest son Russell is an Airline Pilot, her other son Jamie has an MSc in Multimedia and Internet and is working as a Computer Programmer, while her daughter Joanna has an MA in Performance Sports Wear and is a Senior Fashion

My sons daughter Amy has a BA (Hons) in Packaging Design and works as a Graphic Designer and his -son, Matthew is in-his final year-at-the .­University of the Arts, London - London College of Communication studying Graphic and Media Design.

They are all fit and well, thank God.

Gerry Halnan
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  June 14 2006

We wish to thank Gerry Halnan for another very fine story from his memory bank

A Portrait of "Tiger Tim"

Tiger Tim came to me as a fledgling assistant when I had 
recently taken over my last tea garden, which comprised over  1,100 acres and employed 1,750 workers.

Perhaps `fledgling' would be inappropriate, as he was well built, and turned out to be something of a `cuckoo in the nest'.

One of the last English assistants to be employed by our 
company, I was pleased to take him under my wing, as his 
appearance was eminently promising. Son of a Naval 
Commander, educated at Gordonstoun, somewhat above 
average height he sported the frame of a field athlete, which,  coupled with healthy fair freckled skin, light ginger hair and  moustache and a pair of piercingly brilliant blue eyes, augured  well for the future.

He shared the Chota Bungalow with my senior assistant 
MacDonald and settled in without a hitch, and his initiation  commenced.

From the start it was obvious that he was a young man of 
singular principles and ascetic habits.
Taught amidst the rigours of his school and subsequent two  years National Service in the Royal Navy he had forthright  opinions about the world around him, which he did not hesitate  to express profoundly to any audience, however humble or  elevated.

I had been warned by our Superintendent Harry S. that I would  find him somewhat unusual and would need special circumspect  handling. This worried me little as after five years in the army  and ten more in tea I was used to accepting the broad range of  vagaries displayed by the human individual.

Tim was polite, punctual, clean and responsive to instruction,  which he would query extensively if he did not assimilate or  entirely agree with.

He had enjoyed his service in the Navy, on which experience he  often extolled, and which appeared to be spent mainly in the  Mediterranean, and usually in port, where Tim appeared to  spend much of his time slung over the side of a destroyer with  scraper and brush.
 Much later, I was to sense an empathy with his captain.

On shore he had been happy mixing and socialising with the  native Maltese and Gibraltarians, whom he constantly referred  to with approbation. He seemed to love ordinary people and  emanated the aura of a totally wholesome individual.
Nevertheless, there was something disquieting about his mien,  the first indication of which was his habit of wearing a large pair of Wellington boots on the mela in all seasons, including the  height of the rains, which must have been uncomfortable if not  flagellatory.

He preferred to walk rather than ride to the mela where his work  in controlling standards of plucking, hoeing and pruning were  satisfactory, but planning, marking out and entrepreneurial skills  were not his forte. Sensing no guile in him, the labour force and  staff accommodated his mild eccentricities, and I think may  have warmed to him, nevertheless referring to him (kindly), as  the `Pugla Sahib'.

Tim was much of a loner. He hardly visited the Club and 
showed little interest in sports, neither field, nor 'blood'. In this alone he was unique among his fellow assistants. Hardly any  alcohol had passed his lips, certainly no smoking, and he showed no undue romantic inclinations.

Happy off duty alone with his two mongrel dogs, he passed his spare time away in indoor body building, which activity was brought to my attention when a coffin sized crate arrived from the U.S.A. containing dumb bells and all the impedimenta for weight lifting to Olympic standards.

It was about this time that my neighbours wife Jan Truss, fresh out from home, decided to liven up the social activity of the Binnaguri district, by putting on a play, `Money makes a Difference', and though none of us had done any acting, since leaving school, such was her personality and drive, that not only myself, but also Tim were persuaded to take a part.

My role was that of a farmer, and Tim, his son. The Binnaguri Club was set up with stage and curtains and we rehearsed throughout the week in the evenings after work. It was mid- Rains.One night when the monsoon was doing its `damnedest' and windscreen wipers could hardly cope, I gave Tim a lift down to the club about seven miles away. The night was pitch black and roads were awash like rivers, nevertheless I chugged down in my Ford Prefect at 30 miles per hour.

We were about 1/2 hour into rehearsal. I was sitting in an arm chair on the set, while Tim was standing by the mock fireplace, when down the aisle came running a rain sodden black dog which jumped into Tim's arms where he stood and licked his face. Apart from a smile of welcome Tim carried on with his dialogue, unhesitatingly.
Somehow that hound had followed us up through impossible weather, to a place he had never visited before. A great pity we could not keep it in the script!
So here was another facet of Tim's charm.

However, somehow, like Frank Spencer in the comic soap `Some Mothers do have `Em', Tim's endeavours were so often fraught with disturbing consequences.

There was the time when Joan and I were having Sunday 
morning breakfast in the Burra Bungalow and our bearer 
agitatedly summoned us to the front verandah, where, to and behold, Tim, on the pad of a large elephant was urging the mahout to `goad' his enormous `mount' into ascending the steps and give us a `salaam'.
I shouted "No! No! - but to no avail.

At the third step there was a sinister crunch as the brick arch over the storm drain gave way and sank several inches. Thank goodness the elephant responded swiftly, turned, and the trio made their accelerated exit through the main gateway, partly removing the ornamental flowering Bougainvillea archway with them as they left.

Wanting to send some tea home to his parents, he had a hefty box made up by the carpenter and took it to the Post Office, with the request that it be despatched by air mail to its U.K. address.The Bengali clerk inspected it, weighed it and pronounced it  would be expensive to convey. "Never mind" said Tim, and the  transaction proceeded. Stamps were affixed and the parcel registered. The clerk then extended his hand for the money, but Tim astounded to hear the amount, changed his mind and protesting, cancelled the transaction.

By this time, the package was resting on a shelf to the rear of the clerk and he remonstrated that now the tea was in the care of the Postal Authorities and registered, it would have to be sent. Tim, growing angry, vaulted the high counter, thrust the  protesting Babu aside like 'chaff', vaulted the counter once  more and nursing his precious bundle sprinted back to his  bungalow.

Of course, the first thing I knew of this incident was the receipt of a letter the following day, written by an incensed Superintendent of Post Offices, threatening all sorts of dire consequences.
After due admonishment, Tim returned with his parcel to the Post Office, making suitable apologies and paid up without demur.

The next such incident arose, when I received a letter from none other than the Deputy, District Commissioner.
One, Monday morning Tim presented himself `in office', and gleamingly recounted an incursion which he had made on Sunday, into Bhutan. I was appalled. Bhutan was a forbidden kingdom to foreigners, permission to enter which was rarely requested and seldom granted. He proudly told me how, at the drop of a hat he had set off after breakfast and penetrated about 10 miles, ascending several thousand feet to some distant `dzong' where he was welcomed with open arms, regaled with food and refreshment and entertained sumptuously, as if he were 
from an alien planet.
I explained to him the error of his ways, hoping naively that his visit would have passed, unremarked.

Not so! Within 48 hours the aforementioned letter arrived in my in-tray, enquiring in the strongest terms why I had permitted my assistant to so flagrantly breach the terms of a treaty, sacrosanct  since 1909, or some such date,' and demanding an explanation forthwith! Wrong footed again, I sent my abject apologies, and assurances of no 'repeats'.

One day, I was discussing the work in hand on a section of tea with Tim, in company with the Head Garden Babu, when several teenage cyclists in white dhoties began to flash past us,shouting to each other and splashing up the mud within inches of us. I shouted out for them to dismount and approach me, when I realised they were the sons of staff on the adjoining estate, using our road as a short cut to the bazaar, which was quite acceptable. However the `mode' was not to my liking, and asked them if they knew who I was.
Yes! came the reply. "The Burra Sahib of this estate". I then impressed upon them the desirability of observing traditional courtesies by dismounting and exchanging `salaams'. They salaamed' and I returned the gesture and off they went. Turning to resume my discourse, I was confronted by the stern faced Tim who ejaculated before a close audience "I call that arrogance!" I gave him short shrift on that one!

A further unsolicited criticism came, when Tim, seeing my 
bearer bring a bowl of warm water and a towel to my seat on the  verandah, where I sat, kicking off my muddy mela-worn boots for the customary wash down, remarked "I call that feudal - no one should be expected to wash the bosses' feet in this day and age".

Afterwards, I cogitated on his remarks, and asked Joan to tell Gurucharan, bearer, that I would no longer require him to perform this age old tradition, as I had a perfectly modern bathroom where I could attend to myself.

On the following few days, Gurucharan, dutiful as ever, seemed to be avoiding my glance and appeared to be `in sulk'. I mentioned it to Joan, who said that he had been `hurt' and sharram kayoed' by my withdrawing this essential 'privilege'! I reinstated the privilege promptly and the next day Gurucharan beamingly performed as before.

Two other incidents spring to mind, which both concerned electricity in different forms.

One night we experienced a particularly violet storm that 
continued through till morning, with blue flashes of forked lightning every few minutes. That morning in office at about 7 a.m. I was confronted by a bedraggled and unshaven Tim, white faced and unduly lined, who accusingly complained that while running the taps of his bathroom basin and dipping his hands into the water, he had nearly been electrocuted, but saved no doubt by the wearing of his ubiquitous Wellington boots.

Pacified and consoled I promised to investigate the cause. We discovered after considerable research, that a steel lamp standard to the rear of the factory had been struck by lightning,the charge arcing through the damp soil to the adjacent steel water pipe feeding the water supply to the labour lines and the Chota Bungalow. The puzzle was that the pipe supplying the latter was of asbestos, and therefore the shock must have been 
transmitted through the water itself. Fortunately Tim's robust constitution withstood the worst that nature could throw at him and it did nothing to subdue his exuberant buoyancy.

Shortly afterwards I decided to practise, together with Derek, my senior assistant, and the electrician, the procedures for changing over the electric supply to our grid from each of the prime movers and auxiliary generators in turn and familiarise ourselves with the system. As the `gaps' between change over were not thought to be more than 2 to 3 minutes duration, and 
only lighting was involved, I had not bothered to inform 
everyone. I had reckoned without Tim! Next morning, there he was, glowering down at me and making his complaint.

As the lights went out around him, he had just hoisted his 
heaviest weights above his head. The thought of Tim swaying in the darkness surrounded by furniture, a coffee table laden with crockery and a couple of sleeping dogs, created in my mind a picture too comical to repress. Poor Tim was inconsolable.

Our superintendent Harry S. informed me that Tim was shortly due his long leave and suggested that for his own good and the good of the company it would be advisable not to renew his contract and that he would be advising Head Office accordingly.

Shortly before his final departure, one morning, he told me that he had had a dream. He had left `tea', and wanted to get as far away from it as possible, seeking for pastures new. Pausing for a short, well earned holiday in England, he took ship for Canada, working his passage. Crossing the continent Tim reached British Columbia and made straight for the hills, and found himself in a beautiful valley dominated by mountains.

Cattle were grazing, and seeing a substantial ranch house he approached with the intention of seeking employment, as a hand. As he reached the steps, a figure emerged onto the porch.
"And you know what?" he, accusingly said, 
"It was You! !"  Tim turned and sauntered off, with the hint of a nautical roll, satisfied, no doubt, that he had fired his last salvo, and againsinged the King's beard!

(G. W. W.Halnan)
June 2006
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  March 31 2006
A Picnic in Jaldacca
There can be no more exhilarating fresh water fishing experience than wading below white water rapids, cascading down from the distant Himalayas, especially when the genial Cold Weather climate invites you to be clad in nothing more than canvas shoes, a pair of shorts, and a broad brimmed hat, or less.

It was there for with eager anticipation that on the completion of a disappointing visit to Darjeeling (weather had been execrable).

Joan and I were due to call in and stay the weekend with Tom and Marjorie, our great friends at their tea garden , ‘enroute'  home.

Safely arrived at Dalinkote with our two children, Clive aged two and Jennifer four, we settled in and it was proposed that we should embark on a ‘shikar' picnic the following day.

Immediately after breakfast we boarded Tom's Ford van and our car bound for the Jaldacca Reserve Forest, flanking the river of that name.

These trips were always exciting, as the forest was home to "Sambar" (Indian Elk) Chital (Spotted Deer) Barking Deer, wild boar, a few rhinos, a herd of elephants, Leopard and tiger. Usually sleeping up during the day, but moving if disturbed.

After 5 miles we arrived at a suitable riverside clearing, shaded by a few trees and set out tarpaulins, blankets and other impedimenta for the ladies to carry on with the good work, while Tom and I hastily assembled our tackle and made off down the river.

Tom lent me his old split cane10ft salmon spinning rod with silex real and oiled silk line, while he used his ‘new ‘

Verona fibre glass with Ambidex reel  and 20lb B.S. nylon line. We used spoons of chrome, brass or copper in various sizes and shapes from arrowheads 1.5" to 2" desert spoons.

We selected the confluence, where the minor Diana stream flowed into the much larger Jaldacca. The Diana was in flood and tinged with chalky white sediment and coming from a higher shoulder of land, tumbled over boulders for fifty odd yards down a 6ft. drop into the clear jade waters of the Jaldacca, the two separated by a heaped up bank of rocks and pebbles which narrowed down to a wee peninsula.

It was from this perch that Tom, after wading the Diana some distance  up stream, decided to cast his line leaving me to cast into the large ‘salmon' pool below.

We had not long to wait. In his second cast allowing the spinner to emerge from the chalky stream  into the pool , it was taken with an almighty rush, his rod pulled to the horizontal with the line screeching out from a protesting clutch which Tom was frantically attempting to adjust to increase the ‘drag'.

This he managed to do, but to no avail as the line continued to strip out  downstream.

Crossing the Diana to gain the left bank at this point was impossibly hazardous and he raised his rod as high as he dared to slow things down.  By now most of his 100 yards of line had been taken, but suddenly the fish sulked.

Simultaneously, horror of horrors, I saw the end of his line depart the fixed spool where presumably it had been inadequately secured.  Like a slow motion ‘you have been framed' I watched Tom snatch at the slowly retreating line's end as it fell from ring to ring, finally relinquishing the rod altogether and disappearing into the depths.

Returning to my bank below, Tom relieved me of the heavy rod, and placing a weighted spoon on the cast, began combing the depths, hoping to entangle his 100 yards of trailing line, a dodge he had used successfully in Scotland before. 

Meanwhile he had equipped me with his short rod and fitted a second spool to the reel which sported a 10 lb B.S. nylon line, and directed me to fish from the dubious spur that he had so recently vacated.  As he was now monopolizing the main pool, I had little option and was soon ‘plying my rod' from that unstable foothold.


As my lure left the white milky water and entered the clear, it was taken with firm determination and the line in turn began to sing out.  I shouted to Tom, who abandoned his trawling and ran up the bank to a spot opposite to me.  He gave his instructions to his syce (groom) who on these forays became the gillie.

As the syce went upstream to work his way round to me, Tom shouted instructions above the swish and rumble of the tumbling waters.

By this time half my line had gone out and was still slipping the clutch as the fish remorselessly tugged its way to deep water.

The line was still paying out as the syce came up behind me.  There was not sufficient line left for me to back up, so clasping me firmly round the midriff, we edged into the tumbling water.  In this manner, even when the water was up to our waists, as a four legged ‘unit' we were able to take short jumps sideways, and buoyed up the the rushing water, were able to hop from boulder top to boulder and reach the left bank.  All this time line had been steadily paying out, but just in time I was able to run down the bank and retrieve half of it.

Then came the ding-dong of battling a determined fighting fish, which continued the struggle despite my being below him.

He never ‘showed' but tugged doggedly to the bottom, and then, the line refused to budge, pull in any direction that I might.

This chap was adopting the Mahseer strategy of clinging to a smooth boulder on the bottom with its sucker mouth like a sink plunger.

Tom had the answer again, he, and the syce started heaving brick sized rocks into the racing water above where the fish was lying, probably 10 ft. deep.

That did the trick and after a further ten minutes of lively action, I beached our quarry, a beautiful 10 lb cock fish dribbling copious milt on the pebbles as a lifted him out.

Not a large specimen, but memorable for the accompanying events, and tips learned.  Tom never retrieved his line, which no doubt was discarded by a much larger fish, probably then making its way back to the Ganges!

Happily, at the end of a perfect day with shadows falling, we chugged back up the forest trail, and in the North the Himalayas caught the last rays of the setting sun, Kenchenjunga's white plumed crest reflecting a myriad hues.

Strange, how one such day can wipe a week's depression off the slate! 



February 18 2005


Among my recollections of golf in tea, now fading with the years, certain incidents stand out, as if of yesterday. A planter who had lost an arm during the war, whose one-armed drive was squarely 'whacked' and which while lacking distance, was made up for in consistent alignment. Another who stuck to one club, always returned a commendable card.

In Assam our local doctor, who gained the upper echelons of North India's championships, managed to smite his wife with an ill-aimed drive from 100 yards, in the middle of her back as she chatted with me in the outside shamiana of the Club. Slumping over the peg table, she gasped a little, refused assistance, straightened up taking a deep breath and retired to the ladies room, uncomplaining, while the errant ball rolled innocently across the floor. Her husband (to give him his due!) abandoned his game.

I could go on, but forbear, and proceed to recounting an event, which though light hearted, nevertheless stands out, amongst the many.

Derek Perry had been my assistant, but on the golf course our roles were reversed.

Coming to me in Khowang in 1955 as a 'green horn' he had instructed me in the 'preliminaries' of golf, the stance, the grip, the swing etc. Wartime service had excluded such luxurious pastimes for me and so, I was eager to learn.

Some years later, when I was managing Banarhart T .E. in the Dooars, Derek, still an assistant caught up with me and one Sunday invited me to make up a foursome, the other two participants were his fellow assistants~ one of whom, might have been Bob Struthers, fresh from fighting the Mau-Mau in Kenya.

We were all in good humour when we met that bright morning at the Binnaguri Club and lost no time in gathering at the No 1 tee, overlooked by the Georgian windows of the club house.

Partners were selected and a coin spun. I was invited, magnanimously, (have no doubt Derek was in patronising charge here), to lead off.  

Taking my stance, and well aware of my critical audience, I addressed the ball, as well instructed, raised the club above my right shoulder, swung, and chipped the shot forty degrees to the offside of centre. The ball cleared a high fence and landed somewhere in the rear compound of a Staff bungalow.

The prospect of making a detour and addressing a disturbed Babu with the request, "Can I get my ball mister?" -did not appeal to me.

Derek, smiling, insisted on my having another 'go', which I did, with more commendable, in fact, laudable results.

 The two assistants followed, with mediocre performances, each presentation being followed by a cryptic comment from our 'maestro' Derek

 Now came the time for him to take to the 'podium', Spick and span in immaculate attire, including gloves, spectacles and broad brimmed hat, he took up his stance.

Such elegance, such poise, and then the swing, poetry in motion. Entranced, we watched as his driver hit square with the authoratative smack of a chairman's gavel.

Under instruction, we gazed in admiration.

However, unlike Derek, we were following the trajectory of the ball, which travelling at bullet like speed, rose no higher than six feet and continued parallel to the ground on its way, 'Bing Crosby' style -straight down the middle.

In those days, players were often hindered by the wanderings of stray cattle grazing haphazardly across the course.

As they were not numerous and could be chased off the fairway by a chokra, (but no chokra was to hand), we offered to clear the field of an off-white cow grazing about ninety yards ahead and which had drifted into the line of fire. Derek disdained our offer.

However, his drive was not lofty as narrated but hugged a lower altitude and it became instantly obvious to us, that an impact was inevitable. Hypnotised we followed the horizontal trajectory. As if anticipating an intrusion, with rear end on, the tail of the beast slowly rose, and Derek's ball hit dead centre of the orifice, without a sound, and disappeared.

The tail continued to rise, the animal leaned forward slightly, still cropping, contentedly and nature took over. An urgent ejaculation of considerable magnitude cascaded in green/brown slurry onto the turf, in which we glimpsed a flash of white.

Momentarily we were stunned with disbelief, then seeing Derek's mixed emotional expression of crest-fallen frustration, his audience burst into uncontrollable laughter and jibe.

Poor old Derek. We volunteered no aid as he probed and prodded for his ball -ultimately retrieved, and wiped down, (I can't remember how?), and dropped over his shoulder for the continuation of the game, which despite his 'stroke of luck' he resumed with his customary aplomb!

Gerry Halnan