Gowri Mohanakrishnan


We are indebted to Gowri Mohanakrishnan for her contributions to make this
site interesting and up to date--thank you--Editor  

Please click the headings of the story you wish to read

 Chai for cancer 2016

Grand Trunk

Death of an Elephant Whisperer

Old Dooars Hands

Chai for cancer sufferers

Good Morning Sunshine
Equinoctial Sunset

Rain and Morte Rain
A page from a Monsoon Diary in the Dooars
A Bridge Too Far away
Monkey Mail
Great Caucasian Cuppa
The recent Earthquake in the Darjeeling area
Little bear of Lankapara
A Trained Eye
By the light of the silvery moon
Bagan Babu
Aurora Surrealis
Gerberus & Saddam Hussein
Close encounters of the Herd kind
A Real Hero
Dry Days
The Niswarth Story
Gowri's web/blog site
Mela Photo Essay
Life Today in Dooars
Doomsday in the Dooars
The Monsoon breaks in the Dooars
A Sunday in the Dooars
An April Day
Niren Baruah
When April comes to the Dooars
Gowri's life in Tea
Old men at war
Blues for Tea
Mrs Dobson


Chai for Cancer 2016

Here we have the 2016 appeal to help to fight Cancer, Please Click below



Sunday 8 May 2016 is Chai for Cancer Day. Viji Venkatesh is hosting an 'adda' at
her home in Mumbai on the day. A typical 'Adda' is a gathering of friends who sit
and talk - invariably over a cup of tea. At a Chai for Cancer 'adda', people donate
each cup of tea to a cause - raising funds and creating awareness about cancer.
The minimum amount for a cup is Rs.100/-.

There was a Chai for Cancer Adda at the Lodhi Gardens in Delhi last weekend,
and at one at the Victoria Memorial in Kolkata the weekend before that. There are
Chai for Cancer 'addas' that are planned at people's homes across India - and
the United States - over the coming summer.


The tea is sponsored by Society Tea.


Those who wish to donate online can do so at www.chaiforcancer.org


May 13 2015

We are pleased to help publicise this money raising effort by Gowri's sister Viji


Viji Venkatesh started 'Chai for Cancer' last year. Anyone anywhere in the world

can join the effort. A quote from the article, (below) explains


" Donation over a cup of tea seems like a novel idea, and that's exactly what
63-year-old Viji Venkatesh is trying to popularise. Last year, Venkatesh launched
a campaign called Chai For Cancer with an aim to bring tea lovers together to
raise funds to help cancer patients and at the same time, create awareness
about the same. The campaign is back for the second edition, and this time,
it has gone national."


Link to the article:




April 12 2015

Grand Trunk

The season of storms is here again. A biggie hit us last Saturday night. I was in the verandah
trying to make a phone call when a huge gust of wind blew everything out, including the lights .
We could barely stand against the force of the gale, but I tried to save pot plants and the odd
unstable table here and there. Branches snapped unseen above us and came flying about
at top speed. I retired from rescue operations and went indoors, much to the chowkidar's relief.


We woke on Easter Sunday  see the lawn littered with branches, twigs and leaves.  The
bungalow has five magnificent mahogany trees, and everything that the wind blew down 
was from these trees. They are the most striking feature of the bungalow and when seen
from certain points they seem to frame and define the house. They're old trees, and I'm glad
to think they will probably be around for a long time.


All through the cold weather, my chair was placed under the mahoganies. When the leaves
began to fall, I was told that seed pods would fall too, and it wouldn't be wise to sit there any
more. I saw little cone like pods high up in the branches. Soon falling leaves covered the
entire compound. The lily beds underneath the trees were like a forest floor. With leaves fell
the hard outer segments of the pods. They looked like extra large dried orange peel. Our
bungalow boys said they made excellent fuel for fires.



The inner segments of the pods were
beautiful and we scooped up handfuls to fill up our pot pourri bowls.The branches were
bare in the space of a week, and within another week, buds formed and new leaves
began to appear.



It is amazing how leaf fall, bud break and the appearance of new foliage 
are all compacted into such a short span of time. With new leaves, new birds came into
our garden. The bottle brush above the lily pond attracted a kingfisher that dazzled our
eyes everytime it swooped and dipped into the water. A barbet, almost the exact colour
of the new mahogany leaves, sat pecking at the trunk of one of the trees.


The seed pods remained hidden until the storm blew them down. We marvelled at the
design. How effectively the seeds are contained, and how well protected they are until
they mature! Mohan has collected and distributed a good number for propagation.


I'm waiting now to see the flowers. The trees have put out buds and so have all the
orchid plants growing along the trunks.

Gowri Mohanakrishnan

Hantapara  T.G.


12 April  2015

Death of an "Elephant Whisperer" by train

- Kalia Boro, who ensured safe passage for jumbos

   en route to Deepor Beel, no more



Kalia Boro.
Picture by Kishore Talukdar

Borjhar, July 22:

The familiar figure of Kalia Boro holding a torch along
the rail tracks near Deepor Beel sanctuary every night
will no longer gladden the hearts of wildlife enthusiasts.
The 60-year-old,  who devoted a good part of his life to
protecting elephants from speeding trains, died
yesterday after being run over by one.

Boro was standing on the tracks to ensure the safe
passage of a 20-member herd to Deepor Beel when
a goods train hit  him at Chakardo Mikirpara around 2am yesterday.

Boro was a casual worker of the Guwahati wildlife division since 2010.

Lakhindar Teron, 45, a resident of the area, who was with Boro at the
time of the mishap, said, “Kalia was on the hillside trying to help a herd
cross the busy surface road when the incident took place.”

Twelve elephants have died after being hit by trains along the 4km
stretch of the railway track near Deepor Beel since 2001.

Elephants come to the wetland from nearby Rani and Garbhanga
reserve forests in east Kamrup forest division to search for food. Before
entering the wetlands,  the herds have to cross a busy road before
crossing the Kamakhya-Jogighopa railway track.

According to sources in the wildlife division, Boro was well versed in the
behaviour of elephants.

His house is located beside an elephant corridor from which he had
kept a close  watch on the movement of the gentle giants.

“Practical experience helped him to be a master on animal behaviour,”
said D.D. Gogoi, divisional forest officer of Guwahati wildlife division.

Gogoi termed Boro’s death a big loss to the forest department.

“From ensuring a safe journey (for the jumbos) to the wetlands and back to
their territory, he did everything effectively,” Gogoi told this correspondent.

The forest officer has entrusted an assistant conservator of forest with the
responsibility of conducting an inquiry into Boro’s death.

Grief-stricken villagers said it was Boro’s mission to safeguard the elephants.

“He saved the lives of more than 200 elephants before making a supreme
sacrifice,” a villager said.

Many still recall how Kalia had performed the job with precision wielding a
torch. In a way, he had also helped protect paddy fields from wild elephants.

“Now, our paddy fields will be at the mercy of marauding herds,” said
B. Rongpi, a resident.

Recalling his four-month association with Kalia, Paul Keil, 35, a PhD
candidate from the department of anthropology, Macquarie University
Sydney, said, “Kalia was amazing, a great friend of elephants, whose
intimacy with nature helped him acquire tremendous knowledge on the
mammal. We roamed about 3km inside Rani reserve forest on July 12.”

Sangrami Krishak Shramik Sangha, a social organisation of the area,
has demanded Rs 10 lakh as compensation from the government to
the family of the deceased

June 29 2014

Old Dooars hands may be interested to learn that Jalpaiguri district was
split into two with the creation of Alipurduar district two days ago. We are
part of the new district. We have a new  address without even having
moved!   We, and the parts of Dooars that are east of Binnaguri,
including Birpara, come into Alipurduar.

Here is a link that might be of interest,
A lot of paint will flow now,with new sign posts and boards, but I
hope we also get some new  roads and bridges!
Gowri Mohanakrishnan




May 8 2013

Chai for Cancer Sufferers

Gowri's sister Viji has created a special for cancer sufferers to read please click below
on coloured line

My sister Viji Venkatesh and her 'chai for cancer' initiative.



Novemober 10 2013

We have to thank Gowri for sending these beautiful autumn Dooars pictures 

Good Morning Sunshine!


This post is as much about the sunlight and the sky as it is about the hibiscus flowers in the
pictures.   November in the Dooars is a time of glorious blue skies. The morning sunshine
is at its sweetest.
All I want is kindred spirits to share it with – so here you are!






 October 1 2013

We have to thank Gowri for this weather information--always to the point to remind us of Tea


Equinoctial Sunset

The evenings are so serene and still. They may be short, but they are full of atmosphere.

With the Equinox just two days away, sunsets are creeping closer to 5.20 p.m. Sunrise is
still before 5.15 a.m. so the husband is happy that the tea gets a little over the prescribed
eleven hours and fifteen minutes of daylight.

We had a very wet start to September, but a hot and dry fortnight followed. If only we had
some  moderation - regular rainfall and not too many ups and downs in temperature!
Equinoctial thoughts.

Sunset and sunrise follow a steady pattern, climate change or no climate change.

I give you good evening




September 3 2013

Gowri tells us of the huge downpour of rain starting on Sunday September 1 until
Tuesday September 3

                                                  RAIN & MORE RAIN

We had 18 inches of rain from Sunday one a.m. until now (9.30 a.m. Monday). 

Between 6.30 and 9.30 this a.m. we got 6.9 inches of that rain. And there were fish
swimming about on the lawn. 

We need some dry wit around here to survive







A Page from A Monsoon Diary in the Dooars


Does guava jelly keep monkeys away? I decided to find out when I saw that the guavas on the
tree in the corner were beginning to ripen. They were small and woody and not worth the
picking and eating. Those guavas can give the strongest tummy terrible aches. 


Parrots and monkeys love these fruits. Parrots are okay, but monkeys! We have never been
plagued by monkeys as we are here. We could handle regular visits by elephants who routinely
destroyed our crops of corn and trampled or uprooted palms, banana and jackfruit trees.
Elephants, we’ve seen, are destructive without any provocation, but after having suffered
monkeys, I feel like putting out welcome mats for them.

We thought the monkeys would keep away if there was nothing to attract them so we picked
all the guavas off the tree. Into a big vessel they went one evening and by morning the juice
was ready to be made into jelly. We got one small bottle of a richly coloured jelly.  I smirked
at having put off at least one monkey raid.


Yesterday the rogues were back. This time there were young ones too. Two or three sat on
the swing, and they got it going. I could swear a couple more were pushing the swing. Maybe
I am losing my mind. Another couple of little ones were on top of the slide, waiting to come
down. Some had already torn flowers off the bushes here and there. I give up. I don't see
myself making allamanda wine or hibiscus jam to keep the demons away. Any suggestions?


There are days and there are dull days and there are days when the excitement arrives just
when you are about to drop off. A python entered the section behind the bungalow. It scared
the wits out of Margaret, the ayah, and the chowkidar who saw it crossing the road as they
were going home.  We heard about it at around 9.30. Mohan and the chowkidars made
sure the cows and the calf were safe in their shed. I was worried about the calf, especially
after reading about the two little boys killed by a python in a pet store owner's apartment
in Canada.


Mohan popped up at 11.30 p.m. and told me not to feel scared about the python entering
the bathroom or anything - that was really nice of him, considering I had forgotten all
about it. Goodbye to all sleep for me that night. In the morning, we were all still excited.
The python could be hiding under the bungalow. A gardener sprinkled some strong
smelling insecticide all around to drive it away. Later, the estate chowkidars said they
knew about the python; it lived in a section near the pump house and had been there
for a long time. After a couple of days of being on the lookout, we guessed that it would
have gone back there.


August is almost over, and by now we should all have been fed up of eating corn. We'd
have it steamed at breakfast, or roasted on the cob on rainy evenings. It was a staple in
the monsoon months when green vegetables were hard to come by.  All that is in the past,
I now realise.  We don't grow corn any more, because the monkeys won't let it rise. We
couldn't find any to buy either, and that was a mystery! The last time I found any in the daily
'haat' was in the month of May. I have now learnt that the Railways have forbidden the
growing of corn anywhere near the tracks, and the Forest Department has forbidden the
cultivation of corn anywhere in the region - that is, anywhere in the neighbourhood of the
Buxa Tiger Reserve.


It's obvious that the Railways don't want any elephants wandering about near the train tracks.
Corn is fodder, and it brings them into inhabited areas. With no solutions yet to the
human-elephant conflict, the Forest Department and the Wildlife Department must put their
faith in these short-term preventive measures, I suppose. And it is obvious that we must
learn to eat frozen packed corn.


Gowri Mohanakrishnan

22 August 22, 2013

 Three very picturesque photos to add the story--Thank you Gowri





   October 29 2012

    A Bridge Too Far (Away)

I took this picture on the last day of Durga Puja, the festival that marks the beginning of mellow skies and cooler weather.

This is the River Dima, which flows close to Bhatkawa Tea Estate where we live. In the distance is a rail bridge. The bridge from where I took this shot is brand new. It was constructed to take the place of the one that was washed away in the floods of 1993!

Twenty long years to get the bridge up, three months from completion of construction to inauguration, and TWO opening ceremonies in one day. It's true. Please  read the rest of the story below:( from http://in.news.yahoo.com/bridge-opening-twice-one-day-000000420.html)

Bridge opening twice in one day


By Our bureau | www.telegraphindia.com - Mon 15 Oct, 2012

Alipurduar, Oct. 14: A bridge in Kalchini had the rare fortune of a double inauguration in the span of half an hour today, after the residents waited three months for its opening.

The bridge on the river Dima in Alipurduar's Kalchini block was first inaugurated by a garden manager who was cajoled into doing so by the local people around 11am. Around 11.30, state PWD minister threw the bridge open through a remote control opening ceremony in Jalpaiguri, about 100km from Kalchini.

Yesterday evening, the local people got information that the 100-metre-long bridge, which connects Jainti, Buxa and Santlabari with Kalchini, would be inaugurated by minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar from Jalpaiguri through remote control.

This angered the residents who thought it would be a "shame" that a bridge which they regarded important was being inaugurated from far away.

Villagers from the nearby areas decided that the bridge must be inaugurated at the spot this morning before the minister inaugurates it.

The manager of the nearby Atiabari Tea Estate, C.K. Pandey, was invited to cut a ribbon and the bridge was declared open around 11am.

Local people broke a coconut, played with colours and distributed sweets.

Half-an-hour later, the same bridge was inaugurated from Jalpaiguri along with four other bridges.

"The construction was completed three months ago but the ministers did not get the time to inaugurate it. Today, the bridge was opened by a remote control. It is a shame. It is a very important bridge for us. The state government has played with the emotions of the people," said Gourango Bhattacharjee, a resident of Rajabhatkhawa.

The opening of the bridge would benefit 70,000 people as it would reduce the distance between the block headquarters in Kalchini and Jainti, Buxa, Santlabari and Rajabhatkhaowa by 20km. Residents of these areas had to travel to Alipurduar town, over 15km away, and take NH31C via Nimati to reach Kalchini, a distance of over 45km. The bridge would be open to four wheelers and buses.

In the monsoon, Kalchini becomes inaccessible to people of these areas as the Dima swells and cannot be crossed by foot or any other means.

According to sources, the foundation stone of the bridge over the Dima was laid two decades ago.

The bridge was completed three months ago and the date of inauguration has since been cancelled at least five times.

Chandra Sen Khati, the block development officer of Kalchini, said he did not know about the two inaugurations.

"I do not have any information that the bridge has been inaugurated by the honourable minister from Jalpaiguri or that it has been inaugurated by the local people. But the one thing I know is that the bridge is very important to the people here," he said.

Minister Ghosh Dastidar also inaugurated four other bridges by a remote control from Jalpaiguri today. Bridges over the Panga and the Chekomari rivers in Rajganj, the Madhubani river in Dhupguri and over the Barohati in Mainaguri were all declared open today.


  October 19 2012

  Monkey Mail

In all the years I've been married, we've hardly ever had a postal address
with a house number or a street name.

Our address has always been 'c/o' (husband's designation), followed by the
name of a tea garden, a Post Office, and a district name. A bit like the
Phantom, who sends a man to collect 'any mail for Mr. Walker' from the Post
Office in Denkali, a tea garden manager has a 'dak wallah' who goes to the
nearest post office every morning to drop off and pick up letters.

Couriers don't come to our doors but leave their dak or mail and packages
at the nearest town.

So when my sister Viji in Mumbai sent me a package with things that our
brother Bala had handed over to her in Chicago for our mother Maiji and
me, she was worried that I never acknowledged receipt. Viji called me on

the 28th and said the courier office there told her that the parcel had been

collected on the 25th by one 'Surit Nandi, peon'.

I called my husband Mohan and told him at once. Mohan said Surit Nandi
was not a peon, but he was a garden chap all right. 'Who is Surit Nandi?'
was all I could think of.

They found him. He was questioned by Mohan and the head clerk. Surit 
denied (stoutly? perhaps) that he had taken any parcel from anywhere.
The head clerk, or Bara Babu as we call him, told Mohan he would follow
things up.

Viji called with more news. The parcel was on its way back to Mumbai,
according to the courier, DHL. This was terrible. Bala had sent, among other
things, the video of his son Kartik's wedding.

I told Mohan the parcel was heading back, and he told Bara Babu. Bara
Babu rang up his friend, the proprietor of Sree Krishna Stores in
Hamiltonganj and told him what had happened. 

Sree Krishna's son swung into action. He stormed into the DHL outpost in
Hamiltonganj, thumped the desk and hollered at the clerk there. Why, he
asked, had they not alerted Sree Krishna Stores when a package arrived
for Mr. Mohanakrishnan?  That was all they'd had to do. Sree Krishna - and
son - would take all responsibility from then on. The clerk apologised. It was
a terrible mistake, he agreed. He promised to make enquiries.

A further call from Viji said the courier was not DHL, but DHC. Right. After we
had - well someone had, on our behalf - made a ruckus at DHL.  I felt sorry
for the chap who'd been threatened. But he hadn't protested. He'd apologised
for a mistake he'd never made. It must be a tough life out there in Hamiltonganj.

I asked Viji what DHC had to say. Once again, the suspect's name cropped up.
Surit Nandi. He had signed for the package on the 28th, not the 25th. Who is
Surit Nandi, I asked Mohan. He is the school bus driver, said Mohan. He drives
a bus into Kalchini and Hamiltonganj everyday, ferrying the workers' children
to and from schools there.

This was spooky. A bus driver had pulled Maiji up into his vehicle after Kartik
and Danielle's wedding and she'd hurt her knee. Now, a bus driver had made 
their wedding video vanish. 

I decided to go to the DHC office. It was a little shop, not an office, which
turned out to be in Kalchini, not Hamiltonganj. It had a Xerox machine on one
side and the courier's desk on the other.

'DHC?' I asked in a chilly voice. 'No, Madam, this is JaYshree courier service'.

Silly me. I felt even sillier when both men behind the desks stood up and 
directed me in polite voices to the right place. 

I went outside in a hurry. Our driver brought someone to the car. A 
sweet-faced plump chap who smiled and gave me a 'Namastey'.

'Memsaab, this is Surit Nandi', said the driver. What! This man! But he didn't
look like a thief! Surit Nandi! He was still smiling.  

One thing was clear. I wasn't going to let this Surit Nandi get away. I asked
him to get into the car and come to the DHC desk with us.

This time I made sure I saw a sign that said DHC before I opened my mouth.
I took out a piece of paper on which I'd scribbled the docket number which
Viji'd called out on the phone.

'Do you have this package?' I asked the man at the desk, putting the piece
of paper in front of him. Very business like.

He had no smiles for me, and he matched my aggression with a 'So what?'
kind of defensiveness. Here's how it went.

He: 'Yes, I received it.'

I: 'Where is it now?'

He: 'I made so many calls to the telephone number on the packet. That
person said he would come. I rang up five or six times. He kept saying he
would come, and he never came.'

I: (dripping with sarcasm)'Oh! Is that so? Let's talk to him now.' (I dialled
Mohan on my phone)

He: (quickly) 'But he was in Alipurduar'. (I cut the call)

I: WHO was in Alipurduar?

He: Actually it was my brother who rang him up from Alipurduar. My
brother isn't here now. 

I: I want to check when your brother called on my husband's number. 

He: He should have come to collect it.

I: I have come to collect it. Where is it?

He: Company rules say that if a package is not picked up in three days it has
to go back to the place where it came from. But I know you are from a tea
garden. That's why I asked him (pointing at Surit Nandi) to sign for it.

I: What! You gave him the package!

(Here Surit Nandi piped in: I don't have any package! I didn't take
anyone's package!)

I: (frantic) Then where is the package? When will it reach Mumbai?
What did they say?

He: I have it.

I: WHAT!! You have it here??

He: I didn't want it to go back to Mumbai. But I couldn't break the rules.
That's why I took Surit's signature and informed the company in Mumbai
that it had been collected.

(Short silence)

I: Will you give it to me?

He: Yes.

He went in and came out with a parcel. I couldn't believe it. It had my name
on it. It had Viji's name on the other side, spelt Vigi.

I smiled. He smiled. I said thank you. He asked me what my name was, and
wrote it in his receipt book which I signed. I asked him what his name was.
Ajit, he said. He smiled and said thank you, and I smiled and said thank you. 

Oh the joy of coming home and opening the package! I took out the wedding
video and we all watched it as soon as we could.

At dinner time, Mohan had something to report. 'Halla has broken out among
the garden workers that Surit Nandi is a bad man and a thief, and that he
stole a parcel belonging to the Superintending Manager.' Oh, oh.

---Gowri Mohanakrishnan

Gowri Mohanakrishnan
c/o The Superintending Manager
Bhatkawa Tea Estate
Dt Jalpaiguri
West Bengal 735217

May 30 2012
 Thanks to Gowri we have an interesting story of the

                "Great Caucasian Cuppa"

to read please click link



  February 16 2012 


Winter. I know exactly what I want from winter in the Dooars. It should be pleasantly cool, with temperatures not lower than 11 degrees C, and no higher than 22 C. It should be just cold enough to justify the lighting of a fire in the place.

The joy of airing and wearing sweaters, snuggling into quilts and being able to knit without feeling suffocated by the warmth of wool.

Clear blue skies, sunlight to sit out in, no dust and no humidity.







Christmas cake.

Masala chai.

My mother has always said that the cold weather in Delhi is wonderful until Christmas, after which what she calls the 'dirty winter' begins. I can't think of a better description of those murky skies or those foggy days and nights with miserably low temperatures.

The Dooars is not as cold as Delhi, but here too, blue skies and sunny days come to an end by the beginning of January. In the morning, the fog gives way to a dust and cloud haze. Everyone seems to fall ill. We long for warmth, for an end to the misery of cold days and nights.

February usually comes with drought, chills, more dust, and an increasing difference in day/night temperatures which adds to the woes of those suffering from coughs and colds.

It's been different this year. In most parts of India, winter began early and seems to be in no hurry to leave.

For the last two days, we've had a replay of the early cold weather. The sky is blue, the sunshine is warm enough for me to lie about in chairs and drowse, and occasional chilly breezes bring the comforting thought that the weather won't hot up and spoil it all too soon.

My cold weather garden has a very few blooms. We moved into this bungalow at a time when it was too late for me to plan or plant the garden. The previous occupant had had no time either, being caught up with packing for retirement.

So I have what the mali (gardener) could manage with his own resources. I never grew poppies after our chhota bungalow days, becoming very picky as I gained seniority - not necessarily wisdom - as a tea memsaab. Poppies were things I looked down upon. They have this tendency to blaze for a day or two in glory before fluttering away their all in a mess on the ground. It's tempting to think of them as wastrels. They are completely out of place among superior species that hold their heads up as the well cultivated should.

Well they hold their own here - however fleetingly - and they have silenced me. I'd forgotten their depth of colour and the richness of texture of each petal. The 'mess' of fallen petals makes the ground come alive with colour. I'm willing to eat my words - and the poppies too - if it will prolong the heady daze of these extended cold weather days.

Gowri Mohanakrishnan



 October 30 2011

The recent earthquake in the 

Siliguri Darjeeling area

Gowri tells the Editor--

A few days ago, we went to take a look at the condition of the Darjeeling railway
line at Tindharia. This is an account of what we saw of the damage that the
September earthquake caused. The pictures tell it all and do not need captioning.  .
I didn't have my camera with me (never do at these moments!) but had to rely
on my old no-frills phone camera


Hang Out There


Tindharia in the Darjeeling hills is the first important railway station on the
Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR).

It is on National Highway 55 which connects - when it is in working order -
Siliguri to Darjeeling.

We drove up to it one Sunday afternoon with some friends last July. One of them,
a Darjeeling tea expert, pointed out the Tindharia Locomotive and Carriage
Workshop to us. The three rooftops perched on the top of the hill made a
pretty sight.

We drove past and went up to the railway station. It was also a lovely old building.
I wished we could have taken a train ride there, but the train service had been
suspended because landslides had snapped the road link and damaged the tracks
beyond Tindharia.

We wondered whether repairs would be completed. The scene changed completely
in September, when a large part of the hillside below the locomotive workshop
fell away.

We drove up  in the direction of Tindharia today with our younger daughter.
She loves the railways, particularly the DHR. This time we couldn't even reach
the station.

I did  not have my camera with me. These pictures were taken on my old
fashioned (four years old is old fashioned these days) phone camera.

No complaints. They pretty much convey what we saw.

Note: The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) is a World Heritage site.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee describes it thus:

"The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway is the first, and still the most outstanding/
example of a hill passenger railway. Opened in 1881, it applied bold and
ingenious engineering solutions to the problems of establishing an effective
rail link cross a mountainous terrain of great beauty. It is still fully operational*
and retains most of its original features intact."

Gowri Mohanakrishnan

Gowri tells us 

You might like to watch this Niswarth video clip posted by
Karan on youtube - 

 October 7 2011

Little Bear in Lankapara



Darkness everywhere. It terrified me, a Delhi girl in my early twenties
on my first evening in a tea garden.


That night, a few of us rode from Birpara Tea Garden to Lankapara
Tea Garden in an Ambassador car. It was a memorable ride - the car
hurtled into the darkness at top speed. It was hard to believe there
was a road. There probably wasn't. I'd never been in such inky
darkness before.


When the terror of the ride ended, there were the introductions to
strangers at the party. I was the new bride in the district. There was
only one reason I didn't want the evening to end. The drive would
have to be repeated.


While stepping out of our hosts' bungalow, I looked up at the sky.
There were stars everywhere! I'd learnt to recognise the major
constellations and the planets in Delhi's night skies, but this sight
made my head spin. There were stars where I'd been used to seeing
dark spaces.


For the first time, I saw the Little Bear - Ursa Minor. It had only been
a name on a star map before this. In Delhi, we could spot two stars
from Ursa Minor - the Pole Star Polaris, and Kocab. These stars augured
well - I was going to love a lot things about my new life in tea.


I missed the city lights. Here, darkness fell by six-thirty in the summer
and by five in the winter months. Twenty-five years ago, there was no
electricity anywhere in tea gardens save in the bungalows, factories
and hospitals. The towns nearby were not much better. There was no
street lighting, nor were there any neon signs.


Our daughters never feared the dark as babies. They wouldn't cry or
get restless when the lights went out. My husband always said that
this was where we failed, having grown up in a city!


I can't say when I started appreciating the darkness in a tea garden.
But you do need darkness to appreciate the beauty of light.


My cousin Ambika wrote on her blog, "As the country has got electrified,
so too the night skies have disappeared.  That is inevitable, but could
we be reasonable and innovative in how we light up?". She had linked
an article for star gazers called ‘Weekend Diversion: Protecting the Night Sky'.

It has photographs showing different kinds of skies - urban, suburban,
rural and ‘Excellent dark sky'. It is really sad to think of children growing
up without seeing stars in the night sky.


For some years now, I've enjoyed taking a solitary outing at nightfall.
All those years ago, the loneliness was as frightening as the darkness.
Over time, a love of solitude replaced the fear. Silence and darkness
can become a rich environment for those who like to wander about in
the spaces of the mind.


We should be alright in a world where 'Daylight is good at arriving at
the right time'.*


Beware of darkness


Watch out now, take care

Beware of the thoughts that linge

Winding up inside your head

The hopelessness around you

In the dead of night


- George Harrison

*George Harrison, 'All Things Must Pass'

Gowri Mohanakrishnan
October 5 2011


September 19 2011

After the terrible earthquake on Sunday 18th September 2011 which
sadly killed some people in both West Bengal and Sikkim Gowri told
the Editor  We are all safe but had a bit of a scare. I have written my
account - or rather, just what I felt an hour or two after. 
It is below
for all to read


Sunday evening, Biswakarma Puja Day. It was chilly and it had been
raining for nearly twenty four hours. My daughter Swati, my husband
Mohan and I were sitting with our cups of tea. We were arguing idly
about whether we should catch a movie later in the evening.
Suddenly Swati said, 'Earthquake!'

I had just felt a little movement, but hadn't identified it.
'Run, Ma!' she said, and already, everything was shaking violently.
A loud grinding and rumbling sound started off.

We were shaken and rattled about. The lights went off at once.
The noise was frightening. Once we made it outside we stood
together holding one another at the door. We knew we should
be running down the stairs but we couldn't move. The building
was rocking violently. It felt as if everything would come
crashing down any second.

We heard people wailing loudly from the direction of Siliguri.
The last time I'd heard that many people shouting was when
India won the cricket World Cup.

We stood hugging one another, unable to do anything more than
keep our balance. It was pitch dark. We couldn't see the stairs.
As soon as the shuddering stopped, the lights came on and we
took the stairs down - gingerly, because they were slippery after
the rain. Two young girls who live upstairs rushed down,
sobbing loudly.

Everyone in the three buildings that make up our apartment
complex had come down.
No one was hurt but people were just too scared to go back inside.

We looked up and wondered if the structures would all come down any
minute. We saw tall cracks - as high as twelve to fourteen feet -
around many of the walls and pillars on the ground.

'We should live in a bungalow again!' I said to Mohan. We've felt a
number of mild earthquakes over the years. In a bungalow, it would
take a moment to run out on to the front lawn! And those old tea
bungalows were built to withstand more than earthquakes.

Ten days ago, Delhi had an earthquake. My brother and I were chatting
about it on GMail last week.
"Was it scary?" I asked.
"Nothing serious ... not scary ... but it's a unique feeling ... a wave
which passes through your body ... your head stops feeling it by the
time your legs start feeling it" 
"You make me want an earthquake!!!!" I said ... and he reminded me
of these words when I spoke to him later in the evening.
It felt a little eerie to re-read that chat. He'd written, "The feeling
reminded me of all of us watching the landslide in Sikkim...it oozes"
Today's quake had its epicentre in Sikkim, less than 60 kilometres
from Siliguri.

Time calmed us all down. I stopped holding on to my daughter. We
walked around a little freely. We tried to call our elder daughter in
Delhi. All the phone lines were jammed with similar panic calls.

My husband walked around inspecting the cracks with some of our
neighbours. 'Only the brick work and plaster have cracked,' he said.
'The pillars are unharmed.' Only then did we think of climbing the
stairs back up to see what damage had taken place at our flat.

No, the building was not going to collapse for now. Still, all the
neighbours pulled their cars out of the ground floor parking lot
and parked them out in the open.

In the flat, we grabbed our cooling cups of tea and checked the
damage. A broken photo frame, a chipped plate, some books
               knocked down. My 'puja' in disarray. Nothing too bad.                     
Nothing that couldn't wait till later. We put on floaters so that
we could run if required, and went downstairs to wait in case
there were aftershocks.

Swati and I sat down in the car, though she and her dad had already
decided not to drive out to the wide open spaces like I wanted to.
They both said we ought to leave the roads free for people who might
need to be rushed to hospital.

We managed to make our phone call to our daughter Parvati, alone
in Delhi, frightening and reassuring her in the same breath.

Three young boys from the our building walked by. They were in
high spirits.
'We could have died!' one announced happily in a loud voice.
'How many times have we studied earthquakes in class! Who thought
we would feel one!'
Swati and I couldn't help laughing when we heard them.

It turned out the boys had been to the movie hall - the one we'd been
debating about. They'd all rushed out when the false ceiling started
crumbling down and the hall filled with clouds of dust.

One boy popped his head in at my window. 'You are going to sit the
whole night in the car, Aunty?' he asked. He couldn't be more than
eleven years old, and he'd braved the earthquake in the movie hall.
'That will be silly, no?' I asked him. 'Want to sit with us?"
He ran for his life. Again.

November 18 2010
A Trained Eye

When we were children, every time we went on a train journey, we would look
out of the window at level crossings and feel sorry for the poor people who
lived in the middle of nowhere between the big railway stations.

After I married my tea planter husband almost 25 years ago, I've lived in that
world of unimportant level crossings. Our tea garden is just one of the sights
that can be seen on the train line between Delhi and Guwahati.

One Diwali/Kali Puja night many years ago at the Kali temple level crossing
near our home, the gateman kept the gates closed so he could light candles
on the bars.

Those were days when there was less traffic. Every time a vehicle crossed,
he'd open the gates and his candles would go flying. When he closed the
gates, he would arrange the candles again and light them with great care,
apparently undisturbed by the thought that they would only burn until the
next vehicle came along.

It was a pleasant surprise to see a small puja pandal near the Chalsa level
crossing. It must have been put up for Kali Puja, which was over ten days ago.
A pandal's basic function is to provide a platform for placing the image of the
goddess. Pandal decoration has become an elaborate and showy affair in the
towns here these days.

This structure, however, seemed to be a labour of love - a work of art that came
straight from the heart.

The model of the train engine was true to life, and the cabin a perfect replica
of the real thing. Hats off to the people who built it. I'm not surprised they
didn't want to pull it down.

Now that the festive season is finally over, I'm done with complaining
about its drawbacks. Its good to see signs that people everywhere had
their share of fun.


 October30 2010 

By the Light of the Silvery Moon


In the Dooars, the moonlight is undiluted by city lights or smog. On Sharad
Purnima, the full moon rises over treetops, and the silhouettes of the trees
seems to shrink in contrast. The light is silvery all night.

The Sharad Purnima is the equivalent of the equinoctial moon. 'Purnima'
means full moon and Sharad is the name of the season that comes after
the monsoon rains, marking the beginning of cool weather in most parts
of India.

During the equinox, the moon moves closest to the earth. So when you have
a full moon around that time, it appears larger and brighter than usual.
People in the Northern Hemisphere see the brightest full moon of the year
around the time of the Autumnal Equinox, September 23rd. And I don't
want to offend my friend Uma in Australia - you'll see yours in March.

Sharad Purnima did not coincide with the Equinox this year, but it occurred
a month later.

The Sharad season begins in the Indian month of Ashwin. The Indian calendar
measures time in terms of the sun as well as the moon, with the year
measured in solar time, and the months in lunar cycles. The months in this
  calendar don't run parallel with the months in the global calendar. When
Ashwin coincides to some extent with September, chances are that the
Sharad Purnima will coincide with the equinoctial moon. If not, it will be
the full moon after that one.


- A typical tea garden scene - the goddess Durga's image being transported to
the garden Puja site.

The Ashwin moon is especially significant for Hindus. The new moon or
Mahalaya Amavasya marks the beginning of 'Navaratri', nine days and
nights of goddess worship. In Bengal, it is the beginning of Durga Puja.
The night of the full moon is observed as Lakhi Puja (Lakshmi Puja).  

  The goddess' face is uncovered only after a priest instals the image at the site.

I love the Bengali tradition of Lakhi Puja. It is a day of great piety. A religious
festival like this one has a simplicity and charm quite untouched by the bustle
and commerce of the 'big' festivals. Durga Puja is a ‘community' puja, where
each locality has a celebration for its people, while Lakhi Puja is a private
celebration at home. Any festival in a tea garden is enhanced by the surroundings:
by the large open spaces, the peace and quiet.

A grand feast is prepared and offered to the goddess Lakhi. She is the goddess
of prosperity. The moon is a symbol of plenty: a good harvest of course,
but much more than simply wealth. The fulness and brightness of the moon
on this night stand for fulfilment, the abundance of blessings, peace and well-being.

- Puja at Moraghat Tea Estate, Dooars, 2010

For many years, a Bengali family in our garden has been sending us 'bhog"
or 'prasad'. There is luchi (the Bengali Poori), paayesh (kheer/payasam), narkul
nadu (coconut laddoos) of two kinds, white and brown, and the wonderful bhog
khichuri (rice and dal savoury) with the vegetable side dish called labra. It is
delicious - like all consecrated food offerings are.

Seasons of Splendour by Madhur Jaffrey is an interesting compilation of the
legends and folk tales that surround Indian seasons and festivals. It mentions
the tradition of threading a needle 100 times in the moonlight on Sharad
Purnima night. The moonlight supposedly contains drops of nectar, which is
said to enter the eyes of the person performing this feat. It is said that any
wish made on this night comes true.

Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy has a magical passage in which Kabir and Lata,
young lovers, take out a boat on the river Ganga on Sharad Purnima night.
I read it many years ago, but it has stayed in my mind.
Sharad Purnima was on October 22 this year. It was not the brightest night
of the year in the Dooars. The sky was overcast until almost ten o'clock and
we couldn't see the moonrise, easily the best part of any full moon night. 

This picture was taken on the night of the full moon, with the clouds in full force!

However, on the two nights that followed, the moon was still almost full and
perfectly visible when it rose. I stood and gaped at it for as long as I could.
It is said that standing in the moonlight and absorbing the rays is good for the
body. It does your soul good too, I'd say.

June 22 2010
   Thank You Gowri for this very enjoyable tale 

Two in the Bush                                                       


I used to think only Englishmen dying of malaria in colonial India could hear the
brain fever bird. I had no idea that it's a bird we've been hearing for many years
and I paid for this knowledge with one night's sleep. 

It was a night in March, and the bird shrilled outside my window without a break. 
There was no way I could sleep. It felt as if the bird was crying inside my head. 
By morning, I thought I'd gone mad. The bird didn't stop. Morning is supposed to
bring great clarity of thought to the human mind. I had my moment - it became
clear that the bird was saying, 'Brain fever! Brain fever!' 

There are three shrill notes which the bird repeats over and over. Then there's
 the variation.  It breaks off to do a warble of continuous climbing notes that
serve as a short introduction to the same old three note cry.

Once you find out what the cry means, you hear it even more clearly and you
find yourself waiting for the next one. There's no way you can mistake it for 
anything else. My brother Bala, who was visiting at the time, thanked me drily
one morning for having explained it all to him. He'd lain awake the entire night 
while the bird went full throttle outside his window. We two were fellow
sufferers; my husband slept the dreamless sleep that comes to tea planters!

When we'd finished making plans to eat the bird for breakfast, we read as much
as we could about it on the internet. The bird is called the Hawk-cuckoo.
It is small - about as big as a mynah - and black in colour. It's Hindi name is
'Papeeha', and it's said to be crying 'Pea Kahaan' (where's my love?) in search
of its mate. In Bengali, they say the bird is crying 'Chokh Geilo' (Lost my eyes!) 

Vikram Seth's novel A Suitable Boy has a poem called 'The Fever Bird'. I could
not find the text anywhere on the web so I've copied it here.

The Fever Bird

The fever bird sang out last night.

I could not sleep, try as I might.

My brain was split, my spirit raw.

I looked into the garden, saw

The shadow of the amaltas

Shake slightly on the moonlit grass.

Unseen, the bird cried out its grief,

Its lunacy, without relief.

Three notes repeated, closer, higher,

Soaring, then sinking down like fire.

Only to breathe the night and soar,

As crazed, as desperate, as before.

I shivered in the midnight heat

And smelt the sweat that soaked my sheet.

And now tonight I hear again,

The call that skewers through my brain,

The call, the brain-sick triple note--

A bone of pain stuck in its throat.

I am so tired I could weep.

Mad bird, for God's sake let me sleep.

Why do you cry like one possessed?

When will you rest? When will you rest?

Why wait each night till all but I

Lie sleeping in the house, then cry?

Why do you scream into my ear

What no one else but I can hear?

(A Suitable Boy; 1993, Viking,  pp. 949-950)

I've always admired Vikram Seth's poetry, but this poem is especially
meaningful now. The lines I like best are :-

'The call, the brain-sick triple note--

A bone of pain stuck in its throat.'

The mynah, crow and peacock are all sweet-sounding compared to this horror.
 It kept me awake for hours every night. I filled my time writing my own
poems to the tormentor.

These are my two Hawk-cuckoo haikus:

Brain fever bird bores

sleepless mum. Delhi, daughters

dream of birds singing.

"You complain of noise.

 We long to hear a bird singing:

 Town, bird, a far cry."

The bird's frenzy reduced somewhat by April, but it still goes off like an alarm
once every few nights. If you have never heard this bird, you're lucky. If you
want to risk it,here it is on you tube:

We hear another bird now, one that sings sweetly. The Indian cuckoo is called the
'Bou-Ko-Tha-Ko' bird in Bengali. Its song has four notes. The story goes like this.
The bird has just brought his bride home. She is a shy girl who doesn't say
anything. The bridegroom pleads, 'Bou, kotha kou', meaning, 'Bride, say something

In North India, it is said that the bird cries out upon waking and discovering that 
his bride has run away with her lover. He goes, 'Main sota tha'. (I was sleeping!) 
through the night. The song has a variation, where the notes move higher up
the scale. This is also explained in the legend. The deserted husband makes
enquiries everywhere. He hears that the lovers have fled to a town called
Champapur. He decides to follow them and changes his cry to a more urgent
call, 'Chal Champapur!' (To Champapur!)

Tea planters say the bird is calling, 'Orange Pekoe', 'Broken Pekoe' or
'Make more pekoe'!!           

You can hear it for yourself here -

Gowri Mohanakrishnan

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January 19 2010
Gowri tells us of the passing of a strong family man, very hardworking, and
a loyal and well respected staff member at Moraghat T.E.--
Thank you Gowri--Editor

RIP   Bagan Babu

I always knew Bagan Babu was very old, but he just didn't look his age. If you met him anywhere
in the garden, he'd be on his motorcycle. He'd pull off his cap and greet you with a big and happy 
smile. His face looked creased with smiling, not with age. Everyone in Moraghat remembers him 
that way - smiling and happy. 

He died on Christmas day, 2009, aged 92.

People who live to a ripe old age pray that they remain active and in full possession of their wits.
I wonder how many people visualize themselves working full time after the age of 75 or so. Not too
many, I'll bet. Our Bagan Babu worked at his post until the end of his life. This was remarkable, 
considering a bagan babu, or garden clerk, works out in the field and not at a desk. 

Krishna Das Sinha was born on Janamastami, the day of Lord Krishna's birth. His parents lived in 
Cachar, and their roots were in the neighbouring state of Manipur. His son and daughter say they
don't know the exact date or month of his birth in the Gregorian calendar. 

At 17, Krishna was a good footballer. One day, when he was playing in a football match at 
Bhubandhar Tea Garden, the Burra Sahib spotted him and asked who he was. The Burra Babu of
the garden told him the young man was his nephew. 'Get that boy', said the Burra Sahib, and
that's how Bagan Babu started his life in tea.

Bhubandhar was a MacNeill and Barrie garden. In 1965, the Manager, Mr. J.G. Mortimer, was 
transferred out to one of the company's Dooars properties, Moraghat Tea Estate. He brought 
his Bagan Babu with him.

Bagan Babu moved into the quarters where he lived for the rest of his life.

Mr. Mortimer was the last British Burra Sahib of this garden. Bagan Babu stayed on to serve 
under 14 more managers between 1967 and the present time. MacNeill and Barrie sold the
garden to HMP group in 1971, and they sold it to the present holders, Binaguri Tea Company,
in 1990.

This is a recent photo of Bagan Babu

Bagan Babu's wife died in 1990 after a long illness. The couple had nine children. His second son 
Kanti started working in the garden as a babu himself, and Bagan Babu retired within a year of that.
He didn't stay at home after retirement, but took up an assignment at Moiradanga. This was one of
the new small holdings that was coming up near Falakata, a town around 30 kilometres south of 
Moraghat. He planted tea there, and organised the local population along plantation lines, appointing 
sardars and baidars among people who had never heard these terms before.

Tragedy struck in 1994 when Kanti was killed in a motorcycle accident. There was no one here in the 
family to take employment in his stead. So Bagan Babu was recalled, and he came back to work. 
When we moved to Moraghat in 1996, we heard the entire story.                                          

A couple of days before Christmas, Bagan Babu complained of congestion and chest pain. He stayed 
home - a rare occurrence. In all his years of service, he'd reported sick only a few times. My husband 
went to see him, and found him working on his leaf chits. On Christmas Eve, Bagan Babu went to 
Birpara Hospital. He didn't need any help to get into the ambulance. The doctors at Birpara examined 
him and advised him to go to Siliguri for more tests. He would need a pacemaker, they said.

The following afternoon, Shankar driver picked him up in the ambulance to take him to Siliguri. 
It was cold and cloudy when they set off. Bagan Babu's breathing was a little laboured, and Shankar
said he could hear him from the driver's seat. Shankar called Bagan Babu's old colleague on his cell
phone - Kaji Babu, who'd been the second Bagan Babu until he left this garden two years ago. Kaji
Babu caught up with the ambulance on his motorbike and greeted his old friend.

Bagan Babu could not speak. He saluted Kaji silently. The end came somewhere near Gairkata 
Tea Estate, not too far away from home. Shankar said they had been moving very slowly, stopping 
once or twice to feed him a little water, when suddenly, they couldn't hear the sound of his breathing.

Kaji Babu was inconsolable. 'He was like a father to me, ' he said. 'But he did "Salaam" to me 
before he died.'                     
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Thanks to Gowri we can share this wonderful sunset--cleverly taken with a phone camera 
November 5 2009

Aurora Surrealis?

This was the biggest and the grandest sunset I ever saw in my life. And no, don't even bother to ask - I had stepped out without a camera. These pictures are all that my phone (Sony Ericsson) could manage. Not that my camera could have captured the scale or the intensity of the colours in there. About half of the sky was covered by this spectacle. The lit up clouds were dazzling with broken rainbows - something like a petrol slick on a puddle. It's not a very poetic simile, but I only saw this sunset becauseI was on the highway!

This was over a large open area to the west of the highway, over the burial ground from which the tea garden gets its name (Moraghat, place of the dead) In the distance there was a small graveyard, with all the graves freshly limewashed for All Souls' Day. In the East, the full moon of Karthik Poornima, birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, was rising.

Overhead, there were fluffy cirrus clouds, looking like tiny lambs. The quality of the light was such that you could sense the distance between the clouds and the sky beyond. Now that's a thought for All Souls Day.

My husband was on his evening round of the division to the East of the highway, and I called him so he could join me, but he was deep inside the garden. The sunset would end by the time he reached me, he said. So the driver, who'd been  taking me to the wool shop in Binnaguri, and I, stood and watched.

A few buses rolled past. Two men on a bike stopped and one, like me, took out his phone to capture what he could.

Return to top

Another very interesting story from Gowri and we thank her

October 31 2009

Gerberas and Saddam Hussein in the Forest

Chalsa forest is one of my favourite places in the Dooars, and when the roads were in better shape, I'd drive into it once a week, just to look around and soak in the atmosphere. One road leads deep into the forest and climbs up to the Jaldhaka settlement in Darjeeling district.

On Sunday last, we went up that way. It is a quiet place, and a drive there offers some lovely views of the Jaldhaka River and the hills. It also gives us a chance to take short walks in the hills. There is hardly any tourist traffic there.

Before we crossed over into Darjeeling district, we passed the Sipchu Beat Forest Office. We saw a small hothouse with flowering plants and stopped. There was a cluster of buildings belonging to the Forest Department and we didn't want to enterwithout permission. A little boy was the only person in sight. He looked nothing like a forest officer, but he told us we could go in, and then ran off, shouting that he would call the 'Beat Babu'.

We entered the hothouse and found excellent specimens of gerberas growing there. The 'Beat Babu' -- Beat Officer -- turned up with the little boy. He was a pleasant, soft-spoken man. Probir Choudhary was happy that we liked his flowers.
I'd assumed they were part of a tissue culture project, but he told us they were grown from seeds bought in Pune, Maharashtra - the other end of India. We asked if he could sell us any plants, but he said they only sold flowers. He didn't 
have little seedling plants, or else he would have shared them with us, he said. However, he plucked five beautiful blooms for us - one in each of the colours that grew there. They're still standing tall in a vase in the dining room, a week later.

The little settlement had a Sunday quiet about it. The little boy couldn't get over the way we were fussing over him. He was shy and happy all at the same time.  We asked him his name and whether he went to school. His name was Saddam Hussein, he said, and he went to the small school which stood among the cluster of buildings.  

These people lived in the heart of the forest, surrounded by wild animals, including bison, leopards and elephants. There was no market for miles around. I wondered how often they had people they knew visiting them.  Mr.Choudhary asked us where we'd come from. When we told him Moraghat Tea Estate, he said he'd always wanted to visit the nearby Gairkata town, where his in-laws live. He said it was too far away for him to make the trip. It isn't over 35 kilometres away from the beat, but that is a remote settlement, and there's probably just one bus a day out of it. 

Mr. Choudhary brought out a visitors book for us to sign. A lot of people seemed to have stopped and visited here on their way to Jaldhaka or the Chhapramari Wildlife Reserve, and some were from overseas too. There was something very fine about this man. He seemed to exemplify that courtesy, goodness and dignity which was so much in evidence in an older, unhurried world.   

Gowri Mohanakrishnan
c/o The Senior Manager,
Moraghat Tea Estate
P.O.Binnaguri, Dt.Jalpaiguri
West Bengal 735203

October 27 2009 
More stories of interest and we thank Gowri very much 

Close Encounters of the Herd Kind

Last Monday, we went to Bagdogra, a drive that takes about three hours from our garden. At around ten in the morning, we were crossing Damdim in the Western Dooars, and we saw a large crowd and some jeeps on the road ahead. We
thought it was a 'jhamela' (trouble) of some kind. Our Dooars residents are volatile and quick to take offence, and they vent their feelings very visibly, so that 'jhamela' is a part of daily life, like 'Bandh' (strike) or potholes on the road.

There were men in uniform there too, and that helped to confirm what we believed. We expected anything from a murder to a road accident to a political demonstration. Since no one stopped our car, we drove ahead.

The cause of all the excitement was a herd of elephants. They were in the tea area off the road about 500m away from the highway, around 30 in all, adults and calves, all standing in a tight group, facing out in different directions.

The crowds had collected there to stare. The uniformed men, who were officials of the Forest Department, couldn't do much to convince them to make way for the elephants to get away. An ice cream seller was doing brisk business, and it looked like the start of a long day - and a long wait for the elephants. They were trapped where they were, not wanting to move because of the growing crowd of people. 

The poor elephants were still stranded when we returned down that road around sunset time. The gawping crowds had grown, and now it was like a mela - a fairground - with so many motorbikes, cars, cycles and drifters. We slowed down, but didn't stop to join them.

My husband Mohan said sundown was the time when the elephants would come into their element. But while they waited, which had been all day, they had stood without a sound and without a drink of water, intent on protecting their young. They showed no signs of wanting to harm the crowds of people. There was no shade where they were standing, and they had been hurling mud on their backs to keep cool.

We'd experienced much the same thing in Moraghat T.E. early this year when around seven elephants strayed into the tea area and were forced to stand there all day, while the crowds - some of them coming in hired cars from Birpara, 20 km away - stayed till it was dark.

It was obvious all through that the elephants showed more maturity than human beings! Their behaviour signifies a superior instinct for survival and a superior understanding of coexistence with fellow creatures. They follow all the old rules,  while we break them.

And yesterday, on one of our early-start-to the-cold-weather Sunday drives, we just missed running into a herd of around 40 to 50 elephants in the heart of Chalsa forest, between Jaldhaka and Chhapramari. It was sundown -- their time, 
and the forest -- their beat. Had we dawdled five minutes before setting back from Jaldhaka, we'd have driven into them. I'm glad we didnt disturb each other. 
Gowri has kindly sent these two beautiful photographs below for us to enjoy

 Left side: a tame elephant belonging to the Chhapramari Wildlife Reserve at Chalsa Forest, picture by Mohan.   Right side: is a view of the Jaldhaka River, from the road to the Bindu Barrage, where there is a hydel power project on the
river. This is very close to Chalsa, and it is a part of Darjeeling district.  

Gowri Mohanakrishnan 
Moraghat Tea Estate 
26 October 2009

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  AUGUST 12 2009


 Gowri tells us that here is the story of a man who doesnt have much himself, but does what he can for the disabled and the elderly.

Suvendu Roy of Titan Industries shares his inspirational encounter with a Rickshaw Driver inj Mumbai:

Last Sunday, my wife, kid, and I had to travel to Andheri from Bandra.; When I waved at a passing auto rickshaw, little did I expect this ride would be any different
As we set off, my eyes fell on a few magazines (kept in an aircraft style pouch) behind the driver's back rest.

I looked in front and there was a small TV. the driver had put on the Doordarshan channel


My wife and I looked at each other with disbelief and amusement. In front of me was a small first-aid box with cotton, dettol and some medicines. This was enough for me to realise  that I was in a special vehicle.

Then I looked round again, and discovered more - there was a radio, fire extinguisher, wall clock, calendar, and pictures and symbols of all faiths- from Islam and Christianity to  Buddhism, Hinduism and Sikhism.

There were also pictures of the heroes of 26/11- Kamte, Salaskar, Karkare and Unnikrishnan.

I realised that not only my vehicle, but also my driver was special. I started chatting with him and the initial sense of ridicule and disbelief gradually diminished.

I gathered that he had been driving an auto rickshaw for the past 8-9 years; he had lost his job when his employer's plastic company was shut down.

He had two school-going children, and he drove from 8 in the morning till 10 at night.

No break unless he was unwell.  "Sahab, ghar mein baith ke T.V dekh kar kya faida? Do paisa income karega toh future mein kaam aayega."

We realised that we had come across a man who represents Mumbai - the spirit of work, the spirit of travel and the spirit of excelling in life.

I asked him whether he does anything else as I figuredthat he did not have too much spare time.

He said that he goes to an old age home for women in Andheri once a week or whenever he has some extra income, where he donates tooth  brushes, toothpastes, soap,  hair oil, and other items of daily use.

He pointed out to a painted message below the meter that read: "25 per cent discount on metered fare for the handicapped.

Free rides for blind passengers up to Rs. 50.


My wife and I were struck with awe. The man was a HERO!

A hero who deserves all our respect!!!

Our journey came to an end;

45 minutes of a lesson in humility, selflessness, and of a hero-worshipping Mumbai, my temporary home.

We disembarked, and all I could do was to pay him a tip that would hardly cover a free ride for a blind man. 

I hope, one day, you too have a chance to meet Mr Sandeep Bachhe in his auto rickshaw: MH-02-Z-8508.

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March 16 2009
Thanks to Gowri, another interesting story
from the Dooars

Dry Days

I wait for my husband to come home from his evening kamjari and say those three little words that mean so much to both of us: 'Let it rain. Let it rain. Let it rain.' It is now 136 days since we had rain in the Dooars. The forests look like they could turn into Australian bushfires. The sky is a sickly dust haze. Days are hot and the nights turn unpleasantly pleasant, ruling out all chances of a cloud build up. 'Coming home looking like a thundercloud every day won't help,' I used to tell Mohan some weeks ago, but I don't have the heart to say it any now.

Garden people have this habit of consoling themselves with saying that the next Puja on the Indian calendar will bring rain. So everyone starts off with cheerful assertions about how it will rain on Saraswati Puja (January end). The wise ones don't stay disappointed for long, and they start to say, 'It will rain on Shivratri for sure.' That comes in mid-February. Hmm.  'Fagua, Fagua' is the next cry that goes up. 'Surely Fagua/Holi will bring rain.' That's mid-March. It just went past. What now?

The Koel is a bird whose call signifies imminent rain. This was a rare sighting, but the bird's song didn't bring the real thing; it was a dry run.


Even the sky looks parched now.


Fakkar Baba of Oodlabari was well-known all over Dooars. He died
of cancer some years ago. Baba was a devotee of Lord Shiva and was said to be a seer. He smoked hard all the time. Whatever he smoked early in the morning had him in a trance, and people said that was the best time to consult him. He was known to predict promotions and  transfers of Chhota Saabs and Burra Saabs in the Dooars gardens with some accuracy. If he ever predicted who'd get the sack, they never told. Rain was his area of specialisation. The Baba had devotees who'd invite him to their gardens to conduct special 'Pujas' for rain.

Last week, my husband turned to BBC on the web for forecasts. He announced that it would definitely rain on Monday (today). When I asked him how he could be so sure, he told me that the BBC is the only major news channel that records daily temperatures in Siliguri.

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March 1 2009

Gowri sent us this information about the help freely offered to others

I'm sending you a story  about an organisation called 'Niswarth' that helps the underprivileged/disabled people in tea gardens. It was started by Harsh Kumar and his wife Neelam, of Bagracote Tea Garden (a Duncans garden). They were our Burra Saab and Burra Memsaab when he was acting in Bagracote almost 20 years ago. Neelam had suffered a stroke when the couple decided to start work in this direction. She passed away last year, and Harsh has redoubled his efforts to keep the good work going.


"The Niswarth Story"

Niswarth (Hindi word; meaning - unselfish) is the name of the organisation started in Bagracote Tea Garden, Jalpaiguri District, by the Manager Harsh Kumar and his wife, Neelam. The aim of the organisation is 'providing employment and a social standing to the underprivileged in our society.' The focus is on disabled people.

Neelam passed away a year ago, on the 29th of February. A little over two years before that, she had suffered a stroke. Life changed drastically for both Neelam and Harsh. They fought hard against the effects of the stroke, which affected her movements and her speech.

Neelam was a cheerful and lively person, full of fun. All of us who knew her found it tough to reconcile to what had happened. Harsh and Neelam were a devoted couple, and their son and daughter, who live abroad, made frequent trips home, providing help and moral support. Her strong nature and the family's love helped; Neelam improved tremendously.

Harsh learnt and read everything he could about stroke related disabilities. At such a time, the couple's thoughts turned to those who didn't have the means to help themselves. And that was how they started 'Niswarth', in 2007. In May 2007, members of Niswarth started a scheme providing employment to the disabled - the production of incense sticks.

Soon after Neelam passed away, in March 2008, Harsh donated Rs. 4 lakh to Niswarth. Duncans Industries allocated land and a building for the organisation in Bagracote Tea Garden.

In July 2008, Niswarth held a Blood Donation and Disability camp. Identity cards were organised for hundreds of disabled people. At a camp in December 2008, hearing aids, wheelchairs, tricycles, crutches and disability cards were distributed to 176 beneficiaries. In January 2009, an eye camp was organised in collaboration with the Lions Club of Siliguri.
Harsh started talking to his friends in other tea gardens about hosting such camps.

In February, Anandapur T.E*., Kumlai T.E. , Leesh River T.E. and Nowera Nuddy T.E. in Dam Dim Subdistrict, and Moraghat T.E. in Binnaguri Subdistrict organised eye camps.
Early on the morning of the 16th February, a team of doctors, nurses and technicians, headed by Dr. Agarwal of Siliguri, set up camp in the garden hospital in Moraghat. Over 250 people got free eye check ups. Forty were diagnosed as cases for cataract surgery, and were taken to Siliguri the same evening by the team's Lions Club bus. Their stay, surgery, and treatment was all taken care of at the Lions Club Hospital.
The patients returned to the garden after two days. An optician came in from Birpara town to collect prescriptions and take measurements for spectacles, which were made available at discounted prices. Two children, deaf and mute since birth, were taken to visit the Niswarth centre at Bagracote the next day. They could be sponsored to attend a special school in Gangtok, if their parents wish to send them.

Next up on Niswarth's calendar is a Disability camp at Birpara Tea Garden on 1 March, 2009, for the gardens in Dalgaon Subdistrict. Niswarth will also sponsor deaf and mute children between the ages of 5 and 12 at special schools from March onwards.

Niswarth is a registered charity. If you wish to make a donation, or help in any way, please visit 

Below are some photos which help to set the scene

saying "Thank you " to Dr Agarwal and Team

Harsh Kumar, President and co-founder of Niswarth

Harsh Kumar and S. Mohanakrishnan

  The eye camp in progress in Moraghat T.E. hospital

The yellow sign at the back of the photo is in Hindi but reads in English (Thanks to Gowri)

Free Eye Testing Camp
by Eye Specialists and Surgeons
for testing and curing eye disorders
Organised by Niswarth
A Group that assists the disabled and the Poor

Patients board bus to Siliguri

Production of incense sticks, 'agarbatti', at the Niswarth Centre in Bagracote

This is a photograph of the late Neelam Kumar who did so much with her husband Harsh to start the Niswath group

The editor of http://www.koi-hai.com/ would like to encourage you to make a donation if you can----Niswarth is a registered charity and the web site is  http://niswarth.com/hometo get information

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December 16 2008
Gowri has a very good Web/Blog site which is well worth seeing and enjoying it is:http://seventhchords.blogspot.com/.  

to locate please click on the coloured line

 November 20 2008
                                      Mela Photo Essay

Gowri has kindly sent us some fine photos of the Mela or Travelling Fair Captions are attached with each photo  Diwali was good fun and there was a fine 'Jatra" performance at the bungalow

Click here to see the photos

September 22 2008

We are grateful to Gowri for giving us such a clear picture of life today on Dooars gardens--thank you young lady--Editor

A little Dooars 'report' on the activity in tea gardens and the town nearby as the festive season gets underway

September is almost done, and Puja is on its way. Planters now look dourly on early sunsets and pleasant evenings and begin to grumble about ‘autumnal flavours' and an early end to the plucking season. It is really the beginning of a season of economic activity of another kind. Almost all the gardens in the Dooars have paid annual bonus payments to their workers. The weekly ‘Sunday Haat' at every little town has transformed into a ‘Bonus Bazaar'.  In the old days, the workers confined themselves to buying cows and bicycles, but now they like buy washing machines, motorcycles, television sets, fridges or cell phones with their bonus money. 

The poor girl seems to have done enough shopping 

Motor Cycles on offer as Lottery prizes

There are any number of people waiting to relieve the workers of their earnings. The first among them are the ‘Kabuliwalas' - money lenders  - who might have lent them sums at exorbitant rates of interest. There are the unions who want to collect their subscriptions as soon as the workers are paid. Then there are those selling the local brew. ‘Haria', or rice beer, is available everywhere. Women try to keep the big drinkers away from these stalls, so that they don't lose the entire bonus in a few merry hours.

This is also the beginning of what is called the ‘Dacoity Season'. This violent criminal activity is also assigned a season here, and blandly given a name. Criminals who are waiting to loot Puja shoppers begin their own round of economic activity.  With the sun setting as early as six p.m., looters waylay people heading for towns located on the highways. Their favourite method of operating is to cut a tree and throw it across the (single lane) highway, forcing vehicles to halt. People rarely venture out on cycles or on foot after dark, because of the fear of elephants.  Those who go out in vehicles, hired or personal, have to rely on quick reflexes, a good eye and the ability to reverse for up to one kilometer at top speed to escape attack. The highwaymen are always armed. With the national highways in their present condition, no one can speed away from the scene of a robbery. The local administration and the police do take preemptive action and round up the known hoods for a while. It doesn't seem to help much, though.

Cycle Rickshaw --decorated with loving hands for 
Vishwakarma Puja

September 14 2008 

Today we are privileged to have some comments from Gowri together with photographs to show the Dooars today and the effect of the Big Bang theory on the Tea Estates

Doomsday in the Dooars

News of the Big Bang experiment taking place in far away Switzerland arrived in the Dooars with - well, a bang. Satellite television channels and the local newspapers  - in Hindi, Bengali and Nepali - pushed the story for all it was worth. School children in tea gardens read out the story from the papers to their parents. The world, everyone was saying, would come to a sudden and complete end on the day of the experiment, 10 September, 2008. A girls' school in a town nearby declared a holiday. Dozens of workers in our garden stayed away from work. They were busy at home slaughtering all their poultry and livestock in preparation for one last, grand, chicken and mutton lunch. Liquour shops did brisk business as well.  One of the malis, who stayed away from work in our bungalow, was questioned about his absence by the others. He said he stayed home, kept his children away from school and stopped his wife from going to work as well, so that they could all face the end together. For some reason, the time fixed for that event was 12 noon. 
These days, the PH factor plays a big role in determining whether we go out at all. In this case the PH stands for Pot Hole. The roads through most of the Dooars have not been repaired for months. In some areas, they haven't been maintained for years. Just why, remains a mystery. National Highway 31 and National Highway 31 C, which pass through Siliguri, and then go east through the Dooars, including Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts, connect the North Eastern states to the rest of the country. These pictures were taken on NH 31C, between Banarhat and Mal Bazar (a distance of around 45 kms). They tell their own story.

Bridge over the river Diana

Dooars Monsoon sunset

Reflections of the road

The Diana river on a Monsoon evening

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July 9 2008

Once again our friend Gowri has produced  some first class and very expressive photos of the Monsoon in the Dooars--Thank you Gowri 
The words under each picture tell the story


  Click Here to see the Photos

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April 9 2008

 Thank you Gowri for another fine story of life in the Dooars today

A Sunday in the Dooars

The other day we drove away from the tea gardens towards the agricultural lands that lie to our south, near Falakata. On Sunday evening drives, you get to see the jolly sight of people returning from their trips to the weekly bazaar. 

Not everyone was celebrating, though. This is a bad time for potato farmers. Our district, Jalpaiguri, and the neighbouring Cooch Behar District, are big potato growing regions, and produce high yields to the hectare. Prices have crashed, and no one wants any of this year's crop. 

The problem is aggravated by the absence of sufficient storage facilities, or of organised agro-marketing. We saw this dismal looking group waiting for a pick-up truck.

Last week we saw long lines of potato-laden trucks at the gates of the few cold storage facilities in the area. The gates remained firmly closed. The trucks caused major traffic snarls on the national highway, and local drivers started referring to these as 'Alu Jams'.

No wonder most farmers are now dumping the potatoes in the fields where they lie.

Some ten years ago, this happened with the tomato crop. The roads around the farming areas turned red as the distraught farmers  dumped their produce there.

A young goldsmith and jewellery shop owner from the nearby Banarhat town lost a lot of money in a get rich quick potato-growing scheme some years ago. He had to close down shop. For some months after, he could be seen roaming around aimlessly all over the town. On one occasion, he was reeling about talking to himself, quite drunk. I last saw him hard at work as one of the many karigars (workmen) at another goldsmith's -- formerly a rival outfit -- looking as dignified as ever.

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April 07

Gowri Mohanakrishnan of Moraghat Tea Estate, Binnaguri West Bengal who writes regularly for the Camellia Magazine has kindly sent us an interesting article and we thank her for taking the time and trouble to share her very well written stories with us -
Gowri has a fascinating website and I suggest a visit to it http://seventhchords.blogspot.com/



The weather plays a very important part in our lives on a tea plantation. After a long, dry spell, and some weeks to go before the monsoon, we are waiting for rain. But it's a brilliant morning. The sunlight is blinding at even 8.00 a.m. and the heat and glare are harsh upon the malis who work on my lawn. The tea bushes shimmer in the heat haze outside.


I finish off with my instructions to the mali very quickly, and postpone my inspection of the vegetable garden to a later,and I hope cooler--hour. That is one area where we never see eye to eye, but today he and I have formed a brief alliance; our common enemy is the heat. I ask him why none of the malis has carried an umbrella to work. The pluckers out in the tea area do. He doesn't have a theory to offer. Time was when you couldn't part the tea garden worker from his umbrella. He wore it crooked into the back of his collar, rain or shine.

I escape into my cool room. The curtains are drawn, and there's soothing music playing. The rhythms sound like ice tinkling in a glass of something refreshing. My husband comes back for his lunch break, and tells me what a hot day it is. The heat has slowed the pluckers down. It's rain he wants, and quickly too. I leave him to his 'afternoon lie-back', that great tradition established by planters of old. At about three thirty or so, we come out to find everything changed.

The hills had disappeared in the morning's heat haze, but now I see a mass of black clouds in the direction where they lie. Overhead, there are clouds of different structures and shapes. It's as if an artist had gone on a binge in a grey period. Surely we're in for what is called 'hawa-pani' by the garden folk, literally, wind and water, a most inappropriately mild label for what is to follow! In some places, the clouds are already swirling, as if they're forming a whirlpool in the sky. That is something we only see in this season. And soon, the wind starts off. I say wind, but it is like a cyclone. The bungalow servants rush into the verandah, to clear away everything that is in there, from potted plants to chairs and cushions. We're all laughing, now that it's cool and beautiful. It isn't advisable to stand outside any longer. The trees are thrashing about wildly and at any time one may fall. Suddenly a loud crack of thunder is heard and our dog howls in fear. The lights go off at once. Somehow, the electricity just dies with the appearance of a storm.

Then we hear it, a rushing sound, as if something very huge is moving towards us. It's the rain, which we can see, like a moving wall of water, before it actually is with us. The verandah is open in three directions and now it seems to be pouring in from everywhere. Strong gusts of wind lift up and carry the water droplets. It's crashing down on the tin roof. We shout to make each other heard. Lightning rips the sky apart in blinding flashes and thunder applauds loudly, often after a stunned pause. I send up a prayer of thanks that there is no hail, only rain. When there's hail, it rips through the tea bush and seals the fate of a garden for the season.

Later in the evening, my husband tells me there's been an inch of rain. Is he happy, I ask, to which I get an inscrutable shrug. Planters are a superstitious lot. He doesn't want the weather gods to think he's complacent!


April 5 2008
Niren Baruah, Artist

I was thinking of Baruah as I was baking biscuits yesterday. When Baruah was around, we got freshly baked rolls and bread. We got soufflés of every flavour and description. His tarts, biscuits, puddings and cakes stayed in our memories-and on my hips-long after we'd eaten them.

If Baruah had a sorrow, it was that we were vegetarians. Once he'd forgiven us for not eating any ‘real' food, he used his ingenuity and substituted meat with soya, cottage cheese or vegetables and baked us savoury pies and rolls fit for a King's table.

He was a great cook and a good man, Baruah.

We moved to a tea garden called Ambari early in 1996. We didn't know what lay ahead. We were prepared for any kind of adventure. This would be the second garden my husband was taking over as Manager. We received a warm welcome there. The bungalow was pretty, though it didn't look too much like a traditional tea garden structure. It had a happy feel about it, and with our two little girls aged eight and six years old, that mattered a lot to me.

We found the table laid for lunch and sat down to quite a nice meal soon enough. It was a carefully cooked meal, rather guesthouse style, not leaning too much in any direction. It was ‘standard' tea garden fare. Whenever a new ‘Saab and Memsaab' moved into a bungalow, the cook, or Bawarchi, would prepare a meal that didn't reflect his real style of work. It would be dal, rice and vegetables cooked without a trace of imagination or a personal touch. It was a way of saying there was room to adapt to our preferences and also of saying we'd have convince our new Bawarchi that we deserved good food!

Living with a number of servants, or helpers, including a Bawarchi, bearers, ayahs and gardeners is a part of life on tea gardens. The bungalows and their surrounding grounds are large, and a number of hands are required to maintain them. There has never been a moment in my life in tea when I have been absolutely alone at home. Wherever we have lived, our helpers have become a part of our extended family. We accepted long ago that we didn't have complete privacy. And after all, we shared our space with people who helped us and made our lives easier. It was also very important to get off to a good start with them whenever we moved to a new place.

A smiling bearer, Shamoo, served us lunch. The Bawarchi would report at five o'clock, we were told. His name was Niren Baruah. Immediately my husband and I exchanged a look. Niren Baruah. A Mugh cook!

Mugh cooks were rare in 1996 and I'd never dreamt I'd have one working for me.

They enjoyed a formidable reputation and were much sought after. They could ask for, and succeed in getting, a salary higher than other employee in the bungalow. They were experts at continental and English food. Anyone who'd succeeded in getting a Mugh cook to work for them would do anything to keep him, and to keep him happy. I'd once heard that if a Mugh cook were asked to make a paratha or a roti he might resign on the spot. That was not a job for a master chef.

The Mugh cooks originated from Chittagong and Sylhet Districts, both of which were once part of India, but went to Bangladesh after having been part of East Bengal, Assam and then East Pakistan till 1971. The word ‘Mugh', it is believed, was once used to describe the people of Burma, and it is quite likely that these people were of Burmese origin.

I was frankly nervous about my first meeting with this Niren Baruah. At our first interview, I was sure, it was I who was going to be scrutinised, examined, summed up, and found lacking.

Baruah reported at five in the evening for our interview.

He was in his mid fifties, a round faced, balding man with fair skin, large eyes and a white moustache. He had a rotund figure and wore pyjamas and a shirt. In a suit he would have looked like a professor. His expression was serious. He was dignified.

I too tried to be very dignified. And all I told him was to carry on functioning as he'd been doing in the past. I said I would see how things worked here, and then if I wanted any changes I would let him know. I also told him we'd had a nice lunch. I needn't have lied. He didn't thaw.

We conducted daily meetings at five in the evening, when he would take orders for the evening's dinner and our lunch the following day. It was during these early days that he found we were vegetarians. That damned us in his eyes, for a start. His spirits rose when my little oven was unpacked. Sadly, the bungalow hadn't had an oven in the kitchen. Later I realized what a serious handicap that must have been for someone like Baruah.

Gradually, I succeeded in getting Baruah to treat us to his special cooking. He stopped churning out ‘standard fare' soon enough and we found delightful new flavours in our food. Then he started preparing a sweet every other day. He made us superb desserts.

The oven had made him happy. He asked for yeast and started producing heavenly little dinner rolls, which filled the kitchen and dining room with a lovely aroma and melted in our mouths. Sometimes the rolls were stuffed with savoury fillings, which came as a delicious surprise. I began to eat a lot. We lavished praise on him. But he continued to be a little sticky - unlike his superb soufflé -- and aloof. He never let me enter his domain. The kitchen was firmly out of bounds to this Memsaab.

That was when I realized that it is as important for the bungalow staff to start trusting their new employers as it is for us to start trusting them. I'd never thought of it from that point of view earlier.

He wasn't above letting me down, either. We called a couple of friends over for dinner. That was it, just a couple. He made a dal, one vegetable and a paneer dish with parathas and rice. I made ‘avial', a South Indian speciality, because I wanted the meal to have a personal touch, and a ‘home' feel. The avail was the hit of the evening. Little wonder, as Baruah - due to some quirk of temperament-had made ghastly, over spiced, soulless food. I felt wretched with every mouthful. And it wasn't as if the dessert was any compensation, either. It was equally soulless.

I wondered what had gone wrong. There was more to come. Upon inspection of stores the following day, I saw that three fourths of a litre of oil had been used to prepare the disastrous spread of the previous evening. Seven hundred and fifty ml of oil for TWO extra heads, I asked Baruah, amazed. With that much of oil, I told him, we could have catered for a small party. Party! He scoffed. For a party, he said, he would need two to three litres of oil. I was miserable. I couldn't yell at this man. We were new to each other, and this was a first offence. I couldn't allow him to make a second, though, and I hoped my silence conveyed my displeasure. I resolved not to invite any more people until this headstrong and surly man who was newly ruling my life became manageable - if at all.

I can never forget another of his disasters. This time, luckily, only the family was subjected to it! I'd ordered a continental lunch, a savoury cheese soufflé and and a salad to go with it. We'd got lots of healthy looking spinach, so I said, ‘Make it spinach.' Baruah stopped to check if he'd heard right, then he shrugged and walked away. The girls and I came home from school, starving, and I couldn't wait for the lovely meal I'd ordered. Strangely, we got rice and roti with dal and subzi. Funny, maybe Baruah had forgotten what had been ordered. I was too hungry to care. When we got up from the table, the bearer asked us to wait for the sweet. Oh great, he'd done us a sweet; we were thrilled.

Out came a glass bowl with a quivering, creamy concoction in bright green. It was a soufflé, flavoured, just as I'd instructed, with spinach. The girls collapsed with laughter. They were hooting; they had a legitimate excuse to make fun of Mamma! They insistedon my tasting a spoonful of the beautiful looking dish. I can't forget the taste in a hurry. It has remained an unsolved mystery with us. Why did Baruah goof up like that? Was he being cussed? Or was it a genuine mistake?

He started liking us eventually. Who wouldn't, when he had praise heaped upon him after every creation of his had been had been demolished? He went so far as to allow me to enter the kitchen and initiate him into ‘Idli' ‘Dosai' and ‘Vadai' making. In no time, he'd mastered these, our favourite South Indian breakfast dishes. His ‘Rava Dosais' were light as lace doilies, buttery and crisp.

I had to indulge a number of his quirks, but I found it a small price to pay for the privilege of employing such a craftsman. He was like an artist, really, in his approach to his cooking. So I didn't grumble when he scoffed at home made or shop bought cottage cheese and insisted he'd only use the tinned variety. Or when he dictated the lists of masalas I had to buy separately for the preparation of each dish. Or even when he turned up his nose at ‘Desi' or local vegetables. Only English vegetables like cauliflower,cabbage, peas, carrots and beans were good enough for him.

He became quite friendly in his manner, first because I went to work as a teacher at the girls' school and therefore stayed out his way, and secondly, because even though we were vegetarians, we liked to try out different kinds of cuisine. And then I never questioned him about his shopping expenses. He was uncrowned king of the kitchen! Baruah allowed me to play the role of helper once in a while. He permitted me to beat up cake mixes. He was actually giving me little lessons. He even taught me how to grease and flour a cake tin thoroughly.

This was quite something, because the old Bawarchis were a crafty lot who didn't wantto train youngsters but guarded their secrets jealously They wouldn't show anyone their special techniques. On days when they had their ‘hafta chhutties' or weekly day off, the family would be subjected to what fare the second in command could churn out. Not one of the other hands in the bungalow could ever replicate a dish from the Bawarchi's repertoire. It was interesting how their sons, probably the only people they'd have been willing to teach, never wanted to train as cooks.

Baruah stopped looking grave and serious at our evening meetings. He'd roll in looking jolly and grin at me. These meetings had turned into regular chat sessions from the earlier crisp passing on of orders. He would look very happy when he saw me sitting with big piles of books. He thought I was a great reader and writer. He couldn't read or write at all. I now marvel at how he remembered every recipe with no aids such as books. He'd ask how my day had been, and that was a signal for me to make an appreciative remark about the lunch or the little tea time treat he'd prepared and left carefully covered for me as a surprise when I arrived home from school.

He would twinkle at me and ask me if I really liked what he'd made, as if I were a little child whom he was indulging. Then he'd tell me what he planned to make for the next ‘treat'. He behaved like an elderly uncle and not like an employee. On Sunday mornings, if we lolled about delaying our breakfast, he would come out of his kitchen and thunder, ‘If Sahib and Memsaab take so long to come to eat I will get ulcers!' We would be at the table, quiet as children, as soon as we heard him.

He once told me he'd stopped wanting to work as a Bawarchi when he'd been questioned too closely about kitchen accounts and leftovers by some people in the past. It hadn't been any fun cooking for them. In real sorrow he told me some of them actually made him stand at the storeroom and measured out ingredients before handing them over to him for the day's cooking, as if he'd been a novice. He said sadly that everyone hadn't been like me. What did he mean by that? He searched for words to make his meaning clear, and came out with, ‘Gentleman type.' I grinned hugely like him when he said that!

I could never bring myself to question Baruah too closely about expenses in the kitchen. He had stature. I always felt things would go smoothly if I trusted him and left the management of the kitchen entirely to him. Maybe I'd save forty or fifty rupees in a month if I breathed down his neck over purchases. I didn't think it was worth the trouble. I couldn't function without complete faith in the people who worked for me.

He enjoyed talking about the old days. During the Second World War, he'd worked for the Army. The British officers were good to him. He said that he had many tales to tell me, if I would listen to him and write his stories for people to read. We never had the time to get down to story telling and writing.

I was interested in whatever he could tell me about his community. He had a cousin who had worked for Indira Gandhi, and became so exclusive and superior that he never spoke to Baruah or any other members of the family.

He mentioned how their numbers were dwindling. His son ran a shop, and had never wanted to work as a Bawarchi. Baruah himself had left one of the gardens in a huff and sat at the shop for a year until he'd been tracked down and coaxed to join here in Ambari by one of the erstwhile Bara Memsaabs. She'd moved into Ambari and painstakingly brought the bungalow and its flower and vegetable garden to standards of excellence that had, alas, fallen by the time I moved in.

Fortunately, the owners of the garden really appreciated Baruah and his skills and treated him with affectionate indulgence. They cut maintenance costs everywhere, but Baruah continued to enjoy the special privileges with which he'd been tempted here in the first place, one of which was a job for his son! Baruah served his maliks faithfully. He worked overtime without grumbling when they came to stay - at alarmingly frequent intervals - and prepared all their favourite items for the table. He had even invented an eggless variety of soufflé for them, because they were vegetarians.

It wasn't Baruah who left us. It was quite the other way around. My husband had a good offer and was asked to join a garden nearby as soon as he could. So before we had stayed even ten months at Ambari, we were packing. We'd been so happy here. The house had proved true to its promise. Our younger daughter wept loudly and clung to her ayah who kissed and hugged both the children with tears streaming down her face. It broke my heart. We were all wearing huge garlands of flowers. We said goodbye and all the servants promised to visit us at our new garden.

I never expected Baruah would come around visiting, but he did. We welcomed him very happily. He approved of our new garden, the bungalow and its compound. We asked him to have lunch. He laughed and blushed a little, and agreed. After lunch he was ready to chat. He'd wanted to come and work for us. He wanted a change, and I could tell he hadn't been too happy. He didn't let on, though. He told me, in his inimitable way, that he approved of the cook who was working for us. He'd liked the food he'd been served. Then Baruah said his bye byes and left.

We didn't hear of him for a long time. Then we heard he hadn't been keeping well. He went away to Hashimara, the town where his son ran a shop. Someone who had no connection with Ambari told me when he died, and it was a complete shock to us. I wonder when the people who'd worked so happily with him in Ambari came to know about his death. I wonder if they could go and pay their respects to him or whether poor Baruah died far away from the people with whom he'd spent so many years.

Had they told us on time, we would have tried to be there for Baruah.

I remember the promise I'd once made him - that I would write the stories he never did get down to telling me.  
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April 3 2008
The Editor is delighted to be able to show the photographic expertise of Gowri to remind us of what the change from the cold weather was like with April rushing in:

Thank you Gowri 

When April comes to the Dooars, it is a beautiful time. Cold weather dust settles down after the first few showers of the year. Planters are excited at the onset of a new season, but continue to fight their fears of drought, hail, and pest. At any rate, April is too early to worry about the monsoon!

When it does rain at night, the morning that follows is bright, but cool. Birds are busy building nests and the air is filled with their song. All the vegetation around us seems to have put on a new coat of foliage. There are many shade trees in the garden which haven't yet got down to shedding their cold weather coats. They look beautiful now that the dust has been washed off them! 
The peepul, which grows in abundance, has some of the prettiest new foliage.

The new leaves range from rose pink to apple green. Here are some pictures of peepul trees taken in Jalpaiguri town, by the pond  near the old royal palace temple. 

This lovely jharul (Queen's Flower) tree will burst with blooms in May and June. For now, it has orchids flowering all over it!

Click here to see the pictures 

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January 24 2008
Below is the story of Gowri's life in Tea--the views from the estate are excellent -We thank her for sharing this with us

This is Moraghat Burra Bungalow, where we've lived since 
1996. My husband Mohan came to tea in 1980, when he joined Duncans. We married in 1986. I finished my M.A. and taught English at Delhi University for a year before that. Ever since, I've been fighting off attempts by helpful people to get me teaching appointments. I like to stay at home. Mohan left 
Duncans to join Anandapur Tea Estate as Manager. We 
moved to Moraghat in 96. We're both South Indians from Tamil Nadu, but have never lived in the South. Delhi was home till we came here. Our two daughters - undergraduate students - now live there.

A view of the hills from the garden. The Kanchanjunga is 
covered by clouds in this picture; we get to see it early in 
the morning throughout the month of November

Gowri in Kalimpong - Her favourite hide-out!

Gowri's favourite man --her husband Mohan

Moraghat Tea Estate

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February 2 2008

Old men at War 
We lost two really good craftsmen in Moraghat in the same year. One was Bawarchi, the Burra Bungalow cook. His name was Lakshman Singh Pradhan but everybody only called
him‘Bawarchi'. The other was the garden carpenter, the 
'Kath Mistri', Biren Sarkar.
Each of these men could be described as a ‘character' in his own way. Each one had a strong sense of tradition and of his place in it

Bawarchi was one of a kind. He was already a very old and frail man when we got to know him. At the beginning of every cold weather, he would announce that he was going to die. The poor old man would arrive at work early in the morning, hunched up and shivering. He'd go home for his breakfast and bath and come back at around eleven o'clock, now walking straight, and actually looking younger. We would ask him if he was himself or a younger brother. He'd give us his trademark crooked grin in reply.

Bawarchi's shopping lists were unique. He had a strong sense of loyalty to the old British Sahibs and his idea of 'essentials' seemed to be based on a longing for those bygone days. At the top of the list, I'd find, not rice, sugar, and atta and so on, but corn flour, Worcester sauce, beans and carrots. He once told me the British sahibs would eat potatoes with their meat instead of eating bread, rice or chapattis. He seemed to like the idea quite a bit!

Bawarchi was old, but he cooked like a dream. His soufflés and cakes were light and lovely, and he made wonderful Indian and Chinese food as well. His 'pandraas', cutlets and pancakes stay on in our memories. The only 'baksheesh ' that the old man ever wanted was a 'Thank you!' And he got plenty of heartfelt thanks in his time. Poor old man, he died of TB. In the cold weather, as he'd said he would.

Biren was an old timer too - he was painfully thin; he had a weak heart, was very shortsighted, and lame in one leg. He'd come limping to the bungalow with a fine walking stick which he'd made himself, and he had a helper who carried all his tools. He wore a woollen hat year round, shorts, shoes and socks, and a pair of very thick spectacles.

Biren was really an artist. Wood was something he understood, and he must have picked up his craft from the Chinese carpenters who worked in tea gardens many years ago. There are some glass fronted cupboards made by him with carved wooden frames of classic Chinese design. He once made an oval picture-frame, and gave it a perfect gloss. The joints in the frame are invisible. He carved us two or three fine walking sticks as well. He loved appreciation, and he had a lovely smile that lit up his face with kindness and goodness. Biren's helper had to bear the brunt of his tongue, though. He was quite tough with him.

It was decided that Biren would make a wooden frame for the fireplace - a complete wooden mantelpiece, and the entire design was to be of his choosing. He was really happy. He loved the idea, the challenge, and the thought that he was going to contribute something to the bungalow that would be a source of pride and joy for years to come. It was, in fact, his final masterpiece. He retired some months later, and he died soon after. That was some months before Bawarchi died.

Biren would have to do the entire job of the fireplace in the bungalow. There was no way he could take anything to the factory, as he'd have to keep taking measurements during the course of the work. The old man was worried about his morning tea break. How could he manage to walk all the way home for his eleven o'clock meal then back to the bungalow, with his leg being what it was? Well that was simple enough, he was told: he could have a meal in the bungalow.  Bawarchi was instructed to provide Biren with breakfast; chapattis and eggs, every morning.

No one anticipated the storm that the two proud old men would manage to brew up between them. To start with, Bawarchi was outraged. Did anyone realise who and what he was? He'd been working for years -- so many years! -- first in Assam, and then in the Andrew Yule Company Kothi in Karballa. He'd seen so many sahibs and memsahibs, and from the British days! He'd cooked for such grand parties, he'd turned out a hundred and fifty perfect tandoori chickens on one night, and now, in his old age, he was being asked to wait hand and foot on this - this Biren Mistri!!

Biren addressed him as ‘ay!!' and ordered him about, he said.

One of the complaints Bawarchi made was absolutely ridiculous. He claimed that Biren was profiting unfairly from the situation. How? No one could understand. So he explained. We bought eggs from Biren's house, where one of his sons ran a small poultry business. And then, Bawarchi said, stressing the point, he was fed one of those eggs everyday. How could Biren sell us an egg and then eat it himself??

Biren, for his part, ranted about how Bawarchi deliberately took advantage of his dependence on him for food. He insulted him in every possible way, he said. He made him wait, and purely out of spite. He couldn't bother with cooking him even chapattis properly. He grudged him every mouthful that he ate. Who was he to counter Burra Saab's orders anyway? Biren Mistri could not handle the daily humiliation, he said. He would go hungry, but he would not tolerate the Bawarchi's insults, insolence or arrogance. 

Now this was a Situation. Neither Biren nor Bawarchi could be ticked off and told to stop behaving like a child. Each one was given a patient hearing, and then offered a suggestion. Biren's meal was to be served to him at a fixed time. All that Bawarchi had to do was to see that it was cooked beforehand, so that when he went home to eat, one of the boys could serve Biren. The arrangement worked well for a few days, and there were no fireworks in the kitchen.

And then one morning, Bawarchi started off again.

He had found a rotten egg. He complained, and then he raged about the villain who'd sold it to us. He brought it in a cup and waved it about, shouting about dishonest people and the bad stuff they sold, and how it was he who was accountable for everything that found its way into the kitchen. Who would have to take the blame, after all? It was so unfair. He was simply delighted that he'd got some tangible proof of his enemy's villainy. He was going to take full advantage of it!

Once he quietened down, Bawarchi was told that the egg could easily be replaced. Wasn't it always? No, he said, if we wanted any eggs replaced, ‘they' always asked to see the bad egg in the first place. Well, then, he was told; he could go and show them the bad egg and ask for a replacement. There were other eggs in the house for now. That seemed to be the end of it.

The next day, Bawarchi went about looking less grumpy than usual.  His sudden cheeriness made me stop and ask him about the bad egg. Had he managed to get a fresh one in its place? 

'No,' he said. He smiled his old crafty smile.

'I cooked it and fed it to Biren Mistri.'

Below is Biren Mistri's Masterpiece

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January 21 2008

The picture is of Gowri's  good friend Raj of New Dooars T.E., in a thoughtful mood at a picnic held last cold weather at Telepara Tea Estate, Binnaguri.  Gowri chose it because Raj seems to be looking out into the distance, as if she's wondering what lies ahead...Gowri thought it go well with the 'Blues for Tea'. The jhhora river  originates in Telepara T.G. and flows into the Angrabasha in Gairkhata.

                             BLUES FOR TEA

Last weekend we had the Annual General Meeting of our Tea Association, and almost all the families of the tea garden managers and assistant managers in the Dooars were present. It's a time for friends - old and new, old and young. Dolly, who's almost fifteen years younger than I am, is a joy to meet. She's young and fresh and her two lively little ones keep her active and smiling. I always look forward to seeing her at this big get together every year. It's the only time we meet, since we live so far apart.

We finished exchanging all our news, and then she said, 'We value you and your husband because you represent an era when etiquette and values mattered. There are not too many people left from that time.'

That knocked me out. To someone of Dolly's age, I suppose I would look ancient!  When my girls were little, how elderly the senior manager's wives, our Burra Memsaabs, appeared to me! What Dolly was saying sounded like what I used to say to some of the older ladies just a few years ago. I've hardly been here too long -- is twenty-two years a long time? Not to someone of my age.  And am I a representative of the good days of tea life?

How much -- how little -- of the good old days have I seen?

Sitting by the fire in the evening, I gave some thought to the values which were talked about when I married and came to tea in 1986.  Unfair practices or self-advancement were never tolerated at our clubs, and anyone guilty of such offences was booed down, ridiculed and later avoided by everybody. Toughness was considered a desirable quality, as it was understood that plantation life was tough, for both men and women. Toughness and honesty went together. Outspokenness was positively encouraged. Fights were common at the club - the men would 'sort out their differences' outside, and then have a drink together afterwards. High standards of quality were sought in the organisation of club dos and ladies' meets. There were no professional caterers at the time, and the ladies were all given their share of the cooking to do. Recipes would be handed out, since more than two people might be making a portion of the same dish. Shoddiness was unpardonable, and no one made excuses to the senior ladies who'd delegated responsibilities. Their word was law, and they in turn ensured that they appreciated every effort that the younger girls made. Inclusiveness, generosity and sharing were encouraged by example.  I'm not glorifying the past, but people did have ideals then and they tried their best to live up to them. Those who didn't try at least talked of doing so.

The ladies whom I admired were really remarkable. They were gracious, they laughed a lot, and they enjoyed every minute of all the good times we had - cheering the boys energetically at football and cricket matches, playing tennis and golf under the hottest sun or through miserable pouring rain, working for hours decorating the club house for children's parties, slaving in their hot kitchens with hot headed cooks to produce delectable feasts, throwing open their bungalows to everyone; and never pulling rank.  They were all-rounders; good at games, good at gardening, cooking, baking, sewing and knitting. They lived in Burra Bungalows which were run with smooth efficiency, and almost all of them had to send their children away to boarding schools from the time they were seven or eight years old. They took it in their stride. They lived most of their lives in tea without televisions or telephones, and with newspapers that arrived two days old. Some of them lived in gardens which were completely out of the way, deep in the interior, and accessible only through mud tracks that passed for roads. They could only meet people one day in the week, when they left the garden to go to the club.

Anyone who got on the wrong side of these Burra Memsaabs and had to face their wrath was to be pitied. I have seen one Burra Memsaab refuse outright to cater for a games meet unless the budget was revised - and the secretary of the games association, who had been trying to cut corners everywhere, was almost weeping when he was told to 'manage' on singharas (samosas) and jhal muri from the town for his money! And this was after all the cards had been sent out inviting nearly two hundred people to the event.  He revised his budget, apologised to the lady, and was humbly grateful to her for everything ever after.

One of our Burra Saabs and Memsaabs organised the company picnic every year. I remember one particularly well. We had to reach Lankapara Burra Bungalow early in the day, and then we were all loaded into lorries to reach the picnic site on the banks of the Torsa. The merry making finished at sundown, and back we got into those lorries, tired and dreading the long drives home. We weren't allowed to go home, though. We were all -- fifty to sixty people, men and wives, with children, babies and ayahs-- invited into the bungalow by Anjali, the Burra Memsaab, who'd been with us at the picnic all day and must have been more tired than anyone else. All the chairs in the house had been arranged around a brightly burning bonfire in the centre of the lawn. The drawing room had mattresses laid out for us to make our children take naps or for us to stretch out for a bit before starting another round of festivities outside. Bearers went around with hot milk for the babies, whose bottles had been collected and boiled in the kitchen earlier.  Anjali's daughters served us all tea and coffee after we'd washed our faces and freshened up.

Our men were also served liquid refreshments which, strictly speaking, they didn't need.

The same men had been worked hard through the season. The company always organised games and picnics in the cold weather so that they could relax and enjoy life for a bit before staring off all over again. 'Work hard, play hard' they said, and back then, they meant it.

That is the biggest difference between those days and today, to my mind.  Recreation, rest and relaxation are given low priority today. Traditions, ideals and values are abstractions. It takes something tangible to make them attractive, or even meaningful to young people. People ask repeatedly why ‘good boys' are hard to find and why standards are going down in tea. The answer is simple. If boys are to be drawn to a career in tea today, companies need to offer them better pay packets, better housing, more holidays and more goodies to make up for the absence of city lights and the lost glamour of those old days. 

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January 17 2008

We are indebted to Gowri Mohanakrishnan for this interesting and amusing story from Birpara Tea Garden  dated the late 1980s --Thank you Gowri----Editor

Mrs Dobson

She had yellow eyes, black hair and very dark skin. She always wore white and was much taller than  the other tribal women; almost five feet five inches. She carried a stout bamboo stick at all times.  Everyone said she was mad. She looked terrifying. We all knew her as 'Mrs. Dobson'. No one knew  what her real name was. One Mr. Dobson had been the 'Burra Saab' of the tea garden many years ago. 
He had presumably found the yellow-eyed woman irresistible. He'd gone back to England around the time when all the British sahibs left tea for good.

Mrs. Dobson lived in a little 'kutcha' house. Her house stood all alone. No one in the garden wanted to live anywhere near her. She left home every single day at around four-thirty in the evening and walked  all the way to the office, tap-tapping her stick on the road, smiling fixedly and with bright eyes. Others  on the road gave her a wide berth. She knew she frightened people, and she was proud of it.

A tea garden office is a busy place in the evening. The work is centred outdoors during the major part  of the day, and the focus shifts to the factory and office in the evening. Burra Saab and his Chhota Saabs  also make themselves available to the workers to listen to their problems and complaints. Mrs. Dobson would head straight for Burra Saab's office and call out in clear tones, 'Pyaare Lal!' Burra Saab's name  was not Pyare Lal. She called him that because it was a term of endearment, meaning, 'Loved One'. 

Since she'd been the beloved of one Burra Saab in the past, she gave herself the right to address all his  successors in equally intimate terms. The Burra Saab was a tough man, but he liked to stay away from heckling women if he could. And this one was no ordinary woman. She was completely unpredictable,  and quite menacing. No garden worker would ever tangle with her; no one would step forward to take her  away. One of the Chhotta Saabs would quickly intervene and tell Mrs. Dobson to talk to him instead. 
She'd start off in loving terms with him as well. 'My dear brother-in-law,' she'd say, with her mad smile,  'Make my son a man, wont you?' The youngest Chhota Saab once sniggered at this, deliberately  choosing to misunderstand her request for her son to be given a full adult wage. She turned on him to  ask, 'Oh, you laugh, do you? Had my Pyaara Dobson been here you would never have dared to insult me!'  The youngster shut up at once.

Mrs. Dobson was always made out to be a bit of a joke when they told stories about her, but everyone  admitted it was scary to be in her presence. There was one Chhotta Saab  she never could frighten,  though. The fiery Mohan Saab would shout at her and send her back home everyday. She'd go, muttering, 'This Pyare Mohan! Ever since he came here,  I am made to look like a dog!'

Mrs. Dobson did not work in the garden, but she had a house to live in, and she received her quota of rations, tea and firewood, bamboo or thatch whenever she needed them. This benevolence was nothing  unusual in those days. Mrs. Dobson, for all her madness and wild mutterings, managed to keep house  for herself and her son who was what is called a 'laata' - not too intelligent. They pulled along, somehow.
 It was said that a Postal Order from the U.K. arrived every Christmas in her name. Mrs.Dobson was handed over the money at the office meticulously every year.

One evening, she tap-tapped her way into the bamboo plantation and surprised Burra Saab and the  Visiting Agent or 'Company Saab' from Calcutta who were out on an inspection. Her face lit up when  she saw the two men, while they shrank from her. 'Pyare Lall!' she exclaimed, 'and my dear Company Saab brother-in-law!' She went forward eagerly, but unfortunately for her, Mohan Saab was in attendance.  He ran forward and jumped in her path, and Burra Saab and the Company Saab moved on quickly,  continuing with their tour  while poor Mrs. Dobson, her scene quite ruined, was yelled at, in tones  louder than her own, and actually  threatened with a sound thrashing. She made a quick about turn  and hurried away, cursing 'Pyare Mohan'  under her breath.

One year at Holi the Burra Saab, Chhota Saabs and all their families had gathered at Beech Bungalow,  the Senior Assistant's place. There was much laughter, and lots of beer, pakoras and tuneless singing.  Suddenly everyone heard that loud familiar voice and looked up to see Mrs. Dobson's face leering at them from over the boundary hedge. This was awful. She'd never turned up at any of the living quarters, ever.  She knew the merry making would stop as soon as she started her performance. 'All yours, Mohan!' said the Senior Assistant under his breath, but Mohan Saab was already off, running at full speed towards the  menacing woman. Everyone was quiet, waiting to see what would happen. The Holi revelry had had a good effect on Mohan Saab. He was in top form. He reached Mrs. Dobson in no time and roared wordlessly at her.  The silence grew intense around his listeners while he shouted at Mrs. Dobson to clear off. Mrs. Dobson  dropped her plans to disrupt the festivities. She turned around and started hurrying away, while Mohan Saab  continued to shout threats at the top of his voice. The tension was over, and everyone on the verandah laughed and laughed - and not only at the defeated would-be party pooper. They were going to rib their colleague and have him re-enact this performance time and again!

Another time, she followed two of the young Chhota Memsaabs who were out on their evening walk. They  heard her stick tapping behind them and quickened their pace. She was a very strong woman, and outpaced  them in no time. 'Mohan's Radha and Rukmini!' she jeered, turning and looking into their faces. Mohan was  another name for Lord Krishna, and Radha and Rukmini were his two wives. The Chhota Memsaabs were  really embarrassed, since neither of them was the wife of Mohan Saab. 'When my beloved Dobson was here, I too would rush to the bungalow as eagerly as you do!' she continued. The girls confined their walks to their bungalow compounds for many days. Mrs. Dobson's evening walks, however, went on as scheduled for many years.

Mrs. Dobson died some years ago. I don't know if the man who once loved her and sent her money at Christmas was informed of her death.

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