Minoo Avari

 Return to Top

This page is dedicated to the writings photographs, and projects  kindly  supplied

                                              by Minoo Avari 


  To read the stories please click below

The Ghurkha
Wellington Gymkhana Club
Holiday Recollections

Of Planters and Plantations
Images of Calcutta before Independence
Sherpa's Climbers Association

Planters in Paradise
Darjeeling October 1968
Darjeeling area photo 19th Century
Transition of a Darjeeling Planter to South India

Ging or Bannockburn estates
Selim Tea Estate
Eden Sanatorium 1870
Grandpa Avari and Governor of Bengal
Oil Painting by Marianne North
Kinchenjunga painting by Edward Lear
Three generations of Avaris
Darjeeling Toy Train
Two more Century old pictures
Minoo's late father's photos
Darjeeling 1930's Film
Postcard 1904
Group including Tenzing
Old Darjeeling Railway Pictures

Kings Birthday Parade Darjeeling 1937
Some may remember Hathaways
Photographs from the time of the British Raj
the 1961 visit of Queen Elizabeth
Motor Bike Mania
Photos of the days of the British Raj

Harry Langford-Smith's Motor Cycle


 

We have to thank Minoo for sharing his memories

 

 October 30, 2017

THE GHURKHA

CIRCA 1968: It would be cold for at least another hour. Then, when the Sun peered over the hill and warmed the frozen earth, the frost would thaw and begin rising off the ground like sepulchral mist.

“It will be nice to feel the sun on my back,” thought Harkadhoj Limbu, for the winter months on Sukvah Tea Estate were long and cold.

The thousand acre property, which the British sahibs used to call a Garden, looked directly across the valley at another Company property, the Pahar Tea Estate. Pahar was not as pretty or as productive as Sukvah, and it did not face the magnificent Kanchenjunga Snow Range. The disadvantage of this majestic view was the cold wind that continually came off the mighty Himalayan massif. It filtered through the flesh and chilled old arthritic bones; bones long since splintered and mangled.

Harkadhoj Limbu's body had faced more than its fair share of privation and hardship. The cold water he splashed on his face now forced him to inhale sharply. One of these days, he thought wryly, he might inhale so hard there might not be enough strength left in him to exhale. Yet, it was a routine he had followed all his life. There was a short interruption because of the war, which had kept him away from this little rivulet but that was many, many years ago.

His wife Kanchi was alive then. So alive and so petite! His heart raced, as it always did, when he thought of her. He smiled a forlorn smile and pictured again that last time he saw her. She was radiant in the throes of early pregnancy, with little Birbhadur in her belly. A son for whom she gave her life for without medical attention in her village, she had died at childbirth.

He had left the country resplendent in uniform and a salute that served as farewell. Removing his cap he had kissed Kanchi full on the lips before leaping into the military transport van filled with grinning Ghurkha soldiers bound for lands across the Kala Pani but before that they would be taken to the nearby temple first: a Priest’s blessings were essential before their Hindu beliefs allowed them to cross the Oceans and Seas that lay ahead.

His thoughts turned to his son, Birbhadur, who grew to manhood without the benefit of a mother. What a mother Kanchi would have made! A pity she wasn’t there when Birbhadur suffered rejection at Sandhurst, for colour-blindness was unacceptable at England's prestigious Military College. But spoiled by the blinkered love of a devoted father, Birbhadur took for granted the many sacrifices Harkadhoj had made to put him through College and architectural training abroad. He finally settled down as a fully qualified architect in Nepal, never to visit or acknowledge his father again.

Harkadhoj knew that his son was ashamed of him and that was fitting. He was, after all, a mere estate labourer while his son now mixed in exalted company, where Royalty and the Palace were not excluded. He still continued to enjoy his father's pension. It had been essential when he was a student but although he didn't need it anymore, it was there for the taking. After all, what would his father do with all that money?

Thinking of Birbhadur made him smile again. Harkadhoj was proud of his son. It was a pity that he couldn’t have become a Ghurkha officer. How smart he would have looked in uniform, marching to a military band… he could still hear the strains of bagpipes, from a bygone era, playing ‘Cock Of The North’ and his thoughts strayed to distant battlefields before returning to the present.

Today the Chairman, Peter Ross, would be visiting Sukvah tea garden. Peter Ross, a retired Ghurkha officer was also the Managing Director of the company. He would have liked to meet him but that wouldn’t be possible. Old folk, past the retirement age and kept employed out of sympathy, would be tucked out of sight from any visiting dignitary. Instead they were to sickle weeds on a remote boundary bordering a tea field that had been hard pruned.

Pruning was an art. It was a job that Harkadhoj had been comfortable with in the old days. He had a natural ability with a knife. Most Ghurkha’s did but he could, with a flick of the wrist, slice through a two-inch diameter stem of tough tea wood leaving the cut clean and smooth. It was essential that it be smooth, without those visible marks made by less skilled pruners whose hacking would leave rough protrusions to serve as entry points for bacteria. Bacteria caused excessive die back on the pruned branches and sometimes even killed a hard pruned bush.

Now it hurt to even think of flicking his wrist, with or without a knife in his hand. Involuntarily flexing his arm, he remembered the shock on the face of a large German soldier when his kukri had severed the head of his bayonet charging comrade in the thick of battle. Hand to hand combat was the forte of the Ghurkhas and even now his heart raced to the cry of ‘ayo gurkhalli’ as they charged into pitched battle, their kukris held high… and then the blood, dripping down shiny steel blades.

The sun was beginning to paint the enormous mountain. Starting from the very peak, it began turning the ghostly ethereal snow into vibrant crimson; an enormous backdrop of blood. Beautiful as it was, Harkadhoj had seen enough blood during the war years to last his lifetime. He turned away, a sickness of old gnawing at his stomach.

The Sun completed its masterpiece and then began the earnest business of warming the frozen earth. The first rays of sunshine took the chill out of Harkadhoj's body. He shivered as the clawing cold released him but each day it seemed to retain a little of his spirit. He knew that soon there would be nothing left to give.

With the warmth, blood began circulating. Tongues loosened, and amidst the soft chatter of his companions, arms moved rhythmically wielding sickles in constantly changing arcs. Weeds cut down were left where they fell. It reminded him of the past. Everything reminded him of the past: then it was men who were mown down, to be left where they fell.

The mid-afternoon sun silenced the earlier drone of bees and arrested the chirping of birds. Such was the silence that Harkadhoj could hear faint voices from a mile away. There was little doubt to whom they belonged – the put-on airs of the Manger, John Benson and the softer cultured accents of the Chairman. Something was wrong. He couldn't put a finger on it until he realised that the voices were coming closer. But the visiting dignitary should not be coming in this direction.

It was soon apparent that they were heading for this work spot. Perhaps the Chairman had insisted on following his instincts rather than being guided by John Benson.

"Very sensible", thought Harkadhoj, "if that is the case."

But this was not so. Benson, overly keen to impress the Chairman, had got so carried away with boasting about his achievements, that he had taken the wrong path through the Tea bushes and was soon at the last place he would have wanted to visit with his Chairman.

The work here was never up to standard. The old folk were no longer capable of whetting their implements to the required degree of sharpness and to bend that low, to cut grass and weed just above ground level, was impossible. It was already too late when John Benson realised his predicament and he had nobody to blame but himself. His recourse predictably was to express astonishment and then rage at the poor quality of work.

"Yo ekdam naramro kaam ho!" He thundered. "Belight ma ... " Continuing in chaste Ghurkhali with a British ‘Lord Haw-Haw’ accent he said, "In England such work would be unacceptable. It is a pity that none of you have been to England. Little wonder then that India is in this sad state!"

Carried away by his eloquence, Benson thundered on, "You people have not seen good work. You never will see good work because you have never been to England!" The haranguing continued for some time.

His glasses glinted and his moustache bristled as fiercely as the noonday sun. Surreptitiously glancing at the Chairman to see what impact he had made, he glared defiantly at the workers. Dropping his sickle Harkadhoj straightened, bringing his weary mutilated body to attention. Barefoot, in old torn khaki shorts and a shirt full of patches, he took a deep painful breath and addressed himself to Peter Ross, ignoring Benson.

Benson's face was suffused with blood. His whiskers drooped a fraction and his outrage was manifest. How dare the natives usurp centre stage like this!

Chuup gar, you damned impertinent savage!”

"I have been to England." Harkadhoj stated. His dead pan voice cut through the hushed assembly as he continued. "I have been to parts of England that you have never been to, or will ever be allowed into!"

"Which parts of England are you referring to?" Asked Peter Ross. His voice was gentle and there was a hint of mirth that indicated he was prepared to enjoy what was to follow. Peter Ross knew the Gurkhas. He knew them well, for through the war he had served with Ghurkha Regiments as had his father before him.

"I have been to Buckingham Palace,” said Harkadhoj, sticking his chest out even further as he stood to attention.

Benson was about to splutter about the absurdity of that statement. A mere common labourer on a Tea Plantation – at Buckingham Palace indeed! The Chairman waved Benson into silence to ask:

“What were you doing at Buckingham Palace?”

"I was the Queen's personal Bodyguard for two years."

This spoke volumes for the man since the Bodyguards were normally changed annually. To have been retained an extra year must have significance. Ross was immediately curious.

"Which Regiment were you with?" He asked.

"I was with the Seventh Ghurkha Rifles."

"You were in Tobruk, El Alamein and Monte Casino?" Peter Ross was now fully engrossed and concentrating hard on the features of Harkadhoj.

"Hazoor! Yes Sahib," confirmed Harkadhoj.

"Were you decorated?"

Almost everyone Ross knew, who emerged alive from that arena, had received some award.

"I initially got the Military Cross. After a few months I was informed that a Bar had also been added. After the War I received the 'Nepal Tara' or 'Star Of Nepal' from King Mahindra."

Then reluctantly, almost ashamedly, looking at the ground he whispered:

"I was cited for the Victoria Cross."

The silence became electric.

That night Harkadhoj was the Chief guest at the party held in honour of the Chairman. Peter Ross had especially asked that Harkadhoj be present and that I, who was the junior most Assistant Manager in the Company, see to it that Harkadhoj present himself in full Military regalia. This had been difficult.

I put his un-ironed trousers under the mattress to be pressed. The coat had to be darned in a few places. The Military Cross, the 1939-45 Star, the Italy Star and the War Medal, along with some attendant Oak Leafs, which signified dual awards, had to be affixed to a piece of cardboard placed under the shirt. This was done to keep the weight of the metal from tugging the fabric askew and that wouldn't have done at all.

The Star Of Nepal was attached to a blue ribbon left over from a Christmas present wrapping, and put around Harkadhoj's neck. Shoes? Well he couldn't fit into my size twelve’s with his five and a half size feet but a khaki pair of sneakers, belonging to my butler, served the purpose.

"Harkadhoj, what was the citation for?" Asked the Chairman.

"Near El Alamein, a German Panzer division surprised us at dawn. They came over a low hill and we were caught stranded in the middle of the desert. Many of us were killed instantly. Most were able to flee to nearby dunes and escape. One British Officer was caught in the middle. He was alive but a bullet in the spine had paralysed him. I was close by and managed to drag him to safety."

"My God! So it was you. I was there but frozen with shock. That was my cousin you saved. He has spoken about you ever since. Struth! But you were riddled with bullets. I saw the dust come off your shirt. You shielded Andrew with your body. He owes you his life!"

"Sahib, it was he who helped put my son through College in England. He has done enough for me."

This was obviously not enough for Peter Ross. But Harkadhoj refused any monetary help and a saddened Chairman went back to England still determined to do something for this gallant soldier.

Six months later the Victoria Cross was awarded to Harkadhoj Limbu for Bravery Above And Beyond The Call Of Duty. It was posthumous. Harkadhoj had died a week before the award was made.

I think he would have preferred it that way

December 18 2016

 
From: Minoo Avari <minoo.avari@gmail.com>
Date: 07/12/2016 05:38 (GMT+00:00)
To:editorkoihai@aol.com>
Subject: DARJEELING SCHOOL DAYS
 

Christmas is just around the corner, as is my mother’s birthday.  It takes my mind back to the old Darjeeling days.  I remember aunt Monisha being called HMS Formidable and Dad walking on tippy-toes around her.  There were no mobile phones then and even the big phones, without dials or buttons, had to be routed through the operator.  I recall her trying to get a number and the operator telling her repeatedly it was engaged.  After a few more attempts she exploded and asked “Aren’t they married yet?” Going back even further I remember Muriel Ray and her daughter Jennifer.  They lived below the Gymkhana Club in what later became the Plant’s house before becoming the communist commune. 

We had Christmas dinner there once with an entire goose, cooked brown, in the centre of the table.  It had crackling and roast potatoes on the side, and a huge white khoya bag in the shape of a white swan tied to the ceiling.  After dinner Muriel pulled a cord which ripped the underbelly, spilling lots of presents hidden in confetti.  It was like magic in that dimly lit room, with either very poor electricity or perhaps just candles.  I recall Muriel and her daughter Jennifer Ray left shortly after for South Africa and sometimes wonder what became of them.  Little did we know then that many years later, we would move across from their home to live in Kenilworth – but before that we had moved out of Stephan Mansion to live in Malden. 

Malden was the house I most fondly remember.  It was a short walk to the Gymkhana Club and had beautiful tall Cryptomeria Japonica (Japanese cedar) trees lining one side of the Mall.  We could see them sway in the breeze from my parents bedroom window making the sun, peeping through the boughs, dance on the window sill.  Evenings I’d love to listen to the music from Dad’s turntable.  With a special ceramic cartridge he got with difficulty, it scratched out strains of Capriccio Italian, the music reaching my bedroom across the stairway passage. 

On the other side of the record was Sollennel.  It was music depicting the Charge of the Light Brigade, and every now and again cannons would thunder to the accompaniment of hooves pounding down the valley of death in the Crimea.  Stirring stuff for a young boy getting ready to go back to boarding school! The piano played by Winifred Atwell was something else I remember and enjoy to this day.  Sometimes we’d hear Carmen Miranda, coming across the waves on Sunday mornings courtesy Radio Ceylon.  After breakfast I would play with the Hornby train set in my room. 

There was Dukpa, who organised the horse wallahs and called Bengali tourists, who attempted to ride, ‘laray cowboys’ – whatever that meant? I vividly remember the trek to Sundakphu and the delightful walk from there to Phalut and Singalila.  Then it was a steep trek downhill to Dentam and Pemionche, before hiking uphill all the way to Darjeeling from the Teesta River.  How many memories! It was almost like we lived in another world in another life.  Today things are so different – so many channels on the television with so little to watch and the news with nothing but sadness and nothing much else to report. 

There were ladies in white and brown skating boots which came up to the calves.  Billy Bampton was an exceptional skater but, when Dad got on the skating rink, the band would dish out “Roll Out The Barrel” with Edgar Cleaver on the accordion, Louis Banks alternating between the clarinet and trumpet; Mr. Coutinho on the violin and old man Wilson on the drums.  It was enchanting, leaving memories that never fade. 

When we moved to Kenilworth, besides our bearer carrying the piano up the stairs single-handed, there were Dad’s books to be reckoned with.  He had made two huge cabinets with ‘sisal’ wood.  My younger brother Khushroo and I were deputed to put them up on the shelves in some order.  Well Khushroo did all the intellectual stuff and I just handed him the books as required by him.  One of those books caught my attention: The Roots Of Heaven by Romain Gary.  I didn’t realise it was made into a movie with the likes of Errol Flynn and Trevor Howard.  What a wonderful collection he had.  It really got me into reading though not quite as avidly as it did Khushroo. 

On cold winter evenings the Anglo Indian police officer, Jim Callow, would come and sip hot rum with Dad.  His granddaughter, Monica Callow, is planning a trip to India from Australia and should be in Cochin sometime mid-January.  I doubt I’ll get to meet her as Cochin is a fair drive and very congested.  At other times Norman Knight would limp up the stairs.  He too was a police officer before he worked for us at the wine shop.  Cyril Daniels from the museum came on occasion as did the Pal’s and the Das family.  With a fire blazing in the hearth it was cozy, with a room full of bonhomie.

Many winters were spent in Calcutta and I enjoyed being pampered by my mother’s father.  My grandparents lived in a big brick mansion on Ballygunge Circular road.  It had a sprawling lawn in front with an orchard and vegetable patch on the other side of the driveway.  There was tennis too at the South Club, definitely the highlight of these trips, and I got to meet with Naresh Kumar, Premjit Lall and Jaideep Mukerjee.  I vaguely remember S.J. Mathews, who used to bring them to Darjeeling where I’d watch them play against some of our senior North Point boys.  That was in the mid-fifties and a long time ago. 

Later there were trips to Ging tea estate to play tennis against the Hardinghams.  Harbaksh Singh was then the GOC Western Command.  A keen tennis player, I was impressed with his quiet dignified demeanour.  Gordon Fraser was another avid tennis player.  He would come to the Club over weekends with his wife Fiona, and once in a while planters from the Dooars would come to be demolished by Sid Emmet’s sons, Richard and Douglas.  Sid’s daughter Celia was in a different league and later played at Wimbledon – I didn’t realise she was that good! Pity there is no way to keep in touch with them now.  Raj and Vinay Issar are off the radar as well.  Raj was a planter in the Terai, after working with Jeff Johnston on Rungmook. 

Jeff Koehler has just written a book about Darjeeling, especially to do with the tea estates.  There is no mention of the old timers like Sid Emmet, Peter Collinson, David Little, etc.  He mentions Ging, Bannockburn and Namring – I wonder if he knows that the famous author, Nadine Gordimer, was born on Namring? He does mention Rajah Bannerjee of Makaibari but not Ameo Bannerjee who lived with his family on Happy Valley tea estate.  So many new names: managers and assistants on the numerous estates from the Terai all the way up to Kurseong and Darjeeling, none of whom were there in the sixties!

 

 

January 24 2016

                                WELLINGTON GYMKHANA CLUB

Circa 1970: The annual sports meet was always a weeklong event.  It was no different in 1970 with planters from all over South India participating in tennis, golf, cricket, badminton and billiards.  Not content with competing against one another, they also took on the redoubtable staff and students of the combined armed services stationed at the Wellington cantonment.  The army, navy and air force stationed there had the advantage of many servicemen from abroad, who had come to study military tactics under specially trained instructors from the Indian armed forces.  They came from the United States, Great Britain and Ceylon, amongst a host of other countries, and they were all iron hard and extremely fit.

During the day, spectators filled the long open veranda of the Wellington Gymkhana Club to watch cricket.  On the other side of the main building, the pavilion overlooking the tennis courts was packed with tennis aficionados.  Further afield diehard fans trooped up the steep slope, leading to the squash courts, to watch planters engage the army, navy and air force in mighty combat.  Yet others used the shooting range to evaluate their skills and surprised many a marksmen from the services with their speed and accuracy.  

Evenings saw The Coonoor Club overflowing with enthusiasts who came to watch badminton, while lovers of the green baize took in matches, fiercely contested, at the billiards room of the Wellington Gymkhana Club.  Needless to say the Niligiris, or Blue Hills of South India turned into a beehive of activity.  It reverberated to the sounds and sights of myriad planters and their wives, driving to and fro their chosen sports venues.  Business thrived.  Sports and clothing shops, restaurants and hotels, provisions and grocery outlets did roaring business to the delight of local traders.

Entertainment though was confined to the Wellington and Coonoor clubs.  Managing directors, superintendents, group managers and managers mingled with lowly assistants: they came from the Anamallais in Valparai, the High Ranges of Munaar in Kerala; from the coffee belt in Coorg and Chickmaglur and from distant Singampatti by Cape Comorin.  A few of them even came from far away Hyderabad to the North. 

Jovial camaraderie, at the end of each day, belied the intensity at action packed arenas where, momentarily, friends turned foe in gladiatorial combat.  Hordes of golfers too descended on both sides of the cricket pitch.  Armed with clubs and other paraphernalia, they scattered across the outfield, in between the cricket match where Planters engaged the Military with bat and ball.  Despite these restrictions, golf was every bit as competitive as any of the other sports and that year, Kuttiah of Matheson Bosanquet, broke the course record over thirty six holes.

Beer spilled from the main dining area onto the veranda in great big steins.  Supporters of the services, resplendent in uniform with military badges of valour across their broad chests, bivouacked at one end while planters and their wives occupied the other.  It was as much a vocal encounter as was the battle on the cricket pitch.  When Nanda Cariappa of the air force, son of General Cariappa – who was appointed India’s second Field Marshal sixteen years later – entertained dreamy eyed damsels with his derring-do between the stumps, roars of delight must have been responsible for his buddies in overhead helicopters to alter their flight plans. 

Not everyone was transfixed with watching sports.  Small groups of enthusiastic servicemen congregated in the main hall.  Content with quaffing beer, they spoke of their respective countries military might and, as bellies filled with beverage, so the strengths of their defence forces took on increasingly tall tales.  Seated around a table an American officer spoke at length of his Nation’s strike capabilities.  A Brit took it from there and spoke of the merits of the Royal Navy.  Not to be outdone a Ceylonese officer spoke about his army:

“We can take India in a month if we so desired,” he countered to gasps of disbelief.

“Seriously!” Exclaimed the Yank, which only served to fuel the Asian Islander.

“Yes.  In fact with a combined swoop of our air force, navy and army, we’d be able to take India within a week!”

Having concluded with a satisfied smirk, he watched bulky Ashok Mehra, a planter with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, stride toward the bar. 

“Hi Ashok,” greeted the American.  Pointing to the Ceylonese officer, he said, “This guy says the combined services of Ceylon can take India within a week.”

Without breaking stride, Ashok referred to the Mahabaharat.  “Last time we sent our monkeys.  This time we’ll come!”

So saying, Ashok continued toward the bar with an empty beer stein that begged attention.

It was the conclusion of the sporting events.  A ball followed the prize distribution in the great hall of the Wellington Gymkhana Club.  Dancers took to the floor and graced the ballroom with waltzes, polkas, foxtrots and even the cha-cha-cha.  When that was over they joined the gathering by the bar.  The vacuum they left behind was immediately taken up by an elite group doing the jive.  Gyrating and twirling their partners with nifty steps, they had the attention of the entire gathering. 

An assistant manager, with the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation, with one eye on the dance floor, in hushed conversation with Major Sandhu of the Staff College, was accosted by none other than Eric Karumbaya, an engineer with the same plantation company.  “General Sam Manecksha has just arrived.  He has been appointed a director with the Corporation and protocol demands you introduce yourself.” 

Sam Manecksha of the Gurkha regiment was a general at the time but became the first Field Marshal of the Indian Army three years later.

“I know Sam.  In fact I think we are related.  There’s no need to introduce myself,” said the adamant Assistant.

“I want to meet the Field Marshal!” Exclaimed an emphatic Major Sandhu.  Together they were soon ploughing through the rank and file of milling onlookers.

Congratulating the newly appointed director, the Assistant then introduced Major Sandhu to the General, who was surrounded by a coterie of hero worshippers. 

“Major Sandhu,” said the army officer proffering his hand.

“Yes,” said Sam, taking his hand in a firm grasp.

“It is a great pleasure and honour to meet you sir.”

“Yes,” said Sam, not letting go of the officer’s hand.

Taken aback at having his hand still firmly clasped, the officer stuttered.

“Very pleased to meet you sir.”

“Yes,” countered Sam, looking intently at the officer.

“Err, Aah … such a pleasure sir.”  Beads of perspiration now forming on his brow, he tried in vain to extricate his hand from the General’s firm grasp.

“Yes,” said the General, not letting go and looking as though he expected further comment.

“I, ah, wanted to ask you … ”

“Yes,” said Sam looking even more intently at the squirming officer.

“Err.  I wanted to ask you sir … ”

“Yes,” came the Field Marshal by way of reply and his moustache bristling fiercely.

“Aah, er … what do you think of the Congo position?”

The military participation of the Indian Army in the Congo had concluded six years earlier in 1964 as part of the United Nations peacekeeping operation.

“The Congo position son?”

“Yes sir,” said a very relieved Major Sandhu, happy to have thought of something to say.

“I don’t know son.  I’ve never tried it!”

The assistant dropped his glass to guffaws from the coterie witnessing the drama unfold by the side of the dance floor.

After the General left, an off white Mercedes Benz bearing a Karnataka registration, screeched to a halt perilously close the cannons by the front porch of the club.  Throwing the door open the driver fumbled for the keys.  Unable to get a hold of them, he extricated himself from the car, slammed the door shut and wobbled to the bar.  Shouting at the top of his voice he demanded a bottle of Blue Label Scotch whisky.  While a grinning barman placed a bottle of Solan No. 1 on the bar counter instead, another late arrival to the party walked up to the gentleman and asked him to remove his car from the porch.

“Your car is blocking entry to the club building.  It’s drizzling and ladies entering the club are getting wet.”

It had no effect on the inebriated gentleman.  Spilling his drink over the bar counter, he emphatically stated that he was not about to remove his car from where it was parked in the porch.

Listening to the conversation, Eric Karumbaya approached a few hefty planters.  Using the keys still in the car they opened the boot and, with some effort, managed to load one of the cannons into the cavernous space.  Not content, they filled the remaining area with six full sized cannonballs fused together.  Their endeavours made the car look like it was permanently pointing uphill!

Later the gentleman from Karnataka got behind the wheel and drove all the way to Ooty.  The car struggled uphill all the way in first gear.  The next morning he complained to the Mercedes engineers, telling them the car was not pulling as it should.  Meanwhile the Secretary of the Wellington Club made a complaint to the local police, informing them that somebody had stolen a cannon together with six fused cannonballs.  Nobody was left behind to find out what the outcome was but it’s doubtful the gentleman from Karnataka ever parked his car as stupidly again.

The Sports week conducted by the United Planter’s Association of Southern India is an on- going annual event.  Perhaps not as well as attended as it was in the past, it is still an occasion for every sportsman

 ****************************************************************************

October 24 2015


HOLIDAY RECOLLECTIONS.

Christmas was roast goose with crackling and large roasted potatoes. It was stockings stuffed with gifts. It was the bells of St. Andrew’s Church, imitating the chimes of Westminster, pealing through the cold crisp early morning. It was residents, bundled in overcoats and scarves, who took to the streets wishing one another a merry Christmas, and tea planters congregating at the portals of St. Andrew’s. It was a town going about its leisurely business below magnificent Kanchenjunga.

Beautiful and serene as this was, it was Easter that appealed to us kids. What nine or ten year old would pick roast goose, with crackling notwithstanding, over Easter eggs? Easter heralded summer. Tourists thronged the Chowrasta square to walk around the Mall and gaze at the panorama of snowy peaks – stretching from Koktang in the West to Siniolchu in the East – and thence to Plivas (now Glenarys) to purchase Easter bunnies in a variety of shapes and sizes. Chocolates sculpted to look like Bugs Bunny were the preferred choice but, when they ran out, mundane eggs with ribbons tied around their middles also disappeared from the shelves.

But that wasn’t all. Milk toffees from across the Teesta River in Kalimpong, together with marzipan made by Plivas own Swiss confectioners, were sought after too. There was gaiety in the air as residents and tourists clutched their purchases, finally arriving at the Gymkhana Club, to watch or play tennis on the five clay courts. Mostly though they packed the teakwood floors of the large skating rink where a live band played foxtrots and waltzes, and skaters on steel wheels swayed to the rhythm of the music.

Steaming platters of potato chips were rushed up from the kitchen to tables opposite the bandstand. Children, with Easter chocolate smeared over their mouths, added tomato sauce to the canvas as they scoffed thick two inch long fries; cooling their mouths with ice-cream sodas. Toddlers, schoolboys in uniforms, parents and assorted tourists flocked to hear Edgar Cleaver on the accordion. Accompanied by old man Wilson on the drums and Mr. Coutinho sawing on the violin, Georgie Banks would alternate between tinkling the keyboard, playing the saxophone and producing melodious tunes on his clarinet!

Later the planters, a mix of English and Scots, would head to the planters club, to enhance the mellow bonhomie of church with more convivial Easter spirits. Passing through the Chowrasta, some would allow their children to ride the local ponies while toddlers, perched on special seats atop donkeys, cried in fright and dismay. En route, the European contingent would pick up long playing records from Oxford Book Shop; stop at the Chowrasta stores for provisions, then pause at Hall and Andersons, before struggling up the slope that led to the planters club. There they would quaff cold beer on the quarter deck before sampling Mr. D’Souza’s sumptuous lunch.

Christmas was out of Dickens, but Easter was out of the World!

 ********************************************************************************************

September 10 2015

 

OF PLANTERS AND PLANTATIONS.

My grandfather had a flat in Stephen Mansions.  It became Ajit Mansions after the Prasad family bought it sometime in the sixties.  We lived there during my early years.  It must have been nineteen-fifty and I, still not six years old, vividly remember evenings with my grandfather.  Sitting on the sofa by his large Phillips radio, a glass of whisky beside him, listening to the BBC news: when the phone worked, he spoke to his friend Mc Murison, manager of Badamtam Tea Estate at the time.  Their friendship spilled over to the Planter’s Club and perhaps Mac was also a Rotarian.  They were certainly on the Committee of the Planter’s and Gymkhana Clubs.

I still remember the tea, delivered at home for our personal use.  It came from Lingia Tea Estate where Bill Emmet was the manager.  He was another close family friend.  The Emmet clan were into planting: Sid Emmet was on Glenburn, which even today is known as Cumbal Cummon.  Legend has it that a Campbell established the property over a century ago and the Nepalese, unable to pronounce Campbell, reduced it to Cumbal. 

Arthur Emmet was the pugnacious member of the family.  I don’t recall which estate he managed but listened intently to stories of his numerous fights at the Club.  When he removed his false teeth, there was apparently trouble in store! All the Emmet brothers were fine cricket players and, at one time or other, represented their counties in England.  Later I became friends with Richard and Douglas.  Both were formidable tennis players.  Richard was left-handed with a stylish and powerful serve.  Douglas was the dogged one and often beat his elder brother.  Sid was proud of his son’s but it was his daughter Celia, who was a champion. 

Celia Emmet played in tournaments around the United Kingdom.  I heard tell that she even played at Wimbledon.  She was the eldest, much older than her brothers who, in turn, were older than me.  Tennis was popular at the Darjeeling Gymkhana Club though many of the tea estates had their own tennis courts.  Even before my joining tea, I accompanied my parents down to Ging Tea Estate, where my mother and I played tennis with the Hardingham’s.  I met General Harbaksh Singh (Western Command), a keen and accomplished player there for the first time.  Mike Cheney was there.  He built what was to become the Assistant Manager’s bungalow, before leaving the company to join a plantation in Nepal. 

Trevor and Audrey Hardingham were tall.  Both of them, over six feet, were tennis aficionados.  David Little took over from Trevor as Superintendent.  He was another keen player.  With recommendations from Trevor Hardingham, they were both instrumental in my joining The Darjeeling Company.  Needless to say my first posting was on Ging Tea Estate.   Richard Lancaster was the Acting Manager.  Considered the tallest tea planter in North India, he was a half inch taller than Donald McKenzie, standing at six feet and six inches.

Donald and his wife Betty were on Bagrakote.  It was an estate in Naxalbari, neighbouring Bagdogra airport.  It became a hotbed for the Naxalite insurgency movement, giving rise to the likes of Kanu Sanyal, who strangely remained friends with both my father and Donald! With the number of Scotsmen in planting it was a no-brainer that there should be two Donald McKenzie’s.  Big Mac was put out when Richard Lancaster took over the mantle of the tallest planter.  Yet Wee Mac, mild and introspective and not quite five foot eight inches, was acknowledged the strongest of them all.  Big Mac had come out to India as a boxing champion, so that was really saying something.

Wee Mac passed away just before I joined the plantations.  He was on Tindharia.  His bungalow veranda offered a magnificent view of the plains.  Often we’d sit late into the night, watching trains crisscross vast tracts of land.  We could see engines billow smoke from their funnels, traversing distant bridges; too far away to hear them whistle through the night.  Jaundice was then an acknowledged killer.  Difficult to diagnose, it was often confused with cholera or malaria until it was too late.  It was a sad day when Wee Mac passed away.  His parents came to Darjeeling for the funeral and stayed with my parents.  They were gentle and soft spoken.  Later we came to find they were indeed Lairds and vastly wealthy.  Wee Mac was their only offspring.

There were so many others from the U.K.  Hugh Dominy was on Phoobsering, a part of The Darjeeling Company, when I joined.  He was a prisoner of war and made to work on the Siam Death Railway.  He never did tell us how he escaped.  Baljit Sukerchakia was on Bannockburn, another property belonging to the company and adjoining Ging.  I worked under him when he was transferred to Ging.  Later I was the Assistant Manager on Tukdah under Derek Royals.  Tukdah was on the other side of the valley opposite Ging.

Peter Collinson was on Badamtam at the time.  He raised championship Labrador dogs.  When he went back to the U.K., I kept Boyce for the duration of the quarantine period.  Harish Mukhia kept Tara.  After the dogs went back to England we heard they had done themselves proud at the Cruft’s dog show.  David Page was a latecomer, joining the company after leaving an estate somewhere in the Kurseong area.  He and his wife Margaret were kind and soft spoken.  They worked on Bannockburn, Ging and Phoobsering and were still there when I left for South India in April 1970. 

Willie Campbell, known as Wally to his friends, was another planter known for his innumerable scraps in the club.  He was on Poobong Tea Estate.  Both bachelors at the time, we became good friends. Then there was Bob Andrews, another goliath, working on Tirihanna Tea Estate in the Terai.  A divorcee, he came up to Darjeeling often and we would meet at the Planter’s Club.  I spent nights with him in his beautiful big bungalow, preparatory to an early morning flight to Calcutta.  Tirihanna was close to the airport. 

Not far away in the Dooars there was Tom Angus, another family friend.  Dougie Armstrong, on Leesh River was another keen tennis player.  We played at the Gymkhana Club and he mentioned the ‘A’ Meet, an annual tennis tournament held in the Dooars.  I participated that year and became the 1966 singles champion.  Dougie won the ‘B’ Meet and we celebrated late into the night.

Peter Burkitt was the manager on Thurbo Tea Estate.  He lost an arm in the war and, from all accounts, was a menace on the football field.  He had a sharp contraption attached to the stump and players on the opposite team avoided him like the plague.  Harish Mukhia took over Thurbo when Peter went back to retire in the U.K.  He became my regular tennis buddy.  We represented Darjeeling district: playing against the likes of Jaideep Mukerjee and Premjit Lall who were India’s Davis Cup pride and joy at the time.

Jeff Johnson was a proprietary planter on Rungmook, his ancestral estate.  Of course there has been wide publicity about his murder and I need not elaborate further.  We were good friends and spent many a jolly evening at both clubs.  Nigel Leak worked for him until he retired and Raj Issar took over.  Raj and Vinay were family friends.  They were a charming couple and I got on well with them.

There are so many more planters, it would take an entire book to mention all of them.  It was a time when the Congress Government had fallen.  The United Front came to power.  It was a coalition of the Congress and Communist parties: interested in besting one another, law and order was forgotten.  Bengal in 1966 was chaotic.  Murder and mayhem ruled the roost.  This state of affairs continued, even after I left Darjeeling in 1970, to seek refuge in the more civilised South of the country.

 

 ********************************************************************************************************

 

August 25 2015

 Thanks to Minoo we have

In colour for the first time.  Historic with pomp and rare footage of early nineteenth century England & India.
 
Please click on Blue lines to see
 
 
 

APRIL 25 2015

 IMAGES OF CALCUTTA BEFORE INDEPENDENCE

The South Asia Section of the Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania recently acquired from a book dealer a photograph album consisting of 60 photographs of Calcutta taken most likely between 1945-1946 by Mr. Claude Waddell, a military photographer. Several attested copies of this work has emerged including one with a 'title page' held by the Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. 

The album begins with several general long shots of Calcutta and ends with a picture of mystery-dhobis (washermen) washing clothes. The text accompanying the last photograph also sounds as if the author intended to finish with that picture of one of the "great mysteries of India.". 

The annotations have been included because of their historical interest and as reflection of a 'typical' American impression of India at that time.

Nimtolla Mosque, Calcutta

1

The Nimtolla Mosque, largest Mohammedan mosque in Calcutta. Its prayer hall will accommodate 10,000 worshipers. A modern specimen of Indo-Sarascenic architecture, its Minarets (towers) are 151 feet high. GI truck at entrance is waiting for a load of soldiers on American Red Cross tour.

 

Hindustan Building, Calcutta


2

 

Hindustan building, one of the most modern in Calcutta, was built for an insurance company but occupied upon its completion by the U.S. Army. Located in the heart of the city, it is the nerve center of all military business, containing post office, finance office, Base Section offices, air, rail booking offices, a radio station, giant post exchange, officers mess and living quarters, signal offices and others.

 

 

 

Calcutta Downtown

 

Aerial view of Calcutta downtown. In upper left background is Hindustan building, U.S. Army HQ. The oldest part of the city starts at the esplanade and extends upwards. The city was founded in the early 1700's.

 

Hoogly River, Calcutta

 

Hooghly river and part of Calcutta's east bank but for this giant stream Calcutta would likely never have been built. Nevertheless the river affords many spectacles and has accomodated millions of tons of supplies necessary to the war effort.

 

A Native Madman roaming naked on the Street


5

Native madman is allowed to roam the streets naked, accosting cars, sitting down in middle of the street or anything else that takes his fancy. How he escapes being run down or run in by the law is one of India's mysteries.

A street gathering

 

 


6

Crowd gathers round a sidewalk performer at bus stop while GI's take temporary advantage of an overhead view from steps of a camp bus. This is a good spot for hawkers, beggars, shoe shine boys, showmen to work on the bankroll of the 'rich American soldier'

Brave Indian Commuters, Calcutta

7

Indians are the bravest commuters in the world. They hang from every handhold. The two shown here, however, are bent on clinching a seat before the car fills. Ancient double-decker buses sway and chug under the strain of double overloads and trams make packed New York subways seem comfortable by comparison.


Buffalo Herd on the Road, Calcutta

This buffalo herd's movements seem to be guided by whim alone and are typical of the complete indifference to traffic control by man and animal alike. this is Old Court House street, one of Calcutta's busiest. In left background is Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta's best, used by U.S. Officers as a billet.



A busy Calcutta traffic scene

  

Calcutta's traffic is usually snarled. And the reasons are clearly shown. Shuffling coolies and padestrians with little regard for their lives seem completely oblivious to the perils of automotive traffic.

 

The American Red Cross Burra Club

The American Red Cross Burra Club, leave center for GI's and recreation spot for all enlisted men. The unpretentious facade belies an interior complete with dormitory, snack bar, restaurant, music room games room, lounge, barber and tailor shops, wrapping service department and post exchange.

 

Opium Den in Chinatown, Calcutta

 

 

 

A little snooping in Chinatown will turn up the little opium dens stuck down an alley (not recommended without police escort). Actually, the smokers shown in this picture do it legally. Each den is licensed for so many pipes. Each pipe costs a rupee, a phial of opium five rupees. Average smoker consumes aphial a day and there are about 186 pipes licensed in Calcutta.

 

 

 

Early Morning in Calcutta

 

 

Early morning in many Calcutta street finds natives huddled around a breakfast teapot, having risen from their sidewalk abode. The milkman makes a regular stop at this community gathering on busy Park street

 

Famine of 1943, Calcutta

 

 

The indifference of the passerby on this downtown Calcutta street to the plight of the dying woman in the foreground is considered commonplace. During the famine of 1943, cases like this were to be seen in most every block, and though less frequent now, the hardened public reaction seems to have endured.

 

Calcutta Stock Exchange

 

 Street scene outside the Calcutta stock exchange. The noise is similar to the bedlam in all word exchange and many transactions (unofficial) take place in the street as shown here.

Sacred Cattle and Coolie

Sacred cattle and coolies push and pull great carts to the loading platform of the Howrah railroad station in background, on of the city's two stations. Howrah is on the west bank of the river, and Sealdah, the other station, is in another section of Calcutta on the east side.

 

New American Kitchen

 

After a couple of years in India, the bizarre aspects of street life become commonplace to the average soldier, as evidenced by the scant notice given the passing snake-walla by the GI at right bargaining for a shine from one of he city's hundreds of bootblacks. The New American Kitchen is a popular Chinese restaurant, owned by a Portuguese, and serves up a steak of chop-suey before you can say "Teek hai".

 

People lined up to buy Kerosene Oil

 

Calcutta's poor from a line to buy kerosene at 6 a.m. Each little cubicle may contain a shop and living quarters for a family ranging possibly from 6 to 12. Sanitary facilities consist of an open street drain.

 

 

 

 

 

March 14 2015

Minoo has kindly sent us an historic copy of the minutes of a meeting of the Sherpa Climbers Association from September 1964 --51 years ago Surinder Jinwal's father was the then Secretary--It was held in Darjeeling

 

 

 

 

October15 2014

We are delighted to have some amusing recollections from Minoo whom we thank

 

PLANTERS IN PARADISE.

By: Minoo Avari.

January 1971:

I can’t remember how long that old Avro took, rumbling as it did between Trichinopoly and Colombo, but the bottle of Chivas Regal Whisky was drained to the last drop when the ‘fasten seat belts’ sign came on, and we landed with a thump.  I was excited.  This was my first trip overseas and I took in all the sights and sounds of this foreign land from the moment we disembarked. 

Two new Toyota buses, gleaming in the sunlight, stood outside the airport awaiting us.  Thick dimpled black rubber carpets, delightfully spongy underfoot, welcomed us aboard even as we were ushered in, and taken stock of by a tall sweaty Briton attired in a white short-sleeve shirt tucked into baggy rumpled white trousers.  I could almost see him pull on his sola topee (or pith helmet) to announce, “Raffles Hotel, Singapore.”

The luxury buses pulled away and we were soon gliding through stately tree lined avenues dappled with speckled sunlight.  Buxom women in skimpy tops, sitting in the shade, had their wares spread in front of them: enormous tender green coconuts; cashew nuts and exotic spices, indigenous to the Emerald Isle, adorned both sides of the broad road. 

“Everything is so neat and clean,” Nanjappa whispered in my ear. 

Earlier we had been seated together on the plane and after introducing ourselves to one another, became further acquainted, with the introduction of the bottle of Scotch whisky.  By the time we were through with the bottle we were inseparable. 

The Chivas Regal had been recklessly put in my charge by the President of the Planter’s Association of South India, Kakubhai Tanna, who must have picked the most innocuous looking, from amongst the plane load of planters.  We were all headed for Ceylon, to take on the might of the Planters there at cricket, tennis, golf and any other sport that came to mind during the course of our week long sojourn!

New to South India I didn’t know anyone and must, therefore, have been deemed a safe bet to carry the bottle of whisky on board the aircraft.  Nanjappa, also new to the planting community, was allotted a seat next to mine.  On the plane there were about twenty-five or so planters.  We comprised an entire cricket eleven with extras – a contingent of tennis players, and an exclusive delegation to play golf. 

A few planters were accompanied by their wives, but the vast majority preferred to remain unencumbered.  None of this apparently interested Nanjappa, who kept staring at the Whisky.  “How come you got to keep the bottle and I wasn’t entrusted with one?” He asked.

“You don’t look the trustworthy type,” I quipped, adding, “that’s perhaps because you’re a Coorg!”  One would have to be crazy to ask a Coorg to hold on to a bottle of any alcohol and not drink it! 

That seemed to mollify him somewhat but he kept staring at the bottle.

“Actually I think a second bottle might have been a bit too much for us to handle on so short a flight, don’t you think?” I asked. 

He nodded vaguely but, with the message gradually sinking in his smile became wider, till it spread from ear to ear.

“Do you know how to open the bottle?” I asked, handing the Chivas Regal over.

He grinned unabashedly and had it open in a jiffy, deftly pouring stiff pegs into paper cups.  We were already two up before the ‘unfasten seat belts’ sign was off! But that was several hours ago and now, with my head still on the windowpane of the Toyota bus, I must have fallen asleep.  Nanjappa had to nudge me awake when we arrived at the club, in the heart of the city, where we would spend the night before driving to Kandy, the temple city, nestled in the hills.

There was still plenty of time for the evening dinner party at the posh Taj Samudra Hotel.  I was wondering how to while away the time, before donning my suit for the evening’s entertainment, when Kakubhai Tanna struck.  He proposed a tennis match!

Perhaps it was just to get even with me, for returning an empty bottle of Chivas Regal to him at the end of our flight… I really can’t think of any other reason for him to have thought up something with such a Machiavellian touch.  I was introduced to a contingent of local players, who looked fit and eager to have a go at us.  Amongst them was Ceylon’s number one player, Fernando, whom I had got the better of a few of years ago, at the Asian Championships in Calcutta.  I was very fortunate to keep my slate clean, dripping whisky as I was from every pore, under the hot Colombo sun.    

That evening we dined at the Taj Samudra.  It was very posh and the cuisine extraordinary.  Having worked up a thirst and an appetite on the tennis court; still euphoric over winning my match, I did justice to both the food and drink, much to the delight of our hosts.  The Ceylonese are a fun loving people and delight in a good party; above all they enjoy seeing others around them having a good time.  That might explain why I became popular so rapidly.

Early next morning we set out for Kandy.  The Toyota buses, with their power-steering and ultra-smooth suspensions, climbed the hilly roads easily.  Most of us within, used to Ambassador cars with their rack and pinion steering columns, which offered the fiercest opposition to any manoeuvring, were amazed at the ease with which the drivers handled their vehicles.

Kandy is famous for the temple with the tooth.  While several, from amongst our troupe, went to see the legendary left upper canine tooth of the Lord Buddha, I stayed behind, at the behest of Ernie Haggers, to listen to a cricket match being broadcast over the radio.  Ernie, part of the golf team and an ardent cricket fan, insisted in initiating me to the wonders of cricket.  England was playing against India somewhere in Britain and had, at the time, a marvellous fast bowler named John Snow.

I don’t remember how the match ended because Ernie turned off the radio shortly after the match started.  Not a great cricket aficionado, I was just beginning to understand the nuances of the sport; with Ernie Haggers telling me what a destructive force John Snow had been in Australia recently.  There, he said, banners had screamed ‘Snowfall Down Under’ as Ozzie batsmen were skittled like ninepins under the fiery pace bowler’s onslaught. 

In this instance things didn’t quite go as per script, causing Ernie to blanch, then turn red and finally switch the transistor radio off altogether! At the time, India’s flamboyant wicketkeeper, Farrokh Engineer, had been sent in to open the batting and Ernie explained this tactic to me:

“The Indian Captain has foolishly decided to get this fellow in quickly, hoping he will hit the ball hard enough to damage it.  He hopes the ball will lose its shine, making it travel slower through the air before the better batsmen follow.  Damn silly really! Engineer will get bowled out, or worse, hit by the ball.”

As it turned out, Engineer did considerably more than what his captain asked of him.  Charging down the pitch to meet the lethal bowling of John Snow, Farrokh Engineer hoisted the ball over the stadium, cracking sixes and sevens (I beg your pardon – FOURS) with contemptuous ease.  It really was most distressing.  Not since the mutiny at Meerut in 1857, had there been such dire need for a firm hand to put down these infernal native uprisings. 

Glancing surreptitiously at Ernie, I could tell he felt strongly about the British Empire being put to such jeopardy.  There was no Brigadier-General Reginald Edward Harry Dyer, responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, (within the British India province of Punjab) at hand to quell the shenanigans of this outlandish, Bombay born Parsee, and mayhem was the order of the day.  God forbid that the Queen should have been present at such a turn of events!

The talk turned desultory before Ernie, gathering steam, began telling me about his prowess on the golf course.  “You must come and watch the game and see us thrash these Ceylonese.” 

“I don’t know a thing about golf,” I remonstrated.

“Don’t worry.  I’ll explain it to you as we progress down the fairways and on to the greens.  You must be on hand to cheer our team and see how we demolish the local boys!”

 There wasn’t much to do in Kandy thereafter, so yet another bout of tennis was arranged.  Fortunately the courts were fast and suited my serve and volley style of play.  The opposition came in the form of the Pereira brothers, one of whom was Brian.  They wanted to play some more the next morning and promised to take me to Nuwara Eliya, (which everyone insisted on calling Neuralia) as the Toyota buses would already have left by the time we had got done with tennis.

I enjoyed an energetic singles, which was followed by a leisurely breakfast consisting of typically Ceylonese delicacies: iddi-appams, hoppers with fried eggs peeping up from beneath and, to my joy, mounds of butter, rashers of bacon and some of the most versatile omelette and scramble combinations I have ever tasted. 

On the drive up from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, there were just two of us in the tiny Hillman Minx.  My companion, driving through beautifully manicured tea plantations, pointed at different sections of green carpeted fields, on either side of the road, and gave me a running commentary on their yields.  He was very proud of the tea produced in Ceylon.

“And what about yourself Mon?” He asked in that sing-song accent which I was yet to get used to, but typical of the Island’s speech.

It didn’t take long to fill him in.  Telling him that I had planted tea in Darjeeling, on the foothills of the Himalayas, for four years before coming down to the farthest end of South India, to plant tea in Tinnevelli District, I was yet to learn the Tamil language.  In turn he told me about himself:

“I am a Burgher,” he said and laughed when he saw me start.  “I can assure you that I’m not fast-food.”  He was laughing so hard he had to stop the car.  “Burghers are a community in Ceylon who are part Dutch or Portuguese.  We have integrated with the local Ceylonese and even Tamil populations, since the sixteenth century.  I have Dutch, Portuguese and Ceylonese blood which, I suppose, qualifies me to be a ham-burgher!”

We were soon in Nuwara Eliya where I got off at the Radella Club.  Vernon Tissera was there to welcome me and we got along famously from the outset.  Dumping my bags in the room we stepped out to watch the cricket.  The South Indian team was captained by the young, but grey-haired, Ram Nair.  He was also the wicket-keeper.  Vernon and I watched him energetically bob up and down behind the stumps and make sundry comments to fielders and batsmen alike.  It was tiring, so we turned our backs to the cricket in favour of a beer at the bar.

“Watching cricket is hard work,” Vernon commented. 

Later the players came in for lunch and there was a lot of noise as they bustled about their food, rushing to get back on the field and complete the match.  I have absolutely no idea about the outcome but was grateful not to have been asked to take to the tennis courts again, as I had already played four sets of singles earlier, in Kandy.

That evening a few of us were invited to Vernon’s home on Stony Cliff estate.  He had a magnificent bungalow, which at 1900 metres, commanded an astonishing view of the tea plantations.  Sitting by the fireplace, in the sitting room with its gracious dimensions, I saw my first David Sheppard painting.  It was an elephant charging; its ears bellowing like sails and dust billowing in its wake.  Vernon told us that David Sheppard would actually take photographs of elephants, lions, leopards and the dangerous Cape buffalo, using them to make his paintings.  Kind of scary to be that close to a charging or hungry beast…

Early next morning there was a pounding on my door followed by Ernie Haggers’ urgent “Come on, we’re leaving for the golf course.”

It was cold.  When we arrived at the golf course white hoarfrost covered the fairways and a constant breeze swept across the plateau, chilling me to the bone.  Ernie was paired up against the only other Englishman in the fray, Robin Truwin.  Truwin, all of six foot six looked spectacularly fit and, I dare say, quite menacing, holding that driver the way he did.  I stared at him from across the tee-box, thinking that I certainly wouldn’t like to come up against someone so large, when Ernie, coming up behind me as though reading my thoughts said, “The bigger they are the harder they fall.”

As a representative of the guest team, Ernie was first up on the tee-box.  He hit the ball with a sweet reassuring click.  I watched it split the fairway down the centre till it came to rest midway to the green.  Polite applause greeted this fine effort as he stepped down off the tee-box, winked at me and whispered, “That’s going to make him nervous.”

Truwin took two or three practice swings, which I put down to his being nervous, before settling himself in front of the ball.  He then appeared to take the club back and bring it down again in one fluid motion: the club struck the ball with a resounding thwack, sending it soaring up into the sky till it disappeared from sight.

“What a fluke,” declared Ernie.  “Let’s see how he finishes the hole?”

We walked up to Ernie’s ball and as he steadied himself to hit his second shot, I could faintly see Robin Truwin’s ball, also in the middle of the fairway, close to the green.  Ernie’s effort now put him close to the green and he was accorded another round of applause.  He was still looking pleased with himself when Truwin played a gentle shot that lifted the ball high, to drop just before the hole and tap the flagstick on its way.  It was unlucky not to have fallen in the hole.  Nevertheless he won that, with what sounded quite stupid to me at the time: an eagle! 

Ernie had a par.  The next hole followed a similar pattern but instead of an eagle, Truwin got a birdie.  Somehow Ernie couldn’t get any score to resemble the names of our feathered friends and soon appeared to be disenchanted with the entire process.  After a few more holes I returned to the club house and ate a hearty breakfast.  I had to get ready for my tennis matches, which would be starting soon.

Yasser Ratanayake was in the changing room and I was fascinated by his physique.  I hadn’t seen a six-pack stomach, except in photographs, till then.  Vernon told me that Yasser was an all Ceylon blue on the National rugby team and I had no reason whatsoever to disbelieve him.  Fortunately he wasn’t quite as good at tennis and we got the better of our hosts by the end of the day. 

Many years later Yasser Ratanayake’s son was to represent Sri Lanka in their National Cricket team.  He wasn’t born when I met with his father!

In the evening there was a dinner and dance at the Radella Club.  The dance floor was packed with couples enjoying themselves, hurling themselves one way and then another.  I was watching astonished, when a voice from the ceiling said, “The folks in Ceylon love their parties.  Why don’t you join in and have a dance?”

“Why, I don’t know anybody,” I said, looking up at Robin Truwin.

“That’s OK.  Just go up to any couple and tap the gentleman on the back and you can dance with his partner.”

That sounded good.  I just hoped I wasn’t in for a punch on the nose as I tapped a gentleman doing the twist, and was amazed how easy it was to get a dance uninvited.  Later a few people took to the stage and sang some popular numbers.  Not to be outdone, Ram Nair got hold of the microphone and did a terrific rendition of ‘be bapa loona, she’s my baby’ and the applause brought the house down.  He did a few encores before we snuggled up to the bar till dinner was served.

We had to leave next morning and I was sad to say good-bye to Ceylon.  I hadn’t realised anything could be so beautiful; so neat and so clean.  At the airport in Colombo, Kakubhai Tanna, winked at me and handed over another bottle of Chivas Regal.  Mysteriously I was seated next to Nanjappa once again and, as he opened the bottle on the aircraft, we shared a sense of déjà vu.

Back in Trichinopoly airport we were told an insurgency movement had broken out in Ceylon.  It happened about the time our plane had taken off from Colombo and the airport there was now closed.  A year and a half later, in May 1972, Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka and, it was about that time, their troubles began in right earnest. 

But ours had been a wonderful trip and, barring the names of a few people, I still remember it in detail.




May 27 2014

Once again we are indebted to Minoo Avari for this glimpse of sad history caused by storms, thank you Minoo.

 

DARJEELING – OCTOBER 1968

October heralds autumn.  It brings with it a riot of colour, transforming the ethereal snows of Kanchenjunga into a wondrous panorama at daybreak.  Seductive rays, from a sun still to crest the Eastern hills, slowly coax the mountain to life.  A pale dab of pink, atop the mountain, proclaims the dawn.  

A gentle breeze, springing from the massif, ruffles clothing and headgear.  Huddled under greatcoats, bundled in gaudy scarves and shivering in the cold, tourists, taxi drivers and guides collectively gasp as the sun struggles to climb the opposite hills.  Starched clouds with the texture of organdie appear pasted in the still dark sky.  Below Tiger Hill, an ocean of fleece stretches to touch the distant hills.  

Vying with the snow, clouds enhance the celestial palette with colours quickly changing from crimson to magenta; till the sun bursts through magically turning clouds and snow blood red.  In the blink of an eye the entire panorama turns pristine, with a white so pure and fierce it can no longer be gazed upon… and the majesty of a Darjeeling sunrise is complete.  

A loud cheer, accompanied by applause, sees Christians cross themselves and sink to their knees.  Others gape at the searing vista till they are forced to turn away from the brilliance, now too dazzling to contemplate further.  The motley crowd turns away in awestruck silence.  Frozen limbs creak as they head toward land rovers and jeeps for the uncomfortable ride back to Darjeeling. 

Satiated with the miracle of the morning nobody notices the ominous red sky.  With their backs to the malevolence dominating the Eastern sky, there are no thoughts about the phrase “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  Had they lingered a little longer they might well have heeded Matthew, XV in the Wyclif Bible, written as early as 1395 and all that it portended.  As he so succinctly put it:

The eeuenynge maad, ye seien, It shal be cleer, for the heuene is lijk to reed; and the morwe, To day tempest, for heuen shyneth heuy, or sorwful." 

And so it came to pass.  Clouds as pure as the driven snow turned dark; malignant thunder clouds gathered in their stead and, by early evening, the day was turned to night.  There was none of the preamble of drizzle; it just came down hard and angry with no let-up through the night.  A bolt of lightning, accompanied by a blast of thunder, struck a cow in Ging bazaar.  The atmosphere turned electric with a hint of sulphur permeating the darkness.  The devil was loose and riding the fetid night.  Howling like a banshee in the thunderous rain, there was the stench of brimstone following in his wake.  

Wind and rain battered the corrugated tin-sheet roof of the Assistant Manager’s bungalow.  Surrounded by pruned tea bushes in the heart of Ging Tea Estate, it stood stark and naked in the night.  Sleep was difficult to come by.  Restless, I kept peeking out to confirm it wasn’t hail but what I saw instead was even more alarming.  The front lawn was a swimming pool even as the rain kept coming down, harder and harder.  The temperature dropped consistently with the barometer bringing with it a malignant, cloying cold to fester in the marrow.  It wasn’t yet night but the evening turned to pitch. 

Power lines snapped as supporting wooden posts sank into ground beaten to swamp and telephones went out of commission.  Fortunately the old firewood torpedo stove in the kitchen worked, allowing me to bathe and shave with hot water.  After a breakfast of boiled eggs and some left over bread and butter, I contemplated the day ahead over a mug of tea: 

All four library books were due for renewal so there would be nothing to read.  Not that there was enough light to read by! Dizzy from the sound of myriad kettledrums beating on the roof, I thought I heard a faint beep over the incessant din.  Stepping into the kitchen I saw the outline of a jeep parked by the garage.  Opening the door I was greeted by a cold blast of rain.  Stepping back hastily, I was greeted by a cheerful grin from within.  It was Jiwan Pradhan from neighbouring Badamtam Tea Estate.  

“Want to go to Kalimpong?” He enquired at the top of his voice. 

“Why would I want to go to Kalimpong?” I shouted back. 

“It might not be raining there and I’ll treat you to dumplings at Gompu’s.  You can have as many as you want while I visit Nina.”  

Jiwan had recently begun courting the girl from Kalimpong.  Though I hadn’t met her, Jiwan was a close friend.  Both of us, young junior Assistant Managers, isolated and lonely, shared an occasional Saturday night, usually at his bungalow, to break the monotony of plantation life.  Our fathers too were good friends.  While my Dad, besides running two cinema halls, was also the District Commandant of the Home Guards, Jiwan’s father, Kaala Pradhan, was the Additional Superintendent of Police.  They did many official tours of the district together and shared mutual admiration and respect for one another. 

Workers would certainly not step out of their dwellings on a Friday as wet as this, so grabbing an umbrella, two raw potatoes, a penknife and a face towel, I was in the jeep in an instant.  It was a little past nine when we left that morning but it was still dark, and the blanket of rain provided no view at all.  Jiwan’s thick spectacles periodically fogged up under the canopy of his immaculately maintained jeep, while I used my handkerchief to wipe the inside of the windscreen.  Driving slowly we finally made Ghoom, which at eight thousand feet was the highest point on the main road.  A thousand feet higher than Darjeeling, it always seemed bathed in gloom and I often wondered if that was how it got its name.  

After that it was downhill all the way to the river.  Though the rain hadn’t stopped it was lighter and the day, considerably brighter.  We passed several tea estates on the way: Tukdah, part of The Darjeeling Company for whom I worked and managed then by Derek Royals; Rungli Rungliot, where Som Kotchar was manager; beyond to Peshok and finally Teesta Valley Tea Estate.  Gordon Fraser was the manager there and if hadn’t still been drizzling, I might have asked Jiwan to take a detour, through estate roads, and perhaps share a cup of tea by Gordon’s fireplace. 

Though Jiwan drove carefully, he was in hurry and my stomach rumbled at about the same time we saw the bridge.  The river drowned the noise of beating rain as it thundered down, leaving us nervous about crossing the old Anderson bridge.  Fed by melting snow and glaciers from the high mountains, the rain made the swiftly flowing TeestaRiver even more fearsome.  Once on the other side we started the gentle climb to Kalimpong and were at Gompu’s in time for lunch.  It had taken us four hours! 

Though the restaurant, like all hotels in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, was alive with clients I was greeted and fussed over by a welcoming staff.  Steaming dumplings, three times the size of pot stickers, heaped high on a platter by my plate, rapidly diminished.  Fresh platters appeared swiftly from the kitchen.  Perspiration that had earlier beaded my eyebrows, turned to sweat, running down my face in little rivulets as I dipped each morsel in the bowl of red Dallay khorsani.  The Dallay is a small round chilly indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas. 

With an appetising flavour of its own it is dynamite to the palate, as many an adventurous gourmet will attest.  Intent on my dumplings, mopping sweat with my small face towel, I wasn’t aware of the increasing rain, nor did I give any thought to the growing darkness outside.  Working my way through a third platter of dumplings, to the delight of an admiring staff, I was interrupted by an agitated Taashi Pemba Hishey.  

Eesto deen ma yah kay garnu bhako?” 

I hadn’t noticed his arrival.  Looking up from the half-eaten dumpling, dripping with red Dalay khorsani, I was suddenly aware the restaurant lights were on and the rain beating down harder. 

Taashi was a friend of both our families.  He said he had been contacted through the police wireless system.  Stating that our parents were furious, he wanted to know what we were doing driving to Kalimpong on a day like this.  He was soaking wet and didn’t look too pleased. 

Tyoo mooro caa chuch?” He asked angrily, enquiring after Jiwan’s whereabouts in rather impolite Nepali. 

Turning to two constables standing by the door, who confirmed they knew where Nina’s parents lived, he told them to take the jeep and fetch Jiwan immediately.  Apparently satisfied with this he sat next to me, ordered a platter of dumplings and we both fell to eating.  It took Jiwan another hour to arrive.  He had apparently bathed and must have left a change of clothes too at Nina’s place but he was wet once again.  Filling petrol and getting in and out of the jeep had drenched him and he came squelching into the restaurant. 

Taashi was keen we leave immediately.  Settling the bill Jiwan got behind the wheel and we set off down the road to the TeestaRiver.  The rain and murky sky prompted him to turn on the lights but soon the overheated wiper motor ceased to function.  Cutting a potato in half I jumped out and quickly and rubbed the windscreen with its ooze; it was standard procedure in Darjeeling when wipers went on the blink. 

Autumn in the Himalayas sees the sun set early.  Descending into the valley it had set even earlier and now it was really dark.  The rain started belting down with greater intensity, yet we could hear the river roaring in the distance.  It was getting difficult to see the road so Jiwan stuck his head out.  With his glasses on this didn’t prove successful and we were reduced to a crawl.  After what seemed a long time, we were at the crossing and my intestines knotted to see what lay ahead.  Raging water, now at the level of the bridge, rushed past the concrete railing with increasing frequency.  Reports later suggested that the water had risen six inches in those thirty minutes and stood at sixty-seven feet above the extreme danger mark! 

Assessing the situation quickly I realised there was no time to waste.  Jiwan said he couldn’t see beyond the nose of the jeep and that it might be best if we turned back.  However we both knew we had our folks to contend with back in Darjeeling.  Suddenly jumping out he asked me to get behind the wheel. 

“Put her in four-wheel low-ratio.  I’ll walk in front and guide you.” 

The headlights did as much good as the torch in his hand.  Neither could penetrate the phalanx of rain coming down and, as the front wheels mounted the concrete, I felt vibrations coming up through the steering wheel.  Not sure what this could be I kept following Jiwan at a snail’s pace but he kept disappearing in the rain.  At the centre of the bridge we were at the narrowest point of the gorge, where the storm was at its most intense and the river, maddened by the fury of the elements, bellowed its anger.  

Almost stationary now with the jeep’s headlights reduced to candlelight, we were exposed to the full force of Nature’s fury, with wind and rain coming at us from the maws of hell! 

The bridge was actually shaking.  Rising water darted across its surface continuously and the jeep slid from side to side on slippery cement.  To make matters worse, Jiwan kept appearing and disappearing and I worried about running him over.  Tooting the horn a few times before he finally heard it, I asked him to get in.  We didn’t speak till we got across, though speech would have been impossible in that maelstrom.  Sighing with relief we turned right for the climb up to Darjeeling and immediately confronted with more problems. 

The steep bank on this side was giving way and mudslides lay in sticky heaps blocking the road.  The thought of reversing across the bridge galvanised me.  Still in four-wheel drive with low-ratio engaged, I went at the first mound of mud.  We skidded and fishtailed before crossing our first hurdle.  There were several more and I was dead tired by the time we got to the Peshok rest house.  It was an open-ended concrete structure, locally known as a ‘hawa ghar’.  It afforded no protection from the elements but I was glad to be out of the jeep. 

My heart was still pounding when a flash of lightning was followed by the distinct sound of groaning.  Then there was crash.  Still too numb to take in what had happened, it was Jiwan who said it all in one word: 

Goyoo!” 

Indeed, the AndersonBridge constructed by Bhim Bhadur Pradhan in 1935, for which the British conferred upon him the title of Raibhadur, had gone.  Savaged by the waters, it had been pulled out by the foundation and swept away.  We must have been the last two persons that ever crossed that old bridge. 

The rest of our nightmarish journey was overshadowed by the death and destruction the rain had brought with it.  I don’t know what time I got back to my bungalow but early next morning I was told that houses had been buried under mudslides in our Coffeebari division.  Rushing down in the receding rain, we just looked on at people helplessly struggling in mud turned to quagmire.  Someone thought of cutting nearby bananas and using the fronds and stems to make a path atop the bog.  Notwithstanding the nine lives already lost, it worked and we were able to rescue many others from a horrible death.  

A day later we learned that the main road to Kurseong, above Ambootia, had been destroyed.  Teesta bazaar too had been swept away and many lives were lost there.  Tourists, stranded for several days, had to wait till the army opened the old military road from Jalapahar, which bypassed the Ambootia slip from above, allowing people to get down to Siliguri in the plains.  

It had been a terrible ordeal.  For the next few months reports kept filtering in from remote villages of gory deaths, terrible landslides and the mutilation of Darjeeling district that October of nineteen-sixty eight


 May 27 2914

Once again we are indebted to Minoo Avari for this glimpse of sad history caused by storms, thank you Minoo.

 

DARJEELING – OCTOBER 1968

October heralds autumn.  It brings with it a riot of colour, transforming the ethereal snows of Kanchenjunga into a wondrous panorama at daybreak.  Seductive rays, from a sun still to crest the Eastern hills, slowly coax the mountain to life.  A pale dab of pink, atop the mountain, proclaims the dawn.  

A gentle breeze, springing from the massif, ruffles clothing and headgear.  Huddled under greatcoats, bundled in gaudy scarves and shivering in the cold, tourists, taxi drivers and guides collectively gasp as the sun struggles to climb the opposite hills.  Starched clouds with the texture of organdie appear pasted in the still dark sky.  Below Tiger Hill, an ocean of fleece stretches to touch the distant hills.  

Vying with the snow, clouds enhance the celestial palette with colours quickly changing from crimson to magenta; till the sun bursts through magically turning clouds and snow blood red.  In the blink of an eye the entire panorama turns pristine, with a white so pure and fierce it can no longer be gazed upon… and the majesty of a Darjeeling sunrise is complete.  

A loud cheer, accompanied by applause, sees Christians cross themselves and sink to their knees.  Others gape at the searing vista till they are forced to turn away from the brilliance, now too dazzling to contemplate further.  The motley crowd turns away in awestruck silence.  Frozen limbs creak as they head toward land rovers and jeeps for the uncomfortable ride back to Darjeeling. 

Satiated with the miracle of the morning nobody notices the ominous red sky.  With their backs to the malevolence dominating the Eastern sky, there are no thoughts about the phrase “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  Had they lingered a little longer they might well have heeded Matthew, XV in the Wyclif Bible, written as early as 1395 and all that it portended.  As he so succinctly put it:

The eeuenynge maad, ye seien, It shal be cleer, for the heuene is lijk to reed; and the morwe, To day tempest, for heuen shyneth heuy, or sorwful." 

And so it came to pass.  Clouds as pure as the driven snow turned dark; malignant thunder clouds gathered in their stead and, by early evening, the day was turned to night.  There was none of the preamble of drizzle; it just came down hard and angry with no let-up through the night.  A bolt of lightning, accompanied by a blast of thunder, struck a cow in Ging bazaar.  The atmosphere turned electric with a hint of sulphur permeating the darkness.  The devil was loose and riding the fetid night.  Howling like a banshee in the thunderous rain, there was the stench of brimstone following in his wake.  

Wind and rain battered the corrugated tin-sheet roof of the Assistant Manager’s bungalow.  Surrounded by pruned tea bushes in the heart of Ging Tea Estate, it stood stark and naked in the night.  Sleep was difficult to come by.  Restless, I kept peeking out to confirm it wasn’t hail but what I saw instead was even more alarming.  The front lawn was a swimming pool even as the rain kept coming down, harder and harder.  The temperature dropped consistently with the barometer bringing with it a malignant, cloying cold to fester in the marrow.  It wasn’t yet night but the evening turned to pitch. 

Power lines snapped as supporting wooden posts sank into ground beaten to swamp and telephones went out of commission.  Fortunately the old firewood torpedo stove in the kitchen worked, allowing me to bathe and shave with hot water.  After a breakfast of boiled eggs and some left over bread and butter, I contemplated the day ahead over a mug of tea: 

All four library books were due for renewal so there would be nothing to read.  Not that there was enough light to read by! Dizzy from the sound of myriad kettledrums beating on the roof, I thought I heard a faint beep over the incessant din.  Stepping into the kitchen I saw the outline of a jeep parked by the garage.  Opening the door I was greeted by a cold blast of rain.  Stepping back hastily, I was greeted by a cheerful grin from within.  It was Jiwan Pradhan from neighbouring Badamtam Tea Estate.  

“Want to go to Kalimpong?” He enquired at the top of his voice. 

“Why would I want to go to Kalimpong?” I shouted back. 

“It might not be raining there and I’ll treat you to dumplings at Gompu’s.  You can have as many as you want while I visit Nina.”  

Jiwan had recently begun courting the girl from Kalimpong.  Though I hadn’t met her, Jiwan was a close friend.  Both of us, young junior Assistant Managers, isolated and lonely, shared an occasional Saturday night, usually at his bungalow, to break the monotony of plantation life.  Our fathers too were good friends.  While my Dad, besides running two cinema halls, was also the District Commandant of the Home Guards, Jiwan’s father, Kaala Pradhan, was the Additional Superintendent of Police.  They did many official tours of the district together and shared mutual admiration and respect for one another. 

Workers would certainly not step out of their dwellings on a Friday as wet as this, so grabbing an umbrella, two raw potatoes, a penknife and a face towel, I was in the jeep in an instant.  It was a little past nine when we left that morning but it was still dark, and the blanket of rain provided no view at all.  Jiwan’s thick spectacles periodically fogged up under the canopy of his immaculately maintained jeep, while I used my handkerchief to wipe the inside of the windscreen.  Driving slowly we finally made Ghoom, which at eight thousand feet was the highest point on the main road.  A thousand feet higher than Darjeeling, it always seemed bathed in gloom and I often wondered if that was how it got its name.  

After that it was downhill all the way to the river.  Though the rain hadn’t stopped it was lighter and the day, considerably brighter.  We passed several tea estates on the way: Tukdah, part of The Darjeeling Company for whom I worked and managed then by Derek Royals; Rungli Rungliot, where Som Kotchar was manager; beyond to Peshok and finally Teesta Valley Tea Estate.  Gordon Fraser was the manager there and if hadn’t still been drizzling, I might have asked Jiwan to take a detour, through estate roads, and perhaps share a cup of tea by Gordon’s fireplace. 

Though Jiwan drove carefully, he was in hurry and my stomach rumbled at about the same time we saw the bridge.  The river drowned the noise of beating rain as it thundered down, leaving us nervous about crossing the old Anderson bridge.  Fed by melting snow and glaciers from the high mountains, the rain made the swiftly flowing TeestaRiver even more fearsome.  Once on the other side we started the gentle climb to Kalimpong and were at Gompu’s in time for lunch.  It had taken us four hours! 

Though the restaurant, like all hotels in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, was alive with clients I was greeted and fussed over by a welcoming staff.  Steaming dumplings, three times the size of pot stickers, heaped high on a platter by my plate, rapidly diminished.  Fresh platters appeared swiftly from the kitchen.  Perspiration that had earlier beaded my eyebrows, turned to sweat, running down my face in little rivulets as I dipped each morsel in the bowl of red Dallay khorsani.  The Dallay is a small round chilly indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas. 

With an appetising flavour of its own it is dynamite to the palate, as many an adventurous gourmet will attest.  Intent on my dumplings, mopping sweat with my small face towel, I wasn’t aware of the increasing rain, nor did I give any thought to the growing darkness outside.  Working my way through a third platter of dumplings, to the delight of an admiring staff, I was interrupted by an agitated Taashi Pemba Hishey.  

Eesto deen ma yah kay garnu bhako?” 

I hadn’t noticed his arrival.  Looking up from the half-eaten dumpling, dripping with red Dalay khorsani, I was suddenly aware the restaurant lights were on and the rain beating down harder. 

Taashi was a friend of both our families.  He said he had been contacted through the police wireless system.  Stating that our parents were furious, he wanted to know what we were doing driving to Kalimpong on a day like this.  He was soaking wet and didn’t look too pleased. 

Tyoo mooro caa chuch?” He asked angrily, enquiring after Jiwan’s whereabouts in rather impolite Nepali. 

Turning to two constables standing by the door, who confirmed they knew where Nina’s parents lived, he told them to take the jeep and fetch Jiwan immediately.  Apparently satisfied with this he sat next to me, ordered a platter of dumplings and we both fell to eating.  It took Jiwan another hour to arrive.  He had apparently bathed and must have left a change of clothes too at Nina’s place but he was wet once again.  Filling petrol and getting in and out of the jeep had drenched him and he came squelching into the restaurant. 

Taashi was keen we leave immediately.  Settling the bill Jiwan got behind the wheel and we set off down the road to the TeestaRiver.  The rain and murky sky prompted him to turn on the lights but soon the overheated wiper motor ceased to function.  Cutting a potato in half I jumped out and quickly and rubbed the windscreen with its ooze; it was standard procedure in Darjeeling when wipers went on the blink. 

Autumn in the Himalayas sees the sun set early.  Descending into the valley it had set even earlier and now it was really dark.  The rain started belting down with greater intensity, yet we could hear the river roaring in the distance.  It was getting difficult to see the road so Jiwan stuck his head out.  With his glasses on this didn’t prove successful and we were reduced to a crawl.  After what seemed a long time, we were at the crossing and my intestines knotted to see what lay ahead.  Raging water, now at the level of the bridge, rushed past the concrete railing with increasing frequency.  Reports later suggested that the water had risen six inches in those thirty minutes and stood at sixty-seven feet above the extreme danger mark! 

Assessing the situation quickly I realised there was no time to waste.  Jiwan said he couldn’t see beyond the nose of the jeep and that it might be best if we turned back.  However we both knew we had our folks to contend with back in Darjeeling.  Suddenly jumping out he asked me to get behind the wheel. 

“Put her in four-wheel low-ratio.  I’ll walk in front and guide you.” 

The headlights did as much good as the torch in his hand.  Neither could penetrate the phalanx of rain coming down and, as the front wheels mounted the concrete, I felt vibrations coming up through the steering wheel.  Not sure what this could be I kept following Jiwan at a snail’s pace but he kept disappearing in the rain.  At the centre of the bridge we were at the narrowest point of the gorge, where the storm was at its most intense and the river, maddened by the fury of the elements, bellowed its anger.  

Almost stationary now with the jeep’s headlights reduced to candlelight, we were exposed to the full force of Nature’s fury, with wind and rain coming at us from the maws of hell! 

The bridge was actually shaking.  Rising water darted across its surface continuously and the jeep slid from side to side on slippery cement.  To make matters worse, Jiwan kept appearing and disappearing and I worried about running him over.  Tooting the horn a few times before he finally heard it, I asked him to get in.  We didn’t speak till we got across, though speech would have been impossible in that maelstrom.  Sighing with relief we turned right for the climb up to Darjeeling and immediately confronted with more problems. 

The steep bank on this side was giving way and mudslides lay in sticky heaps blocking the road.  The thought of reversing across the bridge galvanised me.  Still in four-wheel drive with low-ratio engaged, I went at the first mound of mud.  We skidded and fishtailed before crossing our first hurdle.  There were several more and I was dead tired by the time we got to the Peshok rest house.  It was an open-ended concrete structure, locally known as a ‘hawa ghar’.  It afforded no protection from the elements but I was glad to be out of the jeep. 

My heart was still pounding when a flash of lightning was followed by the distinct sound of groaning.  Then there was crash.  Still too numb to take in what had happened, it was Jiwan who said it all in one word: 

Goyoo!” 

Indeed, the AndersonBridge constructed by Bhim Bhadur Pradhan in 1935, for which the British conferred upon him the title of Raibhadur, had gone.  Savaged by the waters, it had been pulled out by the foundation and swept away.  We must have been the last two persons that ever crossed that old bridge. 

The rest of our nightmarish journey was overshadowed by the death and destruction the rain had brought with it.  I don’t know what time I got back to my bungalow but early next morning I was told that houses had been buried under mudslides in our Coffeebari division.  Rushing down in the receding rain, we just looked on at people helplessly struggling in mud turned to quagmire.  Someone thought of cutting nearby bananas and using the fronds and stems to make a path atop the bog.  Notwithstanding the nine lives already lost, it worked and we were able to rescue many others from a horrible death.  

A day later we learned that the main road to Kurseong, above Ambootia, had been destroyed.  Teesta bazaar too had been swept away and many lives were lost there.  Tourists, stranded for several days, had to wait till the army opened the old military road from Jalapahar, which bypassed the Ambootia slip from above, allowing people to get down to Siliguri in the plains.  

It had been a terrible ordeal.  For the next few months reports kept filtering in from remote villages of gory deaths, terrible landslides and the mutilation of Darjeeling district that October of nineteen-sixty eight.


February 6 2014




.

Darjeeling 19th Century

Minoo tells us that this is a photo taken perhaps in the late 1800's but need to have it identified.  I wonder if it is Stenthal Estate? If anyone has ideas please contact Editor

 


February 6 2014

This is a story about the transition of a Darjeeling Planter to South India

 

The south-west monsoon set in early that summer of ’70.  There was no sign of it though at Tinnevelli Junction, where the late May sun relentlessly roasted the already baked earth and left us sweating, as porters loaded baggage into the boot and overhead rack of the company Ambassador.  Shehzarin was already a few months pregnant with our first born but it was Pancho, our Boxer dog, who showed signs of morning sickness.  The fault lay entirely with Xavier, the Singampatti group driver, who exhibited a style of driving I found uniquely disquieting; flooring the accelerator for a few seconds, then completely taking his foot off the pedal, he repeated this process with alarming consistency.  As a result we see-sawed past Chernmadevi, rocked back and forth past Karumbai and found ourselves quite seasick by the time we got to Natesan Agency at Kallaidaikurichi. 

 

Shankeran was there to welcome us with his enormous brother, Harihara Krishnan, taking up much of the background.  Inhaling deeply, Shankeran managed to give us the history of Singampatti in one breath.  Then gulping another huge quantity of air, he informed us that there was a lot of work to be done on Manimuttar and that the Muthanna’s would be off shortly on six weeks leave to the UK and that John Bland’s son and daughter would be coming from the UK to spend their holidays on Manjolai.  He paused to inhale once again, even as the aroma of sumptuous coffee assailed our nostrils.  Shankeran was not finished though and, before the completion of yet another long sentence, which left him breathless once again, he plunged on as we finished our first cup of coffee. 

 

Past the level crossing Xavier steadied his epileptic foot.  The drive was scenic and Xavier pointed out the Manimuttar Dam, which had filled to the brim, with a cryptic “Dam full!” There was no traffic at all and the narrow road snaked through rocky outcrops of scrub before starting the climb to Manjolai.  I chuckled seeing the quaint board informing us that we were now negotiating an awkward hairpin bend! Dappled sunlight bathed Manjolai estate and John Bland had us sit out on the open veranda to sample tea and scoff a few biscuits.  With that we exchanged vehicles and set off with ‘our Michaels’, the Manimuttar driver, for the Muthanna residence.

 

It got steadily darker as we approached the top of the hill.  Fog prevented us from seeing much of the surrounding forest and by the time Michael pronounced ‘Kakachi golf course’ we were in the maws of the monsoon.  It was blinding stuff.  The wipers were inadequate and appeared to work in slow motion.  Undeterred, Michael drove on while giving us a crash course in Tamil.  Moon, he said, was Nilavoo.  It resounded with a timbre reminiscent of Louis Armstrong after a few bourbons.  Coming to think of it, Michael did resemble Satchmo! 

 

We turned left and just as suddenly saw the outline of a building looming in front.  A stout balding person, standing under the porch, was very nearly run over by Michael who was in a hurry to get the car parked and out of the lashing rain.  We introduced ourselves.  The man called himself George, leading me to believe the little that I had heard about Coorgs.  It did turn out though that George wasn’t a pseudonym for Ricky and that he was, in fact, Ricky’s cousin.  After that we called him Cousin George. 

 

A short while later Ricky appeared followed by his wife Prema, who had been preening herself to look presentable in front of Shehzarin.  She had heard my wife was with Air-India and this was sufficient to frighten her into putting on makeup… but when she saw my simple and pragmatic wife she beamed with delight and they were to become lifelong friends. 

 

There was a sudden break in the rain and George just as suddenly came to life. 

 

“Would you like to play tennis?”

 

Ricky must have seen the incredulous look on my face and assured me the court would be playable.  “The ground here dries almost instantly”, he said.  Pulling suitcases from the car and fishing out my tennis racket, George and I did take to the court.  He was a crafty player and played to win.  We had just stepped back into the warmth of the sitting room when the rain came crashing down again.  Ricky and Prema accompanied us to Oothu Bungalow, leaving a dispirited cousin George to lick his wounds and fuss over the menu for dinner.

 

The bungalow hadn’t been lived in for some time.  After the Muthannas left, we had for company our bungalow servant Waidyanayagam, who hovered about solicitously.  Watching all this was Thomas the gardener who appraised us with a jaundiced eye.  He amused himself with our apparent loss to adjust to a cyclical Cooper generator and having to make do with Aladdin lanterns, after the generator ran its course and packed up within the hour.  It was difficult and I went to bed perplexed.  Shehzarin was upbeat and took an immediate liking to the seemingly impermeable loneliness, the opaque fog and the drumming rain.

 

The days rolled into weeks and in that time Ricky taught me to ride a motorbike.  Later, with nephew Subbu in tow, he taught us golf.  In turn we showed him that one didn’t have to stand motionless over the ball.  By taking three steps back one could run up and whack it like they do in hockey.  This must have suitably impressed him because he abruptly stopped further lessons.

 

A break in the weather allowed me to take stock of the terrain.  I hadn’t realised till then that there was a big hill in front of the Oothu Bungalow.  It turned out to be field number twenty-five, directly opposite the small Oothu office from where I operated.  I checked daily on the little nursery by the stream and admired the hundred acres of tea on the property, which had been planted in part by David Hughes and later completed by Roy Machia.  The view from the lookout, which signalled the last of the hundred acres of tea planted at that time, is magnificent:

 

It overlooks the impressive Papanasam dam, snuggled below in the heart of the Mundanthurai game sanctuary; where thick forests stretch to the left and culminate just short of towering Mount Augusta.  Locally known as Augustyamalai, this volcano shaped peak is more often than not enshrouded in mist.  It has for company, five smaller jagged peaks known as the Ionthullies, or five peaks.

 

Toward the middle of June, Angus McNaughton, the Managing Director, paid an official visit.  I had met him and his wife Sally during my interview, at the Bombay office, and was already an admirer of Angus’ zest for life and his spirit of adventure.  The next day we walked through the fields.  With Angus, John Bland and Ricky in front, I remained a few discreet steps behind. 

 

“Oothu can never become a full-fledged estate with just a hundred acres of tea!” Angus suddenly exclaimed.

 

John looked up at the sky, sucking on a peppermint sweet the while.  Ricky wasn’t deterred and asked Angus how much he wanted us to plant.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, you can plant from here to Bombay.  I’ve been hearing about plans for new planting but nothing ever happens!”

 

Turning to me Ricky asked if I was game.  I shrivelled in the sudden spotlight but Ricky had that mischievous, irresistible grin, almost daring me to say yes.  So I said yes!

 

“I’ll be leaving for England in a few days,” Ricky told Angus “but Minoo can start the nurseries and begin clearing.  I’ll be back to help him with the planting.”

 

And so it was.  Ricky and Prema left and I got down to planning the extension of both nurseries at Manimuttar and Oothu.  Mr. Sylvester was the staff member in charge of Oothu and worked directly under me.  Mention must be made here of his service to the Corporation: on the verge of dismissal for insubordination, it was decided that Oothu would be suitable for him to dwell on his misdeeds.  I was asked if I would like another IC in his place but I had already begun to interact with him and was impressed with his sagacity.  We got on well.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get everything working, with such clockwork precision, on my own. 

 

The days were long and oft times brutal.  Tamil lessons at 4:30 am (for all the good it did me), then Oothu office for planning out the day with Sylvester; Manimuttar office and factory and overseeing the plucking there, along with checking sundry cultivation works.  Clearing forest and using a dumpy spirit level to measure out roads, thirty feet at a time, to make sure the gradient remained constant, also helped with speedy removal of trees and scrub that had been cleared.

 

Ricky had earmarked some fields where blocks of clonal tea had been left un-plucked.  A2 was a plant selected by Dr. Mathew and then there was a small leafed chinarey plant, with the simple nomenclature ‘Hybrid’, that someone in the past had also selected.  When the un-plucked stalks achieved pencil thickness, they were cut with a slant and each one stuck into an eighteen inch sleeve that sported a four inch diameter.  These sleeves, stacked ten abreast, continued in length for as long as the lie of the land would allow.  Over these we bent large bamboo staves, at approximately three foot intervals.  These were then interlaced with longer bamboo poles to support the weight of the two hundred gauge polythene sheet that would cover each bed. 

 

I had done much smaller nurseries in Darjeeling, while working there with the Darjeeling Company, and knew that spraying the top of the stacked bags with Tefazine, a pre-emergent weedicide, would prevent weeds from taking over.  After the chemical spray each stem, with two to three leaves, was pushed into the mud-filled bags before polythene sheeting was draped over each bed.  After that the overhanging sides were sealed with mud.

 

In essence it was a mini hothouse.  John, never having seen the like, balked at this procedure and repeatedly questioned my wisdom with the admonition, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket!” Well he did have a point there but I just had too many eggs on my plate at that time to argue the case.  We erected an enormous pandal, with stakes ten feet above the ground and framed a lattice on top over which we tied kidagu sheets.  Even so, the direct sun did find little gaps and managed to burn some clonal material.  Ricky was back by then and suggested we apply mud paste over the polythene.  This was a huge success.  We planted passion fruit creepers, which replaced the kidagu and became the permanent overhead shade.

 

Meanwhile the clearing in some fields was complete and Sylvester organised the pits to be dug, as per Angus’ desires, at four by two by two and a half feet.  This made it around seven thousand plants an acre.  We were able to plant one hundred acres within a nine month period, after supplying Manjolai with clonal material to plant fifty acres there.

 

Ricky and I got on famously.  Both Sagittarians, we had similar interests.  He left me strictly alone to get on with work but we got together as soon as the day was done.  As families we did pretty much everything together.  Tennis, golf and swimming by the beaches of Kovalam on an occasional Sunday; at other times watching bathers, huddled in groups, being bludgeoned under the waterfalls at Manimuttar and Courtallam.  There were movies too at the group office in Manjolai and at the Ambassamudram club, where we frequented the swimming pool.

 

Another year passed and the Directors were pleased with our progress.  Singampatti tea prices were historically lower than those fetched by our Mudis group.  John approached me to see if there was anything I could do, to rectify this bugbear that so obviously haunted him.  Ricky was away again but I was certain that my experience, with manufacturing Darjeeling tea, would do the trick.  Dev Mukerjee of Carrit Moran, our tea-brokers, was flabbergasted.  “What’s Singampatti doing sending us Darjeeling tea?” he queried.

 

Be that as it may, it caught the immediate attention of certain West German buyers and Willie D’Cruze, the tea-maker of the Manimuttar factory, came back from the auction at Cochin beaming with delight. 

 

“Those big sweaty German buggers want more tea.  I told them we could give them as much as they want.” 

 

I was taken aback.  We had just sent ten chests as a trial but John’s triumphant demeanour, at the unexpectedly high price, sealed my fate.  We continued making as much ‘Darjeeling’ tea as we could, even as a team of Japanese arrived to put up a green tea factory on Oothu. 

 

The seasons changed.  In the autumn of ’70 Shehzarin gave birth to our baby daughter at the Catherine Booth Salvation Army hospital in Nagercoil.  It was the nearest hospital, a little less than two hundred kilometres away, run by dedicated American and British doctors.  Winter brought with it another new addition: I had gone to Coimbatore with John Bland to purchase a vehicle with the nineteen thousand rupee car loan sanctioned by the Corporation.  We settled on a 1954 Plymouth Savoy in spanking condition.  Though John signed the cheque enthusiastically, it raised the hackles of the group manager in Mudis and caused quite a furore.  The group vehicle there was a Plymouth Savoy!

 

By the summer of the following year the green tea factory was up and running.  It brought with it electricity for our bungalow.  We were finally able to listen to our collection of records and enjoy an occasional cold beer from the new refrigerator, which replaced the old dysfunctional kerosene contraption.  Now we had lights that could be switched on at any time through the night! Angus had retired by then and was replaced by David Rosser, a retired commander from the Royal Navy, who now headed the Bombay office as Managing Director.

 

More new planting, learning the mechanics of green tea production, harvesting cardamom and picking the little coffee we had on Kutheravetti, kept me busy.  Often, under candlelight, the Oothu office (still not electrified) would see Mr. Sylvester and I pouring over field maps: planning new roads and deciding which plants from either the Manimuttar or Oothu nursery would go where.  We were still supplying Manjolai plants from our nurseries for their annual fifty acre extensions. 

 

Of grave concern were rocks and stones.  They had to be removed from the new clearings, so that the roots of young tea plants wouldn’t come in contact with anything other than soil.  We insisted on the workers digging two feet deep, before turning over the earth, to remove these impediments lurking beneath.  I was adamant that excavated boulders and rocks not be rolled down the slopes to block streams and waterways.  At a loss to find a way around, it was Sylvester who came up with the solution.  Digging large craters on the newly cut roads, he suggested we bury them.  This strengthened the roads and took care of our problems of disposal at the same time.

 

There was another problem though which required divine intervention.  Digging was not something the workers relished.  Everyday workmen designated to dig would report sick.  We were losing time.  Then to make matters worse Manjolai decided to go on strike.  Not content with striking on their own property, rumour had it that they were planning to march up to Manimuttar and Oothu to disrupt work here.  Neither Sylvester nor I had an answer to this and, that morning, only a skittish handful of Oothu workers showed up at the new clearing.  Sylvester and I stood in the field, forsaking lunch, digging valiantly alongside the workers.

 

By evening the workers from Manjolai had assembled below the field we were on.  Shouting injunctions and gesticulating, they pumped their fists, as they began to trudge uphill toward us.  They were no more than thirty yards away when one of the Oothu workers, gazing steadfastly at the ground yelled.  “Aaayooe! Aa-yi-yooe!” 

 

Catching the evening sun a stream of yellow oozed from the freshly dug earth.  A light drizzle had started, turning the yellow lava into tiny rainbows.  Unmindful of getting wet and the fact that it was time to go home, the militant Manjolai workforce started tearing at the ground with bare hands.  Then using stakes, staves and other implements, which they had brought along to intimidate us, they went into a frenzy turning the earth over to seek for treasure.  I looked across at Sylvester who, with a wry smile, said, “I think we won’t have any more problems finding people for digging.”

 

Gold coins, with Tippu Sultan’s emblem emblazoned on both sides, spilled from the damp earth.  Amber and mother-of-pearl ornaments too were being unearthed around us.  Soon hurricane lanterns and large sugar gunnysacks appeared and the field began resembling something from out of a fairy-tale.  Workers in bandages descended from dispensaries.  Others in lungis rushed from their homes and many came from as far away as Kutheravetti, the remote outer division of Oothu.  Later politicians and bureaucrats insisted that anything under the ground belonged to the Government of India.  The workers averred.  They said these blessings fell from the sky and, with encouragement from Sylvester, touched my feet.  It was as though I was responsible for their windfall!

 

The south west monsoon gave way to the north east.  It rained like something coming out of a bucket.  With Shehzarin pregnant once again, it gave rise to a great deal of concern.  How would we be able to take her to Nagercoil in time for the delivery? Ricky and Prema suggested we leave immediately but each day, during that dreary December of ’71, seemed to bring more rain with it.  We finally decided we just had to go.  It had already rained eighty inches that week and the only vehicle we could trust in that lashing rain, compounded with gale force winds, was our heavy Plymouth.  We made it to the hospital just in time, with Hazel Scott, the doctor who had delivered our daughter Mishez, saying, “Wait son, wait son”, even as we walked into the hospital.  Later she told us that boys were always impatient, whereas Mishez had kept us waiting an extra two weeks!

 

“What are you going to name the little rascal?” She enquired.

 

Shehzarin and I had already thought about it.  With all that rain, lighting, thunder and wind what else could we have named him but Zeus? Hazel clapped her hands in glee and approved heartily.

 

While all this was happening, Ricky returned from leave to tell us that he would be leaving Manimuttar for the Mudis.  I didn’t take this news well.  We were a good team.  We understood one another and I had no idea who would come in his place.  About the same time Willie D’Cruze was poached by an agency house in another district: they thought he was God to produce such tea in South India!

 

N. M. Sreedharan came to Manimuttar as Ricky’s replacement.  He was not into sports but was great company and not only left me to work on my own but, to my chagrin, also asked me to put down another two hundred acres of tea on Manimuttar’s North Division.  John Bland had gone on furlough, leaving him to manage the entire group and therefore unable to find time to do any planting.  He also said that we were to stop manufacturing ‘Darjeeling’ tea. 

 

The higher prices realised by making ‘Darjeeling tea’, had pulled our average prices up by the socks and we had leapfrogged Mudis for the first time.  The Directors in Bombay, with no understanding of tea, had been badgering the Mudis, wondering why their prices weren’t keeping pace with the market.  With no answer other than to get Manimuttar prices back in perspective, Sree was ordered to stop the nonsense going on at the Manimuttar factory.  For me, a valuable lesson in the intricacies of corporate chicanery.

 

Shree and Saby became close friends as were Prithvi and Rani Jothikumar, the acting manager on Manjolai and Kenny Shresta his assistant.  The group doctor, also on Manjolai, Dr. Krishnamoorty and the new assistant on Manimuttar, Rammohan, were all part of our extended family.  When news came that I was to be transferred to the Mudis group, a pall hung over Singampatti.  Even Mr. Shankeran, down in Kallaidaikurichi was appalled.  

That evening I sat up late on the veranda puffing on my pipe.  It had been just a little over three years since our arrival and yet it felt like an eternity.  Shehzarin joined me there after the children were asleep.

 

“Upset?” She asked.

 

“I don’t know.  Oothu feels like it’s a part of me.”

 

“You’ve finished your work here,” she said and then surprised me with her astute observation: “Over nine hundred acres of new planting; helping setup and run the green tea factory, making changes at the Manimuttar factory.  Running two estates almost alone, finding time to play games and…”

 

I reached out for her hand and together we enjoyed the darkness; listening to the sound of bears whistling in the distance, the sawing of a leopard and the grunt of a tiger close by. 

 

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”  I whispered.

 


June 30, 2013
Thanks to Minoo we have these historical photos

 These are really old.  I presume the picture of the planters in
the tea are taken on either Ging or Bannockburn Estates

 




                                        Newspaper 1883

N



Selim Tea Estate 1920

Don't have too many details but this estate must have been in the Terai or the Dooars.

Ozzie Lobo informs us that Selim Estate could be between Siliguri and Bagdogra airport.




 

April 17 2013

View from Eden Sanatorium, Darjeeling.
 
Photo by Bourne & Shepherd - 1870.

 

March 17 2013

Really old photo.  Can't date it... wonder who can help out?

 

 I guess the Englishmen were ICS officers.  Look at the badges on Grandpa's lapel.  
 One would be the MBE and one other the 'Khan Bhadur' title he was bestowed.  
 Don't know what the others are


 February 24 2013    

Description: Oil painting on paper of Darjeeling, by Marianne North (1830-1890), dated September 1878. Marianne North visited India in 1877-79 and completed over 200 paintings whilst there. She wrote in Volume II of 'Recollections of a Happy Life' (1892):

 

"The next day took me over the most glorious road, among forests and mountains, to Darjeeling, the finest hill place in the whole world; and I brought my usual luck with me, for Kinchinjanga uncovered himself regularly every day for three hours after sunrise during the first week of my stay...I had never seen so complete a mountain, with its two supporters, one on each side...From the hill above Jonboo one saw the plains of Bengal like a sea, and mountains on the other three sides. The clouds rolling in and out of the valleys and up into the sky at sun...”


           

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling - Painting by Edward Lear, 1877

He wrote ‘Kinchinjunga is not – so it seems to me – a sympathetic mountain; it is so far off, so very god-like & stupendous, & all that great world of dark opal valleys full of misty, hardly to be imagined forms’. Lear is best known as the author of nonsense verse, including 'The Owl and the Pussycat', but he was an outstanding painter of landscapes, particularly of out of the way places. He was largely self-taught, spending the years 1837–1848 in Rome, where his friends included the painter Henry Williams and the sculptor John Gibson. The picture was a commission from his friend Lord Aberdare, a Glamorgan landowner and politician. 







January 18 2013




Three generations of Avaris:

Khan Bhadur D.E. Avari M.B.E., grandson Minoo Avari, Briju Khaitan (I think),

Erach Avari and Hugh Dominy.  


In the background are Pinto Kerr and Derek Royals.


December 23 2012

Painting of Darjeeling Toy Train

December 5 2012
We thank Minoo for all his digging of the past for us to enjoy today


Two more pics from Minoos' History albums


Undated photo - Lebong Race Course, Darjeeling: 


Some planter's will remember the Darjeeling
disaster in the '50's
:

November 29 2012

Two more old photographs recording history 



Hill Cart Road - Darjeeling - Minoo tells us "I can't date this photo.."



Possibly the Calcutta Royal Turf Club but Minoo tells us "I'm not sure:"

--does anyone know the brand of the car ?? if so please contact the Editor

 September 17 2012

The following three pictures were all from Minoo's late father's collection

Thank you Minoo for sharing


Erach Avari with Jane Passey (nee Grice)

 jul.hadlow@gmail.com

 

 
  
Jimmy and Dierdre with Tenzing

 
Harkey Boyer --Commisioner Darjeeeling  with Standard Car

 

June 18 2012

Below are four pictures unearthed by Minoo showing life in the late nineteenth and the beginning of the Tentieth Centuries--thank you Minoo


Below Planters Club Darjeeling 1890


         Darjeeling 1890--looks very lazy & pompous



Chowrasta



 Darjeeling Tea Estate 1890


May 5 2012  
Thanks to Minoo we have a 70 plus year old film
(seven and a half minutes) of Darjeeling

To view please click the coloured lettering

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player
_embedded&v=-9lxvWSYetI#!

A rare B/W video of Darjeeling during 1930 - 1937 (No Audio). The road towards Darjeeling, labourers repairing the road and shepherds by the railway track. Darjeeling Toy Train. View of Kenchanjunga. Arrival of Stanley Jackson and Lady Jackson at Government House. Scenes of the town: park, church, Town Hall, Lebong. Governor's Cup Race Day Views of the Sanatorium. The weekly market. 1937 Coronation Day Parade at Chowrasta.


May 5 2012
Below are the two sides of a postcard sent from Darjeeling to Folkestone in Kent, England in 1904






 

 

 

May 2 2012

This photo shows the following group including the famous Everest Climber Tenzing Mr. d'Souza, Tenzing, My Dad, Nawang Gombu & Jeff Johnson

 

May 1 2012
Below we have two pictures of the Darjeeling Railway
prior to the Second World War



Socialising at the Open carriages before starting the descent from Darjeeeling


an old Photo of the Ghoom Loop taken in the 30's

Return to top

.


February 6 2014




.

Darjeeling 19th Century

Minoo tells us that this is a photo taken perhaps in the late 1800's but need to have it identified.  I wonder if it is Stenthal Estate? If anyone has ideas please contact Editor

 


February 6 2014

This is a story about the transition of a Darjeeling Planter to South India

 

The south-west monsoon set in early that summer of ’70.  There was no sign of it though at Tinnevelli Junction, where the late May sun relentlessly roasted the already baked earth and left us sweating, as porters loaded baggage into the boot and overhead rack of the company Ambassador.  Shehzarin was already a few months pregnant with our first born but it was Pancho, our Boxer dog, who showed signs of morning sickness.  The fault lay entirely with Xavier, the Singampatti group driver, who exhibited a style of driving I found uniquely disquieting; flooring the accelerator for a few seconds, then completely taking his foot off the pedal, he repeated this process with alarming consistency.  As a result we see-sawed past Chernmadevi, rocked back and forth past Karumbai and found ourselves quite seasick by the time we got to Natesan Agency at Kallaidaikurichi. 

 

Shankeran was there to welcome us with his enormous brother, Harihara Krishnan, taking up much of the background.  Inhaling deeply, Shankeran managed to give us the history of Singampatti in one breath.  Then gulping another huge quantity of air, he informed us that there was a lot of work to be done on Manimuttar and that the Muthanna’s would be off shortly on six weeks leave to the UK and that John Bland’s son and daughter would be coming from the UK to spend their holidays on Manjolai.  He paused to inhale once again, even as the aroma of sumptuous coffee assailed our nostrils.  Shankeran was not finished though and, before the completion of yet another long sentence, which left him breathless once again, he plunged on as we finished our first cup of coffee. 

 

Past the level crossing Xavier steadied his epileptic foot.  The drive was scenic and Xavier pointed out the Manimuttar Dam, which had filled to the brim, with a cryptic “Dam full!” There was no traffic at all and the narrow road snaked through rocky outcrops of scrub before starting the climb to Manjolai.  I chuckled seeing the quaint board informing us that we were now negotiating an awkward hairpin bend! Dappled sunlight bathed Manjolai estate and John Bland had us sit out on the open veranda to sample tea and scoff a few biscuits.  With that we exchanged vehicles and set off with ‘our Michaels’, the Manimuttar driver, for the Muthanna residence.

 

It got steadily darker as we approached the top of the hill.  Fog prevented us from seeing much of the surrounding forest and by the time Michael pronounced ‘Kakachi golf course’ we were in the maws of the monsoon.  It was blinding stuff.  The wipers were inadequate and appeared to work in slow motion.  Undeterred, Michael drove on while giving us a crash course in Tamil.  Moon, he said, was Nilavoo.  It resounded with a timbre reminiscent of Louis Armstrong after a few bourbons.  Coming to think of it, Michael did resemble Satchmo! 

 

We turned left and just as suddenly saw the outline of a building looming in front.  A stout balding person, standing under the porch, was very nearly run over by Michael who was in a hurry to get the car parked and out of the lashing rain.  We introduced ourselves.  The man called himself George, leading me to believe the little that I had heard about Coorgs.  It did turn out though that George wasn’t a pseudonym for Ricky and that he was, in fact, Ricky’s cousin.  After that we called him Cousin George. 

 

A short while later Ricky appeared followed by his wife Prema, who had been preening herself to look presentable in front of Shehzarin.  She had heard my wife was with Air-India and this was sufficient to frighten her into putting on makeup… but when she saw my simple and pragmatic wife she beamed with delight and they were to become lifelong friends. 

 

There was a sudden break in the rain and George just as suddenly came to life. 

 

“Would you like to play tennis?”

 

Ricky must have seen the incredulous look on my face and assured me the court would be playable.  “The ground here dries almost instantly”, he said.  Pulling suitcases from the car and fishing out my tennis racket, George and I did take to the court.  He was a crafty player and played to win.  We had just stepped back into the warmth of the sitting room when the rain came crashing down again.  Ricky and Prema accompanied us to Oothu Bungalow, leaving a dispirited cousin George to lick his wounds and fuss over the menu for dinner.

 

The bungalow hadn’t been lived in for some time.  After the Muthannas left, we had for company our bungalow servant Waidyanayagam, who hovered about solicitously.  Watching all this was Thomas the gardener who appraised us with a jaundiced eye.  He amused himself with our apparent loss to adjust to a cyclical Cooper generator and having to make do with Aladdin lanterns, after the generator ran its course and packed up within the hour.  It was difficult and I went to bed perplexed.  Shehzarin was upbeat and took an immediate liking to the seemingly impermeable loneliness, the opaque fog and the drumming rain.

 

The days rolled into weeks and in that time Ricky taught me to ride a motorbike.  Later, with nephew Subbu in tow, he taught us golf.  In turn we showed him that one didn’t have to stand motionless over the ball.  By taking three steps back one could run up and whack it like they do in hockey.  This must have suitably impressed him because he abruptly stopped further lessons.

 

A break in the weather allowed me to take stock of the terrain.  I hadn’t realised till then that there was a big hill in front of the Oothu Bungalow.  It turned out to be field number twenty-five, directly opposite the small Oothu office from where I operated.  I checked daily on the little nursery by the stream and admired the hundred acres of tea on the property, which had been planted in part by David Hughes and later completed by Roy Machia.  The view from the lookout, which signalled the last of the hundred acres of tea planted at that time, is magnificent:

 

It overlooks the impressive Papanasam dam, snuggled below in the heart of the Mundanthurai game sanctuary; where thick forests stretch to the left and culminate just short of towering Mount Augusta.  Locally known as Augustyamalai, this volcano shaped peak is more often than not enshrouded in mist.  It has for company, five smaller jagged peaks known as the Ionthullies, or five peaks.

 

Toward the middle of June, Angus McNaughton, the Managing Director, paid an official visit.  I had met him and his wife Sally during my interview, at the Bombay office, and was already an admirer of Angus’ zest for life and his spirit of adventure.  The next day we walked through the fields.  With Angus, John Bland and Ricky in front, I remained a few discreet steps behind. 

 

“Oothu can never become a full-fledged estate with just a hundred acres of tea!” Angus suddenly exclaimed.

 

John looked up at the sky, sucking on a peppermint sweet the while.  Ricky wasn’t deterred and asked Angus how much he wanted us to plant.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, you can plant from here to Bombay.  I’ve been hearing about plans for new planting but nothing ever happens!”

 

Turning to me Ricky asked if I was game.  I shrivelled in the sudden spotlight but Ricky had that mischievous, irresistible grin, almost daring me to say yes.  So I said yes!

 

“I’ll be leaving for England in a few days,” Ricky told Angus “but Minoo can start the nurseries and begin clearing.  I’ll be back to help him with the planting.”

 

And so it was.  Ricky and Prema left and I got down to planning the extension of both nurseries at Manimuttar and Oothu.  Mr. Sylvester was the staff member in charge of Oothu and worked directly under me.  Mention must be made here of his service to the Corporation: on the verge of dismissal for insubordination, it was decided that Oothu would be suitable for him to dwell on his misdeeds.  I was asked if I would like another IC in his place but I had already begun to interact with him and was impressed with his sagacity.  We got on well.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get everything working, with such clockwork precision, on my own. 

 

The days were long and oft times brutal.  Tamil lessons at 4:30 am (for all the good it did me), then Oothu office for planning out the day with Sylvester; Manimuttar office and factory and overseeing the plucking there, along with checking sundry cultivation works.  Clearing forest and using a dumpy spirit level to measure out roads, thirty feet at a time, to make sure the gradient remained constant, also helped with speedy removal of trees and scrub that had been cleared.

 

Ricky had earmarked some fields where blocks of clonal tea had been left un-plucked.  A2 was a plant selected by Dr. Mathew and then there was a small leafed chinarey plant, with the simple nomenclature ‘Hybrid’, that someone in the past had also selected.  When the un-plucked stalks achieved pencil thickness, they were cut with a slant and each one stuck into an eighteen inch sleeve that sported a four inch diameter.  These sleeves, stacked ten abreast, continued in length for as long as the lie of the land would allow.  Over these we bent large bamboo staves, at approximately three foot intervals.  These were then interlaced with longer bamboo poles to support the weight of the two hundred gauge polythene sheet that would cover each bed. 

 

I had done much smaller nurseries in Darjeeling, while working there with the Darjeeling Company, and knew that spraying the top of the stacked bags with Tefazine, a pre-emergent weedicide, would prevent weeds from taking over.  After the chemical spray each stem, with two to three leaves, was pushed into the mud-filled bags before polythene sheeting was draped over each bed.  After that the overhanging sides were sealed with mud.

 

In essence it was a mini hothouse.  John, never having seen the like, balked at this procedure and repeatedly questioned my wisdom with the admonition, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket!” Well he did have a point there but I just had too many eggs on my plate at that time to argue the case.  We erected an enormous pandal, with stakes ten feet above the ground and framed a lattice on top over which we tied kidagu sheets.  Even so, the direct sun did find little gaps and managed to burn some clonal material.  Ricky was back by then and suggested we apply mud paste over the polythene.  This was a huge success.  We planted passion fruit creepers, which replaced the kidagu and became the permanent overhead shade.

 

Meanwhile the clearing in some fields was complete and Sylvester organised the pits to be dug, as per Angus’ desires, at four by two by two and a half feet.  This made it around seven thousand plants an acre.  We were able to plant one hundred acres within a nine month period, after supplying Manjolai with clonal material to plant fifty acres there.

 

Ricky and I got on famously.  Both Sagittarians, we had similar interests.  He left me strictly alone to get on with work but we got together as soon as the day was done.  As families we did pretty much everything together.  Tennis, golf and swimming by the beaches of Kovalam on an occasional Sunday; at other times watching bathers, huddled in groups, being bludgeoned under the waterfalls at Manimuttar and Courtallam.  There were movies too at the group office in Manjolai and at the Ambassamudram club, where we frequented the swimming pool.

 

Another year passed and the Directors were pleased with our progress.  Singampatti tea prices were historically lower than those fetched by our Mudis group.  John approached me to see if there was anything I could do, to rectify this bugbear that so obviously haunted him.  Ricky was away again but I was certain that my experience, with manufacturing Darjeeling tea, would do the trick.  Dev Mukerjee of Carrit Moran, our tea-brokers, was flabbergasted.  “What’s Singampatti doing sending us Darjeeling tea?” he queried.

 

Be that as it may, it caught the immediate attention of certain West German buyers and Willie D’Cruze, the tea-maker of the Manimuttar factory, came back from the auction at Cochin beaming with delight. 

 

“Those big sweaty German buggers want more tea.  I told them we could give them as much as they want.” 

 

I was taken aback.  We had just sent ten chests as a trial but John’s triumphant demeanour, at the unexpectedly high price, sealed my fate.  We continued making as much ‘Darjeeling’ tea as we could, even as a team of Japanese arrived to put up a green tea factory on Oothu. 

 

The seasons changed.  In the autumn of ’70 Shehzarin gave birth to our baby daughter at the Catherine Booth Salvation Army hospital in Nagercoil.  It was the nearest hospital, a little less than two hundred kilometres away, run by dedicated American and British doctors.  Winter brought with it another new addition: I had gone to Coimbatore with John Bland to purchase a vehicle with the nineteen thousand rupee car loan sanctioned by the Corporation.  We settled on a 1954 Plymouth Savoy in spanking condition.  Though John signed the cheque enthusiastically, it raised the hackles of the group manager in Mudis and caused quite a furore.  The group vehicle there was a Plymouth Savoy!

 

By the summer of the following year the green tea factory was up and running.  It brought with it electricity for our bungalow.  We were finally able to listen to our collection of records and enjoy an occasional cold beer from the new refrigerator, which replaced the old dysfunctional kerosene contraption.  Now we had lights that could be switched on at any time through the night! Angus had retired by then and was replaced by David Rosser, a retired commander from the Royal Navy, who now headed the Bombay office as Managing Director.

 

More new planting, learning the mechanics of green tea production, harvesting cardamom and picking the little coffee we had on Kutheravetti, kept me busy.  Often, under candlelight, the Oothu office (still not electrified) would see Mr. Sylvester and I pouring over field maps: planning new roads and deciding which plants from either the Manimuttar or Oothu nursery would go where.  We were still supplying Manjolai plants from our nurseries for their annual fifty acre extensions. 

 

Of grave concern were rocks and stones.  They had to be removed from the new clearings, so that the roots of young tea plants wouldn’t come in contact with anything other than soil.  We insisted on the workers digging two feet deep, before turning over the earth, to remove these impediments lurking beneath.  I was adamant that excavated boulders and rocks not be rolled down the slopes to block streams and waterways.  At a loss to find a way around, it was Sylvester who came up with the solution.  Digging large craters on the newly cut roads, he suggested we bury them.  This strengthened the roads and took care of our problems of disposal at the same time.

 

There was another problem though which required divine intervention.  Digging was not something the workers relished.  Everyday workmen designated to dig would report sick.  We were losing time.  Then to make matters worse Manjolai decided to go on strike.  Not content with striking on their own property, rumour had it that they were planning to march up to Manimuttar and Oothu to disrupt work here.  Neither Sylvester nor I had an answer to this and, that morning, only a skittish handful of Oothu workers showed up at the new clearing.  Sylvester and I stood in the field, forsaking lunch, digging valiantly alongside the workers.

 

By evening the workers from Manjolai had assembled below the field we were on.  Shouting injunctions and gesticulating, they pumped their fists, as they began to trudge uphill toward us.  They were no more than thirty yards away when one of the Oothu workers, gazing steadfastly at the ground yelled.  “Aaayooe! Aa-yi-yooe!” 

 

Catching the evening sun a stream of yellow oozed from the freshly dug earth.  A light drizzle had started, turning the yellow lava into tiny rainbows.  Unmindful of getting wet and the fact that it was time to go home, the militant Manjolai workforce started tearing at the ground with bare hands.  Then using stakes, staves and other implements, which they had brought along to intimidate us, they went into a frenzy turning the earth over to seek for treasure.  I looked across at Sylvester who, with a wry smile, said, “I think we won’t have any more problems finding people for digging.”

 

Gold coins, with Tippu Sultan’s emblem emblazoned on both sides, spilled from the damp earth.  Amber and mother-of-pearl ornaments too were being unearthed around us.  Soon hurricane lanterns and large sugar gunnysacks appeared and the field began resembling something from out of a fairy-tale.  Workers in bandages descended from dispensaries.  Others in lungis rushed from their homes and many came from as far away as Kutheravetti, the remote outer division of Oothu.  Later politicians and bureaucrats insisted that anything under the ground belonged to the Government of India.  The workers averred.  They said these blessings fell from the sky and, with encouragement from Sylvester, touched my feet.  It was as though I was responsible for their windfall!

 

The south west monsoon gave way to the north east.  It rained like something coming out of a bucket.  With Shehzarin pregnant once again, it gave rise to a great deal of concern.  How would we be able to take her to Nagercoil in time for the delivery? Ricky and Prema suggested we leave immediately but each day, during that dreary December of ’71, seemed to bring more rain with it.  We finally decided we just had to go.  It had already rained eighty inches that week and the only vehicle we could trust in that lashing rain, compounded with gale force winds, was our heavy Plymouth.  We made it to the hospital just in time, with Hazel Scott, the doctor who had delivered our daughter Mishez, saying, “Wait son, wait son”, even as we walked into the hospital.  Later she told us that boys were always impatient, whereas Mishez had kept us waiting an extra two weeks!

 

“What are you going to name the little rascal?” She enquired.

 

Shehzarin and I had already thought about it.  With all that rain, lighting, thunder and wind what else could we have named him but Zeus? Hazel clapped her hands in glee and approved heartily.

 

While all this was happening, Ricky returned from leave to tell us that he would be leaving Manimuttar for the Mudis.  I didn’t take this news well.  We were a good team.  We understood one another and I had no idea who would come in his place.  About the same time Willie D’Cruze was poached by an agency house in another district: they thought he was God to produce such tea in South India!

 

N. M. Sreedharan came to Manimuttar as Ricky’s replacement.  He was not into sports but was great company and not only left me to work on my own but, to my chagrin, also asked me to put down another two hundred acres of tea on Manimuttar’s North Division.  John Bland had gone on furlough, leaving him to manage the entire group and therefore unable to find time to do any planting.  He also said that we were to stop manufacturing ‘Darjeeling’ tea. 

 

The higher prices realised by making ‘Darjeeling tea’, had pulled our average prices up by the socks and we had leapfrogged Mudis for the first time.  The Directors in Bombay, with no understanding of tea, had been badgering the Mudis, wondering why their prices weren’t keeping pace with the market.  With no answer other than to get Manimuttar prices back in perspective, Sree was ordered to stop the nonsense going on at the Manimuttar factory.  For me, a valuable lesson in the intricacies of corporate chicanery.

 

Shree and Saby became close friends as were Prithvi and Rani Jothikumar, the acting manager on Manjolai and Kenny Shresta his assistant.  The group doctor, also on Manjolai, Dr. Krishnamoorty and the new assistant on Manimuttar, Rammohan, were all part of our extended family.  When news came that I was to be transferred to the Mudis group, a pall hung over Singampatti.  Even Mr. Shankeran, down in Kallaidaikurichi was appalled.  

That evening I sat up late on the veranda puffing on my pipe.  It had been just a little over three years since our arrival and yet it felt like an eternity.  Shehzarin joined me there after the children were asleep.

 

“Upset?” She asked.

 

“I don’t know.  Oothu feels like it’s a part of me.”

 

“You’ve finished your work here,” she said and then surprised me with her astute observation: “Over nine hundred acres of new planting; helping setup and run the green tea factory, making changes at the Manimuttar factory.  Running two estates almost alone, finding time to play games and…”

 

I reached out for her hand and together we enjoyed the darkness; listening to the sound of bears whistling in the distance, the sawing of a leopard and the grunt of a tiger close by. 

 

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”  I whispered.

 


June 30, 2013
Thanks to Minoo we have these historical photos

 These are really old.  I presume the picture of the planters in
the tea are taken on either Ging or Bannockburn Estates

 




                                        Newspaper 1883




Selim Tea Estate 1920

Don't have too many details but this estate must have been in the Terai or the Dooars.

Ozzie Lobo informs us that Selim Estate could be between Siliguri and Bagdogra airport.




 

April 17 2013

View from Eden Sanatorium, Darjeeling.
 
Photo by Bourne & Shepherd - 1870.

 

March 17 2013

Really old photo.  Can't date it... wonder who can help out?

 

 I guess the Englishmen were ICS officers.  Look at the badges on Grandpa's lapel.  
 One would be the MBE and one other the 'Khan Bhadur' title he was bestowed.  
 Don't know what the others are


 February 24 2013    

Description: Oil painting on paper of Darjeeling, by Marianne North (1830-1890), dated September 1878. Marianne North visited India in 1877-79 and completed over 200 paintings whilst there. She wrote in Volume II of 'Recollections of a Happy Life' (1892):

 

"The next day took me over the most glorious road, among forests and mountains, to Darjeeling, the finest hill place in the whole world; and I brought my usual luck with me, for Kinchinjanga uncovered himself regularly every day for three hours after sunrise during the first week of my stay...I had never seen so complete a mountain, with its two supporters, one on each side...From the hill above Jonboo one saw the plains of Bengal like a sea, and mountains on the other three sides. The clouds rolling in and out of the valleys and up into the sky at sun...”


           

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling - Painting by Edward Lear, 1877

He wrote ‘Kinchinjunga is not – so it seems to me – a sympathetic mountain; it is so far off, so very god-like & stupendous, & all that great world of dark opal valleys full of misty, hardly to be imagined forms’. Lear is best known as the author of nonsense verse, including 'The Owl and the Pussycat', but he was an outstanding painter of landscapes, particularly of out of the way places. He was largely self-taught, spending the years 1837–1848 in Rome, where his friends included the painter Henry Williams and the sculptor John Gibson. The picture was a commission from his friend Lord Aberdare, a Glamorgan landowner and politician. 






January 18 2013




Three generations of Avaris:

Khan Bhadur D.E. Avari M.B.E., grandson Minoo Avari, Briju Khaitan (I think),

Erach Avari and Hugh Dominy.  


In the background are Pinto Kerr and Derek Royals.


December 23 2012

Painting of Darjeeling Toy Train

December 5 2012
We thank Minoo for all his digging of the past for us to enjoy today


Two more pics from Minoos' History albums


Undated photo - Lebong Race Course, Darjeeling: 


Some planter's will remember the Darjeeling
disaster in the '50's
:

November 29 2012

Two more old photographs recording history 



Hill Cart Road - Darjeeling - Minoo tells us "I can't date this photo.."



Possibly the Calcutta Royal Turf Club but Minoo tells us "I'm not sure:"

--does anyone know the brand of the car ?? if so please contact the Editor

 September 17 2012

The following three pictures were all from Minoo's late father's collection

Thank you Minoo for sharing


Erach Avari with Jane Passey (nee Grice)

 

 

 
  
Jimmy and Dierdre with Tenzing

 
Harkey Boyer --Commisioner Darjeeeling  with Standard Car

 

June 18 2012

Below are four pictures unearthed by Minoo showing life in the late nineteenth and the beginning of the Tentieth Centuries--thank you Minoo


Below Planters Club Darjeeling 1890


         Darjeeling 1890--looks very lazy & pompous



Chowrasta



 Darjeeling Tea Estate 1890


May 5 2012  
Thanks to Minoo we have a 70 plus year old film
(seven and a half minutes) of Darjeeling

To view please click the coloured lettering

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player
_embedded&v=-9lxvWSYetI#!

A rare B/W video of Darjeeling during 1930 - 1937 (No Audio). The road towards Darjeeling, labourers repairing the road and shepherds by the railway track. Darjeeling Toy Train. View of Kenchanjunga. Arrival of Stanley Jackson and Lady Jackson at Government House. Scenes of the town: park, church, Town Hall, Lebong. Governor's Cup Race Day Views of the Sanatorium. The weekly market. 1937 Coronation Day Parade at Chowrasta.


May 5 2012
Below are the two sides of a postcard sent from Darjeeling to Folkestone in Kent, England in 1904






 

 

 

May 2 2012

This photo shows the following group including the famous Everest Climber Tenzing Mr. d'Souza, Tenzing, My Dad, Nawang Gombu & Jeff Johnson

 

May 1 2012
Below we have two pictures of the Darjeeling Railway
prior to the Second World War



Socialising at the Open carriages before starting the descent from Darjeeeling


an old Photo of the Ghoom Loop taken in the 30's

Return to top

February 6 2014




.

Darjeeling 19th Century

Minoo tells us that this is a photo taken perhaps in the late 1800's but need to have it identified.  I wonder if it is Stenthal Estate? If anyone has ideas please contact Editor

 


February 6 2014

This is a story about the transition of a Darjeeling Planter to South India

 

The south-west monsoon set in early that summer of ’70.  There was no sign of it though at Tinnevelli Junction, where the late May sun relentlessly roasted the already baked earth and left us sweating, as porters loaded baggage into the boot and overhead rack of the company Ambassador.  Shehzarin was already a few months pregnant with our first born but it was Pancho, our Boxer dog, who showed signs of morning sickness.  The fault lay entirely with Xavier, the Singampatti group driver, who exhibited a style of driving I found uniquely disquieting; flooring the accelerator for a few seconds, then completely taking his foot off the pedal, he repeated this process with alarming consistency.  As a result we see-sawed past Chernmadevi, rocked back and forth past Karumbai and found ourselves quite seasick by the time we got to Natesan Agency at Kallaidaikurichi. 

 

Shankeran was there to welcome us with his enormous brother, Harihara Krishnan, taking up much of the background.  Inhaling deeply, Shankeran managed to give us the history of Singampatti in one breath.  Then gulping another huge quantity of air, he informed us that there was a lot of work to be done on Manimuttar and that the Muthanna’s would be off shortly on six weeks leave to the UK and that John Bland’s son and daughter would be coming from the UK to spend their holidays on Manjolai.  He paused to inhale once again, even as the aroma of sumptuous coffee assailed our nostrils.  Shankeran was not finished though and, before the completion of yet another long sentence, which left him breathless once again, he plunged on as we finished our first cup of coffee. 

 

Past the level crossing Xavier steadied his epileptic foot.  The drive was scenic and Xavier pointed out the Manimuttar Dam, which had filled to the brim, with a cryptic “Dam full!” There was no traffic at all and the narrow road snaked through rocky outcrops of scrub before starting the climb to Manjolai.  I chuckled seeing the quaint board informing us that we were now negotiating an awkward hairpin bend! Dappled sunlight bathed Manjolai estate and John Bland had us sit out on the open veranda to sample tea and scoff a few biscuits.  With that we exchanged vehicles and set off with ‘our Michaels’, the Manimuttar driver, for the Muthanna residence.

 

It got steadily darker as we approached the top of the hill.  Fog prevented us from seeing much of the surrounding forest and by the time Michael pronounced ‘Kakachi golf course’ we were in the maws of the monsoon.  It was blinding stuff.  The wipers were inadequate and appeared to work in slow motion.  Undeterred, Michael drove on while giving us a crash course in Tamil.  Moon, he said, was Nilavoo.  It resounded with a timbre reminiscent of Louis Armstrong after a few bourbons.  Coming to think of it, Michael did resemble Satchmo! 

 

We turned left and just as suddenly saw the outline of a building looming in front.  A stout balding person, standing under the porch, was very nearly run over by Michael who was in a hurry to get the car parked and out of the lashing rain.  We introduced ourselves.  The man called himself George, leading me to believe the little that I had heard about Coorgs.  It did turn out though that George wasn’t a pseudonym for Ricky and that he was, in fact, Ricky’s cousin.  After that we called him Cousin George. 

 

A short while later Ricky appeared followed by his wife Prema, who had been preening herself to look presentable in front of Shehzarin.  She had heard my wife was with Air-India and this was sufficient to frighten her into putting on makeup… but when she saw my simple and pragmatic wife she beamed with delight and they were to become lifelong friends. 

 

There was a sudden break in the rain and George just as suddenly came to life. 

 

“Would you like to play tennis?”

 

Ricky must have seen the incredulous look on my face and assured me the court would be playable.  “The ground here dries almost instantly”, he said.  Pulling suitcases from the car and fishing out my tennis racket, George and I did take to the court.  He was a crafty player and played to win.  We had just stepped back into the warmth of the sitting room when the rain came crashing down again.  Ricky and Prema accompanied us to Oothu Bungalow, leaving a dispirited cousin George to lick his wounds and fuss over the menu for dinner.

 

The bungalow hadn’t been lived in for some time.  After the Muthannas left, we had for company our bungalow servant Waidyanayagam, who hovered about solicitously.  Watching all this was Thomas the gardener who appraised us with a jaundiced eye.  He amused himself with our apparent loss to adjust to a cyclical Cooper generator and having to make do with Aladdin lanterns, after the generator ran its course and packed up within the hour.  It was difficult and I went to bed perplexed.  Shehzarin was upbeat and took an immediate liking to the seemingly impermeable loneliness, the opaque fog and the drumming rain.

 

The days rolled into weeks and in that time Ricky taught me to ride a motorbike.  Later, with nephew Subbu in tow, he taught us golf.  In turn we showed him that one didn’t have to stand motionless over the ball.  By taking three steps back one could run up and whack it like they do in hockey.  This must have suitably impressed him because he abruptly stopped further lessons.

 

A break in the weather allowed me to take stock of the terrain.  I hadn’t realised till then that there was a big hill in front of the Oothu Bungalow.  It turned out to be field number twenty-five, directly opposite the small Oothu office from where I operated.  I checked daily on the little nursery by the stream and admired the hundred acres of tea on the property, which had been planted in part by David Hughes and later completed by Roy Machia.  The view from the lookout, which signalled the last of the hundred acres of tea planted at that time, is magnificent:

 

It overlooks the impressive Papanasam dam, snuggled below in the heart of the Mundanthurai game sanctuary; where thick forests stretch to the left and culminate just short of towering Mount Augusta.  Locally known as Augustyamalai, this volcano shaped peak is more often than not enshrouded in mist.  It has for company, five smaller jagged peaks known as the Ionthullies, or five peaks.

 

Toward the middle of June, Angus McNaughton, the Managing Director, paid an official visit.  I had met him and his wife Sally during my interview, at the Bombay office, and was already an admirer of Angus’ zest for life and his spirit of adventure.  The next day we walked through the fields.  With Angus, John Bland and Ricky in front, I remained a few discreet steps behind. 

 

“Oothu can never become a full-fledged estate with just a hundred acres of tea!” Angus suddenly exclaimed.

 

John looked up at the sky, sucking on a peppermint sweet the while.  Ricky wasn’t deterred and asked Angus how much he wanted us to plant.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, you can plant from here to Bombay.  I’ve been hearing about plans for new planting but nothing ever happens!”

 

Turning to me Ricky asked if I was game.  I shrivelled in the sudden spotlight but Ricky had that mischievous, irresistible grin, almost daring me to say yes.  So I said yes!

 

“I’ll be leaving for England in a few days,” Ricky told Angus “but Minoo can start the nurseries and begin clearing.  I’ll be back to help him with the planting.”

 

And so it was.  Ricky and Prema left and I got down to planning the extension of both nurseries at Manimuttar and Oothu.  Mr. Sylvester was the staff member in charge of Oothu and worked directly under me.  Mention must be made here of his service to the Corporation: on the verge of dismissal for insubordination, it was decided that Oothu would be suitable for him to dwell on his misdeeds.  I was asked if I would like another IC in his place but I had already begun to interact with him and was impressed with his sagacity.  We got on well.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get everything working, with such clockwork precision, on my own. 

 

The days were long and oft times brutal.  Tamil lessons at 4:30 am (for all the good it did me), then Oothu office for planning out the day with Sylvester; Manimuttar office and factory and overseeing the plucking there, along with checking sundry cultivation works.  Clearing forest and using a dumpy spirit level to measure out roads, thirty feet at a time, to make sure the gradient remained constant, also helped with speedy removal of trees and scrub that had been cleared.

 

Ricky had earmarked some fields where blocks of clonal tea had been left un-plucked.  A2 was a plant selected by Dr. Mathew and then there was a small leafed chinarey plant, with the simple nomenclature ‘Hybrid’, that someone in the past had also selected.  When the un-plucked stalks achieved pencil thickness, they were cut with a slant and each one stuck into an eighteen inch sleeve that sported a four inch diameter.  These sleeves, stacked ten abreast, continued in length for as long as the lie of the land would allow.  Over these we bent large bamboo staves, at approximately three foot intervals.  These were then interlaced with longer bamboo poles to support the weight of the two hundred gauge polythene sheet that would cover each bed. 

 

I had done much smaller nurseries in Darjeeling, while working there with the Darjeeling Company, and knew that spraying the top of the stacked bags with Tefazine, a pre-emergent weedicide, would prevent weeds from taking over.  After the chemical spray each stem, with two to three leaves, was pushed into the mud-filled bags before polythene sheeting was draped over each bed.  After that the overhanging sides were sealed with mud.

 

In essence it was a mini hothouse.  John, never having seen the like, balked at this procedure and repeatedly questioned my wisdom with the admonition, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket!” Well he did have a point there but I just had too many eggs on my plate at that time to argue the case.  We erected an enormous pandal, with stakes ten feet above the ground and framed a lattice on top over which we tied kidagu sheets.  Even so, the direct sun did find little gaps and managed to burn some clonal material.  Ricky was back by then and suggested we apply mud paste over the polythene.  This was a huge success.  We planted passion fruit creepers, which replaced the kidagu and became the permanent overhead shade.

 

Meanwhile the clearing in some fields was complete and Sylvester organised the pits to be dug, as per Angus’ desires, at four by two by two and a half feet.  This made it around seven thousand plants an acre.  We were able to plant one hundred acres within a nine month period, after supplying Manjolai with clonal material to plant fifty acres there.

 

Ricky and I got on famously.  Both Sagittarians, we had similar interests.  He left me strictly alone to get on with work but we got together as soon as the day was done.  As families we did pretty much everything together.  Tennis, golf and swimming by the beaches of Kovalam on an occasional Sunday; at other times watching bathers, huddled in groups, being bludgeoned under the waterfalls at Manimuttar and Courtallam.  There were movies too at the group office in Manjolai and at the Ambassamudram club, where we frequented the swimming pool.

 

Another year passed and the Directors were pleased with our progress.  Singampatti tea prices were historically lower than those fetched by our Mudis group.  John approached me to see if there was anything I could do, to rectify this bugbear that so obviously haunted him.  Ricky was away again but I was certain that my experience, with manufacturing Darjeeling tea, would do the trick.  Dev Mukerjee of Carrit Moran, our tea-brokers, was flabbergasted.  “What’s Singampatti doing sending us Darjeeling tea?” he queried.

 

Be that as it may, it caught the immediate attention of certain West German buyers and Willie D’Cruze, the tea-maker of the Manimuttar factory, came back from the auction at Cochin beaming with delight. 

 

“Those big sweaty German buggers want more tea.  I told them we could give them as much as they want.” 

 

I was taken aback.  We had just sent ten chests as a trial but John’s triumphant demeanour, at the unexpectedly high price, sealed my fate.  We continued making as much ‘Darjeeling’ tea as we could, even as a team of Japanese arrived to put up a green tea factory on Oothu. 

 

The seasons changed.  In the autumn of ’70 Shehzarin gave birth to our baby daughter at the Catherine Booth Salvation Army hospital in Nagercoil.  It was the nearest hospital, a little less than two hundred kilometres away, run by dedicated American and British doctors.  Winter brought with it another new addition: I had gone to Coimbatore with John Bland to purchase a vehicle with the nineteen thousand rupee car loan sanctioned by the Corporation.  We settled on a 1954 Plymouth Savoy in spanking condition.  Though John signed the cheque enthusiastically, it raised the hackles of the group manager in Mudis and caused quite a furore.  The group vehicle there was a Plymouth Savoy!

 

By the summer of the following year the green tea factory was up and running.  It brought with it electricity for our bungalow.  We were finally able to listen to our collection of records and enjoy an occasional cold beer from the new refrigerator, which replaced the old dysfunctional kerosene contraption.  Now we had lights that could be switched on at any time through the night! Angus had retired by then and was replaced by David Rosser, a retired commander from the Royal Navy, who now headed the Bombay office as Managing Director.

 

More new planting, learning the mechanics of green tea production, harvesting cardamom and picking the little coffee we had on Kutheravetti, kept me busy.  Often, under candlelight, the Oothu office (still not electrified) would see Mr. Sylvester and I pouring over field maps: planning new roads and deciding which plants from either the Manimuttar or Oothu nursery would go where.  We were still supplying Manjolai plants from our nurseries for their annual fifty acre extensions. 

 

Of grave concern were rocks and stones.  They had to be removed from the new clearings, so that the roots of young tea plants wouldn’t come in contact with anything other than soil.  We insisted on the workers digging two feet deep, before turning over the earth, to remove these impediments lurking beneath.  I was adamant that excavated boulders and rocks not be rolled down the slopes to block streams and waterways.  At a loss to find a way around, it was Sylvester who came up with the solution.  Digging large craters on the newly cut roads, he suggested we bury them.  This strengthened the roads and took care of our problems of disposal at the same time.

 

There was another problem though which required divine intervention.  Digging was not something the workers relished.  Everyday workmen designated to dig would report sick.  We were losing time.  Then to make matters worse Manjolai decided to go on strike.  Not content with striking on their own property, rumour had it that they were planning to march up to Manimuttar and Oothu to disrupt work here.  Neither Sylvester nor I had an answer to this and, that morning, only a skittish handful of Oothu workers showed up at the new clearing.  Sylvester and I stood in the field, forsaking lunch, digging valiantly alongside the workers.

 

By evening the workers from Manjolai had assembled below the field we were on.  Shouting injunctions and gesticulating, they pumped their fists, as they began to trudge uphill toward us.  They were no more than thirty yards away when one of the Oothu workers, gazing steadfastly at the ground yelled.  “Aaayooe! Aa-yi-yooe!” 

 

Catching the evening sun a stream of yellow oozed from the freshly dug earth.  A light drizzle had started, turning the yellow lava into tiny rainbows.  Unmindful of getting wet and the fact that it was time to go home, the militant Manjolai workforce started tearing at the ground with bare hands.  Then using stakes, staves and other implements, which they had brought along to intimidate us, they went into a frenzy turning the earth over to seek for treasure.  I looked across at Sylvester who, with a wry smile, said, “I think we won’t have any more problems finding people for digging.”

 

Gold coins, with Tippu Sultan’s emblem emblazoned on both sides, spilled from the damp earth.  Amber and mother-of-pearl ornaments too were being unearthed around us.  Soon hurricane lanterns and large sugar gunnysacks appeared and the field began resembling something from out of a fairy-tale.  Workers in bandages descended from dispensaries.  Others in lungis rushed from their homes and many came from as far away as Kutheravetti, the remote outer division of Oothu.  Later politicians and bureaucrats insisted that anything under the ground belonged to the Government of India.  The workers averred.  They said these blessings fell from the sky and, with encouragement from Sylvester, touched my feet.  It was as though I was responsible for their windfall!

 

The south west monsoon gave way to the north east.  It rained like something coming out of a bucket.  With Shehzarin pregnant once again, it gave rise to a great deal of concern.  How would we be able to take her to Nagercoil in time for the delivery? Ricky and Prema suggested we leave immediately but each day, during that dreary December of ’71, seemed to bring more rain with it.  We finally decided we just had to go.  It had already rained eighty inches that week and the only vehicle we could trust in that lashing rain, compounded with gale force winds, was our heavy Plymouth.  We made it to the hospital just in time, with Hazel Scott, the doctor who had delivered our daughter Mishez, saying, “Wait son, wait son”, even as we walked into the hospital.  Later she told us that boys were always impatient, whereas Mishez had kept us waiting an extra two weeks!

 

“What are you going to name the little rascal?” She enquired.

 

Shehzarin and I had already thought about it.  With all that rain, lighting, thunder and wind what else could we have named him but Zeus? Hazel clapped her hands in glee and approved heartily.

 

While all this was happening, Ricky returned from leave to tell us that he would be leaving Manimuttar for the Mudis.  I didn’t take this news well.  We were a good team.  We understood one another and I had no idea who would come in his place.  About the same time Willie D’Cruze was poached by an agency house in another district: they thought he was God to produce such tea in South India!

 

N. M. Sreedharan came to Manimuttar as Ricky’s replacement.  He was not into sports but was great company and not only left me to work on my own but, to my chagrin, also asked me to put down another two hundred acres of tea on Manimuttar’s North Division.  John Bland had gone on furlough, leaving him to manage the entire group and therefore unable to find time to do any planting.  He also said that we were to stop manufacturing ‘Darjeeling’ tea. 

 

The higher prices realised by making ‘Darjeeling tea’, had pulled our average prices up by the socks and we had leapfrogged Mudis for the first time.  The Directors in Bombay, with no understanding of tea, had been badgering the Mudis, wondering why their prices weren’t keeping pace with the market.  With no answer other than to get Manimuttar prices back in perspective, Sree was ordered to stop the nonsense going on at the Manimuttar factory.  For me, a valuable lesson in the intricacies of corporate chicanery.

 

Shree and Saby became close friends as were Prithvi and Rani Jothikumar, the acting manager on Manjolai and Kenny Shresta his assistant.  The group doctor, also on Manjolai, Dr. Krishnamoorty and the new assistant on Manimuttar, Rammohan, were all part of our extended family.  When news came that I was to be transferred to the Mudis group, a pall hung over Singampatti.  Even Mr. Shankeran, down in Kallaidaikurichi was appalled.  

That evening I sat up late on the veranda puffing on my pipe.  It had been just a little over three years since our arrival and yet it felt like an eternity.  Shehzarin joined me there after the children were asleep.

 

“Upset?” She asked.

 

“I don’t know.  Oothu feels like it’s a part of me.”

 

“You’ve finished your work here,” she said and then surprised me with her astute observation: “Over nine hundred acres of new planting; helping setup and run the green tea factory, making changes at the Manimuttar factory.  Running two estates almost alone, finding time to play games and…”

 

I reached out for her hand and together we enjoyed the darkness; listening to the sound of bears whistling in the distance, the sawing of a leopard and the grunt of a tiger close by. 

 

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”  I whispered.

 


June 30, 2013
Thanks to Minoo we have these historical photos

 These are really old.  I presume the picture of the planters in
the tea are taken on either Ging or Bannockburn Estates

 




                                        Newspaper 1883

N



Selim Tea Estate 1920

Don't have too many details but this estate must have been in the Terai or the Dooars.

Ozzie Lobo informs us that Selim Estate could be between Siliguri and Bagdogra airport.




 

April 17 2013

View from Eden Sanatorium, Darjeeling.
 
Photo by Bourne & Shepherd - 1870.

 

March 17 2013

Really old photo.  Can't date it... wonder who can help out?

 

 I guess the Englishmen were ICS officers.  Look at the badges on Grandpa's lapel.  
 One would be the MBE and one other the 'Khan Bhadur' title he was bestowed.  
 Don't know what the others are


 February 24 2013    

Description: Oil painting on paper of Darjeeling, by Marianne North (1830-1890), dated September 1878. Marianne North visited India in 1877-79 and completed over 200 paintings whilst there. She wrote in Volume II of 'Recollections of a Happy Life' (1892):

 

"The next day took me over the most glorious road, among forests and mountains, to Darjeeling, the finest hill place in the whole world; and I brought my usual luck with me, for Kinchinjanga uncovered himself regularly every day for three hours after sunrise during the first week of my stay...I had never seen so complete a mountain, with its two supporters, one on each side...From the hill above Jonboo one saw the plains of Bengal like a sea, and mountains on the other three sides. The clouds rolling in and out of the valleys and up into the sky at sun...”


           

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling - Painting by Edward Lear, 1877

He wrote ‘Kinchinjunga is not – so it seems to me – a sympathetic mountain; it is so far off, so very god-like & stupendous, & all that great world of dark opal valleys full of misty, hardly to be imagined forms’. Lear is best known as the author of nonsense verse, including 'The Owl and the Pussycat', but he was an outstanding painter of landscapes, particularly of out of the way places. He was largely self-taught, spending the years 1837–1848 in Rome, where his friends included the painter Henry Williams and the sculptor John Gibson. The picture was a commission from his friend Lord Aberdare, a Glamorgan landowner and politician. 







January 18 2013




Three generations of Avaris:

Khan Bhadur D.E. Avari M.B.E., grandson Minoo Avari, Briju Khaitan (I think),

Erach Avari and Hugh Dominy.  


In the background are Pinto Kerr and Derek Royals.


December 23 2012

Painting of Darjeeling Toy Train

December 5 2012
We thank Minoo for all his digging of the past for us to enjoy today


Two more pics from Minoos' History albums


Undated photo - Lebong Race Course, Darjeeling: 


Some planter's will remember the Darjeeling
disaster in the '50's
:

November 29 2012

Two more old photographs recording history 



Hill Cart Road - Darjeeling - Minoo tells us "I can't date this photo.."



Possibly the Calcutta Royal Turf Club but Minoo tells us "I'm not sure:"

--does anyone know the brand of the car ?? if so please contact the Editor

 September 17 2012

The following three pictures were all from Minoo's late father's collection

Thank you Minoo for sharing


Erach Avari with Jane Passey (nee Grice)

 

 

 
  
Jimmy and Dierdre with Tenzing

 
Harkey Boyer --Commisioner Darjeeeling  with Standard Car

 

June 18 2012

Below are four pictures unearthed by Minoo showing life in the late nineteenth and the beginning of the Tentieth Centuries--thank you Minoo


Below Planters Club Darjeeling 1890


         Darjeeling 1890--looks very lazy & pompous



Chowrasta



 Darjeeling Tea Estate 1890


May 5 2012  
Thanks to Minoo we have a 70 plus year old film
(seven and a half minutes) of Darjeeling

To view please click the coloured lettering

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player
_embedded&v=-9lxvWSYetI#!

A rare B/W video of Darjeeling during 1930 - 1937 (No Audio). The road towards Darjeeling, labourers repairing the road and shepherds by the railway track. Darjeeling Toy Train. View of Kenchanjunga. Arrival of Stanley Jackson and Lady Jackson at Government House. Scenes of the town: park, church, Town Hall, Lebong. Governor's Cup Race Day Views of the Sanatorium. The weekly market. 1937 Coronation Day Parade at Chowrasta.


May 5 2012
Below are the two sides of a postcard sent from Darjeeling to Folkestone in Kent, England in 1904






 

 

 

 


  May 27 2914

Once again we are indebted to Minoo Avari for this glimpse of sad history caused by storms, thank you Minoo.

 

DARJEELING – OCTOBER 1968

October heralds autumn.  It brings with it a riot of colour, transforming the ethereal snows of Kanchenjunga into a wondrous panorama at daybreak.  Seductive rays, from a sun still to crest the Eastern hills, slowly coax the mountain to life.  A pale dab of pink, atop the mountain, proclaims the dawn.  

A gentle breeze, springing from the massif, ruffles clothing and headgear.  Huddled under greatcoats, bundled in gaudy scarves and shivering in the cold, tourists, taxi drivers and guides collectively gasp as the sun struggles to climb the opposite hills.  Starched clouds with the texture of organdie appear pasted in the still dark sky.  Below Tiger Hill, an ocean of fleece stretches to touch the distant hills.  

Vying with the snow, clouds enhance the celestial palette with colours quickly changing from crimson to magenta; till the sun bursts through magically turning clouds and snow blood red.  In the blink of an eye the entire panorama turns pristine, with a white so pure and fierce it can no longer be gazed upon… and the majesty of a Darjeeling sunrise is complete.  

A loud cheer, accompanied by applause, sees Christians cross themselves and sink to their knees.  Others gape at the searing vista till they are forced to turn away from the brilliance, now too dazzling to contemplate further.  The motley crowd turns away in awestruck silence.  Frozen limbs creak as they head toward land rovers and jeeps for the uncomfortable ride back to Darjeeling. 

Satiated with the miracle of the morning nobody notices the ominous red sky.  With their backs to the malevolence dominating the Eastern sky, there are no thoughts about the phrase “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  Had they lingered a little longer they might well have heeded Matthew, XV in the Wyclif Bible, written as early as 1395 and all that it portended.  As he so succinctly put it:

The eeuenynge maad, ye seien, It shal be cleer, for the heuene is lijk to reed; and the morwe, To day tempest, for heuen shyneth heuy, or sorwful." 

And so it came to pass.  Clouds as pure as the driven snow turned dark; malignant thunder clouds gathered in their stead and, by early evening, the day was turned to night.  There was none of the preamble of drizzle; it just came down hard and angry with no let-up through the night.  A bolt of lightning, accompanied by a blast of thunder, struck a cow in Ging bazaar.  The atmosphere turned electric with a hint of sulphur permeating the darkness.  The devil was loose and riding the fetid night.  Howling like a banshee in the thunderous rain, there was the stench of brimstone following in his wake.  

Wind and rain battered the corrugated tin-sheet roof of the Assistant Manager’s bungalow.  Surrounded by pruned tea bushes in the heart of Ging Tea Estate, it stood stark and naked in the night.  Sleep was difficult to come by.  Restless, I kept peeking out to confirm it wasn’t hail but what I saw instead was even more alarming.  The front lawn was a swimming pool even as the rain kept coming down, harder and harder.  The temperature dropped consistently with the barometer bringing with it a malignant, cloying cold to fester in the marrow.  It wasn’t yet night but the evening turned to pitch. 

Power lines snapped as supporting wooden posts sank into ground beaten to swamp and telephones went out of commission.  Fortunately the old firewood torpedo stove in the kitchen worked, allowing me to bathe and shave with hot water.  After a breakfast of boiled eggs and some left over bread and butter, I contemplated the day ahead over a mug of tea: 

All four library books were due for renewal so there would be nothing to read.  Not that there was enough light to read by! Dizzy from the sound of myriad kettledrums beating on the roof, I thought I heard a faint beep over the incessant din.  Stepping into the kitchen I saw the outline of a jeep parked by the garage.  Opening the door I was greeted by a cold blast of rain.  Stepping back hastily, I was greeted by a cheerful grin from within.  It was Jiwan Pradhan from neighbouring Badamtam Tea Estate.  

“Want to go to Kalimpong?” He enquired at the top of his voice. 

“Why would I want to go to Kalimpong?” I shouted back. 

“It might not be raining there and I’ll treat you to dumplings at Gompu’s.  You can have as many as you want while I visit Nina.”  

Jiwan had recently begun courting the girl from Kalimpong.  Though I hadn’t met her, Jiwan was a close friend.  Both of us, young junior Assistant Managers, isolated and lonely, shared an occasional Saturday night, usually at his bungalow, to break the monotony of plantation life.  Our fathers too were good friends.  While my Dad, besides running two cinema halls, was also the District Commandant of the Home Guards, Jiwan’s father, Kaala Pradhan, was the Additional Superintendent of Police.  They did many official tours of the district together and shared mutual admiration and respect for one another. 

Workers would certainly not step out of their dwellings on a Friday as wet as this, so grabbing an umbrella, two raw potatoes, a penknife and a face towel, I was in the jeep in an instant.  It was a little past nine when we left that morning but it was still dark, and the blanket of rain provided no view at all.  Jiwan’s thick spectacles periodically fogged up under the canopy of his immaculately maintained jeep, while I used my handkerchief to wipe the inside of the windscreen.  Driving slowly we finally made Ghoom, which at eight thousand feet was the highest point on the main road.  A thousand feet higher than Darjeeling, it always seemed bathed in gloom and I often wondered if that was how it got its name.  

After that it was downhill all the way to the river.  Though the rain hadn’t stopped it was lighter and the day, considerably brighter.  We passed several tea estates on the way: Tukdah, part of The Darjeeling Company for whom I worked and managed then by Derek Royals; Rungli Rungliot, where Som Kotchar was manager; beyond to Peshok and finally Teesta Valley Tea Estate.  Gordon Fraser was the manager there and if hadn’t still been drizzling, I might have asked Jiwan to take a detour, through estate roads, and perhaps share a cup of tea by Gordon’s fireplace. 

Though Jiwan drove carefully, he was in hurry and my stomach rumbled at about the same time we saw the bridge.  The river drowned the noise of beating rain as it thundered down, leaving us nervous about crossing the old Anderson bridge.  Fed by melting snow and glaciers from the high mountains, the rain made the swiftly flowing TeestaRiver even more fearsome.  Once on the other side we started the gentle climb to Kalimpong and were at Gompu’s in time for lunch.  It had taken us four hours! 

Though the restaurant, like all hotels in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, was alive with clients I was greeted and fussed over by a welcoming staff.  Steaming dumplings, three times the size of pot stickers, heaped high on a platter by my plate, rapidly diminished.  Fresh platters appeared swiftly from the kitchen.  Perspiration that had earlier beaded my eyebrows, turned to sweat, running down my face in little rivulets as I dipped each morsel in the bowl of red Dallay khorsani.  The Dallay is a small round chilly indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas. 

With an appetising flavour of its own it is dynamite to the palate, as many an adventurous gourmet will attest.  Intent on my dumplings, mopping sweat with my small face towel, I wasn’t aware of the increasing rain, nor did I give any thought to the growing darkness outside.  Working my way through a third platter of dumplings, to the delight of an admiring staff, I was interrupted by an agitated Taashi Pemba Hishey.  

Eesto deen ma yah kay garnu bhako?” 

I hadn’t noticed his arrival.  Looking up from the half-eaten dumpling, dripping with red Dalay khorsani, I was suddenly aware the restaurant lights were on and the rain beating down harder. 

Taashi was a friend of both our families.  He said he had been contacted through the police wireless system.  Stating that our parents were furious, he wanted to know what we were doing driving to Kalimpong on a day like this.  He was soaking wet and didn’t look too pleased. 

Tyoo mooro caa chuch?” He asked angrily, enquiring after Jiwan’s whereabouts in rather impolite Nepali. 

Turning to two constables standing by the door, who confirmed they knew where Nina’s parents lived, he told them to take the jeep and fetch Jiwan immediately.  Apparently satisfied with this he sat next to me, ordered a platter of dumplings and we both fell to eating.  It took Jiwan another hour to arrive.  He had apparently bathed and must have left a change of clothes too at Nina’s place but he was wet once again.  Filling petrol and getting in and out of the jeep had drenched him and he came squelching into the restaurant. 

Taashi was keen we leave immediately.  Settling the bill Jiwan got behind the wheel and we set off down the road to the TeestaRiver.  The rain and murky sky prompted him to turn on the lights but soon the overheated wiper motor ceased to function.  Cutting a potato in half I jumped out and quickly and rubbed the windscreen with its ooze; it was standard procedure in Darjeeling when wipers went on the blink. 

Autumn in the Himalayas sees the sun set early.  Descending into the valley it had set even earlier and now it was really dark.  The rain started belting down with greater intensity, yet we could hear the river roaring in the distance.  It was getting difficult to see the road so Jiwan stuck his head out.  With his glasses on this didn’t prove successful and we were reduced to a crawl.  After what seemed a long time, we were at the crossing and my intestines knotted to see what lay ahead.  Raging water, now at the level of the bridge, rushed past the concrete railing with increasing frequency.  Reports later suggested that the water had risen six inches in those thirty minutes and stood at sixty-seven feet above the extreme danger mark! 

Assessing the situation quickly I realised there was no time to waste.  Jiwan said he couldn’t see beyond the nose of the jeep and that it might be best if we turned back.  However we both knew we had our folks to contend with back in Darjeeling.  Suddenly jumping out he asked me to get behind the wheel. 

“Put her in four-wheel low-ratio.  I’ll walk in front and guide you.” 

The headlights did as much good as the torch in his hand.  Neither could penetrate the phalanx of rain coming down and, as the front wheels mounted the concrete, I felt vibrations coming up through the steering wheel.  Not sure what this could be I kept following Jiwan at a snail’s pace but he kept disappearing in the rain.  At the centre of the bridge we were at the narrowest point of the gorge, where the storm was at its most intense and the river, maddened by the fury of the elements, bellowed its anger.  

Almost stationary now with the jeep’s headlights reduced to candlelight, we were exposed to the full force of Nature’s fury, with wind and rain coming at us from the maws of hell! 

The bridge was actually shaking.  Rising water darted across its surface continuously and the jeep slid from side to side on slippery cement.  To make matters worse, Jiwan kept appearing and disappearing and I worried about running him over.  Tooting the horn a few times before he finally heard it, I asked him to get in.  We didn’t speak till we got across, though speech would have been impossible in that maelstrom.  Sighing with relief we turned right for the climb up to Darjeeling and immediately confronted with more problems. 

The steep bank on this side was giving way and mudslides lay in sticky heaps blocking the road.  The thought of reversing across the bridge galvanised me.  Still in four-wheel drive with low-ratio engaged, I went at the first mound of mud.  We skidded and fishtailed before crossing our first hurdle.  There were several more and I was dead tired by the time we got to the Peshok rest house.  It was an open-ended concrete structure, locally known as a ‘hawa ghar’.  It afforded no protection from the elements but I was glad to be out of the jeep. 

My heart was still pounding when a flash of lightning was followed by the distinct sound of groaning.  Then there was crash.  Still too numb to take in what had happened, it was Jiwan who said it all in one word: 

Goyoo!” 

Indeed, the AndersonBridge constructed by Bhim Bhadur Pradhan in 1935, for which the British conferred upon him the title of Raibhadur, had gone.  Savaged by the waters, it had been pulled out by the foundation and swept away.  We must have been the last two persons that ever crossed that old bridge. 

The rest of our nightmarish journey was overshadowed by the death and destruction the rain had brought with it.  I don’t know what time I got back to my bungalow but early next morning I was told that houses had been buried under mudslides in our Coffeebari division.  Rushing down in the receding rain, we just looked on at people helplessly struggling in mud turned to quagmire.  Someone thought of cutting nearby bananas and using the fronds and stems to make a path atop the bog.  Notwithstanding the nine lives already lost, it worked and we were able to rescue many others from a horrible death.  

A day later we learned that the main road to Kurseong, above Ambootia, had been destroyed.  Teesta bazaar too had been swept away and many lives were lost there.  Tourists, stranded for several days, had to wait till the army opened the old military road from Jalapahar, which bypassed the Ambootia slip from above, allowing people to get down to Siliguri in the plains.  

It had been a terrible ordeal.  For the next few months reports kept filtering in from remote villages of gory deaths, terrible landslides and the mutilation of Darjeeling district that October of nineteen-sixty eight.


February 6 2014




.

Darjeeling 19th Century

Minoo tells us that this is a photo taken perhaps in the late 1800's but need to have it identified.  I wonder if it is Stenthal Estate? If anyone has ideas please contact Editor


 May 27 1914

Once again we are indebted to Minoo Avari for this glimpse of sad history caused by storms, thank you Minoo.

 

DARJEELING – OCTOBER 1968

October heralds autumn.  It brings with it a riot of colour, transforming the ethereal snows of Kanchenjunga into a wondrous panorama at daybreak.  Seductive rays, from a sun still to crest the Eastern hills, slowly coax the mountain to life.  A pale dab of pink, atop the mountain, proclaims the dawn.  

A gentle breeze, springing from the massif, ruffles clothing and headgear.  Huddled under greatcoats, bundled in gaudy scarves and shivering in the cold, tourists, taxi drivers and guides collectively gasp as the sun struggles to climb the opposite hills.  Starched clouds with the texture of organdie appear pasted in the still dark sky.  Below Tiger Hill, an ocean of fleece stretches to touch the distant hills.  

Vying with the snow, clouds enhance the celestial palette with colours quickly changing from crimson to magenta; till the sun bursts through magically turning clouds and snow blood red.  In the blink of an eye the entire panorama turns pristine, with a white so pure and fierce it can no longer be gazed upon… and the majesty of a Darjeeling sunrise is complete.  

A loud cheer, accompanied by applause, sees Christians cross themselves and sink to their knees.  Others gape at the searing vista till they are forced to turn away from the brilliance, now too dazzling to contemplate further.  The motley crowd turns away in awestruck silence.  Frozen limbs creak as they head toward land rovers and jeeps for the uncomfortable ride back to Darjeeling. 

Satiated with the miracle of the morning nobody notices the ominous red sky.  With their backs to the malevolence dominating the Eastern sky, there are no thoughts about the phrase “Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”  Had they lingered a little longer they might well have heeded Matthew, XV in the Wyclif Bible, written as early as 1395 and all that it portended.  As he so succinctly put it:

The eeuenynge maad, ye seien, It shal be cleer, for the heuene is lijk to reed; and the morwe, To day tempest, for heuen shyneth heuy, or sorwful." 

And so it came to pass.  Clouds as pure as the driven snow turned dark; malignant thunder clouds gathered in their stead and, by early evening, the day was turned to night.  There was none of the preamble of drizzle; it just came down hard and angry with no let-up through the night.  A bolt of lightning, accompanied by a blast of thunder, struck a cow in Ging bazaar.  The atmosphere turned electric with a hint of sulphur permeating the darkness.  The devil was loose and riding the fetid night.  Howling like a banshee in the thunderous rain, there was the stench of brimstone following in his wake.  

Wind and rain battered the corrugated tin-sheet roof of the Assistant Manager’s bungalow.  Surrounded by pruned tea bushes in the heart of Ging Tea Estate, it stood stark and naked in the night.  Sleep was difficult to come by.  Restless, I kept peeking out to confirm it wasn’t hail but what I saw instead was even more alarming.  The front lawn was a swimming pool even as the rain kept coming down, harder and harder.  The temperature dropped consistently with the barometer bringing with it a malignant, cloying cold to fester in the marrow.  It wasn’t yet night but the evening turned to pitch. 

Power lines snapped as supporting wooden posts sank into ground beaten to swamp and telephones went out of commission.  Fortunately the old firewood torpedo stove in the kitchen worked, allowing me to bathe and shave with hot water.  After a breakfast of boiled eggs and some left over bread and butter, I contemplated the day ahead over a mug of tea: 

All four library books were due for renewal so there would be nothing to read.  Not that there was enough light to read by! Dizzy from the sound of myriad kettledrums beating on the roof, I thought I heard a faint beep over the incessant din.  Stepping into the kitchen I saw the outline of a jeep parked by the garage.  Opening the door I was greeted by a cold blast of rain.  Stepping back hastily, I was greeted by a cheerful grin from within.  It was Jiwan Pradhan from neighbouring Badamtam Tea Estate.  

“Want to go to Kalimpong?” He enquired at the top of his voice. 

“Why would I want to go to Kalimpong?” I shouted back. 

“It might not be raining there and I’ll treat you to dumplings at Gompu’s.  You can have as many as you want while I visit Nina.”  

Jiwan had recently begun courting the girl from Kalimpong.  Though I hadn’t met her, Jiwan was a close friend.  Both of us, young junior Assistant Managers, isolated and lonely, shared an occasional Saturday night, usually at his bungalow, to break the monotony of plantation life.  Our fathers too were good friends.  While my Dad, besides running two cinema halls, was also the District Commandant of the Home Guards, Jiwan’s father, Kaala Pradhan, was the Additional Superintendent of Police.  They did many official tours of the district together and shared mutual admiration and respect for one another. 

Workers would certainly not step out of their dwellings on a Friday as wet as this, so grabbing an umbrella, two raw potatoes, a penknife and a face towel, I was in the jeep in an instant.  It was a little past nine when we left that morning but it was still dark, and the blanket of rain provided no view at all.  Jiwan’s thick spectacles periodically fogged up under the canopy of his immaculately maintained jeep, while I used my handkerchief to wipe the inside of the windscreen.  Driving slowly we finally made Ghoom, which at eight thousand feet was the highest point on the main road.  A thousand feet higher than Darjeeling, it always seemed bathed in gloom and I often wondered if that was how it got its name.  

After that it was downhill all the way to the river.  Though the rain hadn’t stopped it was lighter and the day, considerably brighter.  We passed several tea estates on the way: Tukdah, part of The Darjeeling Company for whom I worked and managed then by Derek Royals; Rungli Rungliot, where Som Kotchar was manager; beyond to Peshok and finally Teesta Valley Tea Estate.  Gordon Fraser was the manager there and if hadn’t still been drizzling, I might have asked Jiwan to take a detour, through estate roads, and perhaps share a cup of tea by Gordon’s fireplace. 

Though Jiwan drove carefully, he was in hurry and my stomach rumbled at about the same time we saw the bridge.  The river drowned the noise of beating rain as it thundered down, leaving us nervous about crossing the old Anderson bridge.  Fed by melting snow and glaciers from the high mountains, the rain made the swiftly flowing TeestaRiver even more fearsome.  Once on the other side we started the gentle climb to Kalimpong and were at Gompu’s in time for lunch.  It had taken us four hours! 

Though the restaurant, like all hotels in Darjeeling and Kalimpong, was alive with clients I was greeted and fussed over by a welcoming staff.  Steaming dumplings, three times the size of pot stickers, heaped high on a platter by my plate, rapidly diminished.  Fresh platters appeared swiftly from the kitchen.  Perspiration that had earlier beaded my eyebrows, turned to sweat, running down my face in little rivulets as I dipped each morsel in the bowl of red Dallay khorsani.  The Dallay is a small round chilly indigenous to the foothills of the Himalayas. 

With an appetising flavour of its own it is dynamite to the palate, as many an adventurous gourmet will attest.  Intent on my dumplings, mopping sweat with my small face towel, I wasn’t aware of the increasing rain, nor did I give any thought to the growing darkness outside.  Working my way through a third platter of dumplings, to the delight of an admiring staff, I was interrupted by an agitated Taashi Pemba Hishey.  

Eesto deen ma yah kay garnu bhako?” 

I hadn’t noticed his arrival.  Looking up from the half-eaten dumpling, dripping with red Dalay khorsani, I was suddenly aware the restaurant lights were on and the rain beating down harder. 

Taashi was a friend of both our families.  He said he had been contacted through the police wireless system.  Stating that our parents were furious, he wanted to know what we were doing driving to Kalimpong on a day like this.  He was soaking wet and didn’t look too pleased. 

Tyoo mooro caa chuch?” He asked angrily, enquiring after Jiwan’s whereabouts in rather impolite Nepali. 

Turning to two constables standing by the door, who confirmed they knew where Nina’s parents lived, he told them to take the jeep and fetch Jiwan immediately.  Apparently satisfied with this he sat next to me, ordered a platter of dumplings and we both fell to eating.  It took Jiwan another hour to arrive.  He had apparently bathed and must have left a change of clothes too at Nina’s place but he was wet once again.  Filling petrol and getting in and out of the jeep had drenched him and he came squelching into the restaurant. 

Taashi was keen we leave immediately.  Settling the bill Jiwan got behind the wheel and we set off down the road to the TeestaRiver.  The rain and murky sky prompted him to turn on the lights but soon the overheated wiper motor ceased to function.  Cutting a potato in half I jumped out and quickly and rubbed the windscreen with its ooze; it was standard procedure in Darjeeling when wipers went on the blink. 

Autumn in the Himalayas sees the sun set early.  Descending into the valley it had set even earlier and now it was really dark.  The rain started belting down with greater intensity, yet we could hear the river roaring in the distance.  It was getting difficult to see the road so Jiwan stuck his head out.  With his glasses on this didn’t prove successful and we were reduced to a crawl.  After what seemed a long time, we were at the crossing and my intestines knotted to see what lay ahead.  Raging water, now at the level of the bridge, rushed past the concrete railing with increasing frequency.  Reports later suggested that the water had risen six inches in those thirty minutes and stood at sixty-seven feet above the extreme danger mark! 

Assessing the situation quickly I realised there was no time to waste.  Jiwan said he couldn’t see beyond the nose of the jeep and that it might be best if we turned back.  However we both knew we had our folks to contend with back in Darjeeling.  Suddenly jumping out he asked me to get behind the wheel. 

“Put her in four-wheel low-ratio.  I’ll walk in front and guide you.” 

The headlights did as much good as the torch in his hand.  Neither could penetrate the phalanx of rain coming down and, as the front wheels mounted the concrete, I felt vibrations coming up through the steering wheel.  Not sure what this could be I kept following Jiwan at a snail’s pace but he kept disappearing in the rain.  At the centre of the bridge we were at the narrowest point of the gorge, where the storm was at its most intense and the river, maddened by the fury of the elements, bellowed its anger.  

Almost stationary now with the jeep’s headlights reduced to candlelight, we were exposed to the full force of Nature’s fury, with wind and rain coming at us from the maws of hell! 

The bridge was actually shaking.  Rising water darted across its surface continuously and the jeep slid from side to side on slippery cement.  To make matters worse, Jiwan kept appearing and disappearing and I worried about running him over.  Tooting the horn a few times before he finally heard it, I asked him to get in.  We didn’t speak till we got across, though speech would have been impossible in that maelstrom.  Sighing with relief we turned right for the climb up to Darjeeling and immediately confronted with more problems. 

The steep bank on this side was giving way and mudslides lay in sticky heaps blocking the road.  The thought of reversing across the bridge galvanised me.  Still in four-wheel drive with low-ratio engaged, I went at the first mound of mud.  We skidded and fishtailed before crossing our first hurdle.  There were several more and I was dead tired by the time we got to the Peshok rest house.  It was an open-ended concrete structure, locally known as a ‘hawa ghar’.  It afforded no protection from the elements but I was glad to be out of the jeep. 

My heart was still pounding when a flash of lightning was followed by the distinct sound of groaning.  Then there was crash.  Still too numb to take in what had happened, it was Jiwan who said it all in one word: 

Goyoo!” 

Indeed, the AndersonBridge constructed by Bhim Bhadur Pradhan in 1935, for which the British conferred upon him the title of Raibhadur, had gone.  Savaged by the waters, it had been pulled out by the foundation and swept away.  We must have been the last two persons that ever crossed that old bridge. 

The rest of our nightmarish journey was overshadowed by the death and destruction the rain had brought with it.  I don’t know what time I got back to my bungalow but early next morning I was told that houses had been buried under mudslides in our Coffeebari division.  Rushing down in the receding rain, we just looked on at people helplessly struggling in mud turned to quagmire.  Someone thought of cutting nearby bananas and using the fronds and stems to make a path atop the bog.  Notwithstanding the nine lives already lost, it worked and we were able to rescue many others from a horrible death.  

A day later we learned that the main road to Kurseong, above Ambootia, had been destroyed.  Teesta bazaar too had been swept away and many lives were lost there.  Tourists, stranded for several days, had to wait till the army opened the old military road from Jalapahar, which bypassed the Ambootia slip from above, allowing people to get down to Siliguri in the plains.  

It had been a terrible ordeal.  For the next few months reports kept filtering in from remote villages of gory deaths, terrible landslides and the mutilation of Darjeeling district that October of nineteen-sixty eight.


February 6 2014




.

Darjeeling 19th Century

Minoo tells us that this is a photo taken perhaps in the late 1800's but need to have it identified.  I wonder if it is Stenthal Estate? If anyone has ideas please contact Editor


 

February 6 2014

This is a story about the transition of a Darjeeling Planter to South India

 

The south-west monsoon set in early that summer of ’70.  There was no sign of it though at Tinnevelli Junction, where the late May sun relentlessly roasted the already baked earth and left us sweating, as porters loaded baggage into the boot and overhead rack of the company Ambassador.  Shehzarin was already a few months pregnant with our first born but it was Pancho, our Boxer dog, who showed signs of morning sickness.  The fault lay entirely with Xavier, the Singampatti group driver, who exhibited a style of driving I found uniquely disquieting; flooring the accelerator for a few seconds, then completely taking his foot off the pedal, he repeated this process with alarming consistency.  As a result we see-sawed past Chernmadevi, rocked back and forth past Karumbai and found ourselves quite seasick by the time we got to Natesan Agency at Kallaidaikurichi. 

 

Shankeran was there to welcome us with his enormous brother, Harihara Krishnan, taking up much of the background.  Inhaling deeply, Shankeran managed to give us the history of Singampatti in one breath.  Then gulping another huge quantity of air, he informed us that there was a lot of work to be done on Manimuttar and that the Muthanna’s would be off shortly on six weeks leave to the UK and that John Bland’s son and daughter would be coming from the UK to spend their holidays on Manjolai.  He paused to inhale once again, even as the aroma of sumptuous coffee assailed our nostrils.  Shankeran was not finished though and, before the completion of yet another long sentence, which left him breathless once again, he plunged on as we finished our first cup of coffee. 

 

Past the level crossing Xavier steadied his epileptic foot.  The drive was scenic and Xavier pointed out the Manimuttar Dam, which had filled to the brim, with a cryptic “Dam full!” There was no traffic at all and the narrow road snaked through rocky outcrops of scrub before starting the climb to Manjolai.  I chuckled seeing the quaint board informing us that we were now negotiating an awkward hairpin bend! Dappled sunlight bathed Manjolai estate and John Bland had us sit out on the open veranda to sample tea and scoff a few biscuits.  With that we exchanged vehicles and set off with ‘our Michaels’, the Manimuttar driver, for the Muthanna residence.

 

It got steadily darker as we approached the top of the hill.  Fog prevented us from seeing much of the surrounding forest and by the time Michael pronounced ‘Kakachi golf course’ we were in the maws of the monsoon.  It was blinding stuff.  The wipers were inadequate and appeared to work in slow motion.  Undeterred, Michael drove on while giving us a crash course in Tamil.  Moon, he said, was Nilavoo.  It resounded with a timbre reminiscent of Louis Armstrong after a few bourbons.  Coming to think of it, Michael did resemble Satchmo! 

 

We turned left and just as suddenly saw the outline of a building looming in front.  A stout balding person, standing under the porch, was very nearly run over by Michael who was in a hurry to get the car parked and out of the lashing rain.  We introduced ourselves.  The man called himself George, leading me to believe the little that I had heard about Coorgs.  It did turn out though that George wasn’t a pseudonym for Ricky and that he was, in fact, Ricky’s cousin.  After that we called him Cousin George. 

 

A short while later Ricky appeared followed by his wife Prema, who had been preening herself to look presentable in front of Shehzarin.  She had heard my wife was with Air-India and this was sufficient to frighten her into putting on makeup… but when she saw my simple and pragmatic wife she beamed with delight and they were to become lifelong friends. 

 

There was a sudden break in the rain and George just as suddenly came to life. 

 

“Would you like to play tennis?”

 

Ricky must have seen the incredulous look on my face and assured me the court would be playable.  “The ground here dries almost instantly”, he said.  Pulling suitcases from the car and fishing out my tennis racket, George and I did take to the court.  He was a crafty player and played to win.  We had just stepped back into the warmth of the sitting room when the rain came crashing down again.  Ricky and Prema accompanied us to Oothu Bungalow, leaving a dispirited cousin George to lick his wounds and fuss over the menu for dinner.

 

The bungalow hadn’t been lived in for some time.  After the Muthannas left, we had for company our bungalow servant Waidyanayagam, who hovered about solicitously.  Watching all this was Thomas the gardener who appraised us with a jaundiced eye.  He amused himself with our apparent loss to adjust to a cyclical Cooper generator and having to make do with Aladdin lanterns, after the generator ran its course and packed up within the hour.  It was difficult and I went to bed perplexed.  Shehzarin was upbeat and took an immediate liking to the seemingly impermeable loneliness, the opaque fog and the drumming rain.

 

The days rolled into weeks and in that time Ricky taught me to ride a motorbike.  Later, with nephew Subbu in tow, he taught us golf.  In turn we showed him that one didn’t have to stand motionless over the ball.  By taking three steps back one could run up and whack it like they do in hockey.  This must have suitably impressed him because he abruptly stopped further lessons.

 

A break in the weather allowed me to take stock of the terrain.  I hadn’t realised till then that there was a big hill in front of the Oothu Bungalow.  It turned out to be field number twenty-five, directly opposite the small Oothu office from where I operated.  I checked daily on the little nursery by the stream and admired the hundred acres of tea on the property, which had been planted in part by David Hughes and later completed by Roy Machia.  The view from the lookout, which signalled the last of the hundred acres of tea planted at that time, is magnificent:

 

It overlooks the impressive Papanasam dam, snuggled below in the heart of the Mundanthurai game sanctuary; where thick forests stretch to the left and culminate just short of towering Mount Augusta.  Locally known as Augustyamalai, this volcano shaped peak is more often than not enshrouded in mist.  It has for company, five smaller jagged peaks known as the Ionthullies, or five peaks.

 

Toward the middle of June, Angus McNaughton, the Managing Director, paid an official visit.  I had met him and his wife Sally during my interview, at the Bombay office, and was already an admirer of Angus’ zest for life and his spirit of adventure.  The next day we walked through the fields.  With Angus, John Bland and Ricky in front, I remained a few discreet steps behind. 

 

“Oothu can never become a full-fledged estate with just a hundred acres of tea!” Angus suddenly exclaimed.

 

John looked up at the sky, sucking on a peppermint sweet the while.  Ricky wasn’t deterred and asked Angus how much he wanted us to plant.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, you can plant from here to Bombay.  I’ve been hearing about plans for new planting but nothing ever happens!”

 

Turning to me Ricky asked if I was game.  I shrivelled in the sudden spotlight but Ricky had that mischievous, irresistible grin, almost daring me to say yes.  So I said yes!

 

“I’ll be leaving for England in a few days,” Ricky told Angus “but Minoo can start the nurseries and begin clearing.  I’ll be back to help him with the planting.”

 

And so it was.  Ricky and Prema left and I got down to planning the extension of both nurseries at Manimuttar and Oothu.  Mr. Sylvester was the staff member in charge of Oothu and worked directly under me.  Mention must be made here of his service to the Corporation: on the verge of dismissal for insubordination, it was decided that Oothu would be suitable for him to dwell on his misdeeds.  I was asked if I would like another IC in his place but I had already begun to interact with him and was impressed with his sagacity.  We got on well.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get everything working, with such clockwork precision, on my own. 

 

The days were long and oft times brutal.  Tamil lessons at 4:30 am (for all the good it did me), then Oothu office for planning out the day with Sylvester; Manimuttar office and factory and overseeing the plucking there, along with checking sundry cultivation works.  Clearing forest and using a dumpy spirit level to measure out roads, thirty feet at a time, to make sure the gradient remained constant, also helped with speedy removal of trees and scrub that had been cleared.

 

Ricky had earmarked some fields where blocks of clonal tea had been left un-plucked.  A2 was a plant selected by Dr. Mathew and then there was a small leafed chinarey plant, with the simple nomenclature ‘Hybrid’, that someone in the past had also selected.  When the un-plucked stalks achieved pencil thickness, they were cut with a slant and each one stuck into an eighteen inch sleeve that sported a four inch diameter.  These sleeves, stacked ten abreast, continued in length for as long as the lie of the land would allow.  Over these we bent large bamboo staves, at approximately three foot intervals.  These were then interlaced with longer bamboo poles to support the weight of the two hundred gauge polythene sheet that would cover each bed. 

 

I had done much smaller nurseries in Darjeeling, while working there with the Darjeeling Company, and knew that spraying the top of the stacked bags with Tefazine, a pre-emergent weedicide, would prevent weeds from taking over.  After the chemical spray each stem, with two to three leaves, was pushed into the mud-filled bags before polythene sheeting was draped over each bed.  After that the overhanging sides were sealed with mud.

 

In essence it was a mini hothouse.  John, never having seen the like, balked at this procedure and repeatedly questioned my wisdom with the admonition, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket!” Well he did have a point there but I just had too many eggs on my plate at that time to argue the case.  We erected an enormous pandal, with stakes ten feet above the ground and framed a lattice on top over which we tied kidagu sheets.  Even so, the direct sun did find little gaps and managed to burn some clonal material.  Ricky was back by then and suggested we apply mud paste over the polythene.  This was a huge success.  We planted passion fruit creepers, which replaced the kidagu and became the permanent overhead shade.

 

Meanwhile the clearing in some fields was complete and Sylvester organised the pits to be dug, as per Angus’ desires, at four by two by two and a half feet.  This made it around seven thousand plants an acre.  We were able to plant one hundred acres within a nine month period, after supplying Manjolai with clonal material to plant fifty acres there.

 

Ricky and I got on famously.  Both Sagittarians, we had similar interests.  He left me strictly alone to get on with work but we got together as soon as the day was done.  As families we did pretty much everything together.  Tennis, golf and swimming by the beaches of Kovalam on an occasional Sunday; at other times watching bathers, huddled in groups, being bludgeoned under the waterfalls at Manimuttar and Courtallam.  There were movies too at the group office in Manjolai and at the Ambassamudram club, where we frequented the swimming pool.

 

Another year passed and the Directors were pleased with our progress.  Singampatti tea prices were historically lower than those fetched by our Mudis group.  John approached me to see if there was anything I could do, to rectify this bugbear that so obviously haunted him.  Ricky was away again but I was certain that my experience, with manufacturing Darjeeling tea, would do the trick.  Dev Mukerjee of Carrit Moran, our tea-brokers, was flabbergasted.  “What’s Singampatti doing sending us Darjeeling tea?” he queried.

 

Be that as it may, it caught the immediate attention of certain West German buyers and Willie D’Cruze, the tea-maker of the Manimuttar factory, came back from the auction at Cochin beaming with delight. 

 

“Those big sweaty German buggers want more tea.  I told them we could give them as much as they want.” 

 

I was taken aback.  We had just sent ten chests as a trial but John’s triumphant demeanour, at the unexpectedly high price, sealed my fate.  We continued making as much ‘Darjeeling’ tea as we could, even as a team of Japanese arrived to put up a green tea factory on Oothu. 

 

The seasons changed.  In the autumn of ’70 Shehzarin gave birth to our baby daughter at the Catherine Booth Salvation Army hospital in Nagercoil.  It was the nearest hospital, a little less than two hundred kilometres away, run by dedicated American and British doctors.  Winter brought with it another new addition: I had gone to Coimbatore with John Bland to purchase a vehicle with the nineteen thousand rupee car loan sanctioned by the Corporation.  We settled on a 1954 Plymouth Savoy in spanking condition.  Though John signed the cheque enthusiastically, it raised the hackles of the group manager in Mudis and caused quite a furore.  The group vehicle there was a Plymouth Savoy!

 

By the summer of the following year the green tea factory was up and running.  It brought with it electricity for our bungalow.  We were finally able to listen to our collection of records and enjoy an occasional cold beer from the new refrigerator, which replaced the old dysfunctional kerosene contraption.  Now we had lights that could be switched on at any time through the night! Angus had retired by then and was replaced by David Rosser, a retired commander from the Royal Navy, who now headed the Bombay office as Managing Director.

 

More new planting, learning the mechanics of green tea production, harvesting cardamom and picking the little coffee we had on Kutheravetti, kept me busy.  Often, under candlelight, the Oothu office (still not electrified) would see Mr. Sylvester and I pouring over field maps: planning new roads and deciding which plants from either the Manimuttar or Oothu nursery would go where.  We were still supplying Manjolai plants from our nurseries for their annual fifty acre extensions. 

 

Of grave concern were rocks and stones.  They had to be removed from the new clearings, so that the roots of young tea plants wouldn’t come in contact with anything other than soil.  We insisted on the workers digging two feet deep, before turning over the earth, to remove these impediments lurking beneath.  I was adamant that excavated boulders and rocks not be rolled down the slopes to block streams and waterways.  At a loss to find a way around, it was Sylvester who came up with the solution.  Digging large craters on the newly cut roads, he suggested we bury them.  This strengthened the roads and took care of our problems of disposal at the same time.

 

There was another problem though which required divine intervention.  Digging was not something the workers relished.  Everyday workmen designated to dig would report sick.  We were losing time.  Then to make matters worse Manjolai decided to go on strike.  Not content with striking on their own property, rumour had it that they were planning to march up to Manimuttar and Oothu to disrupt work here.  Neither Sylvester nor I had an answer to this and, that morning, only a skittish handful of Oothu workers showed up at the new clearing.  Sylvester and I stood in the field, forsaking lunch, digging valiantly alongside the workers.

 

By evening the workers from Manjolai had assembled below the field we were on.  Shouting injunctions and gesticulating, they pumped their fists, as they began to trudge uphill toward us.  They were no more than thirty yards away when one of the Oothu workers, gazing steadfastly at the ground yelled.  “Aaayooe! Aa-yi-yooe!” 

 

Catching the evening sun a stream of yellow oozed from the freshly dug earth.  A light drizzle had started, turning the yellow lava into tiny rainbows.  Unmindful of getting wet and the fact that it was time to go home, the militant Manjolai workforce started tearing at the ground with bare hands.  Then using stakes, staves and other implements, which they had brought along to intimidate us, they went into a frenzy turning the earth over to seek for treasure.  I looked across at Sylvester who, with a wry smile, said, “I think we won’t have any more problems finding people for digging.”

 

Gold coins, with Tippu Sultan’s emblem emblazoned on both sides, spilled from the damp earth.  Amber and mother-of-pearl ornaments too were being unearthed around us.  Soon hurricane lanterns and large sugar gunnysacks appeared and the field began resembling something from out of a fairy-tale.  Workers in bandages descended from dispensaries.  Others in lungis rushed from their homes and many came from as far away as Kutheravetti, the remote outer division of Oothu.  Later politicians and bureaucrats insisted that anything under the ground belonged to the Government of India.  The workers averred.  They said these blessings fell from the sky and, with encouragement from Sylvester, touched my feet.  It was as though I was responsible for their windfall!

 

The south west monsoon gave way to the north east.  It rained like something coming out of a bucket.  With Shehzarin pregnant once again, it gave rise to a great deal of concern.  How would we be able to take her to Nagercoil in time for the delivery? Ricky and Prema suggested we leave immediately but each day, during that dreary December of ’71, seemed to bring more rain with it.  We finally decided we just had to go.  It had already rained eighty inches that week and the only vehicle we could trust in that lashing rain, compounded with gale force winds, was our heavy Plymouth.  We made it to the hospital just in time, with Hazel Scott, the doctor who had delivered our daughter Mishez, saying, “Wait son, wait son”, even as we walked into the hospital.  Later she told us that boys were always impatient, whereas Mishez had kept us waiting an extra two weeks!

 

“What are you going to name the little rascal?” She enquired.

 

Shehzarin and I had already thought about it.  With all that rain, lighting, thunder and wind what else could we have named him but Zeus? Hazel clapped her hands in glee and approved heartily.

 

While all this was happening, Ricky returned from leave to tell us that he would be leaving Manimuttar for the Mudis.  I didn’t take this news well.  We were a good team.  We understood one another and I had no idea who would come in his place.  About the same time Willie D’Cruze was poached by an agency house in another district: they thought he was God to produce such tea in South India!

 

N. M. Sreedharan came to Manimuttar as Ricky’s replacement.  He was not into sports but was great company and not only left me to work on my own but, to my chagrin, also asked me to put down another two hundred acres of tea on Manimuttar’s North Division.  John Bland had gone on furlough, leaving him to manage the entire group and therefore unable to find time to do any planting.  He also said that we were to stop manufacturing ‘Darjeeling’ tea. 

 

The higher prices realised by making ‘Darjeeling tea’, had pulled our average prices up by the socks and we had leapfrogged Mudis for the first time.  The Directors in Bombay, with no understanding of tea, had been badgering the Mudis, wondering why their prices weren’t keeping pace with the market.  With no answer other than to get Manimuttar prices back in perspective, Sree was ordered to stop the nonsense going on at the Manimuttar factory.  For me, a valuable lesson in the intricacies of corporate chicanery.

 

Shree and Saby became close friends as were Prithvi and Rani Jothikumar, the acting manager on Manjolai and Kenny Shresta his assistant.  The group doctor, also on Manjolai, Dr. Krishnamoorty and the new assistant on Manimuttar, Rammohan, were all part of our extended family.  When news came that I was to be transferred to the Mudis group, a pall hung over Singampatti.  Even Mr. Shankeran, down in Kallaidaikurichi was appalled.  

That evening I sat up late on the veranda puffing on my pipe.  It had been just a little over three years since our arrival and yet it felt like an eternity.  Shehzarin joined me there after the children were asleep.

 

“Upset?” She asked.

 

“I don’t know.  Oothu feels like it’s a part of me.”

 

“You’ve finished your work here,” she said and then surprised me with her astute observation: “Over nine hundred acres of new planting; helping setup and run the green tea factory, making changes at the Manimuttar factory.  Running two estates almost alone, finding time to play games and…”

 

I reached out for her hand and together we enjoyed the darkness; listening to the sound of bears whistling in the distance, the sawing of a leopard and the grunt of a tiger close by. 

 

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”  I whispered.

 


June 30, 2013
Thanks to Minoo we have these historical photos

 These are really old.  I presume the picture of the planters in
the tea are taken on either Ging or Bannockburn Estates

 




                                        Newspaper 1883

N



Selim Tea Estate 1920

Don't have too many details but this estate must have been in the Terai or the Dooars.

Ozzie Lobo informs us that Selim Estate could be between Siliguri and Bagdogra airport.




 

April 17 2013

View from Eden Sanatorium, Darjeeling.
 
Photo by Bourne & Shepherd - 1870.

 

March 17 2013

Really old photo.  Can't date it... wonder who can help out?

 

 I guess the Englishmen were ICS officers.  Look at the badges on Grandpa's lapel.  
 One would be the MBE and one other the 'Khan Bhadur' title he was bestowed.  
 Don't know what the others are


 February 24 2013    

Description: Oil painting on paper of Darjeeling, by Marianne North (1830-1890), dated September 1878. Marianne North visited India in 1877-79 and completed over 200 paintings whilst there. She wrote in Volume II of 'Recollections of a Happy Life' (1892):

 

"The next day took me over the most glorious road, among forests and mountains, to Darjeeling, the finest hill place in the whole world; and I brought my usual luck with me, for Kinchinjanga uncovered himself regularly every day for three hours after sunrise during the first week of my stay...I had never seen so complete a mountain, with its two supporters, one on each side...From the hill above Jonboo one saw the plains of Bengal like a sea, and mountains on the other three sides. The clouds rolling in and out of the valleys and up into the sky at sun...”


           

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling - Painting by Edward Lear, 1877

He wrote ‘Kinchinjunga is not – so it seems to me – a sympathetic mountain; it is so far off, so very god-like & stupendous, & all that great world of dark opal valleys full of misty, hardly to be imagined forms’. Lear is best known as the author of nonsense verse, including 'The Owl and the Pussycat', but he was an outstanding painter of landscapes, particularly of out of the way places. He was largely self-taught, spending the years 1837–1848 in Rome, where his friends included the painter Henry Williams and the sculptor John Gibson. The picture was a commission from his friend Lord Aberdare, a Glamorgan landowner and politician. 







January 18 2013




Three generations of Avaris:

Khan Bhadur D.E. Avari M.B.E., grandson Minoo Avari, Briju Khaitan (I think),

Erach Avari and Hugh Dominy.  


In the background are Pinto Kerr and Derek Royals.


December 23 2012

Painting of Darjeeling Toy Train

December 5 2012
We thank Minoo for all his digging of the past for us to enjoy today


Two more pics from Minoos' History albums


Undated photo - Lebong Race Course, Darjeeling: 


Some planter's will remember the Darjeeling
disaster in the '50's
:

November 29 2012

Two more old photographs recording history 



Hill Cart Road - Darjeeling - Minoo tells us "I can't date this photo.."



Possibly the Calcutta Royal Turf Club but Minoo tells us "I'm not sure:"

--does anyone know the brand of the car ?? if so please contact the Editor

 September 17 2012

The following three pictures were all from Minoo's late father's collection

Thank you Minoo for sharing


Erach Avari with Jane Passey (nee Grice)

 

 

 
  
Jimmy and Dierdre with Tenzing

 
Harkey Boyer --Commisioner Darjeeeling  with Standard Car

 

June 18 2012

Below are four pictures unearthed by Minoo showing life in the late nineteenth and the beginning of the Tentieth Centuries--thank you Minoo


Below Planters Club Darjeeling 1890


         Darjeeling 1890--looks very lazy & pompous



Chowrasta



 Darjeeling Tea Estate 1890


May 5 2012  
Thanks to Minoo we have a 70 plus year old film
(seven and a half minutes) of Darjeeling

To view please click the coloured lettering

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player
_embedded&v=-9lxvWSYetI#!

A rare B/W video of Darjeeling during 1930 - 1937 (No Audio). The road towards Darjeeling, labourers repairing the road and shepherds by the railway track. Darjeeling Toy Train. View of Kenchanjunga. Arrival of Stanley Jackson and Lady Jackson at Government House. Scenes of the town: park, church, Town Hall, Lebong. Governor's Cup Race Day Views of the Sanatorium. The weekly market. 1937 Coronation Day Parade at Chowrasta.


May 5 2012
Below are the two sides of a postcard sent from Darjeeling to Folkestone in Kent, England in 1904






 

 

 

May 2 2012

This photo shows the following group including the famous Everest Climber Tenzing Mr. d'Souza, Tenzing, My Dad, Nawang Gombu & Jeff Johnson

 

May 1 2012
Below we have two pictures of the Darjeeling Railway
prior to the Second World War



Socialising at the Open carriages before starting the descent from Darjeeeling


an old Photo of the Ghoom Loop taken in the 30's

Return to top



 


February 6 2014

This is a story about the transition of a Darjeeling Planter to South India

 

The south-west monsoon set in early that summer of ’70.  There was no sign of it though at Tinnevelli Junction, where the late May sun relentlessly roasted the already baked earth and left us sweating, as porters loaded baggage into the boot and overhead rack of the company Ambassador.  Shehzarin was already a few months pregnant with our first born but it was Pancho, our Boxer dog, who showed signs of morning sickness.  The fault lay entirely with Xavier, the Singampatti group driver, who exhibited a style of driving I found uniquely disquieting; flooring the accelerator for a few seconds, then completely taking his foot off the pedal, he repeated this process with alarming consistency.  As a result we see-sawed past Chernmadevi, rocked back and forth past Karumbai and found ourselves quite seasick by the time we got to Natesan Agency at Kallaidaikurichi. 

 

Shankeran was there to welcome us with his enormous brother, Harihara Krishnan, taking up much of the background.  Inhaling deeply, Shankeran managed to give us the history of Singampatti in one breath.  Then gulping another huge quantity of air, he informed us that there was a lot of work to be done on Manimuttar and that the Muthanna’s would be off shortly on six weeks leave to the UK and that John Bland’s son and daughter would be coming from the UK to spend their holidays on Manjolai.  He paused to inhale once again, even as the aroma of sumptuous coffee assailed our nostrils.  Shankeran was not finished though and, before the completion of yet another long sentence, which left him breathless once again, he plunged on as we finished our first cup of coffee. 

 

Past the level crossing Xavier steadied his epileptic foot.  The drive was scenic and Xavier pointed out the Manimuttar Dam, which had filled to the brim, with a cryptic “Dam full!” There was no traffic at all and the narrow road snaked through rocky outcrops of scrub before starting the climb to Manjolai.  I chuckled seeing the quaint board informing us that we were now negotiating an awkward hairpin bend! Dappled sunlight bathed Manjolai estate and John Bland had us sit out on the open veranda to sample tea and scoff a few biscuits.  With that we exchanged vehicles and set off with ‘our Michaels’, the Manimuttar driver, for the Muthanna residence.

 

It got steadily darker as we approached the top of the hill.  Fog prevented us from seeing much of the surrounding forest and by the time Michael pronounced ‘Kakachi golf course’ we were in the maws of the monsoon.  It was blinding stuff.  The wipers were inadequate and appeared to work in slow motion.  Undeterred, Michael drove on while giving us a crash course in Tamil.  Moon, he said, was Nilavoo.  It resounded with a timbre reminiscent of Louis Armstrong after a few bourbons.  Coming to think of it, Michael did resemble Satchmo! 

 

We turned left and just as suddenly saw the outline of a building looming in front.  A stout balding person, standing under the porch, was very nearly run over by Michael who was in a hurry to get the car parked and out of the lashing rain.  We introduced ourselves.  The man called himself George, leading me to believe the little that I had heard about Coorgs.  It did turn out though that George wasn’t a pseudonym for Ricky and that he was, in fact, Ricky’s cousin.  After that we called him Cousin George. 

 

A short while later Ricky appeared followed by his wife Prema, who had been preening herself to look presentable in front of Shehzarin.  She had heard my wife was with Air-India and this was sufficient to frighten her into putting on makeup… but when she saw my simple and pragmatic wife she beamed with delight and they were to become lifelong friends. 

 

There was a sudden break in the rain and George just as suddenly came to life. 

 

“Would you like to play tennis?”

 

Ricky must have seen the incredulous look on my face and assured me the court would be playable.  “The ground here dries almost instantly”, he said.  Pulling suitcases from the car and fishing out my tennis racket, George and I did take to the court.  He was a crafty player and played to win.  We had just stepped back into the warmth of the sitting room when the rain came crashing down again.  Ricky and Prema accompanied us to Oothu Bungalow, leaving a dispirited cousin George to lick his wounds and fuss over the menu for dinner.

 

The bungalow hadn’t been lived in for some time.  After the Muthannas left, we had for company our bungalow servant Waidyanayagam, who hovered about solicitously.  Watching all this was Thomas the gardener who appraised us with a jaundiced eye.  He amused himself with our apparent loss to adjust to a cyclical Cooper generator and having to make do with Aladdin lanterns, after the generator ran its course and packed up within the hour.  It was difficult and I went to bed perplexed.  Shehzarin was upbeat and took an immediate liking to the seemingly impermeable loneliness, the opaque fog and the drumming rain.

 

The days rolled into weeks and in that time Ricky taught me to ride a motorbike.  Later, with nephew Subbu in tow, he taught us golf.  In turn we showed him that one didn’t have to stand motionless over the ball.  By taking three steps back one could run up and whack it like they do in hockey.  This must have suitably impressed him because he abruptly stopped further lessons.

 

A break in the weather allowed me to take stock of the terrain.  I hadn’t realised till then that there was a big hill in front of the Oothu Bungalow.  It turned out to be field number twenty-five, directly opposite the small Oothu office from where I operated.  I checked daily on the little nursery by the stream and admired the hundred acres of tea on the property, which had been planted in part by David Hughes and later completed by Roy Machia.  The view from the lookout, which signalled the last of the hundred acres of tea planted at that time, is magnificent:

 

It overlooks the impressive Papanasam dam, snuggled below in the heart of the Mundanthurai game sanctuary; where thick forests stretch to the left and culminate just short of towering Mount Augusta.  Locally known as Augustyamalai, this volcano shaped peak is more often than not enshrouded in mist.  It has for company, five smaller jagged peaks known as the Ionthullies, or five peaks.

 

Toward the middle of June, Angus McNaughton, the Managing Director, paid an official visit.  I had met him and his wife Sally during my interview, at the Bombay office, and was already an admirer of Angus’ zest for life and his spirit of adventure.  The next day we walked through the fields.  With Angus, John Bland and Ricky in front, I remained a few discreet steps behind. 

 

“Oothu can never become a full-fledged estate with just a hundred acres of tea!” Angus suddenly exclaimed.

 

John looked up at the sky, sucking on a peppermint sweet the while.  Ricky wasn’t deterred and asked Angus how much he wanted us to plant.

 

“As far as I’m concerned, you can plant from here to Bombay.  I’ve been hearing about plans for new planting but nothing ever happens!”

 

Turning to me Ricky asked if I was game.  I shrivelled in the sudden spotlight but Ricky had that mischievous, irresistible grin, almost daring me to say yes.  So I said yes!

 

“I’ll be leaving for England in a few days,” Ricky told Angus “but Minoo can start the nurseries and begin clearing.  I’ll be back to help him with the planting.”

 

And so it was.  Ricky and Prema left and I got down to planning the extension of both nurseries at Manimuttar and Oothu.  Mr. Sylvester was the staff member in charge of Oothu and worked directly under me.  Mention must be made here of his service to the Corporation: on the verge of dismissal for insubordination, it was decided that Oothu would be suitable for him to dwell on his misdeeds.  I was asked if I would like another IC in his place but I had already begun to interact with him and was impressed with his sagacity.  We got on well.  I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get everything working, with such clockwork precision, on my own. 

 

The days were long and oft times brutal.  Tamil lessons at 4:30 am (for all the good it did me), then Oothu office for planning out the day with Sylvester; Manimuttar office and factory and overseeing the plucking there, along with checking sundry cultivation works.  Clearing forest and using a dumpy spirit level to measure out roads, thirty feet at a time, to make sure the gradient remained constant, also helped with speedy removal of trees and scrub that had been cleared.

 

Ricky had earmarked some fields where blocks of clonal tea had been left un-plucked.  A2 was a plant selected by Dr. Mathew and then there was a small leafed chinarey plant, with the simple nomenclature ‘Hybrid’, that someone in the past had also selected.  When the un-plucked stalks achieved pencil thickness, they were cut with a slant and each one stuck into an eighteen inch sleeve that sported a four inch diameter.  These sleeves, stacked ten abreast, continued in length for as long as the lie of the land would allow.  Over these we bent large bamboo staves, at approximately three foot intervals.  These were then interlaced with longer bamboo poles to support the weight of the two hundred gauge polythene sheet that would cover each bed. 

 

I had done much smaller nurseries in Darjeeling, while working there with the Darjeeling Company, and knew that spraying the top of the stacked bags with Tefazine, a pre-emergent weedicide, would prevent weeds from taking over.  After the chemical spray each stem, with two to three leaves, was pushed into the mud-filled bags before polythene sheeting was draped over each bed.  After that the overhanging sides were sealed with mud.

 

In essence it was a mini hothouse.  John, never having seen the like, balked at this procedure and repeatedly questioned my wisdom with the admonition, “You’re putting all your eggs in one basket!” Well he did have a point there but I just had too many eggs on my plate at that time to argue the case.  We erected an enormous pandal, with stakes ten feet above the ground and framed a lattice on top over which we tied kidagu sheets.  Even so, the direct sun did find little gaps and managed to burn some clonal material.  Ricky was back by then and suggested we apply mud paste over the polythene.  This was a huge success.  We planted passion fruit creepers, which replaced the kidagu and became the permanent overhead shade.

 

Meanwhile the clearing in some fields was complete and Sylvester organised the pits to be dug, as per Angus’ desires, at four by two by two and a half feet.  This made it around seven thousand plants an acre.  We were able to plant one hundred acres within a nine month period, after supplying Manjolai with clonal material to plant fifty acres there.

 

Ricky and I got on famously.  Both Sagittarians, we had similar interests.  He left me strictly alone to get on with work but we got together as soon as the day was done.  As families we did pretty much everything together.  Tennis, golf and swimming by the beaches of Kovalam on an occasional Sunday; at other times watching bathers, huddled in groups, being bludgeoned under the waterfalls at Manimuttar and Courtallam.  There were movies too at the group office in Manjolai and at the Ambassamudram club, where we frequented the swimming pool.

 

Another year passed and the Directors were pleased with our progress.  Singampatti tea prices were historically lower than those fetched by our Mudis group.  John approached me to see if there was anything I could do, to rectify this bugbear that so obviously haunted him.  Ricky was away again but I was certain that my experience, with manufacturing Darjeeling tea, would do the trick.  Dev Mukerjee of Carrit Moran, our tea-brokers, was flabbergasted.  “What’s Singampatti doing sending us Darjeeling tea?” he queried.

 

Be that as it may, it caught the immediate attention of certain West German buyers and Willie D’Cruze, the tea-maker of the Manimuttar factory, came back from the auction at Cochin beaming with delight. 

 

“Those big sweaty German buggers want more tea.  I told them we could give them as much as they want.” 

 

I was taken aback.  We had just sent ten chests as a trial but John’s triumphant demeanour, at the unexpectedly high price, sealed my fate.  We continued making as much ‘Darjeeling’ tea as we could, even as a team of Japanese arrived to put up a green tea factory on Oothu. 

 

The seasons changed.  In the autumn of ’70 Shehzarin gave birth to our baby daughter at the Catherine Booth Salvation Army hospital in Nagercoil.  It was the nearest hospital, a little less than two hundred kilometres away, run by dedicated American and British doctors.  Winter brought with it another new addition: I had gone to Coimbatore with John Bland to purchase a vehicle with the nineteen thousand rupee car loan sanctioned by the Corporation.  We settled on a 1954 Plymouth Savoy in spanking condition.  Though John signed the cheque enthusiastically, it raised the hackles of the group manager in Mudis and caused quite a furore.  The group vehicle there was a Plymouth Savoy!

 

By the summer of the following year the green tea factory was up and running.  It brought with it electricity for our bungalow.  We were finally able to listen to our collection of records and enjoy an occasional cold beer from the new refrigerator, which replaced the old dysfunctional kerosene contraption.  Now we had lights that could be switched on at any time through the night! Angus had retired by then and was replaced by David Rosser, a retired commander from the Royal Navy, who now headed the Bombay office as Managing Director.

 

More new planting, learning the mechanics of green tea production, harvesting cardamom and picking the little coffee we had on Kutheravetti, kept me busy.  Often, under candlelight, the Oothu office (still not electrified) would see Mr. Sylvester and I pouring over field maps: planning new roads and deciding which plants from either the Manimuttar or Oothu nursery would go where.  We were still supplying Manjolai plants from our nurseries for their annual fifty acre extensions. 

 

Of grave concern were rocks and stones.  They had to be removed from the new clearings, so that the roots of young tea plants wouldn’t come in contact with anything other than soil.  We insisted on the workers digging two feet deep, before turning over the earth, to remove these impediments lurking beneath.  I was adamant that excavated boulders and rocks not be rolled down the slopes to block streams and waterways.  At a loss to find a way around, it was Sylvester who came up with the solution.  Digging large craters on the newly cut roads, he suggested we bury them.  This strengthened the roads and took care of our problems of disposal at the same time.

 

There was another problem though which required divine intervention.  Digging was not something the workers relished.  Everyday workmen designated to dig would report sick.  We were losing time.  Then to make matters worse Manjolai decided to go on strike.  Not content with striking on their own property, rumour had it that they were planning to march up to Manimuttar and Oothu to disrupt work here.  Neither Sylvester nor I had an answer to this and, that morning, only a skittish handful of Oothu workers showed up at the new clearing.  Sylvester and I stood in the field, forsaking lunch, digging valiantly alongside the workers.

 

By evening the workers from Manjolai had assembled below the field we were on.  Shouting injunctions and gesticulating, they pumped their fists, as they began to trudge uphill toward us.  They were no more than thirty yards away when one of the Oothu workers, gazing steadfastly at the ground yelled.  “Aaayooe! Aa-yi-yooe!” 

 

Catching the evening sun a stream of yellow oozed from the freshly dug earth.  A light drizzle had started, turning the yellow lava into tiny rainbows.  Unmindful of getting wet and the fact that it was time to go home, the militant Manjolai workforce started tearing at the ground with bare hands.  Then using stakes, staves and other implements, which they had brought along to intimidate us, they went into a frenzy turning the earth over to seek for treasure.  I looked across at Sylvester who, with a wry smile, said, “I think we won’t have any more problems finding people for digging.”

 

Gold coins, with Tippu Sultan’s emblem emblazoned on both sides, spilled from the damp earth.  Amber and mother-of-pearl ornaments too were being unearthed around us.  Soon hurricane lanterns and large sugar gunnysacks appeared and the field began resembling something from out of a fairy-tale.  Workers in bandages descended from dispensaries.  Others in lungis rushed from their homes and many came from as far away as Kutheravetti, the remote outer division of Oothu.  Later politicians and bureaucrats insisted that anything under the ground belonged to the Government of India.  The workers averred.  They said these blessings fell from the sky and, with encouragement from Sylvester, touched my feet.  It was as though I was responsible for their windfall!

 

The south west monsoon gave way to the north east.  It rained like something coming out of a bucket.  With Shehzarin pregnant once again, it gave rise to a great deal of concern.  How would we be able to take her to Nagercoil in time for the delivery? Ricky and Prema suggested we leave immediately but each day, during that dreary December of ’71, seemed to bring more rain with it.  We finally decided we just had to go.  It had already rained eighty inches that week and the only vehicle we could trust in that lashing rain, compounded with gale force winds, was our heavy Plymouth.  We made it to the hospital just in time, with Hazel Scott, the doctor who had delivered our daughter Mishez, saying, “Wait son, wait son”, even as we walked into the hospital.  Later she told us that boys were always impatient, whereas Mishez had kept us waiting an extra two weeks!

 

“What are you going to name the little rascal?” She enquired.

 

Shehzarin and I had already thought about it.  With all that rain, lighting, thunder and wind what else could we have named him but Zeus? Hazel clapped her hands in glee and approved heartily.

 

While all this was happening, Ricky returned from leave to tell us that he would be leaving Manimuttar for the Mudis.  I didn’t take this news well.  We were a good team.  We understood one another and I had no idea who would come in his place.  About the same time Willie D’Cruze was poached by an agency house in another district: they thought he was God to produce such tea in South India!

 

N. M. Sreedharan came to Manimuttar as Ricky’s replacement.  He was not into sports but was great company and not only left me to work on my own but, to my chagrin, also asked me to put down another two hundred acres of tea on Manimuttar’s North Division.  John Bland had gone on furlough, leaving him to manage the entire group and therefore unable to find time to do any planting.  He also said that we were to stop manufacturing ‘Darjeeling’ tea. 

 

The higher prices realised by making ‘Darjeeling tea’, had pulled our average prices up by the socks and we had leapfrogged Mudis for the first time.  The Directors in Bombay, with no understanding of tea, had been badgering the Mudis, wondering why their prices weren’t keeping pace with the market.  With no answer other than to get Manimuttar prices back in perspective, Sree was ordered to stop the nonsense going on at the Manimuttar factory.  For me, a valuable lesson in the intricacies of corporate chicanery.

 

Shree and Saby became close friends as were Prithvi and Rani Jothikumar, the acting manager on Manjolai and Kenny Shresta his assistant.  The group doctor, also on Manjolai, Dr. Krishnamoorty and the new assistant on Manimuttar, Rammohan, were all part of our extended family.  When news came that I was to be transferred to the Mudis group, a pall hung over Singampatti.  Even Mr. Shankeran, down in Kallaidaikurichi was appalled.  

That evening I sat up late on the veranda puffing on my pipe.  It had been just a little over three years since our arrival and yet it felt like an eternity.  Shehzarin joined me there after the children were asleep.

 

“Upset?” She asked.

 

“I don’t know.  Oothu feels like it’s a part of me.”

 

“You’ve finished your work here,” she said and then surprised me with her astute observation: “Over nine hundred acres of new planting; helping setup and run the green tea factory, making changes at the Manimuttar factory.  Running two estates almost alone, finding time to play games and…”

 

I reached out for her hand and together we enjoyed the darkness; listening to the sound of bears whistling in the distance, the sawing of a leopard and the grunt of a tiger close by. 

 

“I couldn’t have done it without you.”  I whispered.

 


June 30, 2013
Thanks to Minoo we have these historical photos

 These are really old.  I presume the picture of the planters in
the tea are taken on either Ging or Bannockburn Estates

 




                                        Newspaper 1883

N



Selim Tea Estate 1920

Don't have too many details but this estate must have been in the Terai or the Dooars.

Ozzie Lobo informs us that Selim Estate could be between Siliguri and Bagdogra airport.




 

April 17 2013

View from Eden Sanatorium, Darjeeling.
 
Photo by Bourne & Shepherd - 1870.

 

March 17 2013

Really old photo.  Can't date it... wonder who can help out?

 

 I guess the Englishmen were ICS officers.  Look at the badges on Grandpa's lapel.  
 One would be the MBE and one other the 'Khan Bhadur' title he was bestowed.  
 Don't know what the others are


 February 24 2013    

Description: Oil painting on paper of Darjeeling, by Marianne North (1830-1890), dated September 1878. Marianne North visited India in 1877-79 and completed over 200 paintings whilst there. She wrote in Volume II of 'Recollections of a Happy Life' (1892):

 

"The next day took me over the most glorious road, among forests and mountains, to Darjeeling, the finest hill place in the whole world; and I brought my usual luck with me, for Kinchinjanga uncovered himself regularly every day for three hours after sunrise during the first week of my stay...I had never seen so complete a mountain, with its two supporters, one on each side...From the hill above Jonboo one saw the plains of Bengal like a sea, and mountains on the other three sides. The clouds rolling in and out of the valleys and up into the sky at sun...”


           

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling

Kanchenjunga from Darjeeling - Painting by Edward Lear, 1877

He wrote ‘Kinchinjunga is not – so it seems to me – a sympathetic mountain; it is so far off, so very god-like & stupendous, & all that great world of dark opal valleys full of misty, hardly to be imagined forms’. Lear is best known as the author of nonsense verse, including 'The Owl and the Pussycat', but he was an outstanding painter of landscapes, particularly of out of the way places. He was largely self-taught, spending the years 1837–1848 in Rome, where his friends included the painter Henry Williams and the sculptor John Gibson. The picture was a commission from his friend Lord Aberdare, a Glamorgan landowner and politician. 







January 18 2013




Three generations of Avaris:

Khan Bhadur D.E. Avari M.B.E., grandson Minoo Avari, Briju Khaitan (I think),

Erach Avari and Hugh Dominy.  


In the background are Pinto Kerr and Derek Royals.


December 23 2012

Painting of Darjeeling Toy Train

December 5 2012
We thank Minoo for all his digging of the past for us to enjoy today


Two more pics from Minoos' History albums


Undated photo - Lebong Race Course, Darjeeling: 


Some planter's will remember the Darjeeling
disaster in the '50's
:

November 29 2012

Two more old photographs recording history 



Hill Cart Road - Darjeeling - Minoo tells us "I can't date this photo.."



Possibly the Calcutta Royal Turf Club but Minoo tells us "I'm not sure:"

--does anyone know the brand of the car ?? if so please contact the Editor

 September 17 2012

The following three pictures were all from Minoo's late father's collection

Thank you Minoo for sharing


Erach Avari with Jane Passey (nee Grice)

 

 

 
  
Jimmy and Dierdre with Tenzing

 
Harkey Boyer --Commisioner Darjeeeling  with Standard Car

 

June 18 2012

Below are four pictures unearthed by Minoo showing life in the late nineteenth and the beginning of the Tentieth Centuries--thank you Minoo


Below Planters Club Darjeeling 1890


         Darjeeling 1890--looks very lazy & pompous



Chowrasta





 Darjeeling Tea Estate 1890

 

May 5 2012  
Thanks to Minoo we have a 70 plus year old film
(seven and a half minutes) of Darjeeling

To view please click the coloured lettering

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player
_embedded&v=-9lxvWSYetI#!

A rare B/W video of Darjeeling during 1930 - 1937 (No Audio). The road towards Darjeeling, labourers repairing the road and shepherds by the railway track. Darjeeling Toy Train. View of Kenchanjunga. Arrival of Stanley Jackson and Lady Jackson at Government House. Scenes of the town: park, church, Town Hall, Lebong. Governor's Cup Race Day Views of the Sanatorium. The weekly market. 1937 Coronation Day Parade at Chowrasta.


May 5 2012
Below are the two sides of a postcard sent from Darjeeling to Folkestone in Kent, England in 1904






 

 

 

May 2 2012

This photo shows the following group including the famous Everest Climber Tenzing Mr. d'Souza, Tenzing, My Dad, Nawang Gombu & Jeff Johnson

 

May 1 2012
Below we have two pictures of the Darjeeling Railway
prior to the Second World War



Socialising at the Open carriages before starting the descent from Darjeeeling


an old Photo of the Ghoom Loop taken in the 30's

Return to top

May 2 2012

This photo shows the following group including the famous Everest Climber Tenzing Mr. d'Souza, Tenzing, My Dad, Nawang Gombu & Jeff Johnson

 

May 1 2012
Below we have two pictures of the Darjeeling Railway
prior to the Second World War



Socialising at the Open carriages before starting the descent from Darjeeeling


an old Photo of the Ghoom Loop taken in the 30's

Return to top
April 30 2012

Kings Birthday Parade 1937--Darjeeling




April 29 2012

Some may remember Hathaways

See the British Police officer on the right lower corner! Darjeeling (Chowrasta) in the early 'forties




Ghoom Loop


Our thankis to minoo Avari for this great photograph:


This is the fag end of the Ghoom Loop.  Photo taken early morning
with frost still on the ground and the sun just beginning to play on
the snowrange.

Return to top


 

March 15 2012
Here we have a collection of photographs from 1961 of

Queen Elizabeth 11 visit to India

The visit in 1961 of Queen Elizabeth 11


From Left: Indira Gandhi (2), Vice President of India Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (4), Queen Elizabeth II (5), President of India Dr, Rajendra Prasad (6), Prince Philip Husband of Queen (7), Vijaya Laxmi Pandit (8), Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru (9)

 Crowd greeting Queen Elizabeth during her visit to India - March 1961

 

Gardens at presidential palace during the visit of
Queen Elizabeth II in 1961

 
Jawaharlal Nehru (R) walking with Queen Elizabeth II(2R) and
Prince Philip(L)
following behind with Indira Gandhi during state visit by British monarch - 1961

 

Jawaharlal Nehru greeting Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip
during their visit to India 1961

Jawaharlal Nehru hosting Queen Elizabeth II
during state visit by British monarch 1961

Mrs. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandi and Indira Gandhi (L)
at garden party for Queen Elizabeth II


Queen Elizabeth II & Philip attending rally
in their honor during their visit to India

 

Queen Elizabeth II at reception during state visit to India 1961

 

Queen Elizabeth II during her sate visit to India

 


Queen Elizabeth II during her tour of the
Indian subcontinent - March 1961

 


Queen Elizabeth II presented with a turbaned doll, a Girl Guide
gift to her son Prince Andrew, during state visit - New Delhi 1961

 


Queen Elizabeth II riding in carriage with
Indian President Rajendra Prasad during her state visit 1961

 


Queen Elizabeth II with Pres. Rajendra Prasad during her state visit

 


Visiting British monarch Queen Elizabeth II
planting tree at Gandhi memorial - February 1961

 



Queen Elizabeth II & Philip during their visit in India - 1961

  Return to top



Here we have a collection of photographs from the days of the British Raj
collected and sent in by Minoo and we thank him

 1/  British Man  Standing Next to a Horse Cart in front of his Bungalow
 His wife in the Cart and two servants present nearby--
 
Early 20th Century Photograph

 

2 Queens Proclamation Government House  Calcutta (Kolkata)
                         November 1858

 

 

3 View of Delhi Durbar 1903

 


4 Elephant Procession at Delhi Durbar 1903



5 Imperial Service Cavalry in Delhi Durbar 1903



6 Lord Curzon's visit to Hyderabad --1903



7  - The Lungar Golconda Lancers

 


8- The Lungar First Lancers Imperial Service Troops


9



10

 11 The Tent of an Officer with Servants and Horses

 12 --Two Storey House in Cossipore, a northern suburb of Calcutta (Kolkata)-1875

 

Above--Looking across the garden towards the substantial two storey house in Cossipore, a northern suburb of Calcutta. The house is designed in the classical style.

 13


 

14

14A

15

16

17  Queen's Proclamation, Government House Calcutta (Kolkata)
November 1858

 

18

 

19

 

 

 20

 

 21

Hindu Servant in the Drawing Room of Lady Curzon Simla -- 1908

 

 22
First Residence of Mr and Mrs Hamilton Kapadvanj Gujerat 1890's

 23
British Family in front of their House  1878

 24
British Couple with Indianm Policeman and Peons

 24
A Group of European Guests -- Gwalior India December 1894

 

Return to Top

October 19 2011

Minoo again sends us an interesting article--showing his motor cycle skills--we thank him

Motorbike Mania - A Tale of a Biker & his CBR250R

The spirit of Christmas festooned the club even as dappled sunlight danced through the corridor window. On either side of the square table two smokers were debating the fate of the Nation as Hormaz Jalnawalla and I entered their hallowed space. Khushroo tapped his glass with the heavy ring on his finger and instantly Denny the barman appeared conjuring more liquid refreshment.

Gopi, his back to us and his ponytail tied neatly above the nape, was already on his second round and well into a discourse on governments within the different states of the Nation. He went on glibly to encompass the globe at large; chastising the Presidents of America, Libya and the Ghanaian Republic when Joe Antony burst on the scene:

"My nephew in Cochin called. He said, ‘Joe Chaach' you must get the CBR 250R Honda motorbike. They had you in mind when they designed it!'"

Ponytail Gopi's Oxford English and choice vocabulary came to an abrupt halt. My mobile was out in the instant, immediately dialling the dealer in Dindigul, from whom we had earlier purchased our Honda Unicorns.

"Joe and I would like to book two CBR 250 R's with ABS," I said, sending ripples through the miasma in Kodaikanal which, swelling exponentially, probably triggered off the nuclear plant disaster at Fukushima. In the event, Joe opted for a non-ABS bike as delivery of the ABS variant would take longer. I waited. Writing several letters to Honda, my observations on the matter might well have prompted them into releasing a bike at the earliest possible opportunity.

Within the month I was told to meet the Sornam Honda mechanic in Batlagundu, where he would hand over the fully registered and completely insured two wheeler. Needless to say I tempted Varadhu and Shiraz into the ride. Shortly after Varadhu's 1000 c.c Honda and Shiraz's ‘Fat Boy' Harley Davidson stood at the porch of the Crystal Palace hotel, the mechanic arrived with my bike. He wanted my original passport along with four passport size photographs to boot.

To cut a long story short, I didn't have them on me so, mounting the bike, the three of us (with the mechanic behind Shiraz on the Harley Davidson) roared down the forty kilometre strip to Dindigul. There we were fussed over by Varadhu's agent and taken to Parson's Court for lunch. I didn't know such a place existed within the dreary city.

At about four in the afternoon Varadhu was getting jittery about riding in the dark - I would have been too, if I had been envisaging speeds in excess of one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour - so we pushed off, taking the longer but better riding route through Odanchattram and Palni. It was a terrific ride!

When I stopped at Varadhu's house, which is next to mine in Kodaikanal, it was six forty-five and already dark. He had an ecstatic look about him and made just one comment before pouring out a drink: "That was one of the best rides I have been on. So glad we chose the Palni route back!"

The following Sunday was the flower-show, the boat race and, needless to say, road rage contest in this hill-station of ours. I decided to take Joe up on his offer to ride down to his farm in Palni. It was great even though the power did shut down at 11:00, leaving us in the dark for the night.

Naturally the fan didn't work and at some point a rat found its way into the kitchen. Announcing its presence with a clatter of pots and pans and other such enterprising methods to wake us up, I had to rouse Joe from his slumber to catch the culprit. We were both wide awake by then and only managed to doze with dawn breaking after 5:00.

Joe commented wryly, "in Kodaikanal it's the chant of the mosque but, down there, without power, it's the drone of mosquitoes to greet you."

Groggy, not thinking too clearly, we decided to liven things up by riding to Coimbatore, a hundred and thirty kilometres away, where we could get Joe's bike serviced. Joe with his superior riding skills, was obviously going to be ahead of me so we planned to stop at the BP bunk in Udumalpet where I needed to tank up.

The next stop was to be Sulur, twenty kilometres short of Coimbatore, where we would decide whether to enter the City by way of Trichy road, or Avanashi, via. the airport. I got to the BP bunk and tanked up but there was no sign of Joe. Assuming that our man was enjoying the ride, I continued. Powering my way to Palladam, I was crossing the bus stand when I felt the phone vibrate. I couldn't stop then so I rode to the end of town and returned Joe's call. No answer! "I guess he's now screaming down the road to Sulur," I surmised and, with that, did exactly the same thing.

In Sulur I stopped and had a glass of tea, asking the lady if a similar machine had also stopped by earlier. A big crowd gathered to examine the bike and assured me that this was the first of its kind they had ever seen. Assuming that Joe must either be in Coimbatore or very close I called, and was pleasantly surprised when he answered immediately:

"Where are you?" he asked.

"Sulur" I said shamefacedly. It was all I could do to get speeds of up to 115, with crosswinds blowing every which way and my knapsack flopping around in diametrically opposite directions. "Where are you? Coimbatore Club or Cosmo?"

"I'm in Palni!"

"What!"

"I didn't see you in Udumalpet so I started back... looking for you! Now I'm back at the farm."

I had a long ride back, covering 236 Kms in less than four hours. It was just as well we didn't go to Coimbatore because the workshop there said their men were away at some training centre, learning how to service the new Honda CBR 250R's, and that we should only come next week. I didn't feel so bad then, saying "All's well that ends well."

Another night in Palni - thank the lord the power stayed with us through the night - and Rajah from Kodaikanal came down to fix the pipe through which the rat was making its entrance. I rode back up the hill the next morning with eight hundred odd kilometres on the bike and nearly ready for her first service.

Last Saturday, at the Honda workshop in Dindigul (yes, I rode down all the way) the mechanic looked at me astonished. "You've done a thousand kilometres in one week!"

I grinned told him that it's not how many Kilometres you ride, it's how you ride. I didn't tell him that it was both Varadhu and Joe who had instructed me not to hold the handlebars tight and to use knees and the heel-lock to guide the machine through hairpin bends and steer her through monsoon winds. This of-course set up the next question.

Studying me quizzically he promptly asked, "How are old are you?"

"Why, I'll be sixty-six come November!"

- Minoo Avari

Return to top

 

January 15 2011
Minoo met John Waters in South India and gives readers a description of John's life up to today.--Thank you Minoo

JOHN STANLEY WATERS

Coonoor, in the Niligiris - or blue hills - of South India, has become a watering hole for many a retired South Indian planter.  Parthu Kaula is one of the few from North India who has chosen Coonoor as his hill station of choice.  I was therefore pleasantly surprised to meet John Waters, over Christmas lunch, at the lovely home of Mrs. Bussa Das - overlooking the Wellington Gymkhana Club - and learn that he too is a retired planter from the North.

Mrs. Das is the aunt of the late Krishna Chaudhuri, and both Krishna and John are ex-Andrew Yule.  In fact, John was Krishna's boss and his ties with the Chaudhuri family go back a long way.  Krishna's dad, Hem Chaudhuri was also a pilot and John was in Barrackpore with Krishna's mother, Monisha, when the plane Hem was flying crashed and he died there in front of them.

Kuttu Dutta (whose elder brother Butch was in the Dooars for many decades, and who was also a dear friend of John's), was there too with his wife Benita and, with me thrown into the fray, it was quite a planter's party.  I was saddened to know that John is now visually challenged.  Though Macular degeneration, and a cataract operation that went wrong, have seriously impaired his vision, he does very well for himself.  It was certainly a pleasure listening to him speak.  He was happy to have me put it all down with the intention of having it put up on the Koi-hai website.

There was mutual surprise when John told me he had studied in Darjeeling.  I told him I had done my schooling there.  There was more in stock: we were both from the same school.  Of course he was in North Point (or St. Joseph's College) through 1944 and 1945 and thereby missed meeting with my father, also a North Pointer, and I who was a much later edition to the institution.  John does remember Jim Taylor, Gordon Doran, Ottman and Shortland from his school days! 

After school he went home to Calcutta where he joined the merchant navy and also learned to fly.  Three years later he went to England and was there, desperately looking for work, for an entire year.  One afternoon with nothing to do he sauntered into the Andrew Yule office building.  Taking the lift he was joined by Sir Kenneth Meeling who was "full of lunch and port and in good spirits." 

"Looking for a job, are we? Step into my office."  He scribbled a note which he handed to John and asked him to take it to the department next door.  

Within six weeks John was the boat to Bombay and joined Andrew Yule as an assistant Manager on New Dooars where Pat O'Connor was his first manager.  The nearest club was Binaguri.  A year later he went to Assam where he worked on Tinkong under Murray Doees.  Within a few years he was acting on Banarhat, Chunbati, Bhamur before becoming a full fledged Manager on Konica Dallim in the Seling area. 

After three years he went back to Tinkong and managed the estate there till his retirement in 1970.  Sterling was devalued that year and the company was shabby in their treatment of the management staff.  They asked them to leave as they wanted to sell the properties, so with no options open, John had to leave for England once again.  

After ten years, working in a company owned by his in-laws, John left England for Papua New Guinea.  Here he worked with the National Plantation, on a three-hundred and forty hectare cardamom property.  His flying experience stood him in good stead, for fixed wing aircraft were the only way in and out.  He spent many nights in the bush, opening up an airstrip and spent twenty-two happy years there.  Buying two aircraft of his own he also used them lucratively to airfreight goods.  Then, when the local people said they could manage the property by themselves, John signed up with Warren Plantations as Manager of Worrowali and opened a new factory on the seven hundred acre property.  Here too an aircraft was necessary and John obviously enjoyed the flying. 

Later John teamed up with Martin Milner from New Zealand and together they set up a computer graphics company which did very well in Lae, a town in Papua.  However after four years they sold the business and John went back to the UK and retirement.  He met up with Ranga Bedi, ex-Assam, and took him up on his offer to visit him at his home in Coonoor.  John immediately liked the place and with friends like Sydney and Wendy Noronha, Tony Pickford and of-course Ranga himself, has been there since. 



His address is ‘Starwood', Grey's Hill, The Niligiris, Tamil Nadu, India - 643 101. Mobile phone:  9786358695

email: kimel.john@virgin.net

 

 

Return to Top

HARRY LANGFORD-SMITH'S MOTORCYCLE

Sliding off the saddle and handing over the reins to my man-servant Jethaa, I found he wasn't the only one waiting for me.  Dressed to the nines in dinner jacket and tails, Harry Langford-Smith stood on my porch, smoking a cigarette.

"Hello Harry.  What brings you here?"

Harry had been away on a few months furlough to the United Kingdom and I hadn't realised he was back.  His tea plantation, six or seven miles from the estate I worked on, produced some of Darjeeling's finest tea.  Taking another puff of his cigarette, he looked into the distance as though I wasn't there, and I was getting annoyed: 

My legs were dripping lather from the sweat my horse had worked up.  I wanted to get out of my shorts into a hot bath; the thin short-sleeve shirt I had on already letting the cold in.  The sun set early in the winter, giving free reign to icy fingers reaching out from the towering Himalayan snow range that sprawled into the Tibetan plateau not far away.

I hadn't seen Harry's car.  Brushing past his meaty six-foot three frame, I wondered how he had come.

"Would you like to like come to the B.O.A.C party tonight?"

I most certainly would have liked that.  The British Overseas Airways Corporation, now British Airways, threw an annual party at the planter's club to woo the several hundred English and Scots planters scattered throughout north-east India.  They served the most sumptuous cuisine: there would be ham from Denmark; bread, cheese and champagne wines from France; Polish Kielbasa Starowiejska sausage; Austrian bratwurst and even German Sauerkraut.  There would also be olives and dills, asparagus, mushrooms...

None of these were available during the austere sixties.  Imports of any description were not allowed without special permits and Indian bureaucracy had the country wrapped in so much red tape it was hopeless to apply for one.  Under such circumstances the planter's club sounded very appealing.

"They'll be serving Scotch whisky and handing out cigars, cigarettes and pipe tobacco," added Harry, who had followed me to the rear of the house where I was hosing my legs.  Before I could reply, Jethaa came along and asked if he should draw my bath.  I was freezing by then and nodded.  Harry had finished his cigarette and fished out another from a fancy blue and white Rothmans packet he always seemed to have on him.  He lit it with a new silver and black Ronson lighter. 

I finished bathing and found Harry on the sofa, still smoking.  I thought he would have gone home but there he was, peering at me through thick spectacle lenses and beady eyes that refused to blink.

"Where's your jalopy?" He had a beat up old Hillman-minx with a missing back window and an engine that didn't always fire on all cylinders.  Sometimes I wondered if Harry fired on all cylinders.

"It's at the back by the garage," he said, pausing for effect before completing what he really wanted to say.  "It's new."

"Uh, huh! What have you got?"

"I'll take you up to town so you can see for yourself... and there's no point missing a good party either."

"Harry, I have George Cruikshank coming to visit tomorrow morning.  He's the company visiting agent and I can't afford to be late or bleary-eyed: he'll put it in my report and the company will have my hide!"

Looking down at the burning end of the cigarette in his hand he said, "OK.  I promise we'll leave the club at ten and I'll have you home in forty minutes."

I didn't trust Harry.  Once he got to the bar he could become rude and arrogant.  If there were folk there that he could bully, he'd delight in tormenting them.  

"Go on, get into your D.J.  I've made you a promise.  It's five now and the party starts at six.  We don't want to miss a moment."  He saw me hesitate and clinched the argument with, "I understand they are doling out tins of Gold Block pipe tobacco!"

I put on my dinner jacket.  It didn't have any tails, and a worn leather belt substituted for Harry's flamboyant cummerbund.  There was no car outside my empty garage... but there was a red motorbike with its front wheel high off the ground.  It gleamed menacingly under the dim garage light.

"You better wear an overcoat.  It won't be as cold behind me but you might want something to keep you a little warmer."

"I've never ridden a bike!" I exclaimed in dismay.

"C'mon.  It's easy.  You have to just sit there and I'll do the rest."

That sounded simple enough but I was nervous once the engine started.   

"She doesn't use a key," said Harry, using his size thirteen black patent leather shoe to kick-start the machine.  Jethaa looked concerned.  Motorbikes had never been used in Darjeeling and he had possibly never seen one. 

The first sixty yards were a straight if gentle climb.  To avoid the drop ahead, easily a thousand feet, we took a hairpin bend to the right and began ascending rapidly.  The cold intensified.  After sometime Harry asked what I thought of his new machine. 

"It's very nice."  I replied, occasionally catching the powerful headlight light up the roadsides as Harry banked one way and then another.

I didn't catch the specifications because we were off the winding estate road by then and his words flew past in the jet-stream.  I hunched lower on my seat.  There wasn't much space behind the big man but I was grateful nevertheless for his bulk.  It protected me from the direct blast.  Soon I couldn't feel my fingers.  My teeth were chattering when we rode through Ghum, which at eight thousand feet was the highest point on the road.  From there it was a thousand feet down to Darjeeling and the club.

We were on time for the start of the party.  The bar was already full of planters.  Some, like me, were rubbing their hands to get the blood circulating, while others were making overtures to the barman.

"Abdaar, what have we got tonight?" A Scotsman asked.  He had an almost unintelligible accent.  The barman recited a litany that delighted the assembly and as drinks were poured, glasses clinked to the traditional ‘cheers'.  Cigarettes and cigars were served by fleet-footed bus boys and soon assorted snacks adorned nearby tables.

There was no dinner service, just a smorgasbord of innumerable delicacies on a table in the adjoining room.  People flowed constantly between the bar and the food and I caught some, in between, debating which way to go!

By ten O'clock I was done.  With a tin of Gold Block in each pocket I walked up to Harry, who had his elbows on the bar and two drinks in front of him. 

"Yes.  Give me a moment to finish these and I'll be right with you."

I tried again at eleven O'clock with much the same result.  Getting a little concerned, I stood to one corner and was joined by a young man with ginger hair and a clipped English accent:

"Hello.  We haven't met," he said extending his hand.  We shook hands and he introduced himself.  "I'm Richard Lancaster, junior minion with B.O.A.C."

I took to him immediately.  "Delightful party but I'm waiting for Harry Langford-Smith.  He promised to take me home at ten.  It's nearing mid-night now and he is showing no signs of wanting to go home.

"Have a drink.  This could well be the last party that B.O.A.C throws in Darjeeling."

"Why's that?"

"The tea company's offer furlough to all expat planters but the countdown starts only once they reach British shores.  On the return journey their holiday officially ends when they leave Britain: it doesn't matter how long it takes to get back to India.  Naturally none of them will consider flying any more! They have a marvellous time at sea, going both ways by boat, without it being considered part of their leave."

"I don't know how Harry went on furlough, but he returned by boat bringing a motor-bike back with him."

We spoke awhile until I told him I really had to get Harry out of the club. 

"Don't know how much luck you're going to have," he said pointing to the bar.  Harry had slumped where he sat on the bar-stool, with his head bent over the bar.  He was comatose.

I managed to wake him finally.  "Take the bike if you must.  I can't ride it now!"

He wasn't going to get away with that.  I was angry with myself too for trusting him and determined to get home.  Borrowing his thick outer jacket and gloves, I started the bike with some effort and marvelled at just how much a motor-bike could kick back.  Astride her we did a few exploratory wobbles together till she steadied and then we were underway.  The jacket and gloves were excellent.  My legs and face felt the brunt of the cold and by the time I was passing Ghum, my eyes began watering.  I could still see the road though and didn't want to stop. 

The left turn near the station was a breeze.  I was pleased with the way I handled that.  A few moments later she skidded.  There was nothing I could do except roll with the fall.  When it was over I lay on one side of the road with the bike at the other end.  She was down but the engine was still running and the lights stayed on.  Walking across I slipped and skidded.  Regaining balance I looked down to see a thin film of ice covering the road. 

I had to lift the bike and, in doing so, saw the accelerator cable dangling by the front wheel.  It had come apart from the handle bar.  I guessed that it wouldn't matter now for there was no more climbing to be done.  Letting the engine continue idling, so the headlight would function, I made it all the way home in neutral.

There was just enough time for a bath and shave before leaving for the tea-factory to meet George Cruikshank.  Fitter Babu, the senior mechanic was sent for and I explained what had happened.  I told him the accelerator cable had broken and was hanging lose from the handle bar.  He reassured me, telling me he knew exactly what to do.  He had, he said, once ridden a bike during WWII and this very same thing had happened then.

The visit went well.  Cruikshank was happy with the cultivation works and said he would like to return, during the summer months, to see how we handled plucking tealeaves off the bushes.  Darjeeling is one of those few tea growing areas that have its tea bushes go dormant in winter.  Come October, there is no growth! After the first rains in March new leaves appear.  Then there is a temporarily halt, not longer than two weeks, before the bushes throw out fresh leaves again. 

New leaf sprouting atop the bush makes it look flush and that is the terminology planter's use.  Some estates have the distinction of producing high quality first flush teas while others favour the second flush.  Then by June the monsoons arrive.  With the rains delicate muscatel flavours are washed away.  The monsoon ends in late August when a variety of autumnal flavours emerge spreading their bouquet for miles. 

George Cruikshank left that evening telling me stories of the old days.  It must have been very wild and living conditions even more primitive than they were for me.  As soon as he left I rushed down to the factory and asked Fitter Babu what he had done with the motor-cycle.  He said there was nothing to worry about.  He had to take off a half inch from the accelerator cable, which had been damaged during the fall and then brazed the two ends together again.  After that he had the motorcycle polished and pushed into my garage.

I had a copy of the visiting agents report and the euphoria of perhaps earning a first bonus took my mind off Harry and his motorcycle.  There was that new long playing record with Mendelssohn's Symphony at the Oxford book shop.  It was in the show window and I had had my eye on it for some time... and then there was that Ronson pipe lighter Peter Burkett had put up for sale.  It was expensive but hopefully I'd be able to afford it now.

Four days later Harry was back on my porch.  Déjà vu less the dinner jacket, tails and cummerbund. 

"I've come to collect my 'bike."

"How did you come?"

"Walked, of-course.  I sold my car before going to the UK.  Can I see it!" It wasn't a question, so I took him around to the garage and he was pleased to see it gleaming with the lustre of fresh polish. 

"Why don't you come in while I fetch your overcoat and gloves I had borrowed?"

That led to a few drinks and when I asked if he would stay for supper, he nodded with imperious acquiescence.  Jethaa said it would take another half hour before he could get it ready and in that time Harry went through the contents of an entire bottle of rum.  He was beginning to get obnoxious by the time Yorkshire pie was put on the table.

"Damned good party that, on Sunday night.  Those B.O.A.C. chaps certainly know where their bread is buttered."

"There might not be anymore B.O.A.C. parties."  

"The hell you say! Why not?"

"Because you expat planter's don't use their service, preferring to go by boat on your furloughs."

"Yes, well I prefer the boat anyway.  Gives me more time off too."

"How did you get back from the Club after the party?"

"Walked! Nobody seemed to be going in my direction."

He suddenly remembered arguing with somebody at the bar that night and told me how he would have liked to biff him on the chin. 

It was that way with Harry every time.  Sometimes he would get into a brawl, always with someone smaller.  Once Willie Campbell had knocked him out.  Willie was smaller but a born scrapper and Harry had to have a few stitches above his eye.

He wanted more to drink after dinner and then abruptly got up to say, "I have to go!"

It was past midnight.  The bike wouldn't start and he looked accusingly at me.

"It hasn't been started since Sunday.  Might need a few more kicks." 

There was a smell of gasoline as Harry continued to kick and curse.

"Can you push? I'll keep the 'bike in gear and release the clutch after she's gathered some speed.  That should work."

It didn't.  I couldn't work up enough speed on my own.  After a few more attempts Harry decided to help with the pushing.  I pushed from behind while he ran alongside, one hand on the clutch and the other on the accelerator. 

We were both dripping sweat despite the cold.  About the fifth or sixth time around we had it moving fast.  With an almighty oath Harry released the clutch.  The engine roared to life turning on the headlight, which lit the driveway as the machine raced away at high speed.  For a moment I remained crouched with my hands in front of me.  Harry, looked equally stupid, his arms stretched away from him as though he were still holding on to the motorcycle.  Then we sprinted in a futile bid to catch the runaway 'bike that was doing all of twenty or thirty miles per hour by then. 

At the end of the drive lay the precipice.  Without a rider to steer her around the hairpin bend, the motorcycle plunged over the top.  She still hadn't hit bottom, as we lay flat on our stomachs looking over the rim to catch the headlight spectacularly illuminate the gorge below.  Before we could catch our breath, there was an explosion and flames erupted. 

We sat there awhile watching this display and, when it died down, Harry Langford-Smith had to walk home once again!

Return to Top