Tony Pickford


We were privileged to have Tony Pickford record his amusing stories of his life in Tea

We are thankful that we are able to continuing showing his very amusing and educational writings-----Sadly Tony is no longer with us but his memory will carry on with us

 My first real Train Journey
The Journey into the unknown

My memories of Arthur Nuttall

The Chinese Invasion of NE India 1962

 Further stories from the Valley

You might not believe it but it's true

 Peter Peewee Bursnwall

The Helicopter Man

The Sealing of Eric's Future

The Margherita Bridge
The White Ants

A lesson onj Breast Feeding

Heroes of NE Frontier Rly

Stories of John Moran

The Indo-China War of 1962
Hair Washing

Dibru Tinsukia Road


May 9 2007

                                          MY FIRST REAL TRAIN JOURNEY        
The Chinese War of ' 62 had been over for a while now, there were three of usin the Makum/Namdang Company who had wives who had returned to Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh when the ' girls ' were evacuated, Austin Rufus's wife, Muriel, Krishna's wife, Suchi and my wife, Grace. The Company had issued an edict that the wives could come back, that was alright for the European wives as most of them had beenlodged with people in Calcutta but for us three it was another ball game, we appliedto the Superintendent for time off to go and get them... " Bit of a cheek " sez he " We didn't start the damned war, sir , and it was you that sent our wives away in the first place, sir " sez us in concert  " Alright ", he sez," I will give you time, but it will be put down as your local leave so you have two weeks !! "  " Does that mean to say we only get the fare to Calcutta ? "  " Got it in one " he sez " pick up your vouchers from the Head Clerk on the way out,  good afternoon " The word ' compassionate 'came to mind but going down that road looked dangerous, the ' Boss ' was having
' a mood ' probably caused by us. A day or so later, having sent telegrams to our wives, we got a kind hearted fellow Assistant to drop us at Mohanbari and we took the flight to Calcutta.  It was evening time by the time we got there, hot as hell and the humidity would have chuffed the Head of Tropical Gardens at Kew, no end, we had to spend money on a cab to Howrah Station, the thought of spending a night in Calcutta went out of the window as our budget wouldn't stretch that far. Howrah Station was something else, big, dark and very smokey, as it was my first time in a big City without the molly-coddling of a Company man, I was awe-struck, where did all thesepeople come from, there were hundreds of them, all pushing and shoving, red garbed porters with more luggage on their heads than I had ever seen, what necks they must have, I thought, some had a couple of other bags on each arm as well.  Austinand Krishna, obvious veterans at the game of Indian Railway Stations,  guided me to a large steel post going up into the smokey roof and told me to hang on to it so as not to be swept away with the tide of people. " We'll try and see what trains aregoing North and whats available, just hang on tight and don't move, we'll find you, don't worry." After what seemed ages and having been stared at by half of Calcutta and what seemed the rest of India who must have thought that this ' Angrez ' had lost it, just standing there hanging on to a pole looking vacant, the lads returned. I could see by Austin's face that their foray into the teeming millions hadn't been too successful  "You can let go now"  they said " We are going to have to try and find the Punjab Mail,  we couldn't get tickets as the queue was too long " they said " Who the hell is this Punjab Mail bloke, has he got some tickets ? " I asked  " Its not a ' he ' its a train " " Why is it called that " I asked in innocence and ignorance " Is it for men only "  " Its a letter and parcels mail/passenger train, you pillock " they said  " I'm learning " I said sheepishly... so it was back into the throng... Don't ever  try going against a tide of humans all bent on going in one direction, with a purpose, go one worse and try and go across them, thank god for a schooling in two Rugby playing schools in England. Battered and bruised and sweating like cart horses we arrived at the side of a passenger train, it was just beginning to move as we got there  " This will do " said Austin  " Quick in that door "  Inside the compartment,
dimly lit by two 15 watt bulbs, I could make out four rows of wooden slatted seats, two up each side under the windows, and a row, back to back, up the middle, the windows were a laugh for a start, they were just square holes with bars and what looked like wooden shutters, in the roof, besides the little lights, were two old fans about twelve inches in diameter running at about fifty revs a minute, just moving stale air from one place to another.  The only seats left were on the middle bench, we had a thousand miles to go sitting up on hard wood..... beggars can't be choosers.

Once into the suburbs of Calcutta it was time to take stock of our fellow travellers, as we three were all sitting together looking one way, it was the people in front who came under our scrutiny, there were three of them, all men,   come to think of it there weren't any ladies. " See " I said " It is for men only ! " trying to relieve the dark mood at the thought of the daunting journey ahead. As with everywhere in India, curiosity gets the better of the average man in the street and one chap opposite started up his questionaire which went something like this. " What are your good names ?" " What are you doing here ? " " From where you are coming ? " " To where are you getting down ? " " You, sah," pointing at me " you are foreigner, where is your native place ? " " Which Company do you work ? " " How much they paying you ? " " Do you get place to stay ? " " Are you married or single ? " Finally, " What is your age ? "  

The Questioner was big man in his mid fifties wearing only a sleeveless vest and a dhoti,  his ' string ' was visible denoting his caste, he had proceeded to sit in the ' lotus ' position on his part of the bench, thus giving himself more than enough room, he had a pen clipped to his vest [ this was to feature in an amusing incident with Austin later] Once he had been politely given his answers, he then lauched forth into a one-sided lecture on the merits of the Communist Party of India [ Marxist ] it was like listening to a donkey braying. We all sat patiently listening to this lecture, until he eventually ran out of steam, Austin then nipped in and with a very serious tone said " We would like to have some literature on what you have just told us, may I borrow your pen and I'll give you our names and addresses,  for you to send to us information "   Speak for yourselfI thought. He handed Austin what turned out to be a gold Parker 51 fountain pen, a prize possession in those days, Austin wrote down the names of the Superintendent and two of the most senior Managers of the Company making sure the first names tallied with the answers we had previously given, gave him the paper but kept the pen  " Excuse me, good sah, you are taking my pen, that is my possession, please to give back " Austin replied with an innocent expression " Surely, after what you have just said about Communism where one has to share one's worldy things with one's fellow human beings, then this pen you can share with me, 'cause I haven't got anything like it "  There then came a tirade of bluster, huffing and puffing saying roughly that he didn't mean quite that and give that damned pen back, it was duly handed back followed by complete silence from that part of the bench. Whilst all this was going on the chapnext to him hadn't said a word, he just sat there staring and I mean staring, I nudged Krishna and said quietly that I didn't like the look of him and we had better keep an
eye on him and not to sleep all at once, if we slept at all... sure enough he didn't sleep either or at least sat there with one eye open and the other shut, still staring at us, it wasn't until he started snoring did we realize that he had a glass eye and couldn't shut it anyway, but he could sleep sitting up.  Next to him was a little man who had obtained from somewhere one of those huge thick Army greatcoats which was five sizes too big for him, as he dropped off,  the coat stayed where it was and he slid down inside and all one got where the sounds of laboured breathing coming out of an empty dark hole of the collar at the top where his head had previously been, like this we travelled on until the early light of day, cat-napping as and when we could. At Mughalserai, a stop of about twenty minutes, Austin and Krishna announced they were starving,   we hadn't eaten since Assam.. I was told to stayput as a white face caused all sorts of price hikes, anyway, they said " your ruddy Hindi is awful "  . I peeked out of the window to see what they were doing,  they were both standing in a crowd near a trolley with steam rising everywhere, with heaps of food of some description piled high on it. After a while, the train hooter sounded, the next thing was Austin with earthen pots of tea in both hands walking fast towards our compartment followed by Krishna virtually at a run, he didn't have very long legs, carrying a pile of ' roti's ' in each hand which haddry veg and potato curry on top.... the next thing was a dark shadow that came out of the sky and all the ' roti's ' and curry disappeared from one of Krishna's
hands... the attack of the Indian Shight Hawk or Brown Kite to the more polite,Krishna's language cannot be printed here, the bird hadn't touched him so skilled that they are .... so we three settled down to share what was left and to drink our tea. An hour out of Mughalserai travelling at a fair speed, there was a huge bang followed by a scraping sounds and the brakes locked on, the train came to a very abrupt halt, Indian curiosity is catching, we all bailed out of the carriage to see the problem... we had hit a buffalo which had disintegrated and parts had come under the train and a bone had jammed into the Emergency Brake system thus causing our very fast halt.... I don't know whether there is a job descriptions act under Indian law but a very sooty man armed with various tools arrived, he and the guard disappeared underneath and started tossing out bits of buffalo, a muffled shout announced they had found the offending bone and with large amounts of hammering and, I think, swearing,  suddenly everything freed itself, the sooty man told Krishna he was the Engineer and that he was always doing this sort of thing [ the bloke deserved a medal ].... we all piled back on board and off we steamed. It was Austin who noticed that we seemed to have gained a couple more blokes in our already overcrowded compartment, these two had an air about them, one had an official looking cap on and an apology of a uniform, the other was in the usual drab khaki. ' Mr Cap ' picked on us first... " Please be showing your tickets " ... oops... " We haven't got tickets " we said in unison. " To travel on train with no ticket is grave offence " he said severely " You will have to pay for travel, now, and there will be fine, which I shall decide, if you are not paying I will stop this train and I will have you removed ! "  All a bit severe we thought.  Suddenly our Marxist man spoke up in a loud voice and reprimanded' Mr Cap '  " Don't you know who these gentlemen are ? They have come down from the North East Frontier where they have been subjected to the dastardly acts of our enemy the Chinese, they have joined with the people of India and bravely fought off the attempts by these vicious people who have attempted to take over my beloved Bengal and Assam, have you no shame, sir, how dare you pick on them, they are heroes and the least you can do is allow them to continue to Lucknow to be joined with their beloved ones who where taken from their arms and sent away " .... What could one add to that, " Mr Cap " changed like a chameleon, he apologised and said would we care to pay for Third Class Sitting from Calcutta to Lucknow and there would be no fine and added that it was a pleasure to meet such honourable persons... Mr Khaki, meanwhile, had been standing quietly behind with his finger exploring the depths of his nostrils trying to find any product of the nights breathing, his face had changed as the hopes of getting money to pocket from us had disappeared into oblivion. We duly paid up and were allowed to continue our journey to ' our beloveds '  We, of course, thanked our Communist friend saying that he would go far on the rocky road of Indian politics and apologised for our prank with the pen.  We arrived at Lucknow, very tired, very dirty, smelling like polecats and very hungry, our beloveds were not too keen to show their relief and affection until we had washed, shaved and found some clean clothes.   For a foreigner, the whole journey had been one hell of an experience but I don't think I would want to do it again, thank you.   

Tony Pickford South India.                                       

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February 22 2007

    THE JOURNEY INTO THE UNKNOWN.      It all started in 1960... I was on Dehing Tea Estate at the time, between Margherita and the oil town of Digboi. Digboi was an oasis for us young planters up that end of the Valley, it had good shops, an excellent Club, a swimming pool,  no less, tennis courts both grass and all-weather, at least two huge cricket pitches but the best of all were the girls... the Oil Executives had female Secretaries, almost all of whom, were imported from Calcutta and from other main cities of North India, these girls were given sharing accommodation by the Oil Company in a well appointed bungalow... as you can imagine, they were a huge magnet for us sex starved bachelors from the estates nearby.... It was " Us bees to those honeypots "   I had been taking out a young Indian graduate who hailed from Lucknow, the State Capital of Uttar Pradesh. Her Father was on the Bench of Lucknow High Court. As time passed it was obvious to the both of us that the time to get ' hitched ' was imminent, so it was off to meet the family in Lucknow which consisted of Mum, Dad and three older married sisters with their respective families. My fiancee's family were aware of our intentions but it needed formal approval. My future Mum-in-law I found to my horror didn't speak English and assumed because I was marrying her daughter, that I could.... I had some high speed learning to do !!! I was summoned by my future Father-in-law to his Chambers at the High Court.  He came breezing in, removed his wig and gown and sat at his desk and fixed me with a cold stare which I am sure he reserved for convicted murderers and said " I have made some rather hasty decisions in Court this morning and I am sure another is about to take place... I am giving you permission to marry my youngest daughter on two conditions, these are : 1. If you take my daughter abroad for any length of time and I have the feeling you will... you will return to India for the equal amount of time. 2. When you leave these Chambers, you will speak to no one... the reason... I wish nobody to know of this decision in these Courts regarding this matter as you are the first case I have ever lost !   It may seem to those of you reading this, that my Father-in-law was a bit of an ogre... far from the truth.. we became the firmest of friends in the time he had left [ I was unaware of his Cancer at the time ]  He was a very astute and religious man, he was the only Christian I have ever met who had a large leather Bible printed in Urdu which he had read from cover to cover five times, he had noted the dates of each completion on the fly leaf inside.   So it was back to Assam to announce the impending nuptials to mates and friends and to the Company. Our friends were delighted as they had suspected as much but the Company was a different matter and far from happy. I was hauled up to the Superintendent's Office and asked if I was aware of the Company ruling whereby no Officer of the Company could marry unless he had completed the minimum of 4 years service or his 25th Birthday, whichever came sooner and furthermore my hopes of promotion, through the normal chain of events, would be severely curtailed because I was marrying an Indian... an evil, draconian and bigoted ruling and mindset. [ I told the Superintendent just that !! ] As I had joined the Company a lot later than my colleagues, having served for three years in the British Army, I would reach my 25th Birthday before the 4 year ruling so out of sheer bloody-mindedness I decided to get married on my 25th Birthday and in Lucknow NOT at the local Church.   As the big day drew nearer I decided I would drive down to Lucknow from Assam some 1750 miles one way, a hair-raising feat in 1962 as an Englishman on his own, I had no money for a driver in those days... Assistants Wages... Rs 620/- per month !!.   With my Nepali manservant, who wanted to go to see his family in Nepal, we loaded up my trusty Ambassador with bedding rolls, suitcases and other paraphernalia that he had decided we might need. Off we set at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday evening... him in the front with me, his ' kukri ' on the top of the dashboard [ did he know something I didn't ] next stop Gauhati and the crossing of the mighty Brahmaputra on the early morning ferry [ no bridges then ]  The road down through the Valley was fairly good, though only single track, during the day it was bad enough with the old " chicken takes to the rough first " driving,  but at night one took to the rough as a matter of course, as a set of headlights, sometimes only one, didn't tell one what was behind the oncoming blazing glare, it seemed the transport contractors used their worst bent-chassis and light-less vehicles only at night when no one was checking and they were only driven by cleaners learning how drive a truck or the driver himself was too overcome with " bhangh " or arrack to drive, anyway. We somehow negotiated all these obstacles and arrived in Gauhati, at an unearthly hour, just as the ferry was loading for its first journey across, I had intended to rest in Gauhati but, with this bit of luck, decided to get the car on board and get to the other side the plus point being that I could make up a bit of time once on the other side.  So it was back behind the wheel and see how far we could get with dawn just breaking.  It was 1962, remember, so there was not much traffic about, soon Alipur Dooars and Siliguri were in the driving mirror, the roads were very patchy, we stopped for the usual call of nature and to top up gastronomically at regular intervals with " dhaba chai " and " sengaras ", besides the regulatory fuel stops. The roads had gradually become worse, tarmac was just a memory, gravel was the form now, the bottom of the car was being peppered with stones and it seemed only a matter of time when a hole would appear beneath our feet. Bihar was a god-forsaken State even in those days, mile upon mile of dreary landscape with huge crops of boulders, no soil to till, how did they manage ?  Not a soul in sight, where were all the millions of India ?  The reputation of the Hindustan Ambassador as the car specially built for Indian roads was being proven by the mile, we were pressing on as hard as conditions would allow, we reached Malda on the banks of the mighty Ganges at 9 p.m. at night, absolutely shattered but happy that we had done so well, added to which the " old girl " hadn't missed a beat all day, under the worst conditions one could imagine, she deserved a rest as much as we did. We had missed the last ferry so it was decided we would ' camp ' on the river bank.  We were very near to a row of ' dhabas ' and petty shops so I told " Jeeves "  to sleep on the back seat whilst I would sleep in the front but he had to wake me in good time so that we could catch the early morning ferry and, could he please russle up some warm water for a wash ? I was awoken by a tapping on the window to be confronted by the smiling face of Jeeves, not the sort of thing to see when one opens one's eyes in the morning, he announced the fact that the water was ready for my use.  Getting out of the car I was confronted by one of those old oval Zinc baths, the one with a handle on each end, standing on bricks, it was half full with piping hot water,  he had found my towel and soap which was on a stool next to this monster, the time was 5.30 a.m. and just getting light. Jeeves informed me that he had quietly slid out of the car much earlier, woken up all the shopwallahs and teashop owners he could find, informed them that there was an important Sahib in the car and he would be wanting his bath when he awoke... silly sod !! There was I confronted by these poor people who had started their fires and heated up all this water at who knows what hour, as there were no ladies about I stripped down to my 'Y' fronts and making suitable appreciative noises, gave myself a good wash down trying not to get the remaining item of clothing too wet. I honestly believe that everyone expected me to strip naked and jump in, I hope I didn't disappoint them too much... by the time I had got to towelling off, the word had obviously got round and the audience had grown to include wives, girls, aunts, [ the giggling department ] uncles, children and everyone from the surrounding countryside, all had arrived to witness this " Angrez " washing himself, it must have been a conversation piece for months after. The ferry arrived at 6.30 so, after many handshakes and of course the inevitable ' palm greasing ' we were ready for off.  The ferry itself was a sight to behold, it was an old Mississippi type rear paddle driven river boat with lighters roped to the side onto which my long suffering car was driven and lashed down. A very big thick set man presented himself and in remarkably good English invited me to take Breakfast with him, Jeeves was sent to the crew's quarters, during the hour and a half it took to get across, I had a lovely breakfast of eggs, potato cakes, bread and the staple ' spread ' of India... Mixed Jam !! I was continually cross questioned by the " boss " about by good name and my native place.  This meal was the first decent meal I had eaten for over 24 hours, so I didn't mind this very intimate questioning.   On reaching the far bank and with much back-slapping and handshaking we piled into the car and set off. Looking back at this huge river, I wondered what it must look like during the monsoon season, it was awe inspiring, anyway, it was Patna ahoy, the next big conurbation, what a sad place it was, it looked so run down even back all these years, the traffic was horrendous, there were very tall rickshaws based on old V twin Harley-Davidson motorcyles, they looked terribly unstable but went like the wind and were driven with the utmost aggression, we were glad to get out of the place en route to Ara, it was just outside Ara that we had our first problem of the journey, the inevitable puncture, we had only just crossed the longest road/rail bridge I had ever seen when the rear tyre blew, the culprit, a shoe from a bullock [ I didn't know till then that bullocks had steel shoes fitted... how strange ] we were also lucky that a mile or so after having changed the wheel that we came across a roadside  " puntchur repair " shop [ thats what his sign said ] we were soon back in business and on our way to Mohania on the Grand Trunk Road, turn right to the famous Benares our next stop.  We had to stop as it was where I had to drop my Nepali manservant [ Jeeves ] as he was going North to Gorakpur and on to Nepal and his " native place " as he kept telling me. Benares was another City of hussle and bussle, nowhere near as bad as Patna, but after a day in Bihar where we hadn't seen anyone for mile after mile and the scenery was so drab and with huge dirty grey looking boulders we were glad to see people and activity,  we eventually found the rail station, unloaded all Jeeves's kit, I'm sure some of mine was mixed up with his too, silly sod started crying, as they do, he went off snuffling into the Station.   I suddenly realised that now I was REALLY on my own, I managed to find fairly clean but suitable accomodation nearby and had a much needed sleep as I also realised I was dog-tired. After filling up myself with a ' railway ' omelette and bread and that damned " mixed jam ' again, it was with stumbling Hindi that I found the road to Jaunpur and Lucknow, journey's end !!  Not far from Sultanpur I was rubbing my hand over my face and realised that I had not shaved, therefore definitely not presentable to the new family.. I spotted two ladies with what looked like a goat skin, with long ropes fixed to either side in a nearby field,  baling water out of a pond into a water channel, stopping abruptly, I grabbed my tin mug and advanced towards them asking if I might have some water... they dropped everything and ran, I must have looked a sight and my broken Hindi was probably translated into something suggestive.... anyway, I took my mug full,  back to the car, pulled out the interior mirror, propped it up on the roofrack and proceeded to have a shave. How is it that its only in India, when one is doing anything personal that people pop up out of the woodwork more especially when your in the open miles from anywhere, this time it was in the form of a country bus which pulled up, the passengers all stared out of the window at this sight of an Englishman having a shave on the roadside... when I had finished, I presented myself to them and asked their approval to which I got a rousing round of applause with thumbs up all round... with a crash of gears and clouds of noxious smoke off they went, doubtless chatting about what they had just witnessed.  It really is an amazing country !!!   I eventually reached Lucknow at about 4 p.m. to a profuse, warm and homely welcome... my ' yet to be ' Father-in-law informed me that I was 2 hours late and what had I been doing... cheeky old devil !!  When I told him of my experiences and the fact that his dearly beloved youngest daughter would be going on the same journey in reverse form.. it all went very quiet   The return journey was both eventful and equally uneventful, we both got sick and tired of wedding cake which was with us in the car, but one thing was for sure, I wouldn't try this journey into the unknown now !!!   Yet another story for me to cherish and which, I hope, you have enjoyed    Tony Pickford.

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January 29 2007

My memories of Arthur Nuttal

I remember he gave me a lift from Bogapani to Digboi one night, I had been dropped off earlier at the Saltmarsh's, I turned up at his Bungalow at the appointed time, it had become dark,  we had a couple of " snifters " to fortify us for the journey, all of 20 minutes !! When we got to his car which was a big old American tank, he said " Sorry, old boy, but you'll have to sit in the back, the front seat is occupied " 

I glanced about but there seemed to be no one, but as he was one of the most senior members of the Company, he had to be humoured, so into the back seat I got, off we went in style... it wasn't until we passed under a light  did I notice that standing upright on the front seat next to Arthur, secured by a rope to the doorpost, was the biggest water filter I'd ever seen. It was one of those old ceramic ones, horrendously heavy and this one must have had at least 5 gallons capacity. There was a pipe going into the top [ the lid had been removed ] and soon, as we progressed, there were strange gurgling noises emitting from the filter.  I could hold my curiosity no longer, I asked Arthur what was going on.... " Had a bit of a mishap, you know, ran into the back of a bullock cart a couple of weeks ago, damned fellow must have been drunk,[ pot calling kettle black, methinks ] he was all over the road, bloody dark night, no moon you know, didn't see the fool till I was on him , anyway,  put a damned hole in the radiator, can't get a new one as this old girl is getting on a bit, no chance in getting one from America, things being what they are, anyway have had the hole all soldered up but there's not enough cooling area so have got an extra pipe running through a hole in the floor into this old filter, took the candle out, you know, filled the thing half full with water, the hot water from the engine comes in the top and goes out through the tap hole into another pipe and back into the engine, gets me to Digboi before it gets too hot, any further and you don't want to be sitting in here, hell of a lot of steam, don't you know, have to have all the windows down, just like one of those Chinese hot bath places. ... We reached Digboi safely though I had noticed a marked rise in the internal temperature.

 and another

This story concerns Arthur Nuttall but happened long before my arrival in the Margherita area, whilst I can't verify its accuracy or truth, knowing Arthur, it has to be correct as its so true to his character.

After World War II the Americans who had been fighting all through the top of Burma towards Rangoon from Lekhapani near Ledo [ very close to Margherita ] along what was known as the Stillwell Road, named after General " Vinegar " Joe Stillwell who was the Commander of the American forces in the area, the Yanks had been ferrying in equipment by the trainload, after the Japanese surrendered it was decided by our transatlantic cousins that it was not at all logistically feasible to truck it all out again, they just loaded up the arms and ammunition and left... all they way up the Stillwell Road to the Burma border there were Army ten-wheeler trucks, four-wheeler trucks, trailers etc.,  a veritable alladins cave of motorised vehicles and other equipment, the prize of all these was the Willys Jeep, needless to say a black market was born and high premiums were being asked and indeed given, to get a Willys jeep, the local authorities were aware of all this going on and decided on a clamp down, raids and searches were conducted on all sorts of establishments.  Arthur Nuttall had desparately wanted a Jeep, and managed to get one on the black, at a premium.  He was warned that the C.B.I.[ Special Police] were aware of his purchase and were coming to visit.. Where do you hide a jeep ?  Arthur had the bright idea of dismantling it  [ they were very easy to take apart as they came in kit form originally from America ]  he took down the hessian panelled ceiling in his bungalow Sitting Room and had the individual parts including the engine, wheels,  transmission,  body parts etc., all roped up to the roof trusses and then the ceiling put back. When the CBI chaps arrived he invited them in for tea and refreshments, they sat directly below the jeep in the ceiling, Arthur denied all knowledge of having a Jeep saying that it was a typical nasty rumour being spread about to blacken his name, but, they were welcome to search the whole garden and buildings if they so wished... they had a cursory look round and went on their way. It was some 12 months before Arthur got that Jeep down, rebuilt it and used it on the garden. 

January 23 2007

                       The Chinese Invasion of N.E.India... 1962 

   I had been married precisely 9 months, living happily with my new bride in the Mutti Bungalow at Dirok Tea Estate when it was announced that the Chinese Army had come across the border in Northern Assam intent on taking over the " rice bowl " of Eastern India reclaiming what they thought was theirs... we all went about our daily work, dashing back when we could to our bungalows to tune into our massive valve powered Bush and Grundig radios to hear the latest up-dates, it gradually got worse and worse, it was obvious that the Indian Army was unable to hold them back, they were completely ill equipped, trying to fight at high altitude for which they had not been trained,  in brown gym shoes [ keds ] with no protective clothing. Jack Kilburn, the Company Chairman, arrived in from London to say that we should be prepared to hand over the Company to the incoming invasion force should they reach us and co-operate to the utmost, this meeting was held in the Margherita Club, his remarks were met with some ribald unprintable comments.. which rather took him aback, if I remember. He quickly had a mutinous bunch on his hands... " Alright " said he " I'll stay and co-operate and run this Company with the new people"... " Best of British luck " sez a voice from the rear of the Hall... Then came the bombshell... our revered Chairman then said " It has been decided to evacuate the wives to the safety of Calcutta, get them to be prepared to move out in 24 hours"  " Thank you, gentlemen " with that he left the Hall !! I went home to my new wife and told her of the decision and she started her preparations, next thing was I get a message to report to Harvey Whitfield, General Manager of the Assam & Railways Trading Company in Margherita.... wonder why he wants me , I thought,  off I went to his Bungalow, he meets me on the Verandah and says " I have a requistion order here signed by the Collector for me to requisition a bus from the Margherita Bus Station to take all the Clerical staff wives out of the area to Panitola , you are the only person who can do it"   I have asked Jim Maltby, your Superintendent, who has looked at your records and you are the only one who has a Heavy Goods Vehicle Licence  and also for Public Service Vehicles [ buses ] "  .... like a fool I had put this information on my C.V. as I had been an Assistant Military Transport Officer at Brigade H.Q. in Germany before applying to join Tea. I went escorted by two police officers, whom he had conveniently called, to the Bus Station, they seemed to know why we had come... " Take that one over there"  the Bus Station Manager says pointing towards a huge but dilapidated single decker... there was a lot of mumbling from the assembled Bus employees which one of the policeman, who had a modicome of English, translated as " best of luck with that old cow, no one it likes taking her out, she's not safe, pulls to the left awfully and the brakes aren't too hot either"  I had been told that the Station Manager would allot the bus so it was Hobsons Choice.  I got in started her up, an almighty roar proved the silencer was gone too, off we went in the usual cloud of noxious smoke, it was a 42 seater single decker of enormous proportions, I drove it to Harvey Whitfields bungalow and just to show off, backed it through the gate and into the portico with inches to spare... Harvey went berserk... I said " You sent me for a bus and that's what I have brought you " " Not in my bloody garden, for Heavens sake ! " he says " Park the damn smelly thing outside "  After a while, my wife arrived complete with luggage, then the staff wives arrived, I had never witnessed anything quite like it, besides the luggage enough for a year, they had brought vegetables, flour, dhal, all sorts of ingredients, a couple of cooking pans each, one had even brought a dozen eggs in a net bag. They were duly loaded onto the bus with the odd bits on the roof-rack, off we jolly well went, fighting to keep the damned bus straight, the bloke was right, it pulled to the left horrendously... as we left Margherita and they had waved to everyone who happened to be standing about, the noise started, it wasn't transmission trouble but the ever increasing crescendo of female voices all vying for attention amongst each other, don't know why that woman had brought the eggs, there would be dozens by the time we reached the destination with all the loud cackling that was going on, it became deafening, my wife moved out and came up and sat on the engine cover, we sailed down into Tinsukia, I see what the bloke meant by the brakes too,  over the level crossing, suddenly there came a terrible bang and a grinding and tearing noise, coming to a halt and jumping down I saw immediately what the problem was, I'd forgotten about the roof-rack and it had connected with the boom level crossing gate which had torn off the rack and itself collapsed in the resultant heap along with what was left of the bits that had been put up there. Unfortunately, there was a strict timetable so we had to leave the debris where it was and proceed to Panitola, where we drove onto a large open field area, standing there were three Dakota DC 3's of Kalinga Airways awaiting our passengers. We off- loaded both passengers and the " luggage ", got to the aircraft to find there were no seats, they were all cargo aircraft, someone suddenly had the bright idea of using all the cargo webbing straps and strapping the suitcases to the sides of the aircraft so the " girls " had somewhere to sit... " the girls " all piled in and sat on the cases and this was how they took off for Calcutta... non-stop. As we all got back to the gate in our various forms of transport, me in my bus... A chap came up and said " Guess what, the Chinese have just called a cease-fire " " Pity we can't call the planes back, we haven't a radio for aircraft !! "........, Poor sod, really got his ears filled !!   Happy memories of the halcyon years   Tony Pickford.   
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 January 16 2007
Further stories from " the Valley "
by Tony Pickford

One often wonders who it is who thinks up the jokes both rude & clever, some hilarious, some not so, but I was a witness to the birth of a joke being made that has circulated the globe, as I have heard it many times since and the person who made it, did so in complete innocence as he was the type of person who could not have heard it elsewhere or have known better as he didn't mix in that type of circle. I refer, of course, to one of the " babu's " that we had in Assam to administer the day to day work on the gardens, in the factories and as clerical staff in the Offices from the Superintendent's Office to the smallest Tea Garden.  These people were invaluable and much cherished [ but one never told them that ] the reason being,  that they spoke English moderately well,  their knowledge of the Industry was endless and as experts both in knowledge and labour management, they were unsurpassed, one could have happily handed over the whole Garden to these guys and come back after a month, to find nothing out of place, everything running smoothly and every paise accounted for. It was their quirky knowledge of the English language that was sometimes their " Waterloo " .   The Head Clerk at the Superintendents Office, Mohan Babu, super expert , which is why he had the top job, had one day noticed that bunches of flowers and wrapped presents were passing through the Office en route to the " Burra Bungalow " and that the Superintendent was in a particularly good mood.  His enquiry, by surruptious methods, uncovered the fact that it was the 25th Wedding Anniversary of his boss and his wife, feeling decidedly uncomfortable with the fact that he had not been told or that he didn't know when he really should have, he decided to make amends by dashing off on a pretext and buying flowers to which he attached the following message.... " To my respected and dear Mr and Mrs Maltby, my congratulations on attaining 25 years with yourselves, on this occasion, it is with the best wishes from the bottom of my heart and my wife's bottom also !! "  Signed  Mohan Babu.. Head Clerk to Mr Maltby.    I happened to be in the Burra Bungalow giving the Dehing contribution to the celebratory couple when, Aziz the bearer, brought these flowers to Joyce, whilst blushing somewhat she thought it hilarious. The well meaning Mohan Babu was never told of his ' faux pas '                                                                                                     ***********************************   We had another such ' gentleman ' on Dehing called Baruah, he could regale stories in the most abyssmal English when even the most serious of events would be hilarious. Baruah was known to all of us as " Hugrum Buggeram Babu " He never got things absolutely correct at his work either !! Hence the ' nickname' From time to time it was the Assistant Garden Manager's job to visit the living areas of both the labour and the Admin Staff which belonged to the Company to make sure all was in order and there had been no structures erected which did not comply with Company housing guidelines, that the houses were in reasonable condition etc., etc.,  The ' Babu's ' had a book in the Office in which they put down any complaints that needed the attention of the Garden Assistant Manager. Our friend, Baruah wrote as follows : Respected Sir, You are to visit lines on Tuesday [ who was he, giving orders ] please be looking in my house, my wife has been having trouble with her backside from time immemorial and nightly we have fags coming through the window "  If you will go my house my wife will be honoured to give tea and cake after which she will show you the problem with her backside, she will show also where fags are coming in." I had asked Baruah to enlighten me further and I didn't want to embarrass him by discussing a rather intimate medical problem with any of the other Staff, but he stuck to his guns, so, along with the Garden Doctor and a Nurse we went to Baruah's house. Mrs Baruah appeared to be absolutely fine though somewhat stunned to see the Doctor along with a Nurse also, we had our tea and cake, then I left the Doctor to administer whatever help or advice. He appeared about two minutes later doubled over laughing, as he spoke Assamese the whole picture had come out, evidently Mrs Baruah had been nagging her husband to get the Company to do something about two things at their quarter, firstly, the fence had fallen over along the back owing to white ant attacking the posts, allowing stray cows in [ trouble with her backside !! ] and that one of the windows had warped so badly that the night mist [ fog a.k.a fags ] were coming in.   Incidentally, Baruah piped up one day and said " You, sir, were a Military man, you must have known my Commanding Officer during the last War "  I explained to him that I was only a child at that time anyway that I had been in the BRITISH Army for three years stationed in Germany in the 50's and would hardly have known his C.O.  " Oh, but you must be knowing, Sir, his name was Major Ayub Khan,  he was most important man in Pakistan " [ the late President Ayub Khan of Pakistan ].  Wonderful people on whom we all heavily depended though some don't care to admit it.   HAVE A WONDERFUL, HAPPY AND HEALTHY 2007... ALL OF YOU !!   Tony Pickford.           *********************************************************

December 22 2006

another  good tale by Tony Pickford

Back in the mid nineties the present incumbent having decided that 42 years in India was enough looked forward to the rain & wet of the Hills of the Welsh border with Shropshire. One of his ‘ hats ‘ whilst he was here, was to be, what is called, the Area Correspondent for the British Deputy High Commission, based in Chennai [ Madras as was ] my name was put forward to take over this ‘ hat ‘ from him..... there wasn't anyone else.

A nice letter arrived from the 2nd Secretary, asking me to take over and collect the files from the retiring ‘ official ‘. This was duly done, the files perused to see exactly what this responsibility entailed as the retiring " official " just dumped them in my lap saying " its all yours " but no hints as to exactly what I should be doing.

The area of jurisdiction covered some 750 square miles in a District of Tamil Nadu in South India, called the Nilgiris Hills, it is mountainous, rising steeply, by a series of blood gelling  hairpin bends, from flat uninspiring plains, to its maximum height of 8800 feet above sea level near Ootacamund, the ‘capital' of the District.  It's a very scenic tourist attractive area with a very amenable climate in British terms, very verdant and near perfect temperatures. The main and indeed only industry of any size is the Tea Industry with both large and small tea plantations throughout.   This ' Office ' is at 6200 feet in a large-ish  military area with the famous Madras Infantry Regiment Headquarters and the world-renowned Indian Defence Services Staff College, all very secure, so couldn't be better.

I assumed that there was little to the job, as Resident English were as rare as hen's teeth, it seemed all I was required to do was look after their welfare and interests if called upon, to straighten out problems when said British Citizens got themselves into hot water with the law or our famous bureaucracy, advise on procedures of the documentation required if a British Citizen wished to stay for either longer than their Visa period [ a 6 month Tourist Visa will NOT be renewed here in India under any circumstances, one has to return to the country where it was issued and start again , that definitely stops many wishing to hang on here ] or those who wish to settle on a permanent basis like myself. There, of course, the added difficulties of ‘ touring ‘ British who have lost their documents or have had them stolen, these people seem to get into more scrapes than those who live here, the red tape involved in getting temporary passports is horrendous from both the Indian and British officials in London.

There is a specifically designated Police official  to look after and into all foreigners in the specific District, known as the Foreigners Registration Officer. All foreigners, by law, have to registered with his Office if their tenure is longer than the normal 6 month Tourist Visa. He comes under Special Branch and therefore has powers greater than the normal police force official, unlike his U.K. counterpart he and his Staff keep a sharp eye on all persons holding foreign Passports and unbeknown to said foreigners, ones movements are checked and recorded .  Cross his path at your peril !

My first move as the " New Man " was to go and see the Citizens on the list, my local town and the " capital " were easy and it was a doddle. " This jobs' a piece of cake " I sez to myself, " They are all nice and receptive folk, a few somewhat eccentric, but you can't expect perfection "  I thought.     Why did I think that, there's always  ‘one'  isn't there ?   This is her story.

I had an address of an English lady living two hours drive away [ one way ] over the most atrocious road into the middle of nowhere, one would get to the next State, Kerala, if one kept going and the car was still in one piece and one's dental work still in its allotted place.  Off I set and duly arrived at the lady's house set in an acre of grounds to find the iron gates padlocked both sides, to digress slightly, this lady had NO telephone, NO electricity, NO servant, NO means of transport, therefore I was unable to warn her of my courtesy visit.      There was no bell or any other means of communication to the House , which was at a fair distance from where I was standing.

" I am not going back along that damned bone shaking road without having contacted this lady " sez I, to myself. The gates, 7 feet high,  had barbed wire in triple strands, strung all along the top as did the fence on both sides which disappeared into dense undergrowth yards from my position in both directions.  Whilst deliberating the next move, a voice from behind says   " Who are you and what's your business ",....... after coming back down from where I'd jumped,   I sez , using my new self-appointed title, " I am the Nilgiris District Correspondent to the British Deputy High Commission and have come to visit the lady of this house "   " I was just about to shout to get someone to come and unlock this gate " sez I....  " You can stand here and shout yourself hoarse , she'll never hear you, she's as deaf as a brick " sez he, [ made a change from a post, I thought ].

" How do you manage? " sez I...... Sez he...  " You throw stones at those outhouses, there's over 14 dogs in there, once you get them started you're on a winner, she comes out to see what all the fuss is about, she seems to hear them somehow, then you wave and dance about, with luck she'll spot you, she'll come across and give you a hell of a telling off, when she stops to catch her breath, get in quick and tell her who you are, you should be alright then, but she won't let you in though." sez he. 

I'd come all this way might as well be as daft and aggressive as I had just been warned she was, so I pelted said stones, sure enough there was soon more noise than Battersea Dogs Home at feeding time,  out she comes, I do my dance and sure enough she spots me and storms over.

" Just who are you, and how dare you throw stones at my dogs,  I have a mind to get the law onto you! "  Whilst the tirade continued,    I thought. " You silly old bat, how can you call the law, you've no telephone and the next habitation is 2 miles away and by the look of you, you wouldn't make it on foot and would have forgotten what you went there for by the time you reached the Police Station ".    I suddenly sensed a pause and jumped in with my introduction

" Why didn't you say so in the first place " she puffs,

She said  " I've been waiting for you to come, I want to make a complaint !"  Oh no, I thought, this ‘aint going to be my day but I have my new job to do.... so...I said  " Oh, I am sorry to hear there is a problem, perhaps you can explain and I'll see what I can do ,  may I come in ? "

" No," she said, " I'm not prepared for visitors and you'll disturb the dogs !" ... I thought......  I've done a damned good job of that already,  but better not say so.

" Its my Mother's ashes " she states, just like that, " I've only got about three tablespoonfuls left !"

Completely gob-smacked by this time I could only stand and mouth words with no sound, I must have looked like a fish in a bowl. " What are you going to do about it ?"  sez she.   The mind was racing, what the hell was she talking about and what was she doing with her Mother's ashes......     using them to sprinkle on her porridge ?  She must have been fond of her Mum,  I thought.....  Nah,  she's putting them on her potted plants, that's it.  Taking a deep breath, I said, " Oh, that's a pity, have you tried Muriate of Potash with a bit of Sulphate of Ammonia and some very dry cowdung mixed, all mixed together,  it really brings your plants on well, you know ".......  " What are you talking about, I'm not mixing my Mother's ashes with fertilizer, you're disgusting, young man, you are !.... Wrong move there,  I thought.  " So what exactly is the problem ?" I asked innocently trying to calm her down, not having a clue where this topic of conversation was heading and not trying to think of the use for human ashes. 

" Its those Customs people in Bombay, its all their fault, they had the cheek to open my packing cases and rummage around, in doing so they cracked the pottery casket the ashes were in and they've let most of the ashes out or if not there then coming from Bombay by lorry to here they've trickled out of the lorry with the bad roads.... What, I ask you is going to happen on the Day of Resurrection, with her ashes all over the place, she'll never get to Heaven, what are you going to do about it ?" sez she ..... Blimey, I thought.... how does one mount a search for ashes especially in the Bombay Docks, with all the teeming masses of porters, dock workers and trucks in and out all day and night, they could be all over Bombay City and along the road to here in the Nilgiris, some 1500 miles... this is taking this new job too far, I thought.

Its amazing how the mind works in crisis.... pure inspiration came over me and, considering I'm the worlds worst Churchgoer, I said " My dear lady, you've read your Bible, what does it say ?" 

"It says, and I quote, [ roughly ]..... " On the Day of Resurrection, all men, which also includes women, dear, very unisex in those days you know....  shall be joined together before the Lord "  " See " sez I  " your worries are solved, no matter where your Mother in her ashes form might have got to, she'll be one whole person when the time comes" .... I was rather proud of myself with that one.  Her old face lit up and she said  " I'd never thought of that, you're right you know, I feel ever so much better, I've been so worried, now I can spread the rest of her like she wished,  she wanted to be in the Nilgiris."    My vivid imagination was running riot by this time after the brainwave, the picture that on the Big Day of the odd rib, leg, toe and finger, whatever, coming out of the docks, all roads in and leading out Bombay &  heaven knows where, flying through the air to the Nilgiris and joining up before continuing upwards.... The mind definitely boggled.  " You've been most helpful, sez she, sorry to have bothered you, you must be busy and I must get on" ....  She promptly about faced and walked back to the house. Suddenly, from behind, he had the knack of making a person jump out of their skin, my new found friend from the gate perks up

" Told yer, didn't I, she's a bit touched,  s'pose living out here with no one to talk to except those  damned dogs, and her not knowing the language, would drive anyone potty !   Mind you, she's shouts at anyone who comes near "  " By the way, was all that about the ashes thing true ?"  ‘ cause we tip ours in the river, you know, there ‘aint half going to be some ‘ boiling' water in that river when God calls it a day ! ".... With all this ringing in the ears, it was in the car and drive as fast as possible to the Club in Ootacamund for a stiff one [ or three ]. 

This was all in the beginning, I kept in regular touch always speaking through the gate, things obviously were getting worse for her physically.   By now, I had a new wife who was a geriatric specialist, she now came on one of these visits, by this time, the lady's condition had deteriorated badly, she hadn't washed, according to my wife, for at least 18 months, the dirt was falling off her, literally, she had severe dropsy of both legs, obvious vertigo. My wife said that in her time in the Hospitals in the UK she had not seen a "bag lady" as bad as this. 

A telephoned report arrived at the Office, some months later, from a tailor in the village where she lived, saying that the old lady was in a serious condition and would I come down as quickly as possible.  Fearing the worst off we shot and believing that she was somewhere in the house but unable to reach the door let alone the gate, we called at the Police Station to take a Member of said Force with us if it was a matter of breaking in.   First I thought we'd try the stones procedure to keep within the law, after a while and about 5lbs of stones with the dogs creating merry hell, out she pops, staggered would have been more the proper word,  sees all of us & comes over. " Get ready for a rollicking " I sez to the Inspector , sure enough off she starts  " No respect for the uniform. Inspector,  " sez I ,  the old lady was dressed in a housecoat that hadn't seen any form of washing medium for decades, the same applied to the tea cozy she had on her head, it actually was, her matted hair was sticking out of the spout hole at the back, she hadn't had a wash herself for an indeterminable time... Suddenly the Inspector says " Mind if I go the other side, Sir, we are downwind from her and I'm having trouble catching my breath."  " she's a veritable health hazard, she is , sir, I can't put any of my officers at risk coming here to see into her welfare, they could catch anything,  anyway what was all the fuss about she seems as good as one can expect considering her state."  " She says she's had the flu," says my wife . Under my breath I sez " It looks as if she's been up a flue from the state of her "  After a while and standing out of the "draft"  bid our hasty farewells and beat a none too hasty retreat

The story continues as follows in what I have titled :

TRAGEDY INTO HUMOUR !                  

The Scenario :

An old British lady, living at least two hours drive from the next British person, in the middle of nowhere, in a shack surrounded by about 14 mangy dogs, with no telephone, electricity, transport or regular house help, all her choice. Her age is 78, she has no one here in India but four "children" in the UK. who haven't seen her for at least 10 years.

The Performance

The inevitable phone call came to this office via the local Catholic Father to say that the old lady's casual labour person [ once a week ] could get no response from her and she was refusing any sustenance, her medical state was serious and that she required immediate hospitalization. The Ambulance was sent from Ooty,  she was brought in put on a drip and stabilized, this was the initial move to get her into immediate medical care, later she was moved to a local hospital which had long term intensive nursing facilities.

Let us return to the original Hospital where she was admitted as an Emergency patient.  Before she had arrived  I had a long chat with the owner of the Hospital, firstly, I said that she was extremely dirty, she had been wearing the same clothes for as long as we could remember, as for the old tea cosy she has on her head to be sure that the nursing staff allocated to her had received their Rabies jabs as you don't know what's under there that might bite when its removed!

" Right," I said to to my wife, " We had better get there, analyise the situation and assure the boss there that his bill will be met and see how the old girl is "

When we arrived, we were introduced to the Doctor in charge who warned us not to expect too much " She's in a catatonic state and not responding to her surroundings or to anyone being even next to her or in the same room,  he was told she was stone deaf maybe that didn't help.  We all trooped into her room, the first thing my wife said was " Well I'll be damned, she's white "  The nurses had washed her, three times we were told.

" Now ‘ said Doc " I want you to see something," ... drawing back the bedclothes at her feet end, he said " have you ever seen anything like those ?".... Her big toenails were 4" long, curved towards the others and had become tubular, " God knows how I,m going to cut those," he said

" but I have to, they'll play merry hell with the hospital sheets and if she lashes out she could do someone fearful damage with talons like that and, one never knows what poisons they carry !"  " The only thing I have"  sez he  " is the bone cutting saw from the Theatre, but I don't want to use that "  Not a very humanitarian attitude, I thought.

" Hang on," sez I, " I have an idea,  I'll be back in a jiffy." .... Into the car, down to the Bazaar, find a hardware shop, buy a small hacksaw complete with some high speed blades, back to the Hospital.

" Right :" sez I " one hang on to the foot, someone hang on to the big toe, lets get to work " .... Its already been said she was oblivious to her surroundings and catatonic..... you start sawing off a semi conscious persons toe-nail with a hacksaw that soon gets their attention...... the " Aaaaargh " that came forth rattled the windows and the bedpan.  Doc says " I've never seen that happen before, must try that on other catatonic patients "... very droll,  I thought, anyway with the job was eventually completed, without serious injury to the patient or staff.   I thought I would add my ‘pennyworth ‘ to Doc's remark. " There's a problem now, Doc.... now we've cut those things off she won't be able to stand, she's got so used to them, she's been using them to stand rather like those big shoes Circus clowns wear,  she'll probably fall over "   I don't why he gave me an odd look, but what he had said was just as daft !

It was decided to move her to a long term intensive nursing hospital close to our house so we could visit as we pleased.  After some time there, she started being aware of her surroundings and that there were people in her vicinity, we thought and hoped we had got it sorted out nicely and she was on the slow road to recovery, we had succeeded at least in getting her out of the house of horrors, once she was well enough to want to return, what then, we had opened the doors on the sheds and let all the dogs go free,  the gods intervened as they very often conveniently or inconveniently do.........  tragedy struck.        

A phone call was received at 1 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon from the Hospital  The voice said,

" Its Mrs D sir,"  sez he  " What about her " I ask, " She's left us, sir,   Gone, sir, we tried our best, sir,  but we could'nt get her back, sir "    I had visions of the old lady trying to cadge a lift out on the road, in her nightie to get back to her horrendous house and absentee mangy dogs. " Why the hell did you let her go ?" I asked " She couldn't even stand the last time I was there " sez I  " She hasn't moved from her bed, sir,   she's still in it,   she's dead, sir,".   The doctor came on the line to say that she had had a massive heart attack and had passed away and would whoever was doing the burial not be too long about it as her physical condition was not good and there being no cold storage facilities up here..... There was no one here,  the nearest were her children in UK and financially unable to come to India, luckily the British Citizens Association had sent a Grant to help in her medical costs which now had to be put towards the burial.

There we were with a dead body on our hands, well, in the bed,  no family anywhere near, two Brits [us ] on their own in unknown territory, never having done this sort of thing solo before, not being Catholic as the departed was, where do we start ?......  Plus I hadn't had my lunch.

" We need a coffin " sez I , "lets phone the Carpenter on his mobile'..... ‘ Hello, Jayaseelan, are you free ?  No sir, I am busy at Mr Atul's house, not now you're not, sez I,... Why, sir ?,...' There's been a death in the family !  sez I... Please not to be joking like this, Sir, my family is in full health.

‘ Not your family, silly man,  a British person !' ‘ Oh,sir,  sorry sir,  who sir',... ‘an old lady in the Hospital, tell Mr Atul you have to leave immediately as you have to make funeral arrangements, go to your workshop make me a nice coffin fast and get it to the Hospital ‘.... ‘ Can I go and measure her, sir, as I have to get the wood and lining ?'.... ‘ I'm sure she wont mind ‘, sez I... ‘go ahead.'

Next move, I need a hole in the Catholic Cemetery to put her in.... down to the Catholic Church, into the Office, see the Padre, ‘I want a plot of land to bury someone,'  sez I' ‘ Pay a thousand rupees and get a receipt ‘ sez he ‘ without a receipt you cant get a plot let alone dig a hole' sez he, money changes hands, with receipt in hand and a man from our house with tools, go to Cemetery see their man, find a nice plot....' Right,'  sez I ,' six feet long, three and a half wide and six deep, get digging', sez I.... ‘ I'll be back ‘, sez I.....' with a body !'

Back in the car.... Oh hell.... A hearse... the local garage as a funny vehicle that looks like one, we call in, there it stands, an old Fiat car which has had the back cut off and the rear seats and boot lid removed, hoops fitted with a black plastic sheet over the top, and a Cross welded on the bonnet ‘ Any chance of using it ?' sez I  ‘ no problem', sez the man,' battery's a bit knackered but it will be OK for a short job' ‘ Send it to the Hospital in 45 minutes' sez I.

Call into the florist on the way, get a bouquet, [thought the old dear might like them.] Get to the Hospital, grinning Carpenter leads us into the old lady's room, there she is already in the Coffin and what a smart piece of carpentry it was, all covered in black cloth with lace bordering on the sides, nice strong handles and a fancy lid, all lined inside with a satin type material. ‘She'll be comfortable in that', sez he. ‘ Do you think she'll notice' sez I,'.... never mind.... lets go' ... ‘ Don't you want a photo ?' sez he " I'm sure her family will want some proof and like to see how peaceful she looks "

‘ Oh hell, find a photographer' .... Shouts I ... Rickshaw dispatched to the bazaar, a man appears with posh camera, does his thing and disappears. ‘Off we go, lads', lets get her into the hearse ".... which has come stuttering into the car park. ‘ Hey, what about putting the lid on the coffin,' sez I ‘ We don't do that until we are at the graveside' sez the man with the Fiat/hearse ‘ Anyway, thought it would be nice for her to have a last look round before she gets to the Cemetery, nice views on the way'. sez he.  I honestly think he believed himself. ‘ By this time there must have been over  20 people all crowding round to ogle at the body, none of them knew her but just had a morbid curiosity.    Give us a push, can you," said the Hearse person  " had to push it twice coming here, probably some more times on the way too now we've an extra passenger, lucky she is only a little soul without any weight on her, she wont complain anyway'..... very droll.

We dash off to alert the Father to come and say a few appropriate words at the graveside, we get to the Cemetery to find earth still coming out of the hole. ‘ How much more' I ask ‘Another six inches sez the Cemetery man ‘ Don't worry, sez I, no one will notice, the hearse is on its way'  ‘She'll have to wait' sez he ‘ I have rules you know , she has to be at the right depth, anyway she's got a long wait after she has been put down here'....  The hearse was late anyway, having been pushed three or four times on its way.

The coffin was placed at the graveside, still open, the required depth had been reached to everyone's satisfaction, the Padre arrived , book in hand and a plastic washing up bottle in the other, he said his words then splashed holy water over the body from the washing up bottle [ must have been clean, at any rate ] the ropes were passed under the coffin, time to, at last , put the lid on, the carpenter had forgotten to bring his hammer so they used the flat side of a pick, a bit drastic ! The noise was deafening " Doesn't matter,"  sez I  " She was deaf as a post anyway ! ".... She was swung over the hole and lowered away, the boys on the head end lost their grip and she thumped head first into the bottom of the hole, ouch,  I thought,  bet there's room for another body in the box now. Anyway we all put our handfuls of earth on the coffin and the hole was filled in, flowers on the mound, looking at the watch showed us we had done the whole thing from the first phone call at 1 p.m. in a total time of 4 hours and fifteen minutes.... and I still hadn't had time for my lunch !!!

Went back to the Office, phoned Chennai,  to report proceedings, their only comment was

" that's a bit quick, was she cold ?' ‘ Dunno, sez I, did'nt touch her to find out ‘ ... ungrateful persons !!   

The Children    Two girls and two boys,

The eldest girl was married but lost her only son from heart disease some 10 years ago, now continually overdoses in manic depression from any ‘substance' she can obtain.

The next eldest girl is married with four children, three of whom have one form of disability or another, she is grossly overweight and beyond 100 yards, needs a wheelchair.

The eldest ‘ boy ‘ married living in Switzerland running his own business, was in regular contact with this office and was on his way to India to try and convince his Mother to move into a care situation but had a massive heart attack and died, about a week before departure !!

The last son, as executor of his brother's estate, traveled numerous times to Switzerland and even injected substantial sums into his late brother's Company, the Company folded taking his money with it. He has now been declared Bankrupt, therefore can't travel, because he hasn't the money. Plus any money he might get from his late Mother's estate would go to the Receivers coffers.  He too suffers from un-controlled diabetes and chronic kidney problems.

What a splendid lot !!

Hope you enjoyed that, morbid at times, sad in others but for this Correspondent, an unwanted diversion, but at times it was hilariously funny, it happens in India, you should have been there !!!.

Life, and Death is what you make it, or for those who have to clear up after the Reaper has visited.

Anybody want a job ? !!!  Send your C.V. to :
Tony Pickford
Correspondent.... Nilgiris district
British Deputy High Commission... Chennai.
Wellington  643 231.
The Nilgiris
South India.


               Please enjoy these contributions from Tony

 November 20 2006 

                 PETER 'PEEWEE' BURSNALL

         I believe that those of us who came all the way from the U.K. to work  in tea, in Assam, in the fifties and before had to be of a different mental make-up than our counterparts we left behind in England.  Was it that we had ' funny ' families that we were escaping from, was it the thought of the drudgery of a 9 to 5 job in the British climate, was it that we eeded something more adventurous to satisfy our necessity to earn a ' crust ' with the added romantic notion that India offered something just that little different to other places which was very often coupled with the fact that most British families had someone who had ' been in India ' and their  reminiscences sparked the imagination.  Mine was being the third son of a country landowner therefore  ' no room on the farm ' big as it was, so it was the Army, Civil Service or the Church, as the saying went,  I chose the former and had served for three  years in Her Majesty's Forces [ Army ] before coming to tea, having had a  very adventurous life in uniform, running a Tea Garden was so much like commanding troops in the Army.  
        Peter ' Peewee ' Bursnall of the Makum Company was from the same Army background,  he had served during the 2nd World War in North Africa  with the renowned 8th Army under Monty, he held the rank of Sergeant, he was a footballer and had kept goal in the 8th Army Football team when not fighting off ' friend ' Rommel,  he was actually a stand-in for Frank Swift the England National keeper, so obviously a good player, Peewee had a quirky sense of humour which I think all of us who came under him or knew him well, found out to our cost. 
       When he was Manager of Margherita T.E. I can remember that he was phoned  by Joyce Maltby,  the Superintendent's wife, who complained that as she regularly passed the Garden Hospital from her house, all those standing outside on the road had never acknowledged her passing by saying ' Good Morning " or even " Salaam ".  After apologising,  Peewee took this in hand... he paid a visit to the Hospital and berated the Garden Doctor and instructed him and the Staff and any others who happened to be there, when she passed in the chauffeur driven Studebaker, to greet her with enthusiasm... a few days later Peewee got a very irate call from Joyce expressing her horror and disgust at the reception she got when passing the Hospital... evidently a crowd had lined the road and when the car went past,  they had all happily raised their right arms at 45 degrees and given the car a tremendous ' V ' sign accompanied by a cry of " Good Morning  Mrs Maltby " ... such was Peewee's wicked sense of humour.
          If you were privileged enough to be invited to his Bungalow which was always immaculate unlike other bachelor establishments,  one could find various  touches of his sense of the ridiculous... there was a chamber-pot [ piss pot to the un-enlightened ] in which there was a single stem very thorny cactus  growing about three feet in height.. painted on the pot was the title " JEAN  LAKIN SAT HERE "   Jean was Sandy Lakin's wife [ Dirok Manager ] who was awarded an O.B.E. for her renowned work as Hospital Matron with the Burmese refugees during WW II at Dimapur, she was actually a lovely person,  Peewee only took it out on people he was fond of.  On his Bar was a large pottery figure  of Venus with a push down button coming from the head which if depressed dispensed a measure of Gin from the left breast... in his toilet above the doo was a picture of a Dowager type lady complete with a tiara and other jewelled accessories sitting with her ball gown pulled up and her knickers roundher ankles,  on a ' royal ' toilet.. the caption read ' THE RELIEF OF LADY SMITH ' [ after the African Campaign in the Boer War ]

   November 19 2006

 If you read the saga of the Margherita Bridge you will now be aware of the frustrations of waiting for ages for a train to come through, ironically it always seemed to coincide with a cinema night at the Digboi Club.... we always tried to get to Digboi as [a] they had a much better projector than ours and [b] the hall was much lighter and airier and [c] they, as Oil guys, could afford the best films but [d] the best of all, there were the girls from the Oil Company Secretarial  Pool for us bachelors to have a good drool & ogle over, and, with luck more intimate conversations.

It so happened this one particular Sunday evening, a crowd of us had been up in the Jungle and onto the river to have a bit of fishing and fun in the water. We arrived at the Margherita Bridge just as the boom came down, the usual impatient wait, once the train came through and the boom went up and the light on to green, it was " go like the clappers lads, we'll be late for the film ."

I was normally in the lead car as my fairly new Ambassador could get up a fair speed and I could clear the way

This particular evening, it was still light, the car following was a Fiat driven by one B.C. " Pony " Ponnappa, we were going exceedingly well, as the pedestrians were behaving and walking along the " kutcha " at the side of the road, coming towards us on the right side was a man carrying a very long bamboo, there was a man carrying terra cotta pots, used for tea drinking, in baskets suspended from a pole over his shoulder, and various other walkers with their marketing on their heads.... I can only assume it, but the guy with the bamboo must have been called by someone in the field to his left, he turned to see who it was and about 10/12 feet of Bamboo pole came out across the road, I was no further than twenty yards from it, I told the passenger to duck, as did I .. the bamboo struck the car on the makers sign on the bonnet, just below the makers emblem [ gismo ]... that saved our bacon, I had been doing about 50 m.p.h. when I hit it..... I was told never to stop if one hit anything and it was possible to still continue, I slowed right down and looking in the mirror I could see the most amazing sight... 

The Bamboo man instead of letting go was hanging on to his precious pole and was rotating  like a helicopter, I was told later that his pole hit the pot carriers' baskets demolishing a load of the contents, he also managed to inflict some hefty whacks to others who were too close to get out of the way, as |all this incident had spread across the road, those in the
cars behind me were forced to stop, they were immediately assailed by the crowds who demanded recompense for the pot man  and treatment for the pole carrier who evidently had a nasty looking wheal all round his neck like a dog-collar... Pony, bless him, paid  about Rs 75/- in compensation [ a lot in those days ] which he ensured I coughed up later...
 I meet Pony and his wife Sundari in Bangalore as regularly as I go there. He never lets me forget  " the Helicopter Man " By the way, we all just made the film and  the girls were there !!Tony Pickford.
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November 17 2006


I had been seriously " chasing " a young Indian girl, working with the Chief Geologist of the Assam Oil Company in Digboi, she shared a Company bungalow, with four others ladies likewise employed with the Oil people, there were two Anglo-Indian girls and one Anglo-Burmese girl all from Calcutta, my " girl " and one other, Prabha, were from the Isabella 
Thorburn College for Young Ladies in Lucknow in U.P., in those days a highly prestigious ladies academic establishment. Eric had spotted the other ' college girl ' and it was soon obvious that he had taken a real fancy to her, as we were sharing a bungalow together and I was regularly running off to Digboi on a courting run, that he asked gingerly if I would put a word in on his behalf. I did what I could and Grace, the girl I was seeing said she would organise something where they could meet. Some little time later we and a number of other ' bachelors ' were invited to a Lunch party thrown by the girls, being young and silly, we guys thought the party should be enlivened somewhat as we found things a little stilted and this atmosphere was made worse by the Anglo-Burmese lady, who was much older, being rather like a Mother Superior and keeping a very severe chaperone-like eye on all of us. The girls were generous enough to include alcohol as part of their welcome which, after somewhile, took its normal effect. A couple of us ' visited ' the designated ' boys room ' which was one of the girls bathroom's, we stripped off the bedclothes and mattress, and threaded the spring frame complete head and foot rails onto the overhead fan blades, put the fan on to ' speed one ' and left the whole lot circulating gently round and round, having passed the message on to the rest of our crew of our dirty deed, other events unfolded, the objectionable Anglo-Burmese lady then became a focus of our mischievious attention, someone [ no names ] found a pair of high heeled shoes of hers in her bedroom and proceeded to break an egg into each shoe so that she would get a rude shock the next time she used them... she was an odd lady anyway, her bathroom was below her bedroom on the ground floor where she kept two hens and a cockerel, the cockerel was sitting on the bathrack on the bath when the egg deed was performed. Whilst all this was going on the conversation drifted from one subject to another when one of the girls said the quality of a gentleman, in her eyes, was measured in the size and effectiveness of the flowers he brought, as none of us had brought any bouquets, this had to be rectified. At the bottom of the 52 steps up to the bungalow, was a small Papaya tree about ten feet tall complete with small fruits on it, two of us went and uprooted it, they have very shallow roots, and brought it up and put it on the verandah, to prove our worth, somehow, it didn't seem to be appreciated at all... during all of this " tamasha " Eric had been seriously plying his attentions on Prabha, the lady of his choice, and we, who  knew Eric well, knew that when he turned on his charm he could stop an elephant in its tracks.... it didn't take many weeks before Prabha had agreed that she would marry him... the rest, as they say, is history, Grace also said " Yes " to me. None of the girls were ever told who the various miscreants were, suffice it to say, Eric wasn't far away !!!.... Bless him. All good semi-harmless 
fun [ at the time ]
Tony Pickford
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November 17 2006
Another amusing story from Tony's memory bank--thank you Tony

                                   AND A CLOSE SHAVE

For those of you who ventured up beyond Digboi, you will be familiar with the Margherita Bridge, with its girder construction taking both rail and road simultaneously across the Dehing River, it had boom gates and traffic lights at both ends to control the single lane traffic, on the Margherita side the gate and lights were a fair distance from the bridge as one had to negotiate the main Bazaar area and the road and rail line ran parallel to each other to join at the bridge, both rail &  road were on an embankment on a sharp curve, there were always a multitude of people, animals,  dogs and other Indian road impedimenta so it was slowly as she goes, for both cars and trains. The gatekeepers were always a bit hasty in closing the road traffic off and the wait for the train  could last a long time, long queues could form. There were two types of rail traffic, the normal passenger type and the goods trains, the latter being very heavy and long as they carried coal from the Ledo Coalfields owned by the Assam Railways & Trading Company, the rail width was " metre gauge " therefore very narrow, the locomotives were huge Pacific type, coal fired, brought out during World War II by the Americans to feed the Stillwell road into Northern Burma, their efficiency had dropped dramatically since 1944/5 but the North East Frontier Railway in their wisdom always overloaded the trucks or added more on, I was told that in excess of 4000 tons of coal could be on one goods train.

Having now set the scenario, an incident occured which was very frightening at the time but was a cause for many a laugh afterwards. It was early evening and it had just got dark, there were a crowd of us waiting to go across from the Margherita side to go to Digboi Club cinema night and as the goods train was coming past from our side, we would be the first to go, following it over the bridge at a safe distance, or so we thought.... as the red tail light of the guards vandisappeared round the bend and off towards the Bridge, our light went green, the boom gate went up and off we went, we had just got onto the bridge, still able to see guards van light in the distance when it dawned that the light wasn't getting any farther away, in fact, there was a little man complete with flag and lantern running towards us, shouting for us to go back out of the way and that the train was coming back over the bridge and back to Margherita Station.... panic... the damned guards van was getting dangerously close... not trying to be disparaging, but the average Indian driver has no idea about reversing, three cars ended up backing over the embankment, down the bank and into theshops in the Bazaar, the train missed hitting the lead car head-on but did smash the mudguard and light on the drivers side...... it was that close !! 
Evidently what had happened was that the engine driver had not got a full head of steam, when he started at the Station, there were extra trucks in the train, so the old engine didn't have enough power to pull everything up the incline at the other side of the bridge, so the driver was going to back the whole lot back through the Station about half a mile from the gates, get the gatekeeper to shut all gates and get people and other moveable obstructions off the line in the Bazaar and make a concerted dash for the bridge with a full head of 
steam. We were in the middle of all this lot getting people out of damaged cars and calming the wives down and some of the blokes too, placating shopkeepers,luckily no one was badly hurt, there was a pause as the train thundered past again, only about three feet away, belching cinders, steam and smoke, rocking dangerously as it squealed round the bend and off over the bridge, about five minutes later the gateman showed up and said " Its clear, sir, you can go now" ..... very droll we thought .... we didn't get to the film, we left the bent cars and shop wreckage promising to be back in daylight, we did get to Margherita Club though, just back up the road, to calm the shakes & bolster up our spirits somewhat.

  I remember it well     Tony Pickford.

November 11 2006 

The White Ants at No 5 Bungalow.. Margherita T.E. 

It wasn't long after the roof-rack incident with Eric, myself and Superintendent Christie that the higher authority decided to split us up and I was posted to John  Moran at Margherita Tea Estate, the oldest in the group, in fact everything on  Margherita was old, the Manager's bungalow burnt down eventually, the rumour  that floated around after was that it had got past any further attempts to keep it  standing, so some " persons " were offered a sum to put a match to it.... true or  not... we never found out, anyway, I was to be the Garden Assistant  and I was to  share No: 5 Bungalow with a gentleman who went by the name of John  Barrow-Williams... I had met John very briefly once but,  as a Senior Assistant,   he didn't mix with the lower orders... funny that, as it was generally understood  that No 5. Bungalow was a punishment billet..... wonder what he had done wrong.   I think it was his dress code. 

John arrived at the Manager's Office so we could meet, this guy was something to behold... starting from the top.. Panama Hat which, once removed, revealed perfectly coiffured wavy hair,... shirt... by Gieves of London in twill cotton with button down breast pockets, cravat from the same shop [ I assumed ]...  shorts... with knife edge crease [ spotless ] looked like Austin Reed of Regents Street... calf length socks with turn-down tops matching the shirt and shorts in colour, brown brogueshoes by Veldtscheon.... first time I've seen one of these types outside a glossy magazine, I thought... when introduced his accent was pure upper class Oxford... my God thought I , this is the chap I am to share a house with. 

We didn't meet again till the lunch break when John picked me up in his car... some car... it was made by the Willys Co based on a Jeep Station Wagon but it was an open tourer called a Jeepster, it was in Cream with red upholstery, it was somethingelse, one felt one was really travelling in style going in it. 

We arrived at the Bungalow, where my ' man ' had already arrived and was unpacking what meagre belongings I had, it was a typical Assam Chung Bungalow,  on stilts. Going upstairs onto the Verandah, I noticed there were rings and lines marked out in chalk, leading on through to the Sitting Room and Dining Room,  John said, for Petes sake not to walk on the other side of these marks as there were White Ants in the floor boards and one could go through onto the concrete floor, 10 feet below, evidently, he had been sitting down the previous night and a leg of his chair had gone through a floorboard, [ said hole was now ringed with chalk ],  all the cabinets in the Sitting and Dining Room were standing on bricks to stop the Ants getting into them.  I remember going into the bedroom on tip toe in case the boards gave way.... anyway, time passed and I too, got into the chalk marking thing.  

One thing had intrigued me was a largish area on the Verandah of new floorboarding, when I asked about it John said " The damnest thing you know, it was six months ago,  I came back from the garden to find a ceiling fan on the floor where I parked the car, the bloody ants had got into the support beam holding up the fan, the whole lot had given way and the big old D.C. fan had descended, gone straight through the rotten floor boards onto the concrete below, brought a rather nice coffee table I had with it too " " What if I had been sitting up there and what if my car had been parked there, bloody frightening thought isn't it ? "  

One morning, I was going to the Office in the car as I had to go into town afterwards, so I knocked on John's door, asking if he wanted a lift,  to be answered by a faraway voice telling me he was in the loo and would be out in a minute, I heard the chain being pulled, we had those noisy cast iron cisterns which required a hefty pull, the next thing was a shout and some very foul language.. John arrived at his door, a dirty reddish colour and soaked through, the cistern had come off the wall and emptied its rusty water contents all over him... the White Ants had struck again by eating the wooden plugs holding the screws which held up the tank. I don't think Messrs Austin Reed or Gieves would have approved of his colour modification. 

On asking John about his wife, he definitely had one, but she was never there, he informed me that her name was Marianne and she had a Boutique in Knightsbridge in the West End of London and the business required her full time attention but that she did pop across to India as and when she could but always without warning, its the phones.. he said... It was about a month later, we had just sat down to lunch when a car arrived with a large amount of horn application.. John's reaction was to say that it was damned uncivilised to come during the lunch hour and whoever it was should be damned well taught some manners, the next thing we heard was a female voice which shouted in a demanding sort of tone " Joohhnn " " Oh shit," said John " its Marianne " Dropping knife and fork, John shot out of the Dining Room across the Sitting Room, another " Oh shit " as his foot went through a floor board [ he'd forgotten the chalk marks !! ] out across the Verandah still at a fair gallop, going down the stairs he grabbed the banister railing for guidance and to sustain balance, said banister broke off at the base and John complete with about ten feet of banister and hanging supports flew out onto the lawn, he managed to land on his feet but tripped over all the woodwork he was holding [ he forgot to let go !!] and performed a delightful belly flop on the grass. The next thing I heard was this powerful female voice saying " John, will you never stop being such a bloody fool and come and get my bags from the taxi " I couldn't do a thing for laughing as quietly as possible, luckily he hadn't hurt anything except his pride, once again Mr A.Reed and Mr Gieves had further modifications done to their original designs & colours. Marianne, extremely smart and expensively dressed, proved to be delightful,  I had also grown fond of John, in his very eccentric way. 

I remember one evening, coming back from the Club, we noticed that for once  the Watchman had put on some lights on the back verandah of the Bungalow,  John remarked as we parked the car that he didn't realise they were there, we  eventually went to the Dining Room to have our usual " cutlet " supper, I said to  John that I thought the room was rather cold and there was a hell of a draught,  the Watchman appeared with our meal and remarked that there had been an  incident " Look, sir, the wall has gone, its lying in the garden" ..... sure enough  our whole wall had collapsed outwards into the garden and the lights we had  seen were the Dining Room lights, all 110 volts D.C. of them, clearly visible from  the road once the Dining Room wall had fallen out.... the White Ant had struck again. 

John & I stayed in the Bungalow amongst all the dust and rubble whilst they rebuilt the wall and got rid of the Ants.... they didn't actually, they returned !!!

Dear Reader you must be bored... please have a lie down... 
I shall be back with more.    --Tony Pickford.  
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November 9 2006

A lesson in breast feeding for the Superintendent 

Makum/Namdang Tea Co.,
James Maltby Esq.

Back in the very early sixties, there was a move by the Superintendents wife, 
Joyce Maltby, to promote welfare amongst the garden labour... where I was 
posted as a Garden Assistant,  sessions were held once or twice a week at an appropriate place in Dehing T.E. after working hours where the young girls of the garden were taught  needlecraft, basic cooking, baby care and other work, the
 boys were taught the more manly skills of growing vegetables and simple 
carpentry etc., The scheme actually  took off quite well, it was then decided to extend this idea to a once weekly welfare  meeting for the garden labour when anyone could come with complaints and queries to the Office to be listened to by the Garden Assistant & the Garden in-charge and  have the problem adjudicated upon on the spot, mine was Wednesday evenings.

I remember the line watchman bringing a Munda woman [ Bihar tribal ] who had 
obviously been beaten evidently by her husband, the husband was called for, I 
grabbed him by his vest and hauled him half way through the window so that his
 tender parts were caught on the window catch on the sill, I, more than forcefully, 
asked him who the hell he thought he was and why I should not call the Police.

It transpired that his wife had very recently given birth to a child, but she was 
unable to breast feed it,  which meant hardship to them financially, because he
 had to get  milk supplement [ Ostermilk ] which in those days was prohibitively expensive. In his innocent tribal villagers mind he thought beating her would shock her into producing milk.

I told him that all that was required was that his wife would need a small breast 
operation by the garden doctor to get her milk flowing and issued a chit to the
Hospital for her to go, for him a fine and extra work on the Garden and three months  probation to not lay a finger on his wife again or it would be straight to the Police  for him...... another case successfully solved,  I proudly thought.

Jim Maltby, the Superintendent, came on his weekly garden visit and, possibly
prompted by his wife, asked to see the Welfare Register, he picked on this particular case.... I was in the Garden and was called to his car when it reached the area I was in and he asked if he could see this woman to check for himself.... amongst 500  women, it took myself and the Garden Staff a bit of searching, she was eventually found and the Superintendent, Jim Maltby, the Manager Peter" Peewee " Bursnall,  myself, the Garden in-charge and a couple of foremen, all trooped along and stood  round the poor woman who was, ironically, breast feeding her new-born.

Jim, as always, was imposingly dressed in an immaculate powder blue Safari
 suit..  he bent down and asked the woman in his terrible " coolie bhat " ... 
" Sab kuch tek  hai, hum dekta hai, dudh ata hai " [ Everything alright, I am 
seeing milk is coming ]  with which the woman took out her other breast, very swollen, gave it one good  squeeze and a stream of milk hit Jim in the middle
 of his chest and dribbled [ flowed more like ] down the front of his suit and trousers... there was a stunned silence,  Jim bless him said nothing but 
mustering as much dignity as he had left,  walked  slowly back to his car
 with Peewee behind him,  absolutely red in the face in trying  to stop 
laughing, they got sedately into the car and disappeared towards the 
Factory,  once they had gone out of sight,  all of us fell about laughing, 
the woman was  completely puzzled as to why we were killing ourselves,
 as though what she had  done was an everyday occurrence.

Jim never again picked up the Welfare Register, neither did he ever bring the subject  up again. I did send the Garden Doctor a note to say that the Superintendent had experienced the excellent quality of his work
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November 2 2006

by Tony Pickford

It all started as one of our normal weekly after-hours drinks parties at the Factory Chung Bungalow, Dehing on a warm Monsoon evening. There were about six of us from the Company gathered together, Eric Singh and self were hosts as we shared the Bungalow as bachelors all those years ago in the late fifties.  There was one among us who was known to have a zero tolerance to alcohol and got quite tipsy within about half an hour, but he also had to the most amazing powers of recovery.  This gentleman also  had a passion for the big American cars that were still about in those days though fast disappearing through the lack of spares, in his case he had the most immaculate Straight 8 Ivory coloured Dodge which he lovingly cared for and which purred back in response to his never-ending administrations.

As predicted the gentleman reached his limit within the prescribed time, he made his mumbled farewells and disappeared downstairs when we soon heard the sound of his lovely car going out of the gate, from the Bungalow one had to pass over the railway line by a level crossing out to the road and it was right to Margherita and left to Powai and Digboi, after about ten to fifteen minutes the gentleman arrived back to announce to the assembled company that he had left the Bungalow, turned right to Margherita when he hard a regular thumping coming from underneath the car, assumimg he had got a puncture he stopped, got down to find he was on the railway line which accounted for the regular bumping caused by running over the sleepers.

He said that he then reversed the car [ there being no fancy reversing lights as on modern cars ] he said he felt a very hard bump at the back followed by a crash which rocked the car which then refused to move... Getting down once more he found that he had run into a signal post complete with its large arm and oil lamp at the top and necessary connecting wires.

Eric immediately took charge of the situation " Right, chaps, lets go and see what he has done "  we all trooped down to the site of the mishap to find the car pinned under the signal post which had fallen right across the boot.... after a lot of very strenuous lifting and shoving we managed to get the post and its equipment to the side of the track... with a lot of drunken shouting and directions from all of us we managed to get the car back to the level crossing where the gentleman was told to go home and lie extremely low.

" O.K., chaps, on to our next move " sez Eric... " back to the Bungalow, that was thirsty work "   after a couple more Eric says " i have an idea but will need a couple more chaps "  he grabbed a bunch of keys and we, the " volunteers " trooped to the Factory unlocked the Company Jeep which the Manager [ Sandy Lakin ] used daily... off we went down the Garden to the Bamboo Bari where the Elephants used to come... sure enough our " friends " had recently been there and had left their " deposits " all hand, we gathered a large load into the back of the Jeep... we returned to the " crash site " and walked the load from the level crossing to the " site " and distributed it about making it look like a visit from our large friends..  " Quick back in the Jeep " sez Eric " I have a call to make " .. we took the Jeep to the Bungalow and got the Pani-Wallah and the Chowkidar to wash it out as best we could we then all went to the Factory where Eric phoned the Stationmaster of Margherita and told him...... " Mr Stationmaster,  we had been sitting on our verandah, when one of us noticed the signal pole and its light was not visible, we sent our Watchman to see and he has reported back that what looked like a big herd of Elephants had come through and 
they had knocked down the signal pole right across the line, we, Sir, had gone down and removed the pole etc., from the line as we knew the night coal train was due."  

" Ah, sar " he said " we were finding the Number 7 signal post not working and the lever here is jamming, you are finding problem, the coal train is standing here in my Station, driver saying he not moving as rules say signal not saying go then he not going, I am sending Engineer urgently to see damage, I am thanking you for your timely actions " 

The better part of valour suggested we stayed in the Bungalow... the following morning we went to the Office as usual, there was a strange Jeep standing outside, we were called in by Sandy to find a gentleman in full uniform from the railways sitting there... we thought the game was up.... not a bit of it.... " This is the Stationmaster from Margherita " says Sandy  " he wanted to meet you both "  The Stationmaster beaming from ear to ear stood and shook both our hands profusely. " By your timely actions " he said " you are most certainly saving the North East Frontier Railways the horrors of big accident, many Elephant are coming onto my track and making nuisance everywhere and knocking over the No: 7 signal post, they are shitting everywhere, it is an honour to shake the hands of such civil minded persons... you are indeed heroes and I am writing to Divisional Engineer to tell him of your good works...I shall be recommending you for award " .... What could we say....  after he had gone with the usual prescibed packet of Tea, Sandy hauled us back into
the Office abd said " I don't know what the hell you two damned rascals got up to with your friends, doubtless you will tell me in time, but for the moment, if any award comes its Company property and will stay in this Office... I am not going to punish you as you have put Dehing in a very favorable light with the Railway people and we should get preferential treatment when we want the fuel oil tanker and our tea trucks shunted in here " 

" By the way, my Jeep smells like a bloody farmyard, I want the two of you to  go and wash it out now, personally !! "   
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October 26 2006

John Moran

Here  are two stories of John Moran,  who was my Manager in the early days of my time in tea,  back in the late fifties and early sixties.

I had been in tea only a very short while when Horace Murray committed suicide, as he was a widower the actually internment at Margherita Cemetery was an all male event... the distance from the road to the actual Cemetery was quite far so it was decided that the junior Assistants would  carry the coffin two-thirds of the way and Horace's close compatriots would carry him the final bit to the grave. The coffin was made of ' green ' wood and very heavy, as it had been made in a very great hurry to get Horace into the ground hastily,  it had no ' finish ' to it at all.  Anyway off we went with six of us carrying the coffin on our shoulders, when we got to the change-over point, his colleagues duly slipped in under the offin, took the weight and, we continued on..... 
      John Moran had taken over from me, so I walked beside him.... after about 50 yards, I noticed John looking decidedly grey in colour,  on asking him if he felt O.K. " No, I'm not " sez he " What's the problem, do you want me to take over ? " " I don't think you'll want to ",  he sez " ... " Why ? " I asked... " Horace is leaking " said John  " and its going down the back of my neck and onto  my collar, now its started down my back, under my shirt "    With horror I dropped  back a bit to see what was happening.... it soon became obvious...... As it was an  all-male ' do ',  the ladies not to be out-done had sent a huge bouquet of  Arum Lillies which were resting on top of the coffin, they had attached a plastic container with water in it, to keep the flowers fresh, this was leaking right above John,  coming down the side of the coffin  and into his collar. Poor old John was  convinced Horace had gone pop in the Assam heat.  Later, we  often smiled at this incident.
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  The Indo / China War of 1962

The Indo / China War of 1962, threw up many stories, thank God no tragic one's for the Planting Community who really rallied round after the cease-fire and ensured that the returning Indian troops  were looked after and cared for as they had had a very rough deal as they had been totally unprepared  for War and the conditions they had to fight under.

When the War was at its height and the Chinese were making huge in-roads into the  Assam Valley, it was decided to evacuate all the wives of the Planters, Oil guys and  the Timber and Coal people too....once they had gone, regular meetings of the remaining  men were held in the Clubs affected,  up the North end of the Valley.... mostly it was  propping up the Bar and general chatter, certain married Members turned up on a very  regular basis who normally were rarely seen when their wives were in station. During one particular drunken session, John Moran, who was Vice-President of the Club,  announced to all that " I'm damned if those b....y Chinese are going to get the Imported  Liquor that stocked in our cellar !!" " Abdul, [ the Head Barman ] go get the keys and  give them to me, I am going to ration out the Scotch Whisky and French Brandy to those who want it " There weren't that many takers, so John said magnanimously " I'll take  most of it and you guys are welcome to come to my Bungalow  and drink it and get a bite to eat as well 

" This went on from a week to a fortnight on  virtually a nightly basis, John being a good Committee Member religiously signed for  every bottle..... calamity struck... the cease-fire was declared... over a period of time  things returned to near normal... being on the Committee at Margherita at the time...  the Head Clerk came and asked what to do about John Moran's bill, on enquiring why  he had asked,  it transpired that John Moran's bill had come to just a little under Rs  10.000/-.....  a brand new Ambassador car was Rs 14.500/- in 1962. A flat bed truck was called for from the Estate, the Bar Chits were put in a shoe box and  it was rope onto the centre of the truck, the driver was strictly instructed to approach  by the front drive and park under the porch and give " Moran - Sahib " the box...luckily  John saw the funny side regarding the method of delivery but was not at all amused at  the size of the Bill...... John, bless him,  to prevent loss of face and to keep his dignity,   paid the the Bill.... it took him a year in monthly payments, a large chunk of his bonus  and long absences from the Bar to prevent further indebtedness.  There were lots more  of us who had to try and explain to our returning wives, why things were a little tight.

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October 23 2006

 Hair Washing

" After a period of getting to know each other and our petty foibles, Eric having come to the Superintendet's bungalow to collect me after my arrival in Margherita, we got to know our  family backgrounds, interests and likes and dislikes, Eric showed me the way round, how to organise the servants, which one did what, ordering and buying in the supplies, all the  things in the running of the household of two bachelors.... after a period of about 3 months,  his bearer came to me and asked if I could help him with the washing of Eric's hair,  Eric
 being a pukka Sikh had never cut his hair from the day he was born and it had grown to  touch the calves of his legs... having seen what sort of facilities he had, I could see that it needed a complete new perspective on the process.

      We rigged up a table to the same height as the bath, luckily there was enough room at  the end of the bath to put the table, we got Eric to lie on his back on the table with his  head and " mane " going down into the bath almost to the plughole, we washed his hair like this about 4/5 times a week accompanied by the appropriate libation, it could get into quite a drunken old session, I tell you ! It took two full size bath towels to dry him off.

      One day it all stopped, I questioned the bearer but he wouldn't say a thing but managed to convey the fact that " Sahib had made other arrangements ! "  immediately all of us, his  cronies, thought " Oh yes, we know what you've got !!" an O.W.[ old woman] none the less, it was a practice for some bachelors to install a " girl " who would look after one's needs  if you get the gist... so nothing more was said and the hair subject never came up again.

        It must have been 4/5 months later that I happened to be going to the Factory in the car and I knocked on Eric's bedroom door to see if he wanted a lift, he hadn't secured the door and it swung open to reveal Eric sitting at his dressing table with a crew-cut , with long hair appropriately at the nape of his neck and standing on his dressing table were about 6 wig  stands with ready made turbans in different colours, he used a tobacco tin at the front of his head to make it look like the knot of hair... We all felt a little disappointed to see that Eric had indeed not got an O.W.  It was soon after this that he came out in public with no turban which was a pity , as a full Sikh the girls thought he was smashing and very good looking...
 I got this report back from the Digboi girls.
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October 19 2006

 Digrugarh/ Tinsukia road near  Panitola, 

" You will remember that in the late 50's and early 60's the British Overseas Airways Corporation used to host parties at various Clubs throughout the Valley to drum up business... the food was all good imported  fare and the booze was free... mind boggling  in those days... they held their " do " in the Margherita Club ,followed by the Digboi Club,they then went on to the Tingrai Club. Eric and I and many others became  Camp followers  and turned up at all the venues, at Tingrai the hosts were beginning to become very suspicious of some of us as they seemed to believe they were seeing the same faces  too often, so Eric & I decided to call it a day by making the most of the free booze.

      We set off from the Tingrai Club in Eric's old Fiat [ the one with the spotlight in the Grille....1955 model, I think. ] very much the worse for wear, we somehow got onto the Dibrugarh -  Tinsukia road, Eric was driving, it was hellishly hot , no means of  cooling the car, Eric  suddenly declared " to hell with this, I'm  going to cool down  outside " I thought we were  going to stop, no such thing... " Hang on to to the wheel a moment, will you, sez he "   Eric wound the drivers window down to the bottom,  got out of the seat through the window  and ended up on the roof-rack outside, with  me hanging on to the steering wheel from the  passenger side, luckily the car was  slowing down with no one at the pedals...being a bench  seat I could slide across  and we continued on our way with this daft Sikh sitting on the top  of the car.. some time later we approached a Studebaker Imperial with white curtains  across the  rear window... 

     Eric's face appeared upside down through the drivers window with the instruction  to pass  the " b.....d "  which after a lot of drunken horn application and flashing lights we managed to do.... through the passenger window I saw Eric's hand with two fat  fingers giving the ' V '  sign in the lights of the Studebaker.... with lots of hilarious  laughter.... when we finally  reached Dehing, Eric descended from his perch saying, that taught old Saligram Chunilal  a lesson with his flash Studebaker bought from  gross profit making from our Company,  amongst others.  
        At about 11.a.m. the following day, Peter Bursnall who was our Manager summoned us to the Office to tell us we were wanted at the Superintendent's Office immediately... off we went. .we were called in and told to stand to attention by the office wall and keep  our mouths shut.. Jim Maltby the Super  then of Makum/Namdang Co, dialled a  number  and when it was answered, we were told, in turn, to  apologise very sincerely to the person  on the other end At about 11.a.m. the following day, Peter Bursnall who was our Manager summoned  for our rude and unforgiveable behaviour on the   Dibrugarh road the previous  night ... before taking the phone we both said that we  wouldn't bow to Mr  Chunilal. " Just  answer the phone, will you " the voice on the other end had the very clear cut accent  of obviously an Englishman who gave us both such an earful... it transpired the Studebaker  was the  Company car of none other than a  certain Mr Christie.. Superintendent from Doom Dooma..he and  his wife had been coming from a function at Panitola... the net result of this  escapade was the confiscation of our car keys and being grounded in our Bungalow for 3  weeks plus a letter from both of us to Mr & Mrs Christie with the most abject apology

Moral of the story ...
Never presume you know who is in the car in front and don't  have a rude, drunken,  cackling Sikh on the roof-rack !!!!! 

      NB The Mr & Mrs Christie mentioned above were the parents of Julie

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