Habib Quader



June 10 2013

This section is dedicated to Habib Quader of the Assam Company
and his memories

Part One starts immediately below 

To go to Part Two please Click Here

 June 12 2013
My Time in Assam Tea


Habib Quader


Last Group Picture of Assam Company Personnel
           taken January 1960

Front Row (sitting on ground) Lt to Rt 

Simpson, Quader, Nath, Mrs Jauhar, Jauhar, Rowatt, Mrs Leetham, Singh,

Second Row; (sitting in Chairs) Lt to Rt;

Dr Poole, McFarlane, White, Mrs Darby, Martin, Mrs Smith, Lumley-Ellis (GM)

Mrs Remnant, Remnant (Co Chairman) Mrs Lumley-Ellis, Jackie Smith,

Mrs Martin, Darby, Mrs White, Mowatt, Hall, Mrs Poole

Third Row; (Lt to Rt)
Gupta, Mrs Bardolai, Barua, Mrs Barktaki, Mrs Ross,

Carlyle (Co Acct visiting from UK)  Mrs Wright, Wild, Mrs Higham,

Dowsing, Mrs Barrie, Wright, Mrs Corps, Ross,  Mrs Wild,Kalani, Farr,

      Fourth Row; (Lt to Rt)
Romans, Bardolilo, Yates, Barkataki, Stevenson, Barrie,  Higham,

 Sawtell, Charlier, Corps, Lampitt, Darby, Leetham,  

The reinvention of the Assam Company by
         a New General Manager

 This part and the part to follow relate to my time during the last few years of
the Assam Company as it used to be since its founding in 1839. Writing this
narrative nearly a half century after the event I still have a tinge of sadness at
the passing of a great company, which soldiering through early setbacks and
a near-collapse, blazed the trail for organized tea-growing in Assam.

 Change via the “surgeon’s knife”:

Some time in the latter half of 1960 the Company Chairman, the Hon’ble Peter F.
Remnant, sent a letter to all members of the covenanted staff reviewing the Assam
Company’s situation since all the investment made from 1957 onwards converting
to C.T.C. manufacture and on ancillary systems and the return thereof. Calling the
results disappointing he intimated his decision to apply the “surgeon’s knife” on the
Company, bring in the next General Manager from a different company – the first
such action in the Company’s history - with the mandate to revamp the Company
and asking us all to extend our full cooperation to the new G.M. He was to be
Mr. J. J. R. Simpson, a senior Manager with the Jorehaut Tea Company, taking
charge in January 1961.

 and professional life. I had moved to Khoomtaie in November, 1960, as a Factory
Assistant. Soon after the new G.M. took over an order came out discontinuing the
old Company practice of putting new recruits and junior Assistants in the factory
. Henceforth senior Assistants were to be in the factory. This caused me to move
to the Tinsukia division and Alastair Wright, six years my senior, to move to the
factory. The idea was to use the experience of seniority to improve standard of
manufacture. Early in 1961 I was able to buy my own polo pony. Being the last
of a string coming out of Bihar or U.P. – the rest having been sold to other polo
players on the way – it was not the best specimen of its kind, but, I was happy
to grab it. Then my wife and I were told by our P.M.O., Dr. Poole, that our first-born
was to arrive around mid-May and he was arranging for my wife to go to the Welsh
Presbyterian hospital at Chubwa for her confinement. I just hoped I would not
need to move to a Nazira district garden before then !!


Used car sale not seen before nor since :

A month or so before leaving Lakmijan for Khoomtaie my old Vauxhall again went
off the road with a few teeth broken off the rear-axle crown pinion. It was towed to
Khoomtaie by the lorry bringing my personal effects. My burra-sahib on K’taie,
Mon Mowatt, knew about my travail with the Vauxhall and was keen to help me
get rid of it. He got Bob Rowatt , previously his Assistant on Suntok T.E. and my
friend, to get me a set of crown and tail pinions from Howrah Motors in Calcutta
while there on short leave. It cost me the tidy sum of 400 rupees. The competent
motor mechanic on the garden installed them and my old buggy was once more
on the road. One morning at the office Mr. Mowatt asked me if I had found a
buyer for the car and on my replying in the negative asked me to hang on at the
office for some time while he sent for a buyer. The buyer arrived pretty fast and
it was Ramprasad, the garden shop-keeper. Not knowing why he was sent for
by the burra-sahib Ramprasad looked quite worried and waited to be spoken to.
Mr. 2 of 6 Mowatt raising his head from some paperwork he was studying at his
desk looked up at Ramprasad waiting with folded hands and said, “Ramprasad,
Apko ektho garhi kinne hoga “. Ramprasad, his face now visibly relaxed knowing
he was not being taken to task for anything, asked “ kaisa mafik garhi saheb “.
Mr. Mowatt said, “ Ye (pointing to me) mistry sahebka purana garhitho”. “ Acha
Saheb, hum kinega, ketna daam dene hoga “. Mowatt asked me how much I
expected. I told him I would be happy to see her go for a thousand rupees.
Mowatt thought the price I quoted needed improving upon and said to
Ramprasad “ Mistry saheb bolta hai ek hazar rupiya , lekin hum bolta hai aur
ek sho rupiya besi honese acha hoga, egharosho rupiya thik hoga” ( I crave
the readers’ indulgence quoting the conversation in garden Hindi for greater
effect !) Ramprasad promptly agreed, came back with Rs.1100 and took my
car away. That took a big weight off my chest and I thanked my burra-sahib
most profusely for bringing off this most unusual car-sale. I was happy to see
the new owner putting her to good use carting merchandise and passengers
to and from Moranhat. My senior and mentor Krishna Bardolai was absolutely
delighted to find me free at last from the “deolia deu”’s evil spell !!

Cost control:

 Along with bringing in a new G. M. the Chairman, Mr. Remnant, also engaged
Macneill & Barry to introduce strict cost control methods, something about which
we in the Assam Company were somewhat lackadaisical. That brought Macneills’
senior V.A., Mr. Turpin and cost accountant , Mr. Ojha, to Khoomtaie. The latter,
a vegetarian, stayed with me and my wife about three weeks doing all three Moran
gardens i.e. Khoomtaie, Doomur Dullong and Mohokutie. Mr. Mowatt gave me
advance notice of this asking me to fill up my Fiat petrol tank, go to Dibrugarh
and come back with my car boot well-filled with the best vegetable available.
I did accordingly. Those were days when there were not very many Indians in
Tea and our Mug cook trained on western cuisine was poor on Indian dishes
and my wife had to lend a and in the kitchen to have the veggi dishes properly
done.. My wife and I went vegetarian ourselves for the duration of his stay and
greatly enjoyed having Mr. Ojha as a guest. Apart from being a brilliant cost
accountant able to reel out cost/profit/loss figures backwards and forwards he
was also a very learned man. We became friends and later partook of his
family’s hospitality at his Calcutta home. I was happy to reestablish contact
with him after many years via the Camellia.

 My motorbike accident :

 The Assam Company provided its out-garden assistants with motor-bikes
and scooters for kamjari. After I had moved to Tinsukia division, a week before
my wife was due to go to Chubwa hospital, my BSA 150 cc bike broke its
frame in the front as I had just ridden her out of the bungalow after lunch.
The handle bar turned and the clutch lever with its pointed end pierced the
inner face of my right thigh. Blood began to spout out of the wide gash like
water out of a faucet. I used my pocket handkerchief to make a tourniquet
and borrowed a passing staff-member’s bicycle to get to the bungalow. The
Maali (gardener) helped me get the car keys out of the b’low unbeknown to
my wife. I got to the garden hospital only to find the doctor on leave. My
Manager’s land-rover was not in front of his office 3 of 6and I saw no way
of locating him over the garden’s thousand acres. So, it had to be compounder
Bannerjee to attend to me. He was past retirement age with tremor in both
hands. I sat on the doctor’s office chair and put my wounded leg up on his
desk. The size of the needle and the thickness of the horsetail hanging out
of it were intimidating. I clenched my teeth and let him proceed without
using any numbing agent. He did seven stitches, put some iodine and a
dressing on the wound. Just then Mr. Mowatt arrived, apologized for not
being available earlier and drove me straight to the Moran Circle PMO’s
residence on Dekhari T.E. Dr.Aurora gave me a tetanus shot, redid the
bandage and advised rest. The next day my Company PMO, Dr. Poole,
came down from Nazira, checked up on my condition and advised off-work
for a week. So, when I went to drop my wife at Chubwa hospital riding
the Company ambulance Dr. Poole had kindly put at my disposal - my
wife traveled in my car with her mother and sister (following conventional
wisdom that only the dead or dying traveled in an ambulance my mother
-in-law whose opinion I respected would not allow my wife anywhere near
my ambulance) – the lady doctor in charge, Dr. Walker, asked me with
a naughty smile who the patient she was admitting was !!

Back to Nazira :

 About a week after my wife went into hospital I received orders of transfer
to Bamon Pookrie in Nazira district effective as soon as I was able to walk
without a crutch. I was to be the Factory Assistant. This was early May, 1961,
the manufacturing season had started and very direct instructions on the
manufacturing process, some of them requiring compliance reports were
coming out from the new G.M., Mr, Simpson, almost daily. I decided to
move while still using a crutch. I was sorry to leave Mr. Mowatt. I admired
him for being a man of action and few words, his empathy for the labour
while being a strict task-master and his versatility. He was credited with
moving a whole leaf house on rollers, through building the new extension
to Nazira Club to midwifing a woman in labour in a tea section !! He was
promoted Dy. G.M. for the Rukong (Moran district) gardens in 1963. B-P
factory had converted to CTC manufacture from the 1959 season and in
that and the 1960 season its end-of-year price average was at or near the
bottom of the Company league.

The word was going round that B-P leaf may not be suited to CTC
manufacture and if the same poor results showed for the 1961 season B-P
could go back to orthodox manufacture. This notion of regular Assam type
leaf with which B-P was mainly planted not being suited to CTC manufacture
did not jibe with anything I learned or heard during my training at Tocklai.
I faced the challenge of having to prove that notion invalid. However, the
conditions under which I had to handle that challenge were even more
challenging !!

A Tsunami of Change :

I moved to Bamon Pookrie in the first week of May and reported for work
limping and using a crutch – the doctor would daily check the progress of
healing and change the dressing. My Manager was Pat Martin, a senior
Manager and a perfect gentleman. The factory ran off a split line shaft
driven by two horizontal Crossleys of 100 and 110 horsepower, meaning,
when the factory ran on full capacity there 4 of 6was no stand-by engine.
The two engines had received their usual cold-weather overhauls – not
sure if it was by the Crossley engineer who used to visit all Assam
Company factories with Crossley prime-movers every winter or by the
factory artisans. I had a nagging feeling something was not right with
the engines !!

With the new G.M. in office less than six months it was becoming clear
that he meant business, the “surgeon’s knife” was in operation and we
of the Management had better get ready for a tsunami of major changes
in the way we had functioned hitherto. Orders on locating litter-bins at the
right places through washing machinery and floors the right was, colour
coding fermenting beds/trays for lifting for firing on time, boosting the
percentage of the best selling ctc grade Pekoe Fannings to 35-40 from
the 15 to 20% we were producing till then, making six grades of Dusts
instead of the three we were making to establishing clone nurseries with
clonal planting stock being railed in by the wagon from Cachar- we didn’t
have anything to do with clones till then – etc. etc. were coming out of
the G.M.’s office in s steady stream.

 I managed to go and see my wife at Chubwa – now 80 miles away – a
couple of times leaving after work. The good news of a son being born
on the 12th May reached me the same day. I went over to see the baby.
A week later I brought the mother and baby home. Dr. Poole took care of
the post-natal treatment. My own wound had healed by end-May. As I
was completing 4 years’ service on the 31st May I had received advice
of having qualified for my marriage allowance and child allowance in
addition to the annual increment of salary then due all of which considerably
brightened up my financial horizon.

By mid-June the factory was running at full capacity – a spurt in leaf
growth after the drought of 1960 perhaps. By July/August Mr. Martin was
having to use neighbouring Behubor T.E. (a Jardines garden) labour on
Sundays at double wage to keep up on the plucking round. The leaf
coming in was of a lower standard with some of it fermenting in the baskets
– not the right raw material for making quality tea !! In late June or early
July one of the main engines broke down with the main bearings overheating.
A Crossley engineer was not available and Company engineer John Hall
brought in C. M. Ho from Makum. The problem was fixed but during the
three weeks repairs took the factory ran on lowered capacity with only
one prime-mover pulling. The factory ran for nearly 24 hours each day
leaving just enough time for a quick wash-down before starting with the
next day’s leaf. To cope with this I had to break the rules in the firing
department with Mr. Martin’s permission. He allowed this to avoid having
to send part of the day’s leaf to another neighbouring factory. I broke the
rules by increasing the inlet temperature on the first-fire dryers to 220-225
degrees F and dropping the outlet temps. to 110-115 degrees which
enabled overloading the dryer by about 25%. That of course meant the
fired tea dropping “kutcha” at about 8% moisture which I took care of by
giving all such teas a fast run

through a regular first-fire dryer dropping them at the required 3% moisture.
I was monitoring the result of my rule-breaking by tasting all such teas at
intervals and they were okay. The G.M. had two persons monitoring tea-making
in all nine factories and reporting directly back to him. Anything adverse they
reported would be taken up by the G.M. with the Manager. They were Leslie
Woollette, the company Tea Taster & Manufacturing Adviser, and 5 of 6a
newly appointed Tea-Maker who used to be his Head Tea House at Cinnamara
T.E. of the Jorehaut Tea Co.

 Taken to Task, then Kudos :

One day as the factory was still running off one engine and I was doing my
rule-breaking in the firing room the TT&MA happened to arrive. He saw the
proceedings in the firing room, didn’t talk to me about it as per his orders from
the G.M. and reported back to the latter. The same day’s mail from Nazira
brought the necessary reprimand from the G.M. and Mr. Martin reading out
to me Mr. Simpson’s letter to him next morning at his office first apologized
for putting me on the wrong side of the rules. The relevant part concerning
me said if the dryers were running at well above the permissible inlet temps.
and well below the permissible exhaust temps. with the fired leaf dropping
“kutcha” and the Fact;ory Asst. was present, and I was, then the latter
“needed a kick on his backside”. Mr. Martin, the gentleman that he was, was
mortified and telling me not to worry about it explained to the G.M. why we
had to fire our teas that way and that the resulting teas were okay. I didn’t
hear anything more about it. A few days later a circular letter from the G.M.
praised B-P factory as the only one producing the six Dust grades
conforming to the muster samples he had sent out while asking the other
eight factories to pull up their socks !!

 More Trouble :

C. M. Ho had barely fixed the first engine when the second broke down and
he had to come back once more. For about another four weeks we had the
factory running off one engine with very long hours and unavoidable fall in
manufacturing standards – the leaf houses delivered damaged and
over-withered leaf as the leaf stayed longer on the “chungs”. Through those
three months of long hours at the factory I barely saw our new-born son.
He tenanted my part of the double bed on most nights next to the mother,
any sleep I could snatch would be on one of the spare bedroom beds in
working gear and breakfast would often be had at my factory office. I hardly
saw much of my newly acquired polo pony either. Playing tennis or polo
had to be on the back burner. In the middle of all this came a telegram from
my father advising mother was not well and I needed to see her. Pat Martin,
as always consideration personified, told me he would personally have my
car checked over for the long trip to Nowgong (my home town) while I was
at the factory. About 6 p.m. he came to me to say the car was ready and
I could leave for home. To make sure I wouldn’t fall asleep while driving he
gave me a sleep-inhibitor pill to take !! Mr. Martin, whose brother was a
missionary in South Africa, lived by the principle of doing the right thing for
it is the right thing to do. To me going through that most difficult season of
my 20 years in Tea his entire demeanour was like a breath of fresh air and
a healing balm.

 The Good News

Later in 1961 the G.M. called all Indian members of the covenanted staff to
his office and told us to our pleasant surprise that all of us would have the
same leave terms as the expatriates and that the leave scheme itself had
been improved effective January, 1962. It would be three months’ long leave
in the U.K. after 6 of 6 every 21 months’ work and two weeks’ short leave in
India In the year no long leave was due. Indians on long leave were to have
air fare paid for self, wife and up to 3 children, have the company-paid car
for the duration of leave just as expats had and also receive the overseas
allowance which the expats had while in India. Simpson had recommended
this improvement for the Indians and the Board had accepted his recommendation.

The other good news was when the final sale prices came out for all nine
factories for the 1961 season Bamon Pookrie came a close second to the
first, Gelakey, while Assam Company ctc tea prices overall improved to a level
comparable with those of the leading premium price earners like the Jorehaut,
Amgoorie, Moabund and Makum Assam Namdang companies thanks to the
measures put in place by Mr. Simpson. So, B-P was not reverting to orthodox
manufacture after all and I felt vindicated !!

There is more exciting news to follow on the Tsunami of Change and the
Assam Company’s jump to high profitability in the next installment.


                   Ex Assam Company Personnel
           at the 2008 Eastbourne AssamReunion

Sitting Lt to Rt: Mrs Darby, Mrs Featherstonhaugh, Mrs Farr, Dr Poole,

                         Mrs Poole, Carol Smith

Standing Lt to Rt: Quader, Featherstonhaugh, Farr, Adele Fletcher,
                        Charlier, Mrs Charlier
April 28 2014


                  My Time in Assam Tea


   The Reinvention of the Assam Company under a new 

                           General Manager: 

                   Part 2: And the Anticlimax of its demise 


I start with my sincere apologies to those of koi-hai visitors who had read Part 1 of this narrative and were wondering why the promised second part was taking so long to show up!! The delay has been unavoidable brought on by my protracted illness and convalescence following travel outside the country.

The end of my 1961 manufacturing season at Bamon Pookrie factory – by far the toughest of five successive seasons at the factory since my joining the Company in 1957 – found me moving to the Hutti Putti out-garden of Mackeypore to take up my first out-garden assignment. Mackeypore had 1800 acres under tea consisting of three divisions viz. Ligri Pookrie, Mackeypore main and Hutti Putti of roughly 700, 600 and 500 acres respectively. Being an out-garden assistant on a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule more or less was like being on paid leave!! Hutti Putti was reputed to have had the first tea club in Assam – I am not entirely certain of the veracity of the report. The old club building was still there, rather dilapidated, and with two tennis courts still useable. My senior colleague Gulab Kalani or, G.K. as he was commonly called, and I tried to revive the club and we used it for some time. 

The New Leave Terms:     

Early in the year 1962 the long leave roster for the year for all management under the new terms came out of Nazira. I was put down for four months instead of three, as per the terms, from September to December as my leave had to be delayed. Personnel of my seniority or junior to me were going earlier in the year. This suited my wife fine and me as we were expecting an addition to the family by about the middle of the year. However, I thought it prudent to write to the G.M., Mr. Simpson, enquiring if this delay of my first long leave would cause future leaves to be delayed as they come after every 21 months of work. A prompt response told me that my leave had to be delayed in the Company’s interest adding that in all such organizations some employees were more useful than others and they were required on occasion to make sacrifices. I was further told that while such employees appeared to lose out in the short term these were the ones who gained in the long run and that in my case while I was going late on my first long leave I should be going earlier on my future leaves. I thought it was unusually considerate of a G.M. to give so much of his time and attention to a junior assistant’s minor problem and sent him a note expressing my appreciation.                      

Braving the Brahmaputra

My wife wanted to go to the American Baptist Mission hospital in Tezpur for her second confinement so that she could spend the preceding couple of weeks with her parents – her father having retired from Shillong was assigned the post- retirement task, based in Tezpur, of acquiring land for the new extension of the railway line to North  Lakhimpur.  Company Principal Medical Officer, Dr. Poole, had kindly arranged for her to go to the Mission hospital accordingly. About 2 weeks after she had left for Tezpur I decided to surprise her with a visit of a Sunday.  I intended to cross the river by a country boat in both directions, skipping the RSN/IGN steamer, as this would allow me the most time with my wife while obviating taking a day’s leave. I informed my Manager, Alec Barrie, of my plan to be off the garden that Sunday so that in the event I, a non-swimmer, failed to show up for work Monday morning he would have a general idea of my whereabouts!! As it happened I had to make the crossing going out in a small dugout that had room for just the boatman and two passengers. My fellow passenger had a bicycle, which added to the weight. The waterline was no more than three inches from the boat edge. I asked the boatman how I could save myself in the event the boat capsized. He said that if that were to happen the boat would most likely float upside down and I should then hang on to the boat as best I could until help arrived if it did. Some comfort that was! The little craft made the crossing safely to the other bank in about three hours and that gave me plenty of time to contemplate the vast body of water that is the Brahmaputra with so much of Assam’s history entwined in it.

 My father-in-law drove me to the ghat (the mooring area for the county boats) late the same afternoon for the crossing to Silghat on the regular twin-boat ferry. However, the sky was overcast and a gusty wind was blowing and that was sufficient reason for him to urge me to put off my return till the next morning. I wasn’t happy doing this as Mackypore and all other Nazira area gardens were not on the phone line and there was no way I could contact my Manager. I yielded to my father-in-law’s well-meant urgings. That same night my wife had to be moved to the hospital and at about 3 a.m. the American doctor in charge, a smiling Dr. Loos, gave my parents-in-law and me the good news of my wife being blessed with a baby daughter. I was shown the baby in the morning before leaving for the ghat a second time. That alone made my braving the Brahmaputra in a tiny dugout immensely worthwhile.  I went straight to the Manager’s office about 1 p.m. to report my delayed return and found Alec Barrie and senior Assistant, Krishna Bardolai, in some anxiety wondering where I might have been – overstaying my Sunday off or in the bosom of the great B’putra!! I think I got a mild wrap on the knuckle from Barrie for going out on a limb like that.                    

Those Halcyon Days:

This little story within a story needs telling to illustrate how good some people can be - for its own sake with no axe to grind. About two weeks after the daughter was born I went to pick up mother and baby, the year-old son and the Ayah from Silghat – they were making the crossing by the regular steamer using seats on the airy front deck. This time I took leave of absence on a Monday added to a Sunday so that I could make a trip to Nowgong to show the baby to my parents. The Hutti Putti bungalow was a spacious chung bungalow on a steel frame, fairly common on tea estates, with a bed and bath  at each wing, the middle part housing the front verandah, the drawing room, the dining room and the pantry in that order. The roof was of corrugated iron sheets which probably made the upstairs rather warm in the summer but I hadn’t lived a summer in that bungalow till then. The b’low also had a bedroom and attached bath downstairs which hadn’t been used for years for the intended purpose. I found the two rooms dilapidated and used as a small godown for various cultivation tools, left over fertilizer, back-pack sprayers etc.  in other words for various “kiba-kibi”s ! It was past sunset when we reached the bungalow driving from Nowgong and I noticed some light filtering through curtains hung on the unused ground-floor room windows. Before I could ask the chowkidar and the bearer the reason for the change I noticed they volunteered with the report that the Burra Memsahib was down the previous two days with a couple of factory mistris and jugalis to give the bed and bath rooms a major face-lift. They added that the B-M  wanted us to sleep there, as the upstairs might be too warm even with the ceiling fan running. I opened the door to the room and lo and behold the whole place had been transformed. Smell of fresh paint on the walls, a washed down floor duly covered, necessary furniture brought down from the spare bedroom and for good measure a welcome-back note and a bouquet of flowers for my wife made up the astonishing scene that greeted me and my wife as we entered the once dilapidated mini-godown. The source of all that kindness was Hilda Barrie who was also my B-M earlier in 1959 on Lakmijan. We were moved. The message inherent in someone from Aberdeen, Scotland, being concerned about the comfort of a nursing mother from Assam pretty much used to the warm, humid summer of Assam wasn’t lost on us!!

The Work Front:                   

The Tsunami of change that began to blow in 1961 with the new G.M. taking over continued to blow. In the garden orders came out to establish clone nurseries on each estate, set up section sign boards on each section showing history of cultural practices and yield per acre for five years, planting stock and spacing used, camber all garden roads to prevent water stagnating on them, erect security fences round all factory compounds etc. On cambering garden roads, the Asstt. Manager on Ligri Pookrie  was so carried away by the idea that his access road from M’pore – a dead straight 2 miles of it – was cambered almost to the shape of an inverted hemisphere. Manager Alec Barrie was irritated driving on it in his brand new left hand drive Mahindra Jeep (Land Rovers were being phased out) – no seat belts of course – needing to keep a firm grip on the steering wheel in order not to slide out of his seat!! I was on the passenger seat more toward the crown of the road and could do nothing to alleviate my burra-sahib’s predicament! The whole road was quickly redone.

I received my usual letter of annual increment in salary in May, 1962. There was a pleasant surprise in it this time in the form of one additional increment and a year’s seniority superseding the colleague immediately senior to me. The other member of the covenanted staff to receive accelerated seniority and increment in salary was Bill Beattie, now a Naturalist in Australia, who as a new Assistant had shown conspicuous ability, dedication and promise for the future. The Company made a handsome profit for the year 1961 and I remember my commission for the year with just 4 years’ seniority was substantial. In June the Company paid out the fare for our – self and wife - passage to the U.K. for 4 months’

long leave starting 1st September. Outward voyage was to be by Anchor Line and the return
via P. &O. Cabins were selected and all other arrangements were duly completed. Then came the P-Form introduced in the 1962 federal budget. This prohibited travel abroad by Indians purely on holiday and mine was travel purely on holiday. All the arrangements made were duly reversed and my wife and I settled for the other option the Company offered to travel to any holiday destination of choice within India. Two subsequent long leaves under

Assam Company terms were similarly spent within India as the P-Form was still in force.  

January 1st, 1963, found me moving to Gelakey as a factory assistant for the second time.

Tony Yates was the Manager. We again made the best teas in the Company-- this time of course to the  higher standards set by Jack Simpson, the General Manager. The Company’s CTC tea prices were now comparable with those of the top price earners.  The year would otherwise have been uneventful but for the Tsunami of changes in the work arena bringing in its wake, as it were, a tidal wave of benefits, helped no doubt by a record profit of about 450,000 Pounds Sterling  for the year 1962 !!

The first in the array of benefits was a 50% increase in basic salary with child and marriage allowances and commission remaining unchanged, next was increase of Company match of provident fund contribution to 20% of basic salary and the third was introduction of a Company car scheme. This last meant Company buying up our respective cars at market value and giving them back to us in most cases to use as Company cars. I remember receiving 8000 rupees for my Fiat, a part of it adjusted for the 8000 rupee grant I had received while buying it, and 14000 odd rupees in commission. In addition, the 50% spike in basic salary effective retrospectively for 4 months preceding, if I remember correctly, put so much money into my bank account that I, always a spendthrift, needed to take lessons on money management !!  It was all a little hard to believe and there prevailed among  mid-level and junior management  a buoyant optimism about the future of the Company thanks to the Chairman’s surgical knife and G.M. Jack Simpson’s relentless no-nonsense drive for improvement.

 Change at the top:

Some time around end 1963 or early 1964 Sir Owain Jenkins, a new director  on the Board, took over as Chairman replacing Mr. Remnant. Soon after, we began to hear about major changes being in the offing  - more as rumours since there was no official advice from the Company Chairman. These were : 1. Nazira head office township would be sold to the Oil and Natural Gas Commission and the G.M.’s office, the club, workshop, central medical department etc. would relocate to fallow land, by the Dhodar Ali, on Dhole Bagan division  of the Company’s Cherideo Purbut estate. I knew of some tentative site selection having been made as I was the out-garden Assistant on that division, 2. Entire head office in Assam would be abolished and all the nine gardens would go under Macneills’ management and 3. All the 9 gardens would be sold and Assam head office abolished. What happened in the end was none of the above but a cross between 2 and 3 above.

 The Company. Later events, however, extinguished that possibility.

The Club : 

Nazira club was a Company club with the General Manager exercising authority in some matters. I was the Indian member of the Club Committee from 1964 to its final closure. An unfortunate incident led to an acrimonious  exchange of  letters between the G.M. and the Committee and the club was shut down for some time under the G.M.’s orders. The Nazira Club members had to become temporary members of  Sonari Club ! The trouble was eventually over and Nazira Club reopened but not for very long.

The Last Days of Assam Company, Nazira.                      

On 1st January, 1964, I moved to Suntok estate of the Company as an out-garden

assistant to Manager, Robert Higham. The latter was going on 2 weeks’ short leave early in  January and wanted another assistant, already on Suntok, but junior to me, to act for him. The G.M. turned down the idea and told Mr. Higham that I as the senior person should act for him. That’s what happened but the affair didn’t make for a happy start for me with Robert Higham. Our relations continued to be rocky for the eight months I was with him. In May, 1964, with the usual letter advising my annual increment in salary came the good news of my being promoted to Senior Assistant – a year ahead of the required 8 years’ service. The cover from Nazira office carrying the news had my name and address and the sender’s (the G.M.’s) address typed in red ink which was very unusual. Robert Higham finding the cover in the day’s mail-bag from Nazira in the evening, thinking it might have some bad news for me and not wanting to wait till the morning to hand it to me at the office as was normally done, rushed it to me immediately with a note of his own hoping there was nothing untoward inside the cover. I opened the cover with some trepidation and having read the contents had a good laugh. I sent a chit back per his messenger informing Higham of the contents and that all that red ink on the cover was a practical joke.

While these rumours were unsettling certain moves made by the new Chairman sustained the optimism generated by Jack Simpson’s revamping of the Company. One was his initiating GETIT (Group for Examining Technical Improvements in Tea)  - a think tank of four new Managers charged with developing methods to streamline processes in field and factory. Members were Ray Corps (Chairman), Bill Charlier, Stevenson and Tony Yates, all of them of 1946 vintage promoted Manager in the preceding 2 to 3 years. I was the Secretary after the first incumbent, Finn Fetherstonhaugh, went on long leave. My job was to report the proceedings of each meeting of the Group to Chairman, Sir Owain. Some interesting ideas came up and it seemed for a while as if GETIT was going to be the precursor to a full-fledged R & D department in the Company. Later events, however, extinguished that possibility."

Early in 1964 the new Chairman was visiting the properties in Assam. During his visit to Suntok Robert Higham stopped the Land Rover by the section of tea I was in and indicated the Chairman wanted to talk to me. I came out and during our conversation Sir Owain lamenting the fact that I hadn’t had a “change of air” since joining the Company and noting that government regulations didn’t allow holidays abroad,  suggested that I and my wife apply to go for the Hajj on my next leave and from there travel to the U.K. We tried accordingly but the Hajj Committee in Bombay turned us down as too young to perform the Hajj – it was just as well because neither my wife nor I was quite ready to undertake that spiritual exercise !! At the Chairman’s cocktail party at the club during the same visit Sir Owain complimented me on the quality of the reports he was receiving from me on GETIT’s work and asked my wife if she helped me write those. She blushed and pleaded not guilty !!


In April, 1964, our third child, a son, was born at the Jorehaut Tea Co.’s central  hospital under the superlative  care of the CMO, Dr. Mary Richardson. Here I digress to relate another instance of kind consideration materializing out of the blue. About 3 weeks before my wife was  to move to the hospital I happened to be at the Nazira central workshop. As I came out and walked past the Engineer’s office I  passed the G.M. He stopped to ask me how my field work on Suntok was going. As I was moving away Simpson stopped me and asked when my wife was going into the hospital. I said in about 3 weeks. Then he asked what Company car  I had. I said a Standard 10 – (the box-like predecessor of the Herald). He said leave that car behind and pointing to the shed under which about 7 or 8 Company cars (users were on leave) were parked said take that one.  He was pointing to a big Buick with plush leather seats and all and a suspension that would  make short work of  pot holes on the Suntok access road. It hadn’t even crossed my mind that traveling to and from Cinnamara hospital in the Standard-10 negotiating the rough access road to Suntok would be a little hard on the mother  and the baby pre and post birth! I thanked the G.M. and rode off on the over-powered luxurious  Buick !!

In August, 1964, I moved to Cherideo Purbut as out-garden assistant.  The manager was D. K. Macfarlane, a perfect gentleman with a friendly nature. I enjoyed working for  him till his reirement in 1966. His wife Iris Macfarlane was well educated with a penchant for research into Indian history especially of the Mughal period. She visited the Indian government’s archives in New Delhi for extended periods researching for her articles for a history magazine published from the U.K. – she let me read her published articles. She also was a volunteer  teacher at the local Dhole Bagan high school. For a time, Brenda Finney, the wife of our Scientific Officer, joined her as a teacher at the same school.                                      

Around mid-1965 Jack Simpson, the General Manager, left the Company handing over charge to Robert Higham now designated Superintendent. By now the sale of Nazira head office complex to the ONGC was settled and management of the gardens by Macneills was known for certain. The Superintendent was to carry out the wind-up of Nazira and smoothen the transition to Macneills. The mood among the management personnel was somber  to melancholy preparing for immediate departure for a few and phased departure later for the rest. Expressions like “we are preparing for our own funeral” began to be heard. The Club had its last dance and dinner get-together before the auctioneers  took over. I was sorry to see the two billiard-tables go. They were in immaculate condition. The library books were being sold at a rupee a piece. I bought a few and the glass front book-case. As the tennis captain my job, after the last matches were played,   was to oversee the uprooting of the  frames for the screens, the net posts etc. for all four tennis courts and their deposit along with the nets and unused balls at the Mackeypore godown – activities not foreseen when I was elected  tennis captain !!


With Jack Simpson gone and talk of the coming reorganization by Macneills involving  loss of jobs for some of  the Assam Company personnel and secondment to Macneills’ gardens on reduced terms of service for the others caused a slackening of the tempo of work. Macneills’ reorganization, in gestation for some months, finally came out in October, 1966. I found myself promoted  Manager effective November 14, 1966, on a total compensation well below what I had as a Senior Assistant with the Assam Company and my first pay slip as a Manager, after adjusting the earlier higher pay retroactively, was for just five rupees !! I took it as the price to pay for not being without a job but surely it was not a great welcome from my new found professional foster parents !!

By 1969 all six Assam Company gardens in the Nazira district were  sold leaving just the three in Moran district. Going back in time, the Assam Company originally in its Jaipur division had planted out Keyhung, Hoogrijan, Ballijan and Zaloni in Tingri  area along with planting in the Nazira division which was quite a feat under the conditions then prevailing. It also had tea interests in Cachar and owned coal and timber exploitation rights near Margherita – later to become the AR&T Co. The plan to launch a steamer service on the Brahmaputra didn’t get offthe ground. All of which goes to show that the Assam Company

did not lack enterprise to break new ground on different fronts. Up until the late forties of the
20th century the Company had 12 units before selling Gabroo Purbut, Tingalibam and Towkok estates.  In 1955 the Company had survived a hostile take-over bid by the Mundhra family.

It was sad to see a great company that had pioneered, with all its risks, to prove that commercial tea-growing in Assam was possible thus opening the way for numerous other companies to invest and change the face of Assam, at last come to an end, as if saying “mission accomplished, must go home”. The pathos of it all was suddenly brought home to me when attending the farewell of a senior Assam Company manager leaving on premature retrenchment,  I heard him, in course of his speech, express his anguish in the words : “Macneills’ axe is stained with  blood from the aristocratic heads of the Assam Company and our  tombstones litter the tea gardens of Assam”. Strong words from a man well educated and known to be in control of himself.

The Epitaph:        

For an Epitaph to the Assam Company’s demise and its virtual gravestone I could do no better than quote the following concluding passage from a report written by Dr. Harold H. Manning, D.Sc., Scientific Officer to the Indian Tea Association from 1900 to 1907.                                                                                                                                           

“The pioneers of the tea industry are nevertheless men of whom we may well be proud. Jenkins who got the experiments established; Bruce who showed that tea making in Assam was possible; Mornay and Burkinyoung who proved that tea would at least pay ; and Williamson who showed how to cultivate tea in a really profitable manner—all these names deserve remembrance and recognition. Building on their foundations progress was rapid. The next ten years showed an almost inconceivable development, and such profits as led to speculation and almost to ruin in1866 and the years following. That is, however, another story. The foundations of one of the greatest of Indian agricultural industries had been well laid by 1856, and tea cultivation and manufacture had been placed on the track which had led, through many vicissitudes, to the position which it holds today.”

Notes : The following information is taken from Dr. Manning’s report referred to above. Jenkins above was Captain Jenkins, Administrator of Assam Valley after the Burmese ceded Assam to the British, and was a strong enthusiast for tea-growing in Assam. The other gentlemen named above were employed by the Assam Company – Mr. Williamson later founded the Calcutta  firm of Williamson Magor & Co. The Managing Director in Calcutta was Mr. W. Roberts who was later associated with the Jorehaut Tea Company. Messer’s Mornay and Burkinyoung, posted in Assam and Calcutta, are credited with saving the Assam Company from collapse – the London Board unable to raise any more capital had recommended abandonment of the whole project – in 1840s by returning small profits in the next few years and thus proving tea growing in Assam could be a profitable undertaking.  

I see a curious coincidence of names in the Assam Company’s history. While Captain Jenkins with his strong support for tea growing in Assam facilitated the founding of the Company, Sir Owain Jenkins, as the last Chairman, oversaw its demise!!

For more detailed information on the Company’s vicissitudes in its early years I refer readers to Dr. Manning’s full report available with Editor, Koi-Hai.

Some Photos



Dennis Skinner, Tyl (Simpson) Skinner, Bob Simpson, Deepa and Self. 


 At the Hydro hotel: Assam Reunion 2008. : Rt to Lt : Finn Fetherstonhaugh, Jessica Fetherstonhaugh, Pauline Darby, Deepa Quader, Self and Aijaz Quader.


Burra Bungalow tennis at General Manager's bungalow at Nazira held on alternate Mondays. The tea things were flown out of Calcutta.  Picture taken by G.M., Mr. Simpson, himself a keen tennis player. Person in foreground is self. (Courtesy: The Simpsons' family album).