Deepak Rikhye

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Below are a list of Deepak's writings please click on heading to go to story

The Statesman Article
Seasons in the Sun
The Eternity of Tea

A lady's tryst with Assam
Edward Lear's brush with Katchenjunga
A Medicine Tree; A miracle
And thereby Hangs a Tale
Geoffrey Ower-Johnston
All the World's a Stage
Explore!  Dream!  Discover!
St Paul's School Darjeeling
A Christmas Carol

Marigold Wisden of Lost Legion
The Hawk Cuckoo
An ode to Brain Fever bird

A Mysterious Leprechaun

 

 

 

A painting’s provenance

 

  •                by       Deepak Rikhye

 

December 23, 2016 |

 

                     KATTRA MASJID PAINTED BY WILLIAM HODGES

 

 

 

 

During the British Raj in India, there were artists such as Thomas and William Daniell,
James Wales, William Hodges and others, who painted the wonders of the country.
There are not many people who have traced the provenance of some of those paintings
because most of them went back to England from India with their respective artists.

 

Certain works of art were sold to private collectors; although Maurice Shellim, a British doctor
who lived in Calcutta for many years, enlightened people on the work carried out in India by British
artists. A few paintings were bought by Shellim and he viewed some of the others in England, thus,
enabling him to write about them. Shellim even visited a few locales, which had been painted or
sketched by the British artists, who travelled in India.

 

Kattra Masjid, in Bengal’s Murshidabad, was depicted in a painting by William Hodges (1744-1797)
and that was purchased by Shellim. When this oil on canvas painting — 23.5 by 27.5 inches —
is viewed, it takes one to a dreamy past. In the foreground are a few Muslim women whose heads
are draped with a prominent head-dress, customary to the community. The architectural details
of the Kattra Masjid have been depicted to perfection by Hodges and will leave a connoisseur,
spellbound; the minarets succeed one another, into the distance, appearing smaller as they disappear.

 

The artist’s attention to detail is superb and a question assails one, why can’t the Government of
West Bengal apply to Unesco and bestow this wondrous site with a heritage status? The Muslim
seminary, in Murshidabad, is located about 100 kilometres from Kolkata.

 

The Kattra Masjid houses the tomb of Nawab Murshid Quili Khan. The Masjid was built between
1723 and 1724 and is located on the eastern side of the city. Its importance — notwithstanding
the tomb — is also as a great centre of Islamic learning. The Kattra Masjid’s most striking features
are the two large corner towers with holes for musketry — one of the two towers were painted,
in meticulous detail, by Hodges, in his awesome depiction of the mosque.

 

Murshidabad is divided into almost two equal portions by the Bhagirathi, an ancient
channel of the Ganga. After the conquest of Bengal by the British,
Murshidabad remained, for some time, the seat of administration. It was
in 1790 that Lord Cornwallis removed the entire revenue and judicial staff
to Calcutta.

 

There were many locations in India that intrigued William Hodges. He
devoted much of his time at Tanjore, where he was enchanted by a temple.
His tours in Bengal explain his visit to Murshidabad. The accomplished
artist’s fascinating odyssey began with Captain Cook’s second voyage,
when he was hired as an official draughtsman.

 

It was in 1778 when Warren Hastings persuaded him to visit India —
Hodges lived here for six years and amassed a small fortune by virtue
of his paintings. The painting of the Kattra Masjid was done during that time.

 

His wealth enabled him to build a studio, in London’s Mayfair, when he
returned to England. In 1790, he toured Europe and St Petersburg but |
critics across the world wrote that Hodges’ best productions were the
views he brought from India in Travels in India. Hodges died shortly
thereafter in 1797.

 

Shellim who adored the wonders of India’s sights was, perhaps, one of
the few personalities who understood India as a connoisseur of art. Our
heritage buildings and natural wealth are unique and some of them were
actually projected by a legion of artists. The Kattra Masjid, through
Hodges’ art, has identified one of our country’s magnificent monuments.

 

Shellim’s expressive words explain the visitations of artists who left
home to paint the beauty and wealth of the sub-continent, “Hindustan!
Many tongued, many handed, Why camest thou to dazzle our eyes.
To lend all thy lures, When we landed, Thy sun, and thy scent, and
thy skies.”

 

Another one !!!! Have you a

October 13, 2013 

 

 

  

Polish Nobel Prize-winning author Wladyslaw Reymont wrote The Peasants, a book in four volumes, each representing a season, and it was published in different years — autumn (1904), winter (1905), spring (1906) and summer (1909). The title of each volume defines a tetralogy in one vegetative cycle that regulates a repetitive rhythm of life. Parallel to that rhythm is a calendar of customs, traditions, festivals and harvests, all linked to a particular season. The division of the seasons underlines the relationship of humanity with nature.

Reymont explains how eternal returns, through the seasons, occur in a calendar of cycles. The only tea garden in Sikkim, Temi, is also an example of “eternal returns”; it has been created by virtue of Sikkim’s people knowing about the natural elements of the state.

Sikkim’s neighbour, Darjeeling, has tea estates that were set up more than a century ago. Paradoxically, Temi began its odyssey as recently as 1969. As Reymont explained through his book, the relationship with humankind and nature is important. Sikkim’s people found that the vegetative cycle involving tea plants could respond well to the state’s conditions, exemplifying his theory that the inhabitants of a location are blessed with an inherent knowledge of the locale.

Let us study, in brief, a few features of Sikkim. What are the factors that make it different? What else contributes to the quality of this idyllic tea estate that has amazing potential and has become the pride of the government of Sikkim? This tea garden, spread across 177 hectares in an attractive topography is reckoned by many to be, perhaps, one of the best tea gardens in the world.

HH Risley, of The Indian Civil Service, observed in 1879 that there were no towns or even villages in Sikkim; he noted that a collection of houses was established near the Raja’s palaces at Tumlong and Gangtok. The larger monasteries, such as Pemiongchi and Tashiding, had houses nearby and other abodes were located near bazaars at Rhenock, Pakhyong or Rungeet. But to term those groups of houses a village would be incorrect. Risley stated that there were some 36 monasteries in Sikkim and these apparently signified what could be broadly termed as settlements, because of several houses next to each of these sacred places. It is, therefore, important to delve into the relevance of these isolated settlements in Sikkim that involve Temi’s origins because the area where the tea garden is located was, in the past, an interesting if small remote colony.

The natural vegetation in the higher Alpine zone consists of shrubby and herbaceous plants with bright flowers. Bees and butterflies proliferate in harmony with plants in these areas, the insects helping to sustain much of the vegetation by virtue of pollination. Temi, being located in the temperate zone, is not subjected to extremes in temperatures.  Risley’s observations of the absence of villages have, in a surreal manner, applied to what Temi was in the early 1900s compared to its vibrant existence today.

In the past, it was a Sherpa settlement that was developed primarily because of a unit under the forest department; in addition, a house owned by missionaries was also at the site. The area was ideal for cultivating millet, corn and even rice on terraced slopes. The slopes that originate from the Tendong hill range have a gentle north-south gradient of 30-50 per cent, and the climate may be described as salubrious for humanity, flora and fauna.

Sikkim has five seasons — winter, spring, summer and autumn, with a monsoon period between June and September. Temperatures seldom exceed 28 degrees Celsius. Risley describes “the ever-blowing gales” that undoubtedly attribute a regulating  factor to the temperatures of Sikkim. These gales carry pollen from the higher Alpine reaches and continue to the lower temperate zone to which the pollen-laden gales descend on Temi’s tea bushes; this is a form of “largesse” provided by nature and there is no denying that the pollen remains on the young tea shoots, which, when manufactured, impart an exquisite and unique flavour to Temi’s tea. It is perfectly credible to learn of the tea estate’s significant accolades when the Tea Board of India awarded it the “All India Quality Award” for an astonishing period of two consecutive years, in 1994 and 1995.

Temi’s tea plants constitute more than 4,000 species thrive in Sikkim. The many species of flora in this location was described as “infinite” by botanist JD Hooker.  He went on to add that “Sikkim has types of flora similar to the tropics all the way to the poles, and probably no other country of equal or larger extent on the globe can present so many features of interest in the botanical world”. This is indicative of tea being welcomed into Sikkim with the assurance that tea plants will thrive with equally good health as all the other thousands of species of plants that have been living in the state’s conducive environment for thousands of years. This location, of some 1,800 square miles, has an incredible variety of almost 600 species of butterflies, as catalogued by Henry John Elwes and Otto Moller, in 1888.

Recent studies by Mondol and Gupta have also confirmed many species of butterflies in the region. Their presence is a signal that the area is unpolluted. Butterflies will be free in Temi as well, because the estate maintains a rigid policy of organic farming. Himalayan cypress and cherry blossom trees surrounding Temi emphasise the omnipresent features of nature living in harmony. All these factors from the air to the ground have, indeed, combined to describe Temi and Sikkim as E Pluribus, Unum, or “out of many, one”.

 

Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/voices/temi-and-its-mystique/166687.html#zhFZ5Myrib1svw7x.99


April17 2016

  Seasons In The Sun.

                                                   By: Deepak Rikhye

  An unpredictable river, in Assam,  guarded by a spirit, nomads from Bhutan, practices in tea and rice cultivation and a Nobel Prize winning author from Poland; what has brought them together? Incredibly, it is the four seasons.

 

 My second posting was at Williamson Magor’s Attareekhat Tea Estate, in 1977, located in Assam’s Mangaldai District.  At the approach to the tea estate is the river suklai whose fountainhead is in Bhutan. A mettlesome river  which can be described by a doublet: unpredictable and dangerous!

 

 A river which has taken many lives during the passage of time. The weather in Assam  may be dry but it could be raining in Bhutan; this would transform the suklai into a raging torrent. The monsoon season is when the river roars along its route in sharp contradistinction to the winter when it  appears innocuous as a dry sandy riverbed. The suklai,  like a metaphorical barometer, illustrates with clarity the monsoon and winter seasons.

 

 A bridge had been planned by the government but would take  years to crystallize; or perhaps a bridge may elude the suklai. The river bed of sand, during winter, revealed that to construct pillars would require  engineers to plan digging down to demanding depths. A project was aborted. Relics of  pillars stared out in stark defiance to tell us that the suklai lived up to its dangerous reputation. A sudden flash flood in the river, due to a downpour in the Bhutan hills, has resulted in  fatal accidents to unwary people crossing the suklai. A situation that has not changed for centuries. At about 8 p.m, if a person is on the river bank, one may  see a spirit; it is of a man running along the edge of the river; the man is holding  a ‘ mashaal’ or a burning flare. He does not stop, but continues running into the distance, until you do not see the spirit anymore. My driver, Somaroo,who was with me the first time I saw this spirit, was unperturbed as he had seen the spirit many times. This spirit moving along the suklai is the only thing which is unaffected by any of the seasons.  The burning flare continues to stay alight despite a heavy monsoon shower. This spirit is truly a metaphysical form; the only form which has defied the suklai.

 

  As autumn gradually gives way to winter it is a common sight to see Bhutanese people with their ponies carrying their produce from the hills of Bhutan to villages around Attareekhat. They must cross the suklai too which is en route to markets. The climate in the Bhutan  hills endows ginger and oranges with a unique flavour.

 

 These Bhutanese people, who trek arduous distances with fresh produce , live the life of pastoralists; remnants of their populations are nomadic even to this day. In winter it is cold in the higher regions  of Bhutan; so these nomads migrate to lower heights and help in harvesting and selling Bhutan’s  produce. Their lives, in fact even their destinies, have been dictated by the effects of the four seasons.

 

My narrative would be incomplete without an afterword.

 

Wladyslaw Reymont, a Polish author, wrote a fascinating book, “ The Peasants,” which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1924. The book comprises a series of four books and each book is in honour of a season; Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. The author wrote on the impact of each season’s climate and above all its influence on mankind. The effects of different seasons as articulated by Reymont can be translated into our lives. Our operations on a tea garden are dictated by the season. Spring showers enabled plucking of leaf; when tea bushes were dormant in winter,  we  commenced  pruning. In Bengal the different seasons are vital for rice cultivation; Bengal has 3 rice crops. Aman sown in May / June and harvested in November,known as the winter crop; Aus sown in April harvested in September, known as the autumn crop; Boro planted in November and harvested in March, known as the spring crop.

 

The four seasons are integral to mankind. They govern economies and our lives. Indeed they affect the earth, rivers and the sea. This narrative related to the Suklai river, in Assam’s north bank, is only one  example of the impact of the winter and monsoon  seasons.
*************************************************************************************

February 9 2016

Once upon a time…

Deepak Rikhye

Picture


An artist's impression of a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk

 

Albert Einstein adored the value of fairy tales and his thought-provoking words convinced parents and teachers alike of their importance. He once wrote, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

 

Though fairy tales have been a part of most people’s childhoods, some like Jack and the Beanstalk still remains a riveting story. The sequence of events still  come to mind – in disgust, Jack’s mother flings the “magic beans”  out of the house and sends  Jack to bed without any supper. Her annoyance is understandable as Jack sells off their only remaining asset, a dairy cow, in exchange for a few beans from a stranger.  The man, though, had assured Jack of its magical qualities and sure enough, they sprouted overnight into a giant beanstalk. After climbing it, Jack comes to a land high in the sky and enters a vicious ogre’s castle. Once there, Jack manages to purloin a bag of gold coins, a goose that lays golden eggs and a harp, which plays by itself. The tale neatly ends with the ogre pursuing Jack down the beanstalk but he reaches the ground first and cutting the beanstalk, brings the ogre crashing down to its death.

 

That’s just one of several eternal favourites but a recent study has thrown new light on such age-old tales — it has revealed that they may be thousands of years old instead of a few hundred years, as has been the perception. In the 19th century, fairy tale writers like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersencompiled a collection of stories about princesses, ogres and dark sinister forests. Many of them were carried along through the passage of time and those writers only edited them for story books. That said, a few stories could well have been original compo-sitions by the Brothers Grimm or Andersen. But the question, which crops up is how old are they really? Strange as it may seem, the origin of such tales, according to research, appear to date back to pre-history!

 

In the journal, Royal Society of Open Science, Sara Graca da Silva, a folklorist from the New University of Lisbon, Portugal, and Jamshid J Tehrani, an anthropologist from the University of Durham in the UK, have published a joint study that says fairly tales like Jack and the Beanstalk and Rumpelstiltskin are much older than previously thought. Their research shows that they were conceptualised not in the 1500s but almost 5,000 years ago and the tales passed on orally down the centuries.

 

But define a specific period of time is a bit of a challenge. In fact, it defies historical research as an oral mode of continuity attributes immense flexibility of time-periods and epochs. To overcome this problem, the team of researchers took help from biology and followed a formula known as phylogenetic analysis. The analysis infers evolutionary relationships among various biological species and other entities. The biologists traced the origins of 275 fairy tales and left the literary world spellbound. This was a tale unlike any other.

 

They used tools from languages, population and culture including folklore. For example, an Irish elf called a leprechaun has roots going deep into the mists of time. There are scores of folk tales all over the world, some of which include leprechauns with stories of their hidden treasure. A system of classification was thus designed — the advantage of a classification is that similarities between different tales are highlighted and variants within those are regrouped as well. A common factor emerges as exemplified by grouping animal tales together, both wild and domestic as they appear in several. A category with the common factor is identified. Some examples are The Wolf as the Dog’s Guest Sings, The Dog as Wolf’s Shoemaker, The Fox and the Cat, Belling the Cat, The Mice Choose Cat as King and The Three Little Pigs in the list comprising over a 100 tales.

 

Going through 50 Indo-European language-speaking populations, the researchers actually tracked the ancestries of 76 tales as the element of language was one common factor. Jack and the Beanstalk possibly originated when there was a split in Indo-European languages, which was more than 5,000 years ago. The Smith and the Devil could be more than 6,000 years old. Chris Samoray writes in Science News that folklorists are finding fault with The Smith and the Devil — a tale dating back to the Bronze Age. The word metalsmith used in it may be incorrect because metal smiths did not exist at the time. It just may have been added a few centuries later without people realising the irrelevance of the word in relation to that particular era.

 

By excavating literary records, the researchers will continue to trace the origins of such oral tales. A child today may pick up a story book and dream of who the raconteurs of those tales were. In the meantime, the phantasmagoria of being transported to a different world will carry on.

 


Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/features/once-upon-a-time/121354.html#YABYgksIvdd5fxaD.99v

 

January 24 2016

 

The Chinese tea plant has been developed into tea plantations in certain regions of China. The tea plant in China has a history going back millions of years. The consumption of tea in China has an equally incredible history.

 

     The eternity of tea

                       By: Deepak Rikhye

‘ The genesis of tea is characterized by a mystique,

Which only the Vedas explain in the Creation Hymn,

Questioning when this creation has arisen?

Replying that only the One in the highest heaven knows,

Or perhaps even He does not know.’

(  ‘An extract from ‘ Ode to Tea,’ by-Deepak Rikhye)

An ancient Chinese saying articulates that, ”Superior tea comes from high mountains.” The altitude and mountain mists protect tea plants from excessive sunlight. Temperature and humidity are thus regulated. The plants are able to grow gradually and leaves remain tender, an important requisite for quality tea. David Attenborough studied the magnolia tree which has been thriving on mountains in China’s Yunnan for millions of years;  the tea plant has, in all likelihood, been growing alongside the magnolia for this incredible period of time. It is both mystifying and gratifying to note that although the tea plant may have existed millions of years ago, Attenborough has actually explained that the mystery of existence, of the magnolia, tea plant or any other species of flora, only makes sense after the plant has been discovered and identified. Prior to any plant’s discovery, it is unknown and  shrouded in mystery.  This narrative will explain how tea was being consumed in China, over 2000 years ago. A team of archaeologists found some tea preserved in a Chinese Emperor’s tomb.

The tea which was discovered in the tomb would have made  an excellent cup of tea 2150 years ago. The tomb  belonged to an emperor of the Han Dynasty.  It was discovered in the Han Yang Zin Mausoleum, built for the ancient Emperor, Jing Di, who died in 141 BC, near Xi’an in Western China. The archaeologists excavated this site in the 1990’s and discovered many treasures. They found figurines, pottery, chariots and a mass of partially decomposed plants. They were intrigued by their findings. Sarah Laskow writes that with the aid of sophisticated equipment they analyzed a brick of plant matter. It was proved beyond doubt that the plant matter was tea. This discovery became the oldest physical evidence of tea ever found. Sarah Laskow, through the archaeologists’ study, learned that Chinese Royalty liked tea to such an extent, that it was not unusual for them to ask as some of their last wishes, to be buried with tea, so they could enjoy a cup of tea in the next world. The tea was meticulously packed in a box inside  a pit next to Jing Di’s tomb. Professor Dorian Fuller says this discovery of tea has shed light on one of  the world’s  favourite beverages. It  also proves that this  tea had been cultivated 2000 years ago to cater to the tea drinking habits of people of the Western Han Dynasty. One direction  of the ancient Silk Route is located near Xi’an. It has been hypothesized that tea, silk and porcelain were being traded along this famous route. The scientific analysis of this particular tea, found in the tomb of Jing Di, is the first  tea sample to ever be tested for its vintage. A diagnostic test revealed that calcium phytoliths, caffeine and theanine, matched this 2000 year old discovery which was tea produced from the genus, Camellia, the botanical classification of the tea plant.

John Keats’ words can be juxtaposed with  the eternity of tea, when he praised a nightingale, “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!” With the tea plant thriving for millions of years, and tea being consumed for thousands of years, we may assume that tea was not born for death either and the word immortal is apt for this incredible product.

November 6 2015

 

A lady’s tryst with Assam


By: Deepak Rikhye

 

John Muir(1838-1914) was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and an early advocate of preserving the wilderness in the U.S.A. He  extolled the charm of the sequoia, a redwood tree found in California. Muir wrote to a friend, ‘ I’m in the woods, woods, woods and they are in me-ee-ee’

The mesmeric effect  the woods had on him was  similar to the effect Assam and Kaziranga had on Deepa Hazarika. In fact Deepa had resolved to write a memoir.

She was destined to fulfill her ambition. Indeed, when Deepa passed away on
12th May, 2015, her memoirs  had already been privately  published, in Guwahati,  with the title,   ‘ Paradise on Earth: Kaziranga.


E.P.Gee, a tea planter from Assam, preceded Deepa’s efforts in writing on Assam’s wildlife. Deepa’s  husband, Naseem,  a tea planter, knew  Gee. The tea fraternity is closely knit even though planters may  work for different companies

Deepa’s narrative  begins with a significant introduction; a rationale unfolds to explain how her love for nature had assumed such profound depths. Her father was in Assam’s Civil Service. His appointment entailed being posted to the most amazing locations of the North-East. Areas which were  isolated, lonely and perhaps forgotten. Deepa from birth was exposed to these postings her father was sent to. Paradoxically,  they were never alone.

At night they were often lulled to sleep by the roaring of tigers,  screeching of  harbingers of the night, the scops owl, or the mysterious  range of  calls  of a sloth bear. Gary Brown in his Great Bear Almanac, lists a series of twenty five calls of the sloth bear from gurgling, to humming, huffing to shrieks. To hear the sloth bear   late at night can perplex a person.

No one  will believe that  these sounds emanate from only one type of  animal.   In the 1940’s her father was appointed Commissioner, of  Assam’s Darrang. Their official residence was a wooden, cement bungalow perched atop a hillock, overlooking a tributary of the famous Brahmaputra. The view was idyllic and fostered an environment to develop one’s creative abilities.

Of  an evening, her father would be seated on his favourite easy chair, writing a multitude of notes and reports which are part of a Commissioner’s many responsibilities. As dusk progressed glow worms or fire flies were seen drifting about. Can we ask a naturalist today  about the glow worm? Where are they now? It was Khushwant Singh who told me, in 1993,

‘ You won’t see them Deepak; pollution has extinguished these ‘ lamps of the night.’ Prophetic words from a writer who was an avid nature lover too. Its only Shakespeare whose words remain to remind us of those ‘ lamps of the night.’ In his play, Hamlet, he wrote: ‘ The glowworm shows the matin to be near, And gins to pale his uneffectual fire.’ Climate change has inexorably dispatched a creature which gave life to vast open expanses at night.’ Khushwant Singh’s apt description of ‘ lamps of the night,’ resonates the scientific classification of these insects: Lampyridae.

Deepa recalls Assam’s  violent earthquake in the 1950’s  when the ground shook, as though it tried to plummet into the depths of the earth. In a  terrifying cyclone, during the same decade,  the entire roof of their massive bungalow  was lifted  ‘ in one fell swoop.’ They shifted to a dak bungalow for the next four months till the roof was restored. Assam was prone to regular  earthquakes, till the early sixties.

 That explained why many houses were  constructed on wooden  pillars which literally helped the building to ‘sway’ in an earthquake. She described a fascinating experience of adopting a young   Indian Fox, which is smaller than a jackal. The Indian Fox(Vulpes bengalensis)  has  large prominent ears; a species which is critically endangered today.

Deepa’s tours included Zero in Arunachal Pradesh. Her study of the Apatami tribe is vivid and educative. A  tour began with a  customary visit to the chief’s house, a long structured building on stilts; there were fires burning on either side and each fire signified a wife. He had twelve wives, hence twelve lit fires. His wives were prominently tattooed to ward off an evil eye.

Assam’s natural resources begin with India’s first and oldest oil refinery. The State is also home to some of the finest silks in the world, to wit, the ‘muga’ silk. Its crowning glory is Kaziranga, a sanctuary with  an area of 430 square kilometers, which has been granted a World Heritage status by UNESCO.

The sanctuary is host to two thirds of the world’s population of the one horned rhino. In later years Deepa devoted her efforts to Kaziranga. Many visitors synchronized their tours of Kaziranga with Deepa.

She had  studied the status of elephants, tigers, leopards,  swamp deer, sambar, the Indian Bison and sloth bear. Her detailed  knowledge of different trails inside Kaziranga ensured that visitors never left disappointed. One visitor remarked that the sanctuary is  a paradise comparable  only to the Garden of Eden. 

Her identifying the hoolock gibbon, the rare Bengal florican or the great Indian hornbill, sun birds and the spot billed pelican, left many guests astonished. She would regale them by identifying a bird which was  concealed in a tree. ‘ That’s a laughing thrush,’ she would tell them, on hearing the bird’s ‘mocking  laugh.

’ Their riding on elephants through twelve feet high savannah grass added to the suspense and excitement.  It was  John Muir who articulated that in nature   ‘one receives more than one seeks. ’

That was the reason why  Deepa’s  know

ny suggestions about a contact in Darjeeling 

October 13, 2013 

 

 

  

Polish Nobel Prize-winning author Wladyslaw Reymont wrote The Peasants, a book in four volumes, each representing a season, and it was published in different years — autumn (1904), winter (1905), spring (1906) and summer (1909). The title of each volume defines a tetralogy in one vegetative cycle that regulates a repetitive rhythm of life. Parallel to that rhythm is a calendar of customs, traditions, festivals and harvests, all linked to a particular season. The division of the seasons underlines the relationship of humanity with nature.

Reymont explains how eternal returns, through the seasons, occur in a calendar of cycles. The only tea garden in Sikkim, Temi, is also an example of “eternal returns”; it has been created by virtue of Sikkim’s people knowing about the natural elements of the state.

Sikkim’s neighbour, Darjeeling, has tea estates that were set up more than a century ago. Paradoxically, Temi began its odyssey as recently as 1969. As Reymont explained through his book, the relationship with humankind and nature is important. Sikkim’s people found that the vegetative cycle involving tea plants could respond well to the state’s conditions, exemplifying his theory that the inhabitants of a location are blessed with an inherent knowledge of the locale.

Let us study, in brief, a few features of Sikkim. What are the factors that make it different? What else contributes to the quality of this idyllic tea estate that has amazing potential and has become the pride of the government of Sikkim? This tea garden, spread across 177 hectares in an attractive topography is reckoned by many to be, perhaps, one of the best tea gardens in the world.

HH Risley, of The Indian Civil Service, observed in 1879 that there were no towns or even villages in Sikkim; he noted that a collection of houses was established near the Raja’s palaces at Tumlong and Gangtok. The larger monasteries, such as Pemiongchi and Tashiding, had houses nearby and other abodes were located near bazaars at Rhenock, Pakhyong or Rungeet. But to term those groups of houses a village would be incorrect. Risley stated that there were some 36 monasteries in Sikkim and these apparently signified what could be broadly termed as settlements, because of several houses next to each of these sacred places. It is, therefore, important to delve into the relevance of these isolated settlements in Sikkim that involve Temi’s origins because the area where the tea garden is located was, in the past, an interesting if small remote colony.

The natural vegetation in the higher Alpine zone consists of shrubby and herbaceous plants with bright flowers. Bees and butterflies proliferate in harmony with plants in these areas, the insects helping to sustain much of the vegetation by virtue of pollination. Temi, being located in the temperate zone, is not subjected to extremes in temperatures.  Risley’s observations of the absence of villages have, in a surreal manner, applied to what Temi was in the early 1900s compared to its vibrant existence today.

In the past, it was a Sherpa settlement that was developed primarily because of a unit under the forest department; in addition, a house owned by missionaries was also at the site. The area was ideal for cultivating millet, corn and even rice on terraced slopes. The slopes that originate from the Tendong hill range have a gentle north-south gradient of 30-50 per cent, and the climate may be described as salubrious for humanity, flora and fauna.

Sikkim has five seasons — winter, spring, summer and autumn, with a monsoon period between June and September. Temperatures seldom exceed 28 degrees Celsius. Risley describes “the ever-blowing gales” that undoubtedly attribute a regulating  factor to the temperatures of Sikkim. These gales carry pollen from the higher Alpine reaches and continue to the lower temperate zone to which the pollen-laden gales descend on Temi’s tea bushes; this is a form of “largesse” provided by nature and there is no denying that the pollen remains on the young tea shoots, which, when manufactured, impart an exquisite and unique flavour to Temi’s tea. It is perfectly credible to learn of the tea estate’s significant accolades when the Tea Board of India awarded it the “All India Quality Award” for an astonishing period of two consecutive years, in 1994 and 1995.

Temi’s tea plants constitute more than 4,000 species thrive in Sikkim. The many species of flora in this location was described as “infinite” by botanist JD Hooker.  He went on to add that “Sikkim has types of flora similar to the tropics all the way to the poles, and probably no other country of equal or larger extent on the globe can present so many features of interest in the botanical world”. This is indicative of tea being welcomed into Sikkim with the assurance that tea plants will thrive with equally good health as all the other thousands of species of plants that have been living in the state’s conducive environment for thousands of years. This location, of some 1,800 square miles, has an incredible variety of almost 600 species of butterflies, as catalogued by Henry John Elwes and Otto Moller, in 1888.

Recent studies by Mondol and Gupta have also confirmed many species of butterflies in the region. Their presence is a signal that the area is unpolluted. Butterflies will be free in Temi as well, because the estate maintains a rigid policy of organic farming. Himalayan cypress and cherry blossom trees surrounding Temi emphasise the omnipresent features of nature living in harmony. All these factors from the air to the ground have, indeed, combined to describe Temi and Sikkim as E Pluribus, Unum, or “out of many, one”.

 

Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/voices/temi-and-its-mystique/166687.html#zhFZ5Myrib1svw7x.99


April17 2016

  Seasons In The Sun.

                                                   By: Deepak Rikhye

  An unpredictable river, in Assam,  guarded by a spirit, nomads from Bhutan, practices in tea and rice cultivation and a Nobel Prize winning author from Poland; what has brought them together? Incredibly, it is the four seasons.

 

 My second posting was at Williamson Magor’s Attareekhat Tea Estate, in 1977, located in Assam’s Mangaldai District.  At the approach to the tea estate is the river suklai whose fountainhead is in Bhutan. A mettlesome river  which can be described by a doublet: unpredictable and dangerous!

 

 A river which has taken many lives during the passage of time. The weather in Assam  may be dry but it could be raining in Bhutan; this would transform the suklai into a raging torrent. The monsoon season is when the river roars along its route in sharp contradistinction to the winter when it  appears innocuous as a dry sandy riverbed. The suklai,  like a metaphorical barometer, illustrates with clarity the monsoon and winter seasons.

 

 A bridge had been planned by the government but would take  years to crystallize; or perhaps a bridge may elude the suklai. The river bed of sand, during winter, revealed that to construct pillars would require  engineers to plan digging down to demanding depths. A project was aborted. Relics of  pillars stared out in stark defiance to tell us that the suklai lived up to its dangerous reputation. A sudden flash flood in the river, due to a downpour in the Bhutan hills, has resulted in  fatal accidents to unwary people crossing the suklai. A situation that has not changed for centuries. At about 8 p.m, if a person is on the river bank, one may  see a spirit; it is of a man running along the edge of the river; the man is holding  a ‘ mashaal’ or a burning flare. He does not stop, but continues running into the distance, until you do not see the spirit anymore. My driver, Somaroo,who was with me the first time I saw this spirit, was unperturbed as he had seen the spirit many times. This spirit moving along the suklai is the only thing which is unaffected by any of the seasons.  The burning flare continues to stay alight despite a heavy monsoon shower. This spirit is truly a metaphysical form; the only form which has defied the suklai.

 

  As autumn gradually gives way to winter it is a common sight to see Bhutanese people with their ponies carrying their produce from the hills of Bhutan to villages around Attareekhat. They must cross the suklai too which is en route to markets. The climate in the Bhutan  hills endows ginger and oranges with a unique flavour.

 

 These Bhutanese people, who trek arduous distances with fresh produce , live the life of pastoralists; remnants of their populations are nomadic even to this day. In winter it is cold in the higher regions  of Bhutan; so these nomads migrate to lower heights and help in harvesting and selling Bhutan’s  produce. Their lives, in fact even their destinies, have been dictated by the effects of the four seasons.

 

My narrative would be incomplete without an afterword.

 

Wladyslaw Reymont, a Polish author, wrote a fascinating book, “ The Peasants,” which earned him the Nobel Prize in 1924. The book comprises a series of four books and each book is in honour of a season; Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer. The author wrote on the impact of each season’s climate and above all its influence on mankind. The effects of different seasons as articulated by Reymont can be translated into our lives. Our operations on a tea garden are dictated by the season. Spring showers enabled plucking of leaf; when tea bushes were dormant in winter,  we  commenced  pruning. In Bengal the different seasons are vital for rice cultivation; Bengal has 3 rice crops. Aman sown in May / June and harvested in November,known as the winter crop; Aus sown in April harvested in September, known as the autumn crop; Boro planted in November and harvested in March, known as the spring crop.

 

The four seasons are integral to mankind. They govern economies and our lives. Indeed they affect the earth, rivers and the sea. This narrative related to the Suklai river, in Assam’s north bank, is only one  example of the impact of the winter and monsoon  seasons.
*************************************************************************************

February 9 2016

Once upon a time…

Deepak Rikhye

Picture


An artist's impression of a scene from Jack and the Beanstalk

 

Albert Einstein adored the value of fairy tales and his thought-provoking words convinced parents and teachers alike of their importance. He once wrote, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

 

Though fairy tales have been a part of most people’s childhoods, some like Jack and the Beanstalk still remains a riveting story. The sequence of events still  come to mind – in disgust, Jack’s mother flings the “magic beans”  out of the house and sends  Jack to bed without any supper. Her annoyance is understandable as Jack sells off their only remaining asset, a dairy cow, in exchange for a few beans from a stranger.  The man, though, had assured Jack of its magical qualities and sure enough, they sprouted overnight into a giant beanstalk. After climbing it, Jack comes to a land high in the sky and enters a vicious ogre’s castle. Once there, Jack manages to purloin a bag of gold coins, a goose that lays golden eggs and a harp, which plays by itself. The tale neatly ends with the ogre pursuing Jack down the beanstalk but he reaches the ground first and cutting the beanstalk, brings the ogre crashing down to its death.

 

That’s just one of several eternal favourites but a recent study has thrown new light on such age-old tales — it has revealed that they may be thousands of years old instead of a few hundred years, as has been the perception. In the 19th century, fairy tale writers like the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersencompiled a collection of stories about princesses, ogres and dark sinister forests. Many of them were carried along through the passage of time and those writers only edited them for story books. That said, a few stories could well have been original compo-sitions by the Brothers Grimm or Andersen. But the question, which crops up is how old are they really? Strange as it may seem, the origin of such tales, according to research, appear to date back to pre-history!

 

In the journal, Royal Society of Open Science, Sara Graca da Silva, a folklorist from the New University of Lisbon, Portugal, and Jamshid J Tehrani, an anthropologist from the University of Durham in the UK, have published a joint study that says fairly tales like Jack and the Beanstalk and Rumpelstiltskin are much older than previously thought. Their research shows that they were conceptualised not in the 1500s but almost 5,000 years ago and the tales passed on orally down the centuries.

 

But define a specific period of time is a bit of a challenge. In fact, it defies historical research as an oral mode of continuity attributes immense flexibility of time-periods and epochs. To overcome this problem, the team of researchers took help from biology and followed a formula known as phylogenetic analysis. The analysis infers evolutionary relationships among various biological species and other entities. The biologists traced the origins of 275 fairy tales and left the literary world spellbound. This was a tale unlike any other.

 

They used tools from languages, population and culture including folklore. For example, an Irish elf called a leprechaun has roots going deep into the mists of time. There are scores of folk tales all over the world, some of which include leprechauns with stories of their hidden treasure. A system of classification was thus designed — the advantage of a classification is that similarities between different tales are highlighted and variants within those are regrouped as well. A common factor emerges as exemplified by grouping animal tales together, both wild and domestic as they appear in several. A category with the common factor is identified. Some examples are The Wolf as the Dog’s Guest Sings, The Dog as Wolf’s Shoemaker, The Fox and the Cat, Belling the Cat, The Mice Choose Cat as King and The Three Little Pigs in the list comprising over a 100 tales.

 

Going through 50 Indo-European language-speaking populations, the researchers actually tracked the ancestries of 76 tales as the element of language was one common factor. Jack and the Beanstalk possibly originated when there was a split in Indo-European languages, which was more than 5,000 years ago. The Smith and the Devil could be more than 6,000 years old. Chris Samoray writes in Science News that folklorists are finding fault with The Smith and the Devil — a tale dating back to the Bronze Age. The word metalsmith used in it may be incorrect because metal smiths did not exist at the time. It just may have been added a few centuries later without people realising the irrelevance of the word in relation to that particular era.

 

By excavating literary records, the researchers will continue to trace the origins of such oral tales. A child today may pick up a story book and dream of who the raconteurs of those tales were. In the meantime, the phantasmagoria of being transported to a different world will carry on.

 


Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/features/once-upon-a-time/121354.html#YABYgksIvdd5fxaD.99v

 

January 24 2016

 

The Chinese tea plant has been developed into tea plantations in certain regions of China. The tea plant in China has a history going back millions of years. The consumption of tea in China has an equally incredible history.

 

                                      The eternity of tea

                       By: Deepak Rikhye

‘ The genesis of tea is characterized by a mystique,

Which only the Vedas explain in the Creation Hymn,

Questioning when this creation has arisen?

Replying that only the One in the highest heaven knows,

Or perhaps even He does not know.’

(  ‘An extract from ‘ Ode to Tea,’ by-Deepak Rikhye)

An ancient Chinese saying articulates that, ”Superior tea comes from high mountains.” The altitude and mountain mists protect tea plants from excessive sunlight. Temperature and humidity are thus regulated. The plants are able to grow gradually and leaves remain tender, an important requisite for quality tea. David Attenborough studied the magnolia tree which has been thriving on mountains in China’s Yunnan for millions of years;  the tea plant has, in all likelihood, been growing alongside the magnolia for this incredible period of time. It is both mystifying and gratifying to note that although the tea plant may have existed millions of years ago, Attenborough has actually explained that the mystery of existence, of the magnolia, tea plant or any other species of flora, only makes sense after the plant has been discovered and identified. Prior to any plant’s discovery, it is unknown and  shrouded in mystery.  This narrative will explain how tea was being consumed in China, over 2000 years ago. A team of archaeologists found some tea preserved in a Chinese Emperor’s tomb.

The tea which was discovered in the tomb would have made  an excellent cup of tea 2150 years ago. The tomb  belonged to an emperor of the Han Dynasty.  It was discovered in the Han Yang Zin Mausoleum, built for the ancient Emperor, Jing Di, who died in 141 BC, near Xi’an in Western China. The archaeologists excavated this site in the 1990’s and discovered many treasures. They found figurines, pottery, chariots and a mass of partially decomposed plants. They were intrigued by their findings. Sarah Laskow writes that with the aid of sophisticated equipment they analyzed a brick of plant matter. It was proved beyond doubt that the plant matter was tea. This discovery became the oldest physical evidence of tea ever found. Sarah Laskow, through the archaeologists’ study, learned that Chinese Royalty liked tea to such an extent, that it was not unusual for them to ask as some of their last wishes, to be buried with tea, so they could enjoy a cup of tea in the next world. The tea was meticulously packed in a box inside  a pit next to Jing Di’s tomb. Professor Dorian Fuller says this discovery of tea has shed light on one of  the world’s  favourite beverages. It  also proves that this  tea had been cultivated 2000 years ago to cater to the tea drinking habits of people of the Western Han Dynasty. One direction  of the ancient Silk Route is located near Xi’an. It has been hypothesized that tea, silk and porcelain were being traded along this famous route. The scientific analysis of this particular tea, found in the tomb of Jing Di, is the first  tea sample to ever be tested for its vintage. A diagnostic test revealed that calcium phytoliths, caffeine and theanine, matched this 2000 year old discovery which was tea produced from the genus, Camellia, the botanical classification of the tea plant.

John Keats’ words can be juxtaposed with  the eternity of tea, when he praised a nightingale, “Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!” With the tea plant thriving for millions of years, and tea being consumed for thousands of years, we may assume that tea was not born for death either and the word immortal is apt for this incredible product.

November 6 2015

 

A lady’s tryst with Assam


By: Deepak Rikhye

 

John Muir(1838-1914) was a Scottish-American naturalist, author, environmental philosopher and an early advocate of preserving the wilderness in the U.S.A. He  extolled the charm of the sequoia, a redwood tree found in California. Muir wrote to a friend, ‘ I’m in the woods, woods, woods and they are in me-ee-ee’

The mesmeric effect  the woods had on him was  similar to the effect Assam and Kaziranga had on Deepa Hazarika. In fact Deepa had resolved to write a memoir.

She was destined to fulfill her ambition. Indeed, when Deepa passed away on
12th May, 2015, her memoirs  had already been privately  published, in Guwahati,  with the title,   ‘ Paradise on Earth: Kaziranga.


E.P.Gee, a tea planter from Assam, preceded Deepa’s efforts in writing on Assam’s wildlife. Deepa’s  husband, Naseem,  a tea planter, knew  Gee. The tea fraternity is closely knit even though planters may  work for different companies

Deepa’s narrative  begins with a significant introduction; a rationale unfolds to explain how her love for nature had assumed such profound depths. Her father was in Assam’s Civil Service. His appointment entailed being posted to the most amazing locations of the North-East. Areas which were  isolated, lonely and perhaps forgotten. Deepa from birth was exposed to these postings her father was sent to. Paradoxically,  they were never alone.

At night they were often lulled to sleep by the roaring of tigers,  screeching of  harbingers of the night, the scops owl, or the mysterious  range of  calls  of a sloth bear. Gary Brown in his Great Bear Almanac, lists a series of twenty five calls of the sloth bear from gurgling, to humming, huffing to shrieks. To hear the sloth bear   late at night can perplex a person.

No one  will believe that  these sounds emanate from only one type of  animal.   In the 1940’s her father was appointed Commissioner, of  Assam’s Darrang. Their official residence was a wooden, cement bungalow perched atop a hillock, overlooking a tributary of the famous Brahmaputra. The view was idyllic and fostered an environment to develop one’s creative abilities.

Of  an evening, her father would be seated on his favourite easy chair, writing a multitude of notes and reports which are part of a Commissioner’s many responsibilities. As dusk progressed glow worms or fire flies were seen drifting about. Can we ask a naturalist today  about the glow worm? Where are they now? It was Khushwant Singh who told me, in 1993,

‘ You won’t see them Deepak; pollution has extinguished these ‘ lamps of the night.’ Prophetic words from a writer who was an avid nature lover too. Its only Shakespeare whose words remain to remind us of those ‘ lamps of the night.’ In his play, Hamlet, he wrote: ‘ The glowworm shows the matin to be near, And gins to pale his uneffectual fire.’ Climate change has inexorably dispatched a creature which gave life to vast open expanses at night.’ Khushwant Singh’s apt description of ‘ lamps of the night,’ resonates the scientific classification of these insects: Lampyridae.

Deepa recalls Assam’s  violent earthquake in the 1950’s  when the ground shook, as though it tried to plummet into the depths of the earth. In a  terrifying cyclone, during the same decade,  the entire roof of their massive bungalow  was lifted  ‘ in one fell swoop.’ They shifted to a dak bungalow for the next four months till the roof was restored. Assam was prone to regular  earthquakes, till the early sixties.

 That explained why many houses were  constructed on wooden  pillars which literally helped the building to ‘sway’ in an earthquake. She described a fascinating experience of adopting a young   Indian Fox, which is smaller than a jackal. The Indian Fox(Vulpes bengalensis)  has  large prominent ears; a species which is critically endangered today.

Deepa’s tours included Zero in Arunachal Pradesh. Her study of the Apatami tribe is vivid and educative. A  tour began with a  customary visit to the chief’s house, a long structured building on stilts; there were fires burning on either side and each fire signified a wife. He had twelve wives, hence twelve lit fires. His wives were prominently tattooed to ward off an evil eye.

Assam’s natural resources begin with India’s first and oldest oil refinery. The State is also home to some of the finest silks in the world, to wit, the ‘muga’ silk. Its crowning glory is Kaziranga, a sanctuary with  an area of 430 square kilometers, which has been granted a World Heritage status by UNESCO.

The sanctuary is host to two thirds of the world’s population of the one horned rhino. In later years Deepa devoted her efforts to Kaziranga. Many visitors synchronized their tours of Kaziranga with Deepa.

She had  studied the status of elephants, tigers, leopards,  swamp deer, sambar, the Indian Bison and sloth bear. Her detailed  knowledge of different trails inside Kaziranga ensured that visitors never left disappointed. One visitor remarked that the sanctuary is  a paradise comparable  only to the Garden of Eden. 

Her identifying the hoolock gibbon, the rare Bengal florican or the great Indian hornbill, sun birds and the spot billed pelican, left many guests astonished. She would regale them by identifying a bird which was  concealed in a tree. ‘ That’s a laughing thrush,’ she would tell them, on hearing the bird’s ‘mocking  laugh.

’ Their riding on elephants through twelve feet high savannah grass added to the suspense and excitement.  It was  John Muir who articulated that in nature   ‘one receives more than one seeks. ’

That was the reason why  Deepa’s  knowledge of the myriad inhabitants within this sanctuary was  not by virtue of happenstance, but because of a rare level of comprehension, in the category of E.P.Gee and the great Salim Ali.

 

Spetember 21 2015 

Edward Lear’s Brush With Kanchenjunga

TourismSeptember 18, 2015

A poem, The Owl and the Pussy Cat, enunciates in bold letters just one name: Edward Lear (1812-1888). He wrote this delightful poem for 3-year-old Janet, whose father John Symonds was a friend of Lear. What Lear did not realize was that this poem was destined to enthrall every child who read or heard its captivating lines. His engaging style of poetry transported children into a phantasmagorical world. Let us reflect on a few lines of the poem:

“The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money,

Wrapped up in a five pound note.

The Owl looked up to the stars above,

And sang to a small guitar.”

Lord Northbrook was appointed Viceroy of India in 1871. Within a few weeks of taking charge as Viceroy, Lord Northbrook yearned to invite a friend to this fascinating country. Could he persuade his friend to sail across the high seas and visit India? His friend was Edward Lear.

A visit to India was instantly planned by Lear. Although there was a delay, Lear finally arrived Bombay on November 22, 1873. After visiting Benares he continued with his travels in the country and arrived Darjeeling on January 16, 1874. The next morning after an ‘early breakfast,’ he had a wonderful view of Kanchenjunga. But Lear’s enthusiasm waned:

 

“Kanchenjunga is not-so it seems to me-a sympathetic mountain; so god like and stupendous; a world of dark opal valleys full of misty hardly to be imagined forms….make up a rather distracting and repelling whole!” But the next day his enthusiasm returned when he viewed the Mount at“Kanchenjunga at sunrise is a glory not to be forgotten; Kanchenjunga is apt to become a wonderful hash of Turneresque colour and mist and space but with little claim to forming a picture of grand effect.” We were thus enlightened by the fact that Lear was also a remarkable painter. He painted three large oils on commission for Lord Aberdare who had given Lear the choice of an Indian subject. Lear wrote how at sunset they were at ‘the little Buddhist shrine,’ and beyond the shrine was a clear view of the ‘rosy and heighted’ Kanchenjunga. The Buddhist shrine he referred to was a monastery, seen either at Darjeeling’s Ghum or Sonada. His collection of the three oils and several water colours reflected this particular view. It was in 1999 at Christie’s, in London, when one of his paintings of Kanchenjunga sold for 123,213 dollars. Lear’s other paintings were also offered under the collection of ‘visions of Indiat India was the destination for many painters during the British Raj; people who visited to capture the wonders and natural features which are a part of the country’s rich legacy. The Daniell brothers who were mesmerized by the waterfall of Papanasam or the genius William Hodges who was engrossed by a stupa at Tanjore. All of them represent a legion of talented painters never to be forgotten. Within this legion Edward Lear is assured of a slot too. He sailed away from England to witness the beauty of this country; his voyage had brought him “To the land where the Bong tree grows,” a tree used to make pipes; a location also visited by the Owl and the Pussy-Cat in the poem!

By Deepak Rikhye

http://udayindia.in/author/udayindia http://udayindia.in/author/udayindia

Posted by Uday India

http://udayindia.in/

 

 September 2 2015

 

 

 

                                A Medicine Tree: A Miracle

 

                                  By:Deepak Rikhye

 

My experience of malaria was what I observed at  Assam when I was posted on certain  tea  gardens of the Williamson Magor Group.  The disease is  more common on the north bank. The moist rain forests, paddy fields and a humidity of 75 to 85 % all combine  to create ideal conditions for the breeding of mosquitoes.  I was in my third year in tea when I was posted to Assam’s  north bank.  A neighbouring estate, small and privately owned, was tucked away towards an easterly  direction. Legendary stories in the area related how in 1940  the small privately owned estate,  with a population of barely  1000, had closed down for almost one  year. An epidemic of malaria killed the entire population. I listened to these stories in horror.  During the monsoon season I would watch my estate’s  medical staff inspect  people in  every labour colony,  treating fever cases with quinine and taking blood samples which were smeared on glass slides. Quinine is used for the treatment of falciparum malaria. Registers were meticulously maintained. Every tea estate’s hospital in the WM  Group  has  a precious repository of data related to the incidence of malaria. Areas with a higher rate of malaria were quickly  identified for fumigation. Planning to combat this disease is like  preparing  an exercise on a war footing. If  malaria  is not confirmed by way of a blood test the risk of overlooking  the infection can be disastrous. This disease  is as dangerous and virulent as it was four centuries ago. I could understand why the  army were deployed to remote areas of the North East and Bengal solely to treat villagers. There is recorded  evidence of an epidemic  of malaria  in 1852  which wiped out the entire population of a village, Ula,  near Hirapur, in  West Bengal. Malaria is the most widespread and serious disease of the world. ‘A staggering 40% of the world’s population is exposed to the infection in tropical and sub tropical regions,’ writes Jitendra Sharma, who conducted extensive research on malaria in Assam’s north bank. Despite the dangerous nature of malaria it has a grand biography.  Indeed its saga over the centuries is fraught with  an almost phantasmagorical sequence of events. But the events, unbelievable as they seem,  are true.

 

It was in the summer of 1623 when ten cardinals and hundreds of attendants died in Rome while electing a new Pope.The effects of this deadly disease had entered the Roman Empire. British troops were killed in thousands fighting Napoleon in 1809. Malaria as an epidemic  affected the American Civil War and construction  of the Panama Canal was stopped. “ For more than a thousand years there was no cure for the disease,” writes Flammetta  Rocco. Pope Urban V111 elected during the malarial summer of 1623 was determined to find a cure. He encouraged mission priests to travel into Asia and South America and learn all they could from locals about this terrible  scourge. A young apothecarist named  Agostino Salumbrino began a network of pharmacies thus keeping millions in South America and Europe supplied with medicine. In 1631 Salumbrino dispatched a miracle to Rome. The cure for malaria, it was established beyond all doubt, was quinine, an alkaloid made of bitter red bark from  the cinchona tree. Protestants, including Oliver Cromwell,  ridiculed the discovery  and dismissed it as “ a Popish poison.” Critics were swiftly silenced. Quinine was destined to change the perspective of Western medicine. A momentous breakthrough was achieved all because of a tree which thrived on the foothills of the Andes. Even today as we read this, the miracle of quinine continues to save lives. In fact as a cure it possibly transcends the healing properties  of any other flora. Bernadino Ramazzini, a Physician in 1716, wrote : “Cinchona revolutionized medicine as profoundly as gunpowder had the art of war.”

 

It was the Botanist Carolus Linnaceus who in 1742 established the botanical  genus, cinchona. Dr. Anderson, of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens arranged the import of cinchona saplings and commenced experimental trials in 1862 at Darjeeling’s Mungpoo.  He established Mungpoo’s cinchona plantation in 1864. This idyllic location with the ‘whispering’ of cinchona trees in a breeze  is a unique retreat;  wooden houses are placed on part of the periphery. A place often visited by Tagore. He would spend days there  and  ensconced under the leafy boughs of a cinchona tree  pursued his  writing in the most peaceful environment imaginable.  One of his masterpieces, a poem, “ Awakening of the waterfall,” was composed  at Mungpoo; he was inspired by this location as evoked by his writing; “ My spirit longs to burst like the waters….The hills are shaking and heaps of rocks rolling down….The savage surging waters swelling up, roaring in rousing rage…”  The cinchona trees on hillocks, at Mungpoo, which inspired Tagore, will continue to bless mankind for generations  with this tree’s  miraculous healing powers.

 

july 31 2015


And thereby hangs a tale


Deepak Rikhye

(darjeeling.gov.in)

In 1835, the British acquired from Sikkim’s rulers a 7,000-ft high ridge on which is situated Darjeeling. The British planned to establish a sanatorium. Darjeeling also became a popular holiday resort, which, in 1896, inspired Mark Twain to write on the wonders of India when he visited Darjeeling. He was amazed by the majestic Himalayas he viewed from the Planter’s Club; an imposing bungalow gifted to Darjeeling’s tea community by the Maharaja of Cooch Behar in 1868. This heritage building is now under the care of its president, Sonam Gyalsten. It was from here that Twain wrote, “There is only one India! Its marvels are its own; imitations are not possible.” His words were prophetic. There is only one Darjeeling; its scenic beauty and tea can never be duplicated. This narrates a prelude to a region bestowed with a title, “The Queen of the Hills”.

In the 1840sm Dr Campbell, a Scottish surgeon, arrived in Darjeeling as superintendent of the sanatorium. In a tryst with history, he planted about 20,000 tea plants received from China. He also developed experimental plots in Darjeeling and Kurseong. The tea plants grew well and he was destined to meet another personality – Captain Samler, who lived at Kurseong. Samler had deserted the Crown and lived with some former sepoys. They cultivated corn on an area of land next to Kurseong. Dr Campbell encouraged Samler to plant tea. One of the most famous tea gardens of Darjeeling, Makaibari, had been created. Thus began a historic saga of Darjeeling’s tea; an industry whose gardens today cover an area of 20,000 hectares.

The region’s tea is blessed with a unique flavour popularly termed “champagne” of the tea world. It forms only one per cent of India’s tea production. Some of Darjeeling’s tea prices are unbelievable. Rajah Banerjee’s famed Makaibari, which his grandfather bought from Samler, went into the record books. A kilogram of his estate’s tea sold for Rs 1.12 lakh!

Alas, we must study the other perspective Darjeeling’s tea gardens need to endure. The relationship of a plant with the natural elements is the root with the element of the earth; the green vegetative parts are linked to the flow of moisture; flowers and buds open into the element of the air; and the fruit is ripened by the warmth of the sun. Therefore, a plant’s reaction to changes in weather is almost human. The plant rushes sap to its roots in anticipation of a storm.

This explains that plants and the earth are sensitive to changes in climate. The recent torrential rain encountered in Darjeeling has resulted in consequences. Areas of Mirik and Tingling have witnessed a collapse of hill sides and subsequent uprooting of tea bushes. Reports advise that over 100 hectares of tea areas are thus affected. Institutions had suggested planting of vetiver, a clump grass. Its roots form a network that holds the soil.  Changes in climate will also influence the yield and quality of Darjeeling’s tea. It is during February/March that the estates produce the first flush that sells at premium prices.

These premium prices are realised from 50 per cent of the estate’s production comprising whole leaf grades. The season then moves to the second flush when prices and quality decline. This decline drops further into the monsoon season. Darjeeling tea has a market abroad, primarily in Germany. Unlike tea produced from Assam or the Dooars, which is popular within India, Darjeeling’s tea, with its light liquor, is not welcomed as a beverage in our country. There were initiatives to promote Green Tea of Darjeeling for the Indian market, but this variety of tea needs one to acquire a taste.

With the region’s steep terrain, cost of production is much higher than on the plains. Uprooting old tea bushes to make way for new plants is expensive and arduous. In an effort to supplement revenue on their estates, owners on a few estates have encouraged tourists to live in their gardens and study tea manufacture.  These primarily foreign guests pay a substantial amount for their transportation and accommodation in a bungalow of a tea estate. This elucidates a niche segment of tourists. Owners need to analyse whether they can afford the capital to support this venture. Otherwise this form of diversification may be wishful thinking.

John Percival from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA, explains that for  an endeavour involving diversification, the funds must be received from elsewhere; this can be  achieved by equity investors.  This is what a tea garden in Darjeeling must adhere to. A deviation from this policy outlined by Percival will only result in this diversification becoming a red herring within a tea garden. The core activity on a tea estate is production of tea, it is not tourism. As a new segment of business, tourism on a tea estate must be critically examined. Both Ranen Datta, retired from the ITA, and Rajah Banerjee, with their profound knowledge of Darjeeling, could lead a think tank to formulate policies for the survival of Darjeeling’s tea.

 The clouds of a metaphorical storm brewing over this industry is more realistic than it ever was. Jeff Koehler, in his book Darjeeling: A History of The World’s Greatest Tea, predicts the disappearance of this unique product.  A crucible unfolds for Darjeeling and its tea.

 

 

Geoffrey James Ower- Johnston

( Rungmook-Cedars):The Untold Story

                                                       By: Deepak Rikhye

A tea planter’s odyssey can be influenced by many factors. As a profession a planter’s life is different to other careers. A planter on his tea garden in an inexplicable way is all alone even though he works with hundreds and thousands of people. These thousands of  people are uneducated and comprise the labour force of a tea estate. A few staff are educated with certificates from school. Labour and staff form the manpower a planter must live and work with. A situation which has prevailed ever since these tea estates began almost 200 years ago. It has become necessary to return to a dark chapter in tea’s history. It illustrates an episode which revolves around a planter being alone. Let us focus our kaleidoscope on one tea planter; Geoffrey Johnston. He lived with his wife, Janet, on Rungmook; an estate merged with Cedars, which he owned. The tea garden is near Darjeeling’s Kurseong. A picturesque Property which rolls down  Cedars’ valley to the Balasun river. Geoffrey would walk down this valley inspecting sections of tea some of which had been planted by his father. On reaching the river he would, on occasion,  take  a dip in its cool waters. He would look up the valley and marvel  at the tea bushes  resembling  ever vigilant sentinels of his beloved tea garden. The fact that he was born at Kurseong implied that the hills of Darjeeling were home for Geoffrey. It was understandable that he regarded his labour force as many children of an extended family. He promoted education on his estate and established a Primary School for his worker’s children. He was aware of changing times. In 1968 during unprecedented rain and landslides he helped the District Administration to repair the main road connecting Kurseong with the outside world. He went to the site with his labour and, incredibly, worked with them to expedite repairs.  Till 1970 he had the support of a British assistant, Nigel Leake. Photographs of Geoffrey in the 1960’s displayed a personality with remarkable charm. One photograph shows Geoffrey resembling a character from John Steinbeck’s book, ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ Although he was a person reticent by nature his cheerful smile  conveyed how friendly he was.

   In 1978 ominous clouds of trouble began looming over Rungmook. It began with an Excise problem when dues appeared to have been unpaid. Any taxes unpaid can increase with an interest component.In 1978 and 1980 a series of hailstorms hit the estate. Green leaf harvests and resultant made tea decreased. The estate

received less revenue. Geoffrey realized that he was in the midst of a complex situation.  He  had to pay the Excise taxes; a default with this Department could result in his packed tea being prohibited from dispatch. He was also involved with another dangerous situation. If his savings were utilized paying the arrears towards Excise dues  would the balance of his savings suffice  to pay the labour? The production of tea at Rungmook had already fallen significantly due to  tea bushes being damaged by hail. On a tea estate payment to labour is not the only expense. Maintenance of the estate incurs an amount of revenue expenditure every day. Geoffrey was unable to meet these expenses. Was he  bankrupt? Perhaps he was. But this was not an unknown situation in  business. There is a procedure to be followed. A claim or an amount of finance could be drawn through an agency against the value of assets within the tea garden. A tea estate has assets and production of tea, all of which could serve as a legitimate source of security. Companies the world over have resorted to this option. Did something prevent Geoffrey to pursue this option? Sadly, he was all alone in this crisis, writes John Feltham, in “ A Few Good Men.”  

 These words from a Greek tragedy in 500 BC, warns us : “Who can stop  grief’s avalanche once it starts to roll?” That Geoffrey was already in trouble over Rungmook’s finances was obvious. He sought the help of an Agency in the UK. He was assured of a Grant which would redeem the situation. He returned to Rungmook and in his enthusiasm went to the factory to meet representatives of his labour. He conveyed the good news to them. They disbelieved Geoffrey. This volte face persisted. They yelled slogans against him. Armed with concealed daggers they pounced on him and mercilessly attacked him. Geoffrey  Johnston  was savagely killed. The end had come.  

As an afterword to this tragedy let us understand a harsh reality. An air of unhappiness and uncertainty still  prevails over Rungmook. When Geoffrey was at the helm of affairs, the estate  produced 4,50,000 kgs. Tea. This has plummeted to 1,50,000 kgs( John Feltham). The new owners are unable to bring Rungmook-Cedars to its past glory. An innocent person’s Soul was disturbed. Has this disturbance become  the cause of unhappiness at Rungmook? Perhaps it has.

Geoffrey’s Grave at the North Point cemetery in Darjeeling  reads a stark message:

Born on 22nd March 1929

Murdered on 28th April, 1981

“ Beloved by so many…”

“Betrayed by so few…”

‘ His  like will not be seen again.’

Thus ends a saga where people were blinded by hubris; when perpetrators of this diabolical murder imagined they were more powerful than The Almighty.

 

         Geoffrey Johnston’s Grave in Darjeeling.

 

 Geoffrey supervising work His profile is reminiscent of a character in John

Steinbeck's book  "Grapes of Wrath"

  .
                

 Geoffrey cooling himself in the Balasun river. He had initiated  a Hydel project further downstream.

Photographs Courtesy: Iona Jardine.

                                      Lucinda Gibbs.

 

Technical Assistance: Akash Mishra.

 

 June 28 2015

      All The World’s A Stage      

By:- Deepak Rikhye

Is  there a site like Koi Hai anywhere else in the world?  David Air, Editor,  encourages former and present planters to recapture their days  in  tea. Articles include reflections going back decades in different tea districts.These writings also encompass British Nationals who had lived and worked in India. My narrative is about a British family; they would leave home in England and travel to the Indian Sub Continent. They worked with passion on a subject and reached out to Indian schools and colleges. Indeed there were occasions when they connected with passengers in a train when they travelled through the heat of India’s tropical  climate.Who were these fascinating people?What did they do? They were the Kendals. A family who with incredible dedication promoted Shakespeare’s plays throughout India. Their brilliant,humble and simple approach taught us that Shakespeare’s plays were waiting to be embraced by actors and audiences alike. Macbeth, Hamlet or Merchant of Venice are the most beautiful creations. The Kendals  brought these plays to life and exemplified how important it was to understand Shakespeare’s characters  through actors on stage. I first met this illustrious family in 1970 when I was at St.Paul’s School,Darjeeling. In the most surreal manner I was to reconnect with Felicity Kendal 30 years later. The Kendals…..What amazing people. How could I not write about them?

It was a misty morning in 1970 when Geoffrey and Laura Kendal, with their daughters Jennifer and Felicity, arrived Darjeeling’s St.Paul’s School. Their agenda was brief: ask the Rector, Mr.DS Gibbs, which play of Shakespeare’s  could they perform. There was a reason for Mr.Gibbs selecting Macbeth. The play was in the school’s syllabus. A play which revolved around ambition; the all important powerful role of Lady Macbeth was what  we yearned to see on stage.At 3.00 PM the lights dimmed in the school hall. Geoffrey appeared on stage. As a prelude  he announced in his deep voice: “ When Shakespeare acted the stage was bare.” We understood why there  were no props on stage. That was the tradition  during Shakespeare’s life time.Geoffrey was Macbeth opposite Laura  as  Lady Macbeth. Her acting captivated our attention from the beginning of the play. She walked across a dark stage in the sleep walking scene. The stage was lit by the light of a burning candle. The candle light threw eerie and grotesque shadows around the stage. Laura as Lady Macbeth was pale and perturbed. She imagined blood on her being. “ Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!” Her expression took on a haunted look. She portrayed different emotions. Laura’s voice for the sleep walking scene was tremulous; yet she sustained  remarkable  diction. There were no sound systems. We heard and understood every word in a huge hall. The “ Oh,oh, oh!” increased in volume as a crescendo; the first “Oh,” was a half whisper; unbelievably we heard that half whisper. Laura Kendal in that performance was the best in the world. As the play ended we erupted into a deafening applause. Laura burst out laughing when some of us yelled ‘Encore!’ The four of them could  also act in  different roles in the same play. As an option  they offered to perform only certain scenes of a play if  an Institution wished  to focus  on a particular segment. As an example the court scene in Merchant of Venice or the Witches in Macbeth. This as a variety would attract schools away from Indian cities where English may not have been  a medium of instruction. Those students, nevertheless, would view the  performances attentively. The quality of acting kept the audience engrossed. Travelling into interior areas by train did not in the least imply that time was wasted. The Kendals would rehearse their lines in a moving train much to  the delight of other passengers in the same carriage. Most of those passengers  never  understood a word of English but they watched the Kendals with undivided attention. I asked myself if any other troupe of actors  in the world travelled by train and rehearsed their lines?

It was many years later when I decided to promote Shakespeare’s plays in Delhi. A colleague of mine from school, Kabir Mustafi, helped to drive this project. We selected the court scene from Merchant of Venice and the tragic scene of Romeo and Juliet. We produced both performances with a cast of four actors. The plays were staged in schools. Our efforts received the attention of the Press. Newspaper reports reached England; such is the magic of the internet. Felicity Kendal,CBE., asked her Manager to contact me. She wished to interview me in Delhi, in the winter of 2011. My interview with Felicity moved without a mistake. Patrick the cameraman did not ask for a single repeat. I was partially paralysed on my left arm and leg at the time. But Patrick’s professionalism did not allow this to show in the filming. Felicity asked me what my plans were for taking my project further. My vision, I explained, was to take these plays abroad; to go global. “ You will Deepak, You are as determined as we were.” What exhilarating words; what inspiration; what a compliment.

When Shakespeare wrote ‘ As you like it,’ he compared the world to a stage and life to a play. It could include the Kendals or anyone. “ All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players:” In honour  of Shakespeare’s 450th Birth Anniversay in 2014, Royal Mail issued a set of stamps. An honour which proclaimed that the  entire  world was Shakespeare’s stage. Felicity Kendal will be delighted to witness this momentous accolade of the best Playwright ever .

Shakespeare can never be sequestered in a library. Through his plays he will always be with millions of people. His audiences all over the world will  continue to be entertained. This has been ensured; his plays have been translated into films in Denmark, Russia, India and Japan. These countries have realized that introducing Shakespeare is not a threat; Shakespeare is a  precious resource. A resource destined to continue , as articulated by this brilliant Playwright:               

“Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow….To the last syllable of recorded time.”



 Felicity Kendal,CBE., and Deepak Rikhye exult as the filming of their interview concludes

 


April 11 2015

         Explore, Dream, Discover !

                       By: Deepak Rikhye.

Uttam Pegu and Gilman Hazarika were born in the north eastern state of Assam.   Uttam went to Rajasthan, to work for IVR Solutions, an organization where communication with mobiles is developed with more facilities, which includes the same mobile number being connected to many other numbers simultaneously.

Gilman decided to migrate to the Dark Continent’s Malawi, where he farms. With the world’s population ever increasing, farming methods are being evolved to cultivate morefood grain to help feed our teeming populations the world over. Gilman was a successful tea planter in Assam having followed his father’s foot-steps.

His transition from tea in Assam, to farming in Malawi, was therefore an uncomplicated process.

Gilman and Uttam have imbibed Mark Twain’s inspiring advice to
“Explore,Dream,Discover!” This exemplifies the spirit of adventure.

 Their spirit of adventure takes them out into the wilderness; their holidays are
utilized photographing different forms of nature. It could be a monitor lizard or
an elusive bird like the marsh harrier. They  mesmerise us with their photographs taken with admirable patience. Birds,plants and creatures of the earth are brought into our homes, through these photographs, to admire and educate us on God’s many creations.

Let us see some of the work carried out by these talented personalities. The results reflected in each photograph is indicative of the profound understanding they have of nature. Uttam Pegu’s photography of birds covers both Assam and Rajasthan and these pictures by Gilman were taken during his recent holiday to Assam when he visited Kaziranga. He was in transit at Siliguri on the 10th April, 2015. Lo and behold! Look at what he saw from his bedroom window!  A Red Naped Ibis perched on a tree! People who have lived for decades in the area have never sighted this species.But this particular Ibis appeared to have waited for Gilman, to arrive from Africa, before it presented itself!  The momentous photograph  is presented below; it forms a chapter of an interesting repertoire.

 


 

GILMAN HAZARIKA’S PHOTOGRAPHY

 

RED JUNGLE FOWL

 

  This Red Junglefowl was photographed in Kaziranga. Note the prominent tail feathers which is a characteristic of male junglefowl.

 

The bird appears unperturbed  and has given Gilman an opportunity to photograph a natural image.

 

  A female of the species.  Junglefowl are thought to be ancestral to the domestic chicken.

LAND MONITOR LIZARD

Also known as the Bengal monitor lizard. These creatures were part of ancient folklore.
Soldiers used them to help scale walls of a fortress.

RED NAPED IBIS

 

 

Two vivid photographs of the Red Naped Ibis taken by Gilman from his bedroom
window when he was in transit at Siliguri. During the breeding season they
often stray away from wet lands to make their nests in trees.

 AFRICAN TULIP

 Gilman took this photograph of the African Tulip tree at Cape Maclear, in Malawi.
These  trees were discovered on the Gold Coast of Africa in 1787. The tree’s

open flowers are cup shaped and can hold water enabling birds to quench their thirst.

 

 

UTTAM PEGU’S

 

PHOTOGRAPHY

GREAT CRESTED GREBE

 

A delightful photograph of a Great Crested Grebe on a lake in Rajasthan. These birds are  known to carry weed or fish to attract a mate. This unusual characteristic was capturedby Uttam Pegu through his camera. TheGreat Crested Grebe is found in Europe, Asia, Australia, China and the Indian sub  continent. They were devastated during the Victorian period because their feathers were popular. Excellent conservation measures have helped their population increase.

 

Ruddy  Shelduck.

A common winter visitor to India. The genus name Tadorna comes from Celtic roots and means “pied waterfowl.”

MARSH HARRIER

 

A bird not often seen. The Marsh Harrier according to Birdlife International has an area of  occurrence spanning 20,000 sq. Kms.Although they are not ‘Vulnerable’ their vast area of distribution makes it difficult to sight these birds.

 

Uttam Pegu’s incredible tenacity has photographed these birds in Rajasthan. Most images of  these birds in many journals are in flight not giving a clear picture.
This image has gifted us  with a valuable photograph.

BRAIN FEVER BIRD

This particular photograph of the elusive brain fever bird is amongst the best available anywhere.  A bird whose call is integral to a tea garden or any other location. To photograph them can be demanding. They are happiest hidden in the foliage of a tree. Uttam Pegu’s patience has  made this photograph possible.

 

               Technical Assistance  Courtesy : Naveen Vaid


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March 16 2015

 

St. Paul’s School, Darjeeling: To Serve Them All My Days

                                                                                                           By : Deepak Rikhye

It was a bright morning; the valleys and hills of Darjeeling and Sikkim were clearly visible in all their splendour; this splendour was beheld from a knoll next to the Chapel of St. Paul’s School. But some of the splendour was marred by landslides; they appeared as though a dinosaur had clawed part of the mountain; a tangible impact of nature’s wrath in 1969 . 40 years hence these scars are stark records that have become a chapter of history related to the hills around Darjeeling.

The landslides elucidate an ancient Chinese adage:” If you cheat the earth, the earth will cheat you;” an adage which enunciates the after effects of deforestation; a problem that has plagued Darjeeling for decades. But this bright morning was different. It was the month of July and to experience a sunny morning, in contradistinction to an overcast sky with the monotony of rain, was an exhilarating change. Chapel Service begins at 0845Hrs. The lovely weather would have manifested every student andteacher with euphoria. Hymn no.256 would undoubtedly be selected for such a beautiful day. If it was a day in the late 1960’s it would be Patricia Blackley (MA; Cantab.) who played the electric organ to the cheerful

Hymn “All things bright and beautiful.” A delightful Hymn composed by Mrs.CF Alexander; each line ofthis expressive composition is resonant of the most wonderful creations of nature; “Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings”, describes the wonders of the world around us .

The Chapel’s electric organ is one of the few of its kind in India. It has a history too. The organ had been shipped to Calcutta en route to Burma; the War was in progress and the voyage to Burma was not possible. A high level decision ordered to send the organ to St.Paul’s.

The Choir Loft in Chapel is connected by a narrow spiral staircase. The organ was hoisted up to the loft from the front. It was placed behind the Choir Pews, with a large speaker.The Choir is divided between Bass, Tenor, Alto and Treble singers .It is this singular aspect that makes the School Choir as famous as the School. The building’s acoustics were designed to add to the Chapel’s unique character. The Pews and all furniture comprise teak wood. Every square inch is highly polished to reflect an image similar to a mirror. The Altar in its humility is grand with attention to detail. The pulpit and arcade upto the Cross,faces the Congregation, in all its glory. The Rector’s and Chaplain’s pews are in front of the Altar.

A short daily Service, Matins or Evensong,on Sundays, are conducted to perfection. The Choir often sings special compositions; these renditions add to the repertoire of the Service. Infact the Choir is the quintessence of every Service. The end of Term Carol Service, held on an evening in November, is integral to the end of a year; it heralds a sentiment of au revoir when students bid each other farewell; but Carol Service is famed for its range of Carols.

The Carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’ is sung with incredible precision. The verse sung by the King is performed solo by a Bass Choir Member. The Bass Chorister can be heard with clarity. Some Members of the Congregation are compelled to turn towards the Choir to see the Soloist and to hear him in disbelief. One of the best Bass singers in the School’s history was Colin Glen Vint.  His voice was reminiscent of a King evoking power. The words “Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,” were articulate and evocative of warmth on a winter’s evening. Patricia Blackley was missed when she left St.Paul’s.

We were then graced by Vivian
Maclean, who took over Music; Vivian and her husband, Malcolm were from New Zealand. Malcolm after a year was Ordained in Darjeeling’s St.Andrew’s Church; the Church is also of Heritage value, with a Pipe Organ. Malcolm thereafter was bestowed with the Title The Rev. Maclean. Vivian had the most mellifluous voice; she sang with a Treble voice and  could carry notes to the highest possible pitch. Her performance in two operas  left audiences thunderstruck. ‘Rudigore’ and ‘Amahl and the night visitors’ were both of a standard compared to the best in the world; the famous “Cats” or “The Phantom of the Opera”, in London, as a comparison, is possible.

We are reading about a School that was amongst the best in the world. Sermons in Chapel were not necessarily confined to Religion. On the contrary, topics often related to situations in life. Mr. Hawley.( MA;Oxford.) delivered a Sermon on Courage.Rev. Maclean spoke on the quotation “the bells toll for thee”.

The Chaplain referred to God or to The Almighty, evocative of a secular approach. We were asked to Pray for the people who suffered in Bangladesh or Vietnam. The Chaplain in the 1970’s was Rev.Canon Le Blond; one of the most gracious Personalities imaginable. ‘Padre’ as he was affectionately referred to passed away in School; Padre’s Grave is close to the Chapel he cared for so much. Some years later his beloved wife Gwen joined Padre to her Heavenly Abode. After 8 years in St.Paul’s I learnt of the intrinsic value of Religion and Faith. I learnt what Prayers achieved in terms of peace of mind. In 1973 I was the proud recipient of the Bible Reading Prize. The book I received is a cherished possession.

James and Frank Rorrison, were colleagues of mine in St Paul’s. Their father, Chuck, was  a tea planter,at Gandrapara in the Dooars. My father was at Glenburn in Darjeeling. We went on expeditions to these gardens.A weekend at Gandrapara was memorable. Mr Chuck Rorrison took us around the estate. He explained  benefits of the recently introduced Guatemala grass. That was in 1973. We enjoyed our days in school and above all, we learnt all there was to learn, in a class room, in chapel, or on a tea garden. St Paul’s truly perpetuated the values of Delderfield’s brilliant book which is about a teacher in a school called Bamfylde; the title explains it all :

‘To Serve Them All My Days.’ That is what St Paul’s is destined to do. This noble Institution, with its teachers, will give credence to Delderfield’s words. In its 150th year I wish the school Godspeed.


Photography : As a matter of Courtesy we credit RP Singh for the fine photos

 

1) Cotton Hall, on the upper floor, is one of the dormitories. The stage and hall is in the ground floor. This building faces the main sports field.

2) The Chapel’s architecture is unique and ensconced within a sylvan setting.

 

3)The quadrangle with a bust of Bishop Foss Westcott; the person who formulated many of St. Paul’s plans and policies when this school began.

These photographs of St Paul’s School are evocative of architecture  representing a different era. During my years in  school, from 1966 to 1973, there was never a  need to carry out major repairs; indeed there was never a need for minor repairs either ! All buildings in the campus have continued to endure the test of time for the past 150 years. With a desire to earn more revenue new buildings have been constructed. The strength in the 60’s or 70’s was 350 students as boarders. Today the strength has doubled. Time will prove the endurance  of  new buildings.  The school is endowed with a large area of 60 hectares. It has space to develop as it has done in recent decades. But the Darjeeling hills experience water shortages. For a school to effectively function, an uninterrupted supply of water and electricity is imperative. This was perhaps the reason for the strength remaining constant at 350 for a wide gap of time.

 

 

December 9 2014

                                          A CHRISTMAS CAROL.     

by: Deepak Rikhye.

 

“ Silent night, holy night,

All is calm, all is bright….”

 

It was a young Priest, Father Joseph Mohr, who lived in Austria and wrote the lyrics to this delightful carol, which has since been translated into 140 languages. It is famous for its slow, meditative, lullaby tune. The melody was composed in 1818 by Franz Xavier Gruber, a school master and an organist. In 2011 UNESCO declared the carol as an intangible cultural heritage.

 

Of all the festivals that crowd the Christian calendar, there is none that exercises an influence so strong and universal as Christmas. It is a season of unrestrained festivity. People are under the spell of a sweet religious warmth and feel protected within a feeling of eternal hope which is renewed every year. A festival where no one can be solitary. It unites distant friends and relatives. The first Christmas cards were created by Sir Henry Cole and illustrated by John Horsley, in 1843; an innovation which transported the joy of Christmas to every conceivable corner of the world. Special stamps were issued, including a popular one depicting Santa Claus coming down a chimney. From the very beginning Christmas celebrations reached out to shepherds and pastoralists who were, “Keeping watch over their flocks by night.” In the “bleak mid winter,” people in England , Europe or the US ,sleep through a winter’s night and awaken in the morning to see snow in a new enchanted land; a common sight on many a Christmas morning. “Snow had fallen snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak mid winter long ago!” Christina Rossetti 1830-1894) tells us about Christmas, snow and the winter. 

 

Mince pies were popular during this festival, from a pristine past. The pies were originally oblong in shape to represent the manger where Infant Jesus was born. A shape believed to be a creation by the three wise men who followed the hallowed star; the star was viewed as God’s written message across the sky. Homes are decorated with holly, ivy and miseltoe; in ancient England men and women dressed in each other’s clothes and went from house to house  singing carols. A famous chorus was sung with an ardent wish, that the world be full of mince pies and plum pudding.

 

Literature found a place in this festival’s history; on 17th December, 1843, when Charles Dickens’ book, “A Christmas Carol,” was published. The book was a reflection of Dickens’ unhappy childhood and the misery he observed in England amongst the poor .The protagonist of his story, Scrooge, was a mean, cold and harsh person. He symbolized winter, but with the magic of Christmas Scrooge gradually reformed himself .He was, to begin with, unkind to his assistant, Cratchit, whose child, Tim, suffered a sad death.  It was Christmas, through various mediums, that changed Scrooge, who increased Cratchit’s salary and began helping the poor. Dickens’ narratives on cruelty to children was defined  in’ Oliver Twist,’ ‘ David Copperfield’ and a child, Tiny Tim, in ‘ A Christmas Carol .’

 

These thought provoking words, of Dickens, had indeed blessed children in every corner of the world and spread an ethos of kindness.

 

“For it is good to be children sometimes and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child himself.”

 

Merry Christmas!

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December 1 2014

Marigold Wisden : Of The Lost Legion

By: Deepak Rikhye

                           “There’s a Legion that never was listed,

                            That carries no colours or crest…”

                            (From The Lost Legion: By Rudyard Kipling.)


Photograph of Marigold Wisden during the 1970's

 



The Club Frontal View

 

Two Oxygen Cylinders presented by the Everest team after the historic ascent of Mt Everest



The Cannon presented by The North Bengal Frontier Rifles in 1947

 

When we read about Kenya’s sprawling grasslands we think of wild life. We read books by famous Authors who visited Kenya to experience the wonders of a safari and photograph an unimaginable range of animals and birds. We are drawn into an almost phantasmagorical dream when reading Ernest Hemingway who first visited Kenya in 1933. His writing about a charming Dark Continent resulted in his first book, ‘Green Hills of Africa.’ Another Personality, Robert Ruark, arrived Kenya also in search of adventure. His first book was on a safari and the wealth of Africa’s wild life. But his second book was on a different topic altogether. He wrote on the Mau Mau rebellion; the book titled ‘Uhuru’, meant ‘freedom’ in Swahili. Ruark was not treated with suspicion, to begin with, during the rebellion. His trusted tracker, Kidogo was always with him. However, Ruark was eventually advised to return to the US. There was yet another Personality who lived on her farm in Kenya. A person who endured the Mau Mau rebellion longer than Ruark or anyone else, A person who witnessed the most invidious forms of strife. She risked death. Her name was Marigold Wisden. Marigold was in grave danger. She was all alone in Kenya as a foreigner with the rebellion at its peak. One of the worst incidents she remembered was when her loyal Maid divulged that there were plans to kidnap and ‘sell’ Marigold. That was the last straw. Marigold decided to leave immediately. The trauma did not quite end there. To save her 2 thoroughbred horses from further terror she had to euthanize them . Her parting words were: ‘Goodbye, Boy, goodbye Stroller.’

A traumatized Marigold arrived England, shaken and penniless. Her odyssey followed an incredible circle from that point onwards. Her Brother, Mickey Weatherall, worked with the Foreign Service and was based in Nepal. He arranged for Marigold to join him. The crucial question was what would Marigold like to do? There were no answers. Mickey and his Wife decided to take Marigold for a weekend to Darjeeling. She told me later that the visit was ‘for old times.’ She was born in Darjeeling. Her Father was an ICS Officer. They arrived Darjeeling that weekend and were guests at the Planter’s Club. The Club was without a Secretary. Members heard Marigold talking in fluent Nepalese to the Staff. ‘Who on earth is this person?’ They asked one another. ‘If she is undecided on her future, offer her the Secretary’s post.’ Thus began a new chapter in Marigold’s life. That was in 1968. She was determined to improve the Club’s fortunes. The 12 rooms which generated revenue were not being booked regularly by visitors. Many rooms were vacant. This illustrated a nadir in the club’s finances. Unperturbed, Marigold was accessible to all guests. She regaled visitors with her childhood memories of Darjeeling. Her friendliness drew people to her. Many would watch and listen in amazement to hear her talking in Nepalese to the staff at break neck speed! The same visitors would return to the plains of Calcutta and beyond to relate to their friends about an incredible Lady in Darjeeling named Marigold Wisden. It was one week end when Marigold related a wonderful development. A family who had booked 3 rooms for a few days asked if they could stay on for another week. As a booking this was unprecedented. Gradually the vicissitude of the Club changed. She advised many helpless guests on visiting the right shops. If they returned with an item for which they were overcharged it was returned.

 Mr.D’Souza assisted Marigold for both catering and administration. The a la carte menu the club offered was the best. Planters from Darjeeling and the Dooars would drive over on a Sunday when the Menu was special. Lunch and Supper began with soup and concluded with cheese and biscuits before coffee. The Menu card was displayed in a silver stand, in the shape of a shell. Stuffed animals adorn the walls of the dining hall, reminiscent of a past era. The main lounge has a series of pictures depicting a pig sticking hunt; painted by Snaffles.  The club bar has tankards that can hold an entire bottle of beer. The billiard room is ‘alive’ with photographs of past Members going back to 1900. The club was gifted to the Planting Community of Darjeeling by the Maharaja of Coochbehar in 1868. When The North Bengal Frontier Rifles was dissolved a cannon was gifted to the club. The entrance to the club has 2 oxygen cylinders used by the first Everest Team on their historic expedition. The frontal view rolls down in very gradual steps on which flower beds are maintained. A verandah is situated to enable guests to relax and view the majestic Himalayas. The wooden and concrete structure reflects a building of heritage value. Bay windows above the ‘quarter deck’ are prominent in their regal glory. The maintenance of this beautiful heritage is now the responsibility of Maj.JS Rana( Retd.),who is the present Secretary. A wise decision by the President of the  Planter’s Club, Mr.S.Gyalsten. An Army Officer would be an excellent choice to perpetuate an ethos of a club which is now a precious chapter of history.

Marigold Wisden continued with the club till 1983 .She worked for the club to the last day of her life. Due to a severe chest infection she was advised to slow down towards the end. Perhaps that was what she wanted. To be with her faithful apsos and terriers, within the precincts of the club she cared for so much and with the hills of Darjeeling around her. A charismatic Lady who was truly the most gracious person imaginable. Residents of Darjeeling still remember her. That gives credence to another line by Kipling : “Their glory shall not be blotted out .”
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November 12 2014

Introduction

A hawk cuckoo is a bird whose song is special to the many bird calls we heard in those lush green tea gardens of Assam. In my 26 years as a tea planter this was a bird whose call I always wanted to hear. At times he would surprise me with his ‘cavatina’ on a moonlit night. He would amuse me by suddenly stopping, hesitantly picking up and returning to a normal rhythm. Infact this stumbling on a note was similar to an actor who has forgotten his lines and is rescued by a prompter! A bird which is somewhat mysterious and can therefore be compared even to a leprechaun! I do hope you like both the ode and the poem .George Meston’s letter to the BNHS is on record .His ‘thundering shout’ frightening away a tiger is a legend that has continued over the passage of time . I was at Borpukhuri for 5 years.  These poems will finally be published as part of an Anthology for schools. The reference to Edward Lear’s Patron, the 13th Earl of Derby, is accurate. The Earl encouraged Lear to write in nonsense verse, a style which made Lear famous. In the third poem I am working on, I have composed a narrative on a project in Dibang which promises to be a disaster to the environment. I have expressed my sad thoughts through the lens of a hawk cuckoo, pheasant and the endangered white winged wood duck. I will be delighted to receive your comments on whatever I forward. How exhilarating to connect with you all.



                                                          The Hawk Cuckoo

                                                  Photographed by Uttam Pegu
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                      An Ode To The Brain Fever Bird.

   


                          A bird known as a hawk cuckoo by ornithologists,

The brain fever bird by others ;

Oft mistaken as a shikra ;

But therein prevails an enigma;

The shikra flies about with wild abandon , 

Seen hither , thither ,and yonder ; 

When do we see the brain fever bird ? 

A bird beneath a veil of mystery ; 

It has no home !

 

Their fledglings hatch in other bird’s nests ! 

The year was 1940 , indeed a long time ago , 

When a strange letter was posted from Assam, 

All the way to the BNHS in Bombay ;

 

George Meston’s writing was fraught with mystery ;

His words were stranger than fiction !

 

Hawk Cuckoo chicks had hatched in a crow’s nest ! 

“ The perplexed crows are feeding the poor orphans ,” wrote George , 

He wondered when the hawk cuckoo flew into that nest, 

No one from Borpukhuri Tea Estate dared hazard a guess , 

“Hazard a guess ?” The labour asked themselves incredulously, 

One person reminded another in a tremulous voice ,

“ Remember how Meston Sahib’s thundering shout frightened away a tiger ?”

 

And you suggest I hazard a guess on a ridiculous bird ?” 

George the wise tea planter he was , glowered at the nest , 

He pronounced in the same thundering voice , 

“ No more questions on brain fever birds !”

 

Hark ! On an overcast morning a persistent call is heard, 

Whose call is it ?

 

Yes ! It is the brain fever bird , 

Alas ! I hear the song but see not the bird , 

In exasperation I yell : when do we see the brain fever bird ?

 

A call not always heard on a full moon night , 

At dawn a harbinger for a new day ; 

Tea planters have interpreted the bird’s song thus : 

Make more pekoe ! Make more pekoe !Make more pekoe !

 

The cadence must flow in a series of 3 notes, 

Rising to a crescendo in a high pitch , 

Someone tell me where is this bird ?

 

Look ! Is he there in a koroi tree ?

 

Hush ! He is hidden in a bough’s foliage , 

The bird’s stillness gives credence to Shakespeare : 

“ Not a mouse stirs !”

 

He will fly to the next tree and we may see him , 

Remember there is work to be done , 

He has seen a nest in yonder tree, 

He must summon his mate , 

A new home beckons them , 

The nest belongs to a pair of whistling thrushes’, 

So what ? The whistling thrushes’ will whistle themselves silly!

 

Will the hawk cuckoo never make a nest ?Who knows? 

Oh ! My hawk cuckoo !I love thy song ! 

I yearn to see thee ! When will that ever be ?

 Your invisible form fills me with sorrow , 

Will you greet me on the morrow ?

 

No more shall I ask what you have always heard : 

When do we see the brain fever bird ?

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 A Mysterious Leprechaun

By:-Deepak Rikhye

My Christmas Tree at dawn flickered with many a light,

Its presence blessed my home through Christmas Eve’s night;

It was with divine thoughts that I stepped out to see,

All I could in this world of tea;

In the misty morn I went past bushes of tea, trees and scrub,

I heard the whistling of birds in yonder shrub,

Then cycled past a tree to hear an irritated owl’s hoot,

Who seemed to yell, ‘go away you brute!’

‘Owls are strange birds,’ I mumbled,

Edward Lear would imagine my thoughts jumbled!

Remember how he wrote on an owl and a pussy cat?

For his Patron the 13th Earl of Derby ?

Who thought the poem was ever so funny !

A thicket of trees was partly covered in mist,

I yearned for that tryst,

Between me and the hawk cuckoo bird,

A creature I often heard,

But never saw,

Of that I am sure;

Salim Ali wrote that this ashy grey bird is seldom seen in winter,

They are certainly around in summer;

A sudden movement caught my attention,

The bird had displayed its intention,

 A brain fever bird flying to show me,

That he was free!

In a flash he flew into the midst of a bough,

His mission was to and fro,

From trees, to insects and then to his nest,

Where he enjoyed a much needed rest,

He attentively listened to a whistling thrush,

Was the thrush in a rush ?

No! The hawk cuckoo was in all of a hush !

There was a reason for the bird’s reticence

And it had nothing to do with his innocence!

The whistling thrush owned the nest!

It was one of the very best!

The hawk cuckoo did not occupy it in jest!

The wise owl admonished the hawk cuckoo,

‘Make your own nest like the hoopoe!’

But without a nest what was he to do?

Hide in the new nest like a leprechaun?

To await the arrival of dawn?

But how can a hawk cuckoo be a leprechaun?

Leprechauns  live thousands of miles away,

A journey that would take many a day,

All the way to Ireland,

Pray, would he find a viand?

A viand in Ireland? Most unlikely !

The poor creature could go hungry;

Safer to live in Assam, fly about  and enjoy life,

Even eat a viand with his wife;

A leprechaun like a hawk cuckoo believes in hiding his treasure,

Which is oft beyond measure!

The hawk cuckoo hides himself

By not even possessing a delph!

He is the hidden treasure,

And sings with pleasure

His wonderous song at dawn,

To tell us that he is indeed Assam’s leprechaun.

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