Ali's Gems

This is Ali Zaman's page and we now have a picture of
Ali and his lovely wife Shireen--thanks for sharing
Editor May 15 2005


Through Ali's efforts we can see some of the amusing
and interesting stories ---
please click on the article line to go to the article

Bizarre Tea Tales
Stalwarts Someswar Sarma

My Three Years in Manipur  by Ethel St. Clair G (1891)
Tea and it's peculiarities

a spicy 200 year affair with Curry

Benefits of Paan
Story of Bichars
Can you help the Tea Board & ITA
Mariani memory
66 Years later
Ram Kumar Mahanta Kings Commisioned officer picture
The Singphos -discovery of Tea
Ram Kumar Mahan
Garden Schooling
Steamer Cruise party

Poaching for Bin Laden
Carron TE generosity for Lakshmi Oraon
Alan Wood shopping
Good Poem describing Assam
1962 Chinese Aggression
A Fascinating piece of History
Doom Dooma Club Centenary Speech
The Elephant boy of Tea


SEA WOLVES the true facts
Sea Wolves Part Two

The Lagden Gate
a Pani Gari

Request written 1905
Jhansi Ki Rani
a fishing story

Calcutta revisited

Footprints in the Bush

Maneater of Majulighur
Welcome to Tea
8.5Kg Mahseer
Flower Show  
Nepal Brandy

Naga Tea
Surma Valley ITA
Ode to Peria Dorai --Old Poem
Land of the Brave -an appreciation of the Gurkhas
Off the Rails
Fairlawn Hotel
Tea Tales from the Frontier
Tea Fest Jorhat 125th celebrations plans
Baptism of fire
Missing Tea leaves
How green was my Valley
Sorry Old Chap
To Tee with Authority

January 12 2012

J Thomas and Company

December 23 2011 


There were very few tea memsahibs till the first quarter of the 20th century as it was believed that planters like the terrain were wild. With rampant tropical diseases, limited medical facilities, lack of communication tea plantations were not a place which attracted ladies. There were, however, the odd ones who braved it all and married the odd planter. The situation changed slowly only after the First World War when there was a dearth of young men in Great Britain and ladies travelled out to India seeking a man to marry. The women who made the voyage to India, in search of husbands, included young war widows, were termed ‘the fishing fleet'. Some returned without a catch. With young ladies marrying old sahibs there were bound to be scandals! When a lady came to convey her condolences to a senior planter, for the bereavement of his wife, she never went back to her husband who in rank was lower than the widower. The husband in distress shot himself. The cause of death, for the insurance claim, was shown as malaria! It is believed that some of the bungalows where unnatural deaths took place are haunted.

There is a bungalow in Margherita where a planter died of black water fever. It is said that his visits take place when the doors and windows fly open on their own. Expatriates', who have experienced the phenomenon, advice talking to the spirit and gently informing him that he is no longer the occupant of the bungalow when he leaves in peace.

 A small statuette of Lord Buddha sits on a niche of the mantel piece of the drawing room of a chota bungalow in Boroi district of Assam. It is said that the bungalow was built from the salvaged material of the Bara bungalow when it was burnt down by the workers protesting the arrest of a colleague who having a grudge against the Manager killed him with an arrow. Occupants of the new bungalow, from the early Europeans, never felt at ease residing in it. This communicated to the Chinese Contractor, who constructed the plinth bungalow, was discussed with Buddhist priests who advised the installation of the statue. Lord Buddha's statue has been in the niche for over a hundred years and peace and tranquillity prevails in the bungalow.

 When Assam went through a period of lawlessness, in the recent past, the wife of a touring Engineer was alone in the bungalow. Her husband was on tour and the night chowkidar had not reported for duty. The lady, about to doze off heard the door of the dining room, adjacent to the bedroom, opening and voices. She stepped into the room and faced four young men who seeing her froze. They appeared transfixed on something behind the lady when all of a sudden they turned around and scooted down the steps. The lady looked behind her and saw a tall European young man, who gently touched her and said, ‘don't be afraid as I am guarding you for taking care of me.' The lady while getting the sprawling bungalow compound cleaned discovered a grave and had it attended to and cared for. It was the grave of the man who came to her protection.

By Ali Zaman


November 25 2011

This is a great history story created by Ali with the help of Someswar's Great Grandson
Mr Munin Sarma of a great man


           If the above pictures are too small for you to read,
CLICK HERE to open an Adobe Acrobat Version
                      so you can zoom in closer


June 29 2011
Thanks to Ali we can read the book mentioned by clicking the link at the bottom of this message

 Subject:My Three Years in Manipur  by Ethel St. Clair G (1891)

A fascinating account - very interesting reading (link below).............

The Nagas will drink anything, but the stronger it is the better they
are pleased. They have a beverage of their own which they make of
fermented rice water. They can drink great quantities of it with no
bad effect at first, but they get very drunk on it if they go beyond a
certain limit. They call this liquor Zu, and I have heard my husband
say he found it very refreshing after a long hot march; but I never
had the courage to touch it, as they offered it to one out of a bottle
that was never cleaned and that everybody drank from. I suppose to a
Naga there is nothing more delicious than roast dog washed down with
quarts of this Zu. Poor doggies! They are only kept to be eaten. They
are well fed while they are growing up, and then, when they are ready
to be eaten, they are starved for a day. At the end of this they are
given an enormous feed of rice and the remains of a former comrade,
perhaps, which they eat up ravenously; and then the head man of the
village gives the victim a blow on the head and converts him into
curry and rice.

On one occasion we were going up to our hill bungalow, and our village
Nagas, wishing to do us honour, erected a triumphal arch at the
entrance to our garden. Fortunately I looked up at it before going
under, and saw, to my horror, the head of a dog, which had just been
cut off, hanging in the centre of the erection, whilst his four paws
and tail graced the sides, and the whole archway was so low that I
should have touched the top of it as I rode under. I dismounted,
however, and walked through.


 May 28 2011

   Tea and it's Peculiarities

To a budding planter regardless of his background and prowess of his linguistic skill the customs ( dastoors ) and tea terminology, peculiar to the trade, can be confusing and hilarious.

Here are true episodes;

ACTING  --a period when an Assistant officiates for a Manager

The Manager , on furlough, called on the Acting Manager's fiancée. Eager to give her news of the Estate the gentleman mentioned that her fiancée was doing a good acting. The hard working man was surprised to receive a letter from his betrothed mentioning that she was unaware of his flare for dramatics

COW PEA-a green crop grown between the rows of young tea for shade and the improvement of soil status

The manager on kamjari picked up the young assistant, an enthusiastic type. The Bara Sahib, inspecting the property,  imparted the finer points of the trade to the junior. Driving through the young tea he mumbled that the tea would do well under cowpea.  Next day he threw a fit, seeing cattle grazing in the area. Queries revealed that it was the natun sahib's hokum. Confronted the youngster explained that it was terribly difficult collecting cows urine. By allowing them to graze they were carrying out the Manager's order without a hassle

SIKKINS- A tea terminology not found in any dictionary, denoting a plate of small eats served with drinks

They were the first two Indian tea proprietors admitted as permanent members of the Club. Not too familiar withtea terms they received the club chit informing members to bring a plate of sikkins for the cinema night. Members were delighted to have  a dozen roast murgis served by the new members

Additional information on this subject by Ali Zaman

In an old old article entitled PECULARITIES the meaning of SIKKINS was
not given as no one knew the origin. Thanks to the efforts of Roy
Church and Shona Patel we now know how the word, only heard in

"Sikkins" goes back to pre-Raj days when many states of India had
their own currency. Private soldiers on campaign inevitably collected
lots of 'foreign' small change (sicca) that tended to be difficult to
spend and was usually used to buy small quantities of sweets and
savouries. Remember that many ex soldiers came to tea.

FLUSH- the periodic growth of tea termed as a flush

He was the pucca brown sahib- with cravat, pipe smoking, strict with everyone, especially the assistants. His only love and subject of discussion was tea. Managerial staff had to inspect the days plucking prior to morning office, and report on leaf growth etc. The assistant freshly arrived from the Dooars, was asked
"How is the flush this morning ?  " The puzzled assistant thinking that the Bara Sahib had referred to the toilet, in need of repairs, replied , "it worked"

LUNGI SUIT- matching kurta and lungi, an unisex dress, in vogue for decades back

The invitation to the London Director's Cocktail Party, at the Bara Bungalow, specified lounge suit. The new assistant, not too conversant with the Queen's English, was told to be properly dressed and on time. When the senior assistant drove in to pick up the junior he was horrified to see the recruit in a printed lungi and matching kurta.To the youngster
-L-O-U-N-G-E was lungi.

NAGA HABI- in tea parlance, a weed detrimental to tea.

Bara Sahib said, "Get rid of the Nagi habi"  The new assistant had heard about Nagas but habi was totally alien to him. Discussing the work programme with the JB he mentioned about Bara Sahib wanting the Naga out. The staff member was totally confused  with the chota sahib, Nagas did visit the estate during the cold weather for jungle clearance  and firewood cutting. But it being the middle of summer there was not a tribal in sight barring the Naga nurse and Bara sahib was fond of her !!!

And finally ....P.A. Bayley (an expatriate) who left Assam in '84 adds the Sleeping Dictionary

In the old days new assistants arriving from the UK were told that their first duty was to learn the local colloquial Hindusthani and some were given a book by their Manager  called "Memsahibs Hindusthani" which they studied with the hope that , after 6 months, they qualified for a Bonus of Rs.500/-

However some Assistants, who had a liberal manager, were encouraged to arrange for a Bedside Dictionary which required them to go out to where the "Chukri Challan" were working and choose the most attractive one they could find. Her duties from then on were to educate the ignorant assistant on all matters!!!! Those were the days !!!!

September 3 2010

A spicy 200-year affair: Curry and why we love it

By Alun Palmer25/06/2010 Curry (Pic:PA)

The tingling of the taste buds, the watering of the eyes - it's almost like being in love.
And Britain's passionate affair with the curry has hit a 200-year ­landmark.
In 1810 a surgeon from the army of the British East India company opened the Hindoostane Coffee House in George Street, central London.
The venture was not a success but, its founder, Sake Dean Mahomed, unwittingly became the Cupid who started Britain's 200-year love affair with sub-continental cuisine.
The first Indian restaurant to ring up profits was the Veeraswamy, opened by Anglo-Indian Edward Palmer at the British Empire ­Exhibition of 1924.
It was so popular that he moved it to Regent Street where to this day it is frequently fully booked.
By the start of the Second World War in 1939, there were six curry houses in Britain. Six years later, Indians arriving to help rebuild London started in earnest the growth of the nation's favourite restaurants.
The migrant workers established cafes and canteens to feed thems and their families. But curious natives soon discovered the spicy food which was a revelation compared with bland, rationed British food.
From these cafes grew a national obsession with the likes of chicken tikka massala, naan bread, Bombay potatoes and lamb pasanda, spelled variously around the land.
By 1982 there were 3,500 curry restaurants in Britain. Today there are 12,000. More than 80% are run not by Indians but by Bangladeshis.
Two-thirds of our eating out is in curry restaurants, where we spend £5million a day and eat 205 million poppadoms (or papadums - most items of Indian cuisine have variations on their name) every year.
And London has more Indian restaurants than either Mumbai or Delhi.
The largest Indian restaurant in the world is the Aakash in Cleckheaton, West Yorks.
The former Providence Place United Reformed Church, built in the 1850s, can feed 750 people at the same sitting.
The biggest naan bread was made for the 1999 Kingfisher National Day by the Bengal Brasserie restaurant, in Hither Green, South East London.
It measured two inches thick, 66cm (26in) long and 58cm (23in) wide, and weighed 4kg (8lb 12oz).
Pat Chapman, who runs the 45,000-member Curry Club, said: "Curry was something the working man had never seen and it was at a price that everyone could afford.
"It tasted great, was cheap and was mildly addictive. When it first started it catered for people back from the Raj who had developed this peculiar taste for the exotic dish.
"It didn't really catch on as it was only old Indian hands who liked it. My mother came back from India in 1933 and she used to go to ­Veeraswamy every week as she loved curries so much.
"Then in the 50s a lot of Bengalis who worked on the docks were made redundant and opened up restaurants. To keep costs down they kept off the high streets but to make up for it they brought in red flock wallpaper and dinner-jacketed waiters to make it seem more posh."
Many of the dishes we know and love would be unrecognisable in India. Chicken tikka masala was created in Britain when a chef added tomato and onion paste to grilled chicken. The dish was unknown in India until the 90s when British companies began exporting it.
Many other dishes considered traditional Indian staples are also not authentic. "Ninety-five per cent of Indians don't know what a vindaloo, jalfrezi or a madras curry is," says cookery writer Camellia Panjabi.
Earlier this year four master chefs from Indian and Bangladeshi restaurants in Britain travelled to Kolkata.
They showcased the best of British curries, such as chicken tikka masala and baltis, to appreciative diners.
Even the word curry can't be traced back to the India or its neighbours.
The word was coined by the British in India and has no direct translation into any of the sub-continent's 15 or so languages.
Many Indians feel it demeans their food and prefer to use other words to describe each dish.
What's more, one of the earliest known recipes for meat in a spicy sauce, dating from 1700BC, appeared on tablets found near Babylon in Mesopotamia - what is now Iraq.
Taj Mahal is the most popular name in Britain for an Indian restaurant. Adrian Davey, managing director of Cobra beer, said: "We did a survey that found Bromley - not Brick Lane or Bradford - had the most Indian restaurants per capita, with one curry houses for every 853 residents.
"And six of the top 10 came from the south."
Pat Chapman believes Britain's love affair with curries could not be more intense. He said: "We have seen a tailing off of restaurant openings so we may have hit a peak.
"Before curries we didn't really know international food. But it helped pave the way for many other cuisines which people like exploring.
"It has become a deep-rooted part of Britain and its culture."
Nine years ago, the late Robin Cook suggested that chicken tikka masala had become the national dish.
Perhaps now is the time to make that official. BON APPETIT

December 24 2009
An amusing memory-- thanks to Ali Zaman


Regardless of any situation Tea Planters maintain their routine life, at work and play. It was the height of the insurgency in Assam, with Army operations in full swing, but there was never a question in cancelling the Hogmanay Night. A Manager accompanied by his wife, driving back from the Club, after ushering in the New Year, was barely able to keep his eyes open. It was Memsahib's constant goading which kept the car on the road and the Sahib awake. The car meandered along when suddenly the lady screamed STOP! The brakes slammed and the car halted, barely missing the camouflaged soldiers on patrolling duty. The patrol was puzzled when Burra Sahib, asked to produce his driving licence, put his hand into the glove compartment, grabbed whatever he could and put it into their waiting hands - it turned out to be the Pruning Programme.

By Ali Zaman

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December 14 2009
We have to thank Ali for this memory plus teaching us the benefits of Paan and being able to see a regal and beautiful Burri Mem


Among the early Indian ladies in tea was Binu Huq, wife of Ziaul Huq who joined tea in the 50's.  The life style was British, but hailing from a tea background, where both grandfathers were plantation owners, she mastered the dastoors quickly and soon became an efficient tea mem. However, an addiction she was unable to refrain from was paan chewing, termed an obnoxious native habit. Visiting the club, as a chota mem, she consumed her paans in a surreptitious manner but as a Bara mem, she no longer was discreet; she openly carried her ‘paandaan', a family heirloom, readily offering mitha patties, with élan, to those who requested. Among the  receiver's were children, both European and Indian, who sent their requests for Binu Aunties paans through the bearer. Those were the days when baba logs were not seen at the bar and lounge.



The lady with her paandaan

J.P.W. Leitch, the last of the expatriate Superintendents, once queried, "What pleasure do you derive from your paans"? Binu answered, "The same satisfaction you derive from your drinks John, perhaps a little more"!

She made him listen to the virtues of the paan; the leaf, along with the kattha (khoyer) helped digestion, the dry betel nut, suphari, was antidote against hookworms, the lime, which was calcium, was an important element for the body. She mentioned the other qualities of the paan, protection to gums, prevention of cavities, cleansing of the palate and a mouth freshener. He was surprised to learn that the consumption of areca nut, in raw form termed tamul,       caused a slight increase in body temperature, which acted as an antidote against rheumatism in the damp climate of the tea districts, where pluckers got frequently drenched. The Superintendent listened with rapt attention and thanked her for educating him on a subject, which he had all along abhorred.  Curiosity got the better of him, being unable to quell the urge to taste a paan he requested her for one. She readily obliged, adding an extra pinch of her quality zarda, which gave solace to the mind and effects similar to but different from alcohol!

The sahib's face turned crimson but glowed with satisfaction as he slowly chewed away. He finally declared that the Indian pan, costing far less than the Scottish waters indeed had its virtues; it gave satisfaction with a kick but without intoxication!

John, from his first paan, acquired a taste for it. On club nights, he always took from Binu, ‘a kick for the road'!


Paandaan- container for paan and condiments

Mitha patties- sweet paans

Katha (khoyer)-a liquid paste made from a tree bark

Zarda-edible tobacco leaf

Ali Zaman
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October 28 2009
We thank Ali for this story of how the important jobs of  Managers was  Bichars     

Ask any old timer as to what he enjoyed most in tea; a majority will answer attending the ‘bichar'. 

In the pioneering days of tea, the limited Government courts and officials were unable to attend to public disputes, dispense justice and arbitrate on matters of strife. The British Government appointed Managers as Honorary Magistrates, over defined boundaries, to settle issues. With improvement in communication and spread of Government administration, to far-flung regions, the planters' authority slowly declined and became confined to individual estates. However, settlement of garden grievances on bichar days, ranging from theft of a murgi to coveting the neighbour's wife, was not always an easy matter. It required the judgement of Solomon to deliver instant justice to end disputes; any lingering would diminish the mai baap concept of the sahib. The verdict went a long way in enhancing the reputation of the Manager.

An expatriate decided to terminate his contract with the Company and return to Blighty. The wife and children left leaving the sahib to follow in a few months time. The poor soul became lonely; as men do tend to stray, so did our mistri sahib. He fell for the charms of an ebony beauty from the sorting room.

The matter soon exposed, was not condoned. Agitated workers demanded a bichar and that too in the labour lines on the payday. Against the advice of his colleagues, the sahib decided to attend, and entered the workers colony alone. On his appearance the kangaroo court became vociferous, demanding a huge sum as compensation for the wrong done. Edged on by the leaders, silently calculating their share of the coming windfall, the crowd was menacing.  The sahib remained silent allowing the mob to rent and rave. At last, he arose and said that he was sorry for keeping the workers engaged on a matter concerning him when they should be relaxing and in a happy mood. He announced, that the discussion, being between friends, the matter be discussed  in a relaxed manner and invited them to have a drink on him. At the mention of free drinks the local hooch immediately appeared. The quick rounds had an effect, incapacitating many into a speechless stupor. Surveying the scene the sahib produced his hip flask and kept them company. 

The arguments, on a lower decibel, continued for a while until the sorting sirdar announced that it was not the sahib's fault. It was the memsahib's fault for leaving the poor man lonely and forlorn. They all agreed that on matters of the heart it is the women who are to blame. The bichar ended and a merry bunch escorted their sahib back to the bungalow.

NB: The sorting sirdar, instrumental for conclusion of the bichar, received his baksheesh before sahib's departure.   By Ali Zaman

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 May 31 2009
The Tea Board of India & ITA are documenting tea heritage covering old bungalows, factories, early machinery, old tea sections etc. Any koi hai  having  photographs, family  history of estates, anecdotes etc are welcome to get them published-Please contact Ali Zaman whose e-mail is

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An amusing reminisce of Mariani
Thanks to Ali Zaman for supplying the fun memory

August 4 2008

Alan Wood joined Andrew Yule in the early 60's and was posted at Hoolungooriee TE, of Mariani district. The old Club, near the Station, had burnt down and the new Club was under construction. For the interim period a temporary shed with thatched roof and mud walls served as the club, with no decline in attendance or bar sales. To this temporary shelter some gallant assistants escorted the Air Hostesses, attending the Jorhat Races, for a Mariani night.

 Dancing started with Alan, a talented guitarist with a melodious voice, providing the music, both live and recorded. The evening progressed well but as the male escorts held onto their glamorous partners not allowing others to get close, leave alone dance, resentment was expressed. The deprived ones tried to start a tag dance but to no avail; the Air Hostesses were not freed. Arguments started, tempers frayed and finally it was fisticuffs.

The fight intensified, some not knowing who they were hitting, Alan, taking a neutral stand, sheltered in a corner guarding himself and his guitar. However, he ensured that he got a ring side view of the fight where the action was better than any wild west movie. It was mayhem, with no holds barred punches were exchanged and when
 a few went sailing through the mud walls, nearly bringing the roof down, order was restored. The Club did empty out but the veterans still had that one for the road!!

The new Club was soon inaugurated and it swung from the start. On a Saturday evening the gaiety was building up when Alan, a contentious worker, left to start the factory. As manufacture closed early on Sunday morning the mistri sahib returned to the Club where, it appeared, that a few had never left from the evening before. The 
rounds of beer and pink gins flowed and towards the evening a suggestion to visit Jorhat Club was made. The stalwarts piled into Alan's car, some carrying their drinks. At Jorhat more rounds were consumed but sans Air Hostesses it was a ‘sober' night.

Next day, a pink gin glass was retrieved from Alan's vehicle. The receptacle, same vintage as the present Mariani Club, Alan guards still today in his beautiful home in Shillong. When he sits in a corner sipping from his prize possession, and his grin widens, one knows that his thoughts are back to the Mariani days.

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 Ali Zaman
July 2008
and below is the evidence--Alan still has his prized possession

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May 29 2008

Thanks to Ali --
we all get to share this touching remembrance of Cyril Lambert Indol, the WW2 veteran who died in Tinsukia in 1942 and his family are helping Dinjan IP School

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February  4  2008
We are indebted to Ali Zaman for finding this information 
which may be a reason for challenging the history books

DISCOVERY OF TEA (ASSAM) - THE SINGPHOS   The descendents of Bom Bessa Gaum, Chief of the Singpho clan, who  showed native tea to Charles Alexander Bruce resides in Bessa Gaon,  in Ledo Assam. The writer recently met the present chief, Rajkumar Bisa  Nong Singpho,  the great grand son of Bom Bessa Gaum.

This is a recent photograph of Rajkumar Bisa Nong Singpho,              
the great grand son of Bom Bessa Gaum.

The Singphos were a major tribe of Upper Burma and their territory once  extended from Arunachal (NEFA) into Assam, beyond Jorhat, and covered  large tracts in northern Burma. When  the East India Company, by the treaty  of Yandabo, 1826, annexed Upper Burma to Assam, the Company made  a similar treaty with the tribal chiefs of the different clans, at Sadiya.  The  territorial expansion was made primarily for propagation of tea.  The Singpho's knew the art of tea making and the first European to study  their method was William Griffith FLS Esq.  The Singpho method of preparing tea - only young tea leaves were used which were semi roasted in a large iron vessel  - the leaf was stirred and rolled in the hands during roasting. When duly roasted they were exposed to the sun for three days, some to the dew and alternately to the sun. It was finally packed in bamboo chungas into which it was tightly rammed. The tea as found by Griffith was called ‘Ban Fhullup' or jungle tea, as recorded in the Private Journals of William Griffith, who was on an Assam Deputation for examination of the plant. Griffith also noticed that tea leaves were eaten as a vegetable food prepared in mustard oil and garlic. A similar salad recipe in Burma, called ‘Letpet', promised martial bliss. Here the leaves were boiled for several months for fermentation. The resuscitated leaves were chopped and mixed with oil, garlic, fried shrimps, fruits and dried coconut and served to newly wed.  When tea cultivation started on Singpho land the East India Company paid a land rent to the Chief.  Irritated over a delay in receiving payment Bessa Gaum hacked off some newly planted tea, little realising that his destructive act actually helped the industry. The cut plants resurrected and put on vigorous growth, this initiated pruning. To this day the estate where Bessa Gaum cut the plants bears the nomenclature ‘Bessakopie" (hacked by Bessa).  The man who introduced Charles Alexander Bruce to Bessa Gaum was  Maniram Dutta Borbhandar Barua, the first native tea planter of India.  The pioneer accused of plotting against the British, in the uprisings of 1857,  was tried and sentenced to death by hanging, carried out in Jorhat jail on 26thFebruary 1858.   Maniram's execution caused great resentment inAssam, and sympathisers,  which included Bessa Gaum, were taken to task. Bessa Gaum, who was on a Company pension of Rs 50/- per men sum, was arrested when a Col. Write was killed on Singpho land. The tribal chief, kept in Jorhat jail was sentenced to life imprisonment and transported to the Andaman, where the unsung hero of tea, died a prisoner of the Cellular Jail.  NB: During WW II when the American Forces, under the Command of General ‘Vinegar Joe Stilwell, operated from Ledo the Singphos rendered valuable support service. In appreciation for the help received the US Government settled members of the community in California, where they still exist.  

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April 1 2008  
Ali Zaman has very kindly supplied a correction to his story shown below on  this page saying

At long last Ram Kumar Mahanta's photograph as a Kings Commissioned Officer with 18th 
Royal Garwhal Rifles.There is a slight change in the story I gave. Mahanta cycled to 
Rangoon, sent his report and went on to  USA visiting China, Japan, Phillipnes and
 Hawaii. When WWII broke out he was in London and immediately applied for war 
service.He was appointed as an instructor in first aid in the London A.R.P. organisation 
before sailing for India

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January 26 2008  

We thank Ali Zaman for sharing this special story on a brave man
                  Ram Kumar Mahanta
Ram Kumar Mahanta showed leadership qualities from a young age and being 
adventurous by nature was an active member of the Boys Scouts during his school
days in Jorhat. He was selected to attend a World Jamboree of Scouts in Holland,
prior to WWII. Lacking the funds for travel he approached the Deputy Commissioner
of Jorhat, an Englishman, for sponshirship.
Mahanta's direct approach and mannerism impressed the Commissioner. The
gentleman quizzed Mahanta for long before  agreeing to sponsor the young man,
but set a condition. Mahanta  had to prove his mettle by travelling to Rangoon by
cycle, via Kohima,  Imphal and Mandalay, maintaining a detailed account of his
journey, especially road conditions. Surface communication was lacking, in  those
days, as roadways were limited.

Travel was mostly by foot or  cycling over paths through jungles and paddy fields,
some in hostile  territory. Mahanta fully realised the conditions he would be encountering
but nothing deterred the young man from taking on the adventure.  He started
on his journey and was away for a while, whereabouts not known.  But the adventurer,
after an arduous journey, did return from Rangoon,  mission accomplished. The report,
as required by the Deputy Commissioner,  was presented and Mahanta was rewarded
with his trip to the World Jamboree. Unknowingly the young man worked for British
Intelligence who wanted information on the possibilities of overland travel from
Rangoon to India. The route which Mahanta traversed on was the same used by the
Japanese Forces in WWII when they swept into India from Burma and were halted
at the Battle of Kohima. The vanguard of the Japanese Army used cycles.
At the start of WWII Mahanta enrolled in the armed forces and was in the 1st batch
of Officers to be commissioned in the Assam Regiment. He saw action in the Burma
Front and was selected for operations with the Chindits, who fought behind the
Japanese lines. At the termination of the War he joined the Indian Army Intelligence
Core of Independent India. The work kept him away from his family stationed in
Shillong. Coming home on furlough he realised that by his absence from the family
he was a stranger to his children and that his when he decided to join tea. Mahanta
was employed by Jardine Henderson and was posted in  Tharkubari district. He became
Manager of Nya Gogra, in Boroi district, where I, posted at Gohpur, was his next door
neighbour in 1975/76.  Mahanta hardly spoke of his war experience but with the
camaraderie of tea, especially at Behali Club, where the last of the British war veterans,
and there were many in tea, existed, he would on occasion's mention of his days with the
Chindits, his toughest assignments. Surrounded by the Japanese and rations being
exhausted he once survived by boiling his leather boots and chewing on it. 

Mr & Mrs Mahanta on retirement in 1977 returned to Jorhat and took  to farming
different cash crops and established a very successful tea  seed bari.
The Mahantas were a popular couple well liked by the neighbours and the personnel
they employed. But mans greed knows no bounds!! Two workers employed by the
Mahantas robbed and killed them. An eye witness to the gruesome act was their
grand son who they hid under the bed. The authorities were able to apprehend the
culprits on the report of the grandson who informed that his grand father,
like a true soldier, went down fighting.  Ali Zaman
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October 19 2007

We occasionally hear of some unpleasant things happening in N.E. India 
but here is a very encouraging story--the daughter of one 
of the tea labour force pedalling off to school in her school uniform at Gangaram T.E. Dooars
. Our thanks to Ali Zaman for obtaining this photograph for us


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A Happy group ready for the cruise--names below

left to Right Walza Mathew - Goodricke,  Mamen(Mat)Mathew - 
"Dipali Saha -Williamson Magor (McLeod Russel) (lady in front)  Dilip Saha -   Williamson Magor 
(McLeod Russel)
   Ali Zaman  -   Williamson Magor
Enu Bhattacharya - Gillanders & Assam Frontier
Chatterjee (Chat)- Williamson Magor (Assam Co)    Shukla Sen - Tata Tea (James Finlay)
Subir Ray - Williamson Magor(Assam Co)    Rebony Ray - Williamson Magor(Assam Co         
Nazma Chatterjee - Williamson Magor (Assam Co)
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May6 2007  
Ali has kindly sent us the copy from Todays "Telegraph" from  Calcutta--it is not encouraging but please read on  --Editor

Poaching for bin Laden, in Kaziranga

London  May 5
Poachers are hunting down animals in Kazaranga National Park in Assam not for profit, as 
happened in the past,but to raise substantial funds for
militant groups linked to al Qaida, 
according to a disturbing report published today.

Two Guardian reporters, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, penetrated the thick forests in 
Assam and spoke to some of the alleged poachers who said they were taking orders from
 militants and mosque leaders based across the border in Bangladesh.

A newborn rhino with it's mother at the Kazaranga Park

The report, headlined "Poaching for Bin Laden", said that "in the jungles of India, local animal
 trappers have a new breed of client: Islamic militants using the trade in rare wildlife to raise 
funds for their cause".

Kaziranga has started attracting many more tourists since the national park, founded by Lord 
Curzon at the behest of his wife, celebrated its centenary in 2005

As The Telegraph reported at the time, Lord Ravensdale, then 82 and grandson of Lord Curzon, 
India's Viceroy from 1898 to 1905, attended the function with his wife, Verity.The Guardian
pointed out that "Kaziranga - 429 sq km of forest, sandbanks and grassland - was recognised 
by Unesco in 1985 as a world heritage site. Tourists come in their thousands to glimpse some 
of the 480 species of bird, 34 kinds of mammal and 42 varieties of fish, many rare, endangered 
or near extinct, that inhabit this remote jungle."

But the Guardian also warned: "In recent times, however, the wildlife has attracted a new kind 
of visitor. According to India's security services, police, intelligence analysts, local traders and 
forestry officials, Islamic militants affiliated to al Qaida are sponsoring poaching in the reserve |
for profit. These groups have established bases in the formerly moderate enclave of Bangladesh 
and have agents operating all along the country's porous 2,500-mile border with India."

It also said: "They have gone into business with local animal trappers and organised crime 
syndicates around Kaziranga in a quest for horns, ivory, pelts and other animal products with 
which to raise ‘under the wire' funds that they can move around the world invisibly. A shipment 
worth £2.8m was recently intercepted by UK customs."

The two intrepid reporters followed a complex and dangerous trail, which took them to the 
alleged poachers and the various agents and middlemen involved. They concluded that 
"radical Islamists from Bangladesh have done what conservationists had long predicted and 
moved in on the endangered species racket".

The gangs hired to trap and kill in Kaziranga are said by forestry staff to camp on the vast
 sand bars created by the flow of the Brahmaputra river. Initially, when crossing the river,
 the reporters were threatened by "people who look more like Saharan Touaregs than 
Assamese" and who screamed and waved hunting rifles.

One man, with "an unidentifiable animal claw" in his pocket, told the reporters: "We are 
for hire."

The man explained how the trade was coordinated by agents across Assam - "Golaghat,
Tezpur, Kamrup, Nagaon, these are the main places for agents."They answered to a boss 
based in Dimapur in neighbouring Nagaland - "but everything tends to collect and move 
through Siliguri".

Asked who were the masters, one replied: "Bangladeshis dominate the network now."

The trail led to nearby Tezpur, where the wildlife trade agent turned out to be a rich local
 jeweller, but he was tight-lipped and referred the reporters to his boss in another town. 
This boss, who ran a local hotel, referred the reporters to an even bigger boss in Siliguri.

And the latter, when the reporters finally confronted him, admitted he was a haulier: "I 
move a lot of everything: elephant ivory, cat skins, musk deer, bear gall bladders, rhino 
horn, live leopard cubs that are sent to Nepal, Burma and then into Thailand. The prices 
we pay are so low, the profit margins are healthy."

The wildlife trade in Siliguri took off in 1983, he said, when old trafficking networks in
 Calcutta were effectively shut down by the police.

The business was now masterminded from Bangladesh, confirmed the man: "Religious 
men hold the purse strings now."It all began two years ago.

The haulier disclosed: "A friend in common at a local mosque (in West Bengal) passed 
me a message saying representatives working for two militia groups in Bangladesh 
wanted a meet in a madarsa in Siliguri."

Three of those who claimed to have been at the meeting two years ago said they knew 
exactly whom the agents worked for in Bangladesh: al Mujahideen, an obscure jihadist 
umbrella organisation governing a panoply of militant groups that had sprung up in 
Bangladesh in recent years.

Two in particular, both banned by the Bangladeshi government, were in need of money 
and "eager to get into the racket". One was Harkat-ul Jihad-al Islami, allegedly linked to 
al Qaida; the second was Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, whose leader, Shaikh
 Abdur Rahman, had joined Osama bin Laden's World Islamic Front for the Jihad Against 
the Jews and the Crusaders in 1998.

The latter was captured in Bangladesh and in March was hanged for the killing of two 
Bangladeshi judges and for nationwide bombings in 2005.

Another Siliguri trader told the Guardian: "This was a Chinese business but now it's 
Bangladesh's business. It's become God's work. And, as you know, the Prophet, peace 
be upon his head, is irresistible."

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August 16 2006
Good poem describing Assam , 
By an English poet

Alex Cleland was born and brought up in India, and was a tea planter. He
has written a book of poems called 'In Sunlight and In Shadow'. Here is
a poem about Mr Cleland's memories of Assam:


In the vast and fertile valley of Assam
Where the Ahom kings held sway,
The Brahmaputra River burst its dam,
And annually swept their crops away.

Wild head hunting Nagas, once circumvent
Were unruly, and no longer kept at bay
And the dread Anopholese mosquito's intent
Multiplied, spreading malaria and decay.

Now in that Ahom dynasty, fate decreed a change,
As journeying round the squally southern sea
The first tea planter, with his China Clipper came,
Loaded with a highly prized cargo of tea.

Carefully carrying seed and stock
Of that plant'Camelia Sinensis',
From Canton to Calcutta!s dock
To be shipped up river in parenthesis,

To float to Pandu, via Neamatti Ghat,
Across to Tezpur's northern bank
Also to Doom Dooma and the Sadya frontier tract
And on to Lakhimpur's most eastern flank;

The cultivation of tea went forging ahead.
Converting jungle into rich plantation,
And right across all borders duly spread.
By removing rank and rotting vegetation,

Constructing factories and hospitals and schools,
In exchange for rewarding profit and medication,
To draining old malarial infested pools
By careful research and scientific propagation.

To recruiting labour with their tools
From distant Orissa and Behar.
And placing clerks on office stools
From nearby Bengal and Alipur-Duar.

Now all went well for a while
As British housewives across the sea
Welcomed their 'cuppas' with a smile,
And put the kettle on to make more tea.

But not for very long, as greed
Was just around the comer stile,
And with the grasping hand of covet need
Came also the tentacles, of avarice and guile.

Here enters merciless cut-throat competition
From thug city businessmen of jaded reputation;
Submitting writs and endless petition
To improve their lot and falsify position.

By reducing the salaries of staff in the east
And enhancing their own with prodigious leap,
Tbus raising the price by sixpence at least
Of a pound of tea that once was cheap.

The auctioneers have made it clear
That only those who outbid the bidder
At London's Mincing Lane, or Calcutta!s Dalhousie Square,
May expect to gain the cup that cheers.

That is the rigid rule in England and India
And it's not on the wane I fear!

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July 30 2006


1962 Chinese Aggression   - the ladies and children had been evacuated from Assam, the men left administering the properties were at a loose end. With no news whatsoever of their faith to be a few burras, of a certain district, gathered in the evenings to exchange the news and future plans, which got grimmer by the day. No improvement was in sight and it appeared that their tea careers would end, depression set in. The drowning of sun downers only added to their woes and anxiety; some had to be comforted to avoid a nervous breakdown. The nurse of a certain hospital renowned for her comforting services rather than her medical prowess was sent for. The depressed members, majority approaching retirement age, under great tension and perhaps the copious consumption of alcohol, with no memsahib to say dinner is served,  were unable to perform well; secrets which the lady of the night divulged to her younger clients, the chota sahibs, when normalcy returned.  
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 July 8 2006
A Fascinating piece of History

Ali tells us that the photograph of the marble slab has been 
published before but the story behind it is most interesting. 
He recently stayed with R.R.Pathak, who was Manager Namsang, 
and who narrated the history behind the marble slab. Pathak 
informed Ali  that the 256 plants, handed over  by Superintendent R.Robinson, still receives meticulous care and still exists.


The inscription on the slab reads


Marble slab installed on 01/01/1937, to commemorate 
the centenary of Namsang.

In 1972 M/s Sheoparshad Bhagwat Parshad of Dehra Doon (of Durrung T.E.)purchased the property from the original owners, Jhanzie Tea Association. 

At the time of handing over the estate Mr R. Robinson, the last Superintendent of the Company, showed the new owners  256 plants from the original section No 1, 
planted in 1834, still existing and requested preservation, which continues after 173 years.

Photograph of the slab with Mr R.R.Pathak (Manager 1976 to 1984)

06/07/06                                                               Ali N.Zaman.
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June 10 2006
We are very grateful to Ali Zaman who at the time was Vice Chairman of the ABITA for allowing us to show  a copy of the speech he gave  at the celebrations for the Centenary celebrations of the Doom Dooma Club in 1995

Speech delivered by A.N.Zaman, Vice Chairman ABITA, on the occasion of the Centenary Celebrations of Dooma Dooma Club - 24/12/95.

Honourable Chief Guest, Mr Chairman, members of the Club Committee, ladies and gentlemen.

The pioneers of Assam tea, the British koi hais, who followed the adage ‘all work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy' built their beautiful clubs, very much a British institute, in the tea districts where one could meet, relax and discuss ones problems.

You ask any old timer and he will confirm that a good part of his tea knowledge was acquired at the Club Bar.

With the advent of the first railway in Assam, the Dibru - Sadiya Railway, in 1882 and opening of rail traffic to Doom Dooma, on 2nd May 1884, the requirement to have transit facility near the station became necessary. This was the start of Doom Dooma Club.

The Club became the focal point for all activities and for the first time, in this part of the world, tennis, polo, cricket, rugby, football and, after WW II, when more Indians joined the covenanted ranks of tea, hockey was seen. Even when the Club moved to its new premises the old field was utilised well into the 70's for games and many of us here, this evening, have played soccer there. When telephones were installed in Doom Dooma in the 40's there was a gherao at Bordubi Office. A ring to the Club, where a rugby match was in progress, had all the players rushing off to Bordubi. The gherao, with the application of rugger tackles, was lifted bodily.

The Great Assam Earthquake, which caused maximum damage in Doom Dooma, had no effect on planters as far as the club was concerned, it kept functioning. Perhaps it served its purpose to the maximum for it was hard work repairing the damage ensuring of no production loss at the height of the season. The calamity occurred on the night of 15th August 1950.

In the late 50's Doom Dooma town started developing and old planters mentioned of locals encroaching onto the clubs periphery, making the neighbourhood congested and noisy. However, you ask any old resident of the town and he will inform that the sahibs became rowdy, especially on Club nights, when the roof would nearly take off.

Satya Babu, well known to many of us, informs that when the approach road on both sides of the old bridge, between Tilla Bungalow and the Police Station, disappeared in the quake planters traversed the distance on foot to get to the Club, regardless of weather or road conditions. On the return journey the racket created by the sahibs, and a few memsahibs, nearly drowned the sound of Satya Babu's flourmill. With the town crowding around the club a decision to move out of the municipal area was taken.

Mr G.W.F.Healey, who retired in the 70's, was on the site selection committee for the new club. The panel of members pondered over maps of Doom Dooma tea district, examined many sights and finally selected this one as it was most central. A building committee drew up plans for the new club. Wooden blocks representing the different rooms were shuffled around many times, over many arguments and many drinks before the blue print was finally approved.

Construction commenced in 1960.

Mr Harry Andrews, Manager, Koomsong and inventor of the Andrews Breaker, still in use for orthodox sorting, headed the construction committee. His brand new assistant James Marvin Pariat, the present Home Minister of Meghalaya, was given the kamjari to report daily to the construction site and supervise the work. As we see to day the young assistant did a fine job. Jimmy without seeing much of field or factory work was soon confirmed with the remark in his confidential report, ‘excellent planter material'.

Doom Dooma Club formed the first modern band in tea, called PB - 4, named after the band leader, Peter Baxter.

Peter, a talented saxophone player on Bordubi was a character known for his antics. He as an Acting Manager rented out his bungalow, at Koliabor then under Magors, to the Italians constructing the oil pipeline from Duliajan to Barauni. When Peter decided to leave tea and India he met up with his good friend, of Doom Dooma days, Ranvir Singh Makoll (Mac) of Warrens, in Calcutta. They painted the city red; it was not under Marxists Rule then, visiting the planter's haunts from Firpos to the Golden Slipper. Mac, who was to see Peter off, was late in getting to Dum Dum. On enquiring at the British Overseas Airways Co-operation (B.O.A.C) counter of his friend, Mac was handed over a packet containing a book. Peter's farewell gift to Mac was all his unspent Indian currency, a tidy sum, left inside the pages of the book, "Gone with the Wind".

The musicians of the original PB - 4 were Peter Baxter on sax, Alan Leonard on the tea box base, Dick Graves, Jimmy Pariat on guitar and Hip Varma on drums. The band was very popular, resulting in many parties and many late nights. It was disbanded when the talented musicians were posted out of the district, including the band leader. Talk of bara sahibs having a hand on the transfers to end the late nights was rife.

We would like to see the young members of Doom Dooma on the stage with bands, plays, theatrical performance etc and the burras assure you of no transfers, provided you retain the tradition of work hard and play hard.

A popular band which visited the clubs was a leading group of erstwhile Assam, the Vanguards. While the Vanguards played on Saturday night the planter's band took over on Sunday for the jam session and called their band the ‘Mud Guards'. The Doom Dooma band at one stage had an ex Beatles drummer, Ron Ashton.

The Doom Dooma Club Bar, one of the longest in any club, had unmarked sectors from Senior Superintendents to Junior Assistants. The protocol was strictly maintained. It has seen some hard drinking and in living memory the record of thirty-four bottles of beer consumed by P.J.Barua, during the Club Meet of 1970, still stands. PJ out drank his Superintendent, Peter James, by two bottles and survived.

In '62 when the new club was inaugurated over 700 members and guests attended. The old burras maintain that the club was built for the opening night only as with time it was found to be too big with high maintenance costs. It is to the credit of the present committee who has brought about changes and renovated the premises. Over the quarter of a centaury that I have been associated with this Club, starting from 1969 when I was transferred from Darjeeling to Bordubi, I have not seen it look better.

The celebrations on the inaugural night of the new club went well past murgi dak. Peter Swer, on Keyhung, leaving in the early hours of the morning was about to enter his car when his driver informed that the seats were dirty. John Twiss, of Phillobari, who's Ambassador the same colour as Peter's vehicle and parked adjacent to it, got into the car and was sick all over the seats. When John recovered from his sickness and realized he was in the wrong car he mumbled "hamara gari nay hai", got into his own car and drove off.

Perhaps a scene similar to what I have narrated still occurs and although it is not to be encouraged it goes to the making of a planter. The club is part of our Assam Tea Heritage and looking at the audience this evening it is in good hands. To the younger generation we say do not let this heritage fade away.

Mr H.N.Das, Chief Secretary of Assam, who was to be the chief guest to-night but unfortunately could not come is a great friend of planters and supporter of tea clubs. When he was SDO Mangaldai and I was an assistant at Attareekhat T.E., in the early 60's, Mr Das was a regular guest of my bara sahib and bara mem Jack and Sis Fea. Jack always maintained that he never wanted to leave Assam. Perhaps his wish was granted for he died in harness as Superintendent of the Attareekhat Tea Company, he lies buried in the Mangaldai Cemetery in Paneery.

Mr H.N.Das, made an honorary member of Mangaldai Club by the President W.J.S.Fea, was a frequent visitor and attended all Club functions. Football and cricket matches between the SDO's and Planter's IX were regular. Looking back into the yester years the SDO's team hardly lost. I now wonder if the matches were rigged for no Manager was summoned by the SDO or any vehicle requisitioned, but then those were the golden years when life for planters and bureaucrats was smooth sailing.

One hundred years is always a special land mark. It is not generally given to many to celebrate a century of existence and we are the privileged ones to be present here this evening on this great event, the Doom Dooma Club Centenary.

May the planters spirit of work hard and play hard live on and may the gaiety and laughter that Doom Dooma Club has known continue over the next hundred years.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen."

Gentlemen: on Drums,Terry Morris, Pengaree T.E.
Sax, Peter Baxter,WM's Bordubi Tea chest bass, Eric
Singh,Makum Co Dirk T.E. Guitar: Jimmy Pariat, WM's
Bordubi.(their signature tune was "WHEN")


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March 9 2007
What a great story--Carron Tea Estate  is in the Dooars, Jalpaiguri Dist. In tea today a number of managerial staff are from the educated labour community-there are a few lady welfare officers also and the number is increasing. The actions of PJ Basu are very commendable indeed and we congratulate him on his foresight

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January 10 2006
Ali and his wife Shireen spent a very enjoyable holiday with 
Alan Wood and his family in Shillong--Below is a picture 
which some may recognize

Alan Wood doing some shopping !!!

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May16 2006
 Another couple of amusing stories from Ali and we thank him


The recovery percentage of green leaf to tea made figure, termed ratios, requires strict and constant vigilance during the plucking season. A poor recovery which can occur due to the elements of nature or human error, deliberate or otherwise, cause a major headache to managerial staff.

It was the ‘60s when the tea made figure of a Dooars estate had gone from bad to worse and the poor field assistant was at the receiving end of the manager for being ineffective. Bara Sahib, a no nonsense man, would not accept Chota Sahibs explanation of the continuous Monsoon showers for the poor recovery.  The Manager demanded immediate action for improvement, rain or no rain. The poor lad at wits end, having failed in his efforts to improve the ratio, in desperation, appealed to the munchi babu, (jamadar babu) for help. The senior field staff, a stocky Ghurkha, veteran of WWII, Burma Front, had a reputation for solving problems in a subtle manner.

As planters gravitate towards the women challan, especially the chokris, at leaf weighment, the assistant, in spite of   his worries, followed the age old routine. He noticed the damsels blushing and giggling on completion of the leaf weighment. The cause, much in evidence, caught the sahib's eye.

 Munchi babu with one leg on a trailer basket and oblivious to the world concentrated fully on the weighment scale, calling out the weight of the leaf the chokris had plucked. A good part of his anatomy was exposed through the airy Burma shorts. The sahib embarrassed at what he saw discreetly informed the veteran of the exposure which the nubile pluckers, fit to be his grand daughters, were unable to avoid. Without battering an eye lid the veteran replied "let them look as long as they do not look at the scale I am cutting away."

Needless to add the ratios improved even when the rains intensified.


The flashing red light on cars much in the news lately recalls this anecdote.

The hill station was a paradise on earth for the expatriate planters who took their sojourns there, away from the heat and pressure of work, and experienced a life, which one finds in the novels of Somerset Maugham.

An expat, a regular visitor to the hill station in his youth, recently returned from UK to be with friends. He queried regarding the innumerable cars flashing the red beacon. When told that they were for VIP's he quipped "I thought they were mobile brothels"
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  February 13, 2006
an interesting story indeed--thank you Ali


 Many will remember Sabu, the first Indian actor who made it to Hollywood and became the legendary Elephant Boy. This is the story of The Elephant Boy of Tea, son of an ex-patriate planter.

 Arthur Mansfield Nuttal was born in 1906, at Digulturrang TE, which was planted out by his father.

His great grandfather was Maj General Sir Arthur Nuttal of the Gurkha Brigade.  Arthur's parents became estranged when he was very young and his mother returned to England leaving the toddler behind. His father died soon afterwards. The Miri bungalow servants adopted the abandoned child and raised the white baba in their village.

 Soon the young lad, brought up in the Miri traditions, became an expert at kheda operations, training of elephants and a talented shikari. Assam in those days was prone to malaria and kala- ajar, which periodically surfaced in epidemic form. The youngster fell violently ill and was brought to Digulturrung in a critical condition. The Bara Sahib seeing a white boy and learning of his antecedent had the patient admitted in the estate hospital.   

Planters on hearing of the English boy, gone native, decided to get him back to their civilization. Colleagues of the boy's father helped to send Arthur to St. Paul 's School, in Darjeeling . However, the lad so much at home with the local tribesman and the wild animals of Assam , especially the elephants, was a total misfit "among" his own. The English language and the western culture he was being educated in was totally alien to him. Not being able to express his inner feelings he developed a violent temper and was quick with his fists, traits that made teachers and students leave Arthur alone. The loner not academically inclined, but excelling in sports and games, left school before completing his final studies. He returned back to Assam .  

With the tea industry expanding rapidly contractors were engaged to clear the jungle for plantations. A renowned contractor was Walter Smiles, later knighted to become Sir Walter. The gentleman, who engaged elephants for jungle clearance, employed young Nuttal and put him in charge of the herd, a job he loved. But the fiery temper, which develops when one is brought up in a disturbed environment, surfaced and Nuttal fell out with his employer.  It was with a heavy heart that he said goodbye to his beloved elephants.     

He joined the Railways as a temporary ticket collector at Makum Junction. Those days the Railways had a three-tier salary system, for Europeans, Anglo Indians and Indians. Arthur was paid the middle wages. Finding out that he was entitled to the European scale Nuttal applied but got no justice.  The refusal of the higher scale was on the grounds that although he was a white man he lived like a native. In frustration he resigned.  

A planter seeing Arthur in Makum offered him an apprentices post in Moran T.E. By dint of hard work Arthur Nuttal was promoted to the covenanted ranks and proved to be a diligent planter. He was very energetic and able to realize good work from the labourers without friction. He was adept at all garden work. Could do a full nirrick in pruning and pluck as well as the best plucker. His weakness was friction with fellow planters, especially seniors, poor administration and hostility to paper work. He was nicknamed Nutty Nuttal by his colleagues for his eccentricities.  

He went to England on leave, his first trip overseas. While in UK he met and married an English lady. It was only after marriage that he was taught to live like a foreigner. The English mem that turned Nuttal into a "Bitish sahib" was, however, unable to curb the fiery temper, even when he became the Acting Superintendent of Moran Tea Company.  

In the 40's Assam came into the orbit of World War II. The Japanese Air Force bombed many areas and their land forces moved rapidly through Manipur into the Naga Hills , then a district of Assam Province.  Planters evacuated their families out of the war zone. The tide turned only after the Battle of Kohima when the Japanese were defeated and started retreating. 

When the Superintendent of Moran Tea Company went to leave his family in Darjeeling , Nuttal, the Acting Superintendent spread the rumour that his senior had run away. The rumour cost Nuttal his job.  

With a family to support, the couple had two kids; Arthur Nuttal accepted work as a temporary garden assistant with the Makum ( Assam ) Tea Co in ‘44. In 1947 he was promoted as Senior Assistant and put in charge of Top Side division of Margherita TE. In 1951 he was transferred to Namdang Tea Co where he received his billet in Bogapani.  

 Bogapani, in the 50's, was in the midst of a thick jungle infested with wild animals. News of a rogue tusker, creating havoc at the Bogapani railway station, was reported with Government orders to destroy the pachyderm. Nuttal went to inspect it. He looked at the rogue and declared that it was not wild. He slowly approached the animal, talking in mahout's language. Soon he had the animal following him and led the tusker away from the railway tracks, where a train was held up. When forest personnel queried as to how the sahib knew that the elephant was not wild he pointed to the faint chain marks on the animal's feet.  

Nuttal was Manager of Bogapani from 1951 to 1959. During his term he cleared the estate of encroachers and started the out garden Nazirating, then infested with tigers. For killing a man-eater he was given a small plot of land by the forest authorities for a shikar camp. The story goes that every time Nuttal went for a shoot he moved the Nazirating boundary pillars thus acquiring 100 hectares of prime forestland for the company. To clear the jungle two retired sirdars were given the timber as bakshis. Once the trees were removed he distributed the land to the workers and allowed them to cultivate ahu paddy for two years. With the land levelled Nuttal started planting. Today, even after half a century, Nazirating has some of the finest teas. 

The fiery tempers never abated and lead to Nuttal's final downfall. He quarrelled with the Superintendent and was dismissed. In 1959, aged 53, he left India for England with his family for good.  Arthur Mansfield Nuttal passed away in the 80's. The story does not end here.  

During his bachelor days Nuttal frequented Shillong where a Khasi lady befriended him. Out of that friendship a male child was born. When the boy was of school going age Nuttal had him admitted to Dr. Graham's Home, Kalimpong, with the instructions that the boy must never be told of his father.  

The youngster grew up and went off to England where he married and settled down. Just a few years back he, with his wife, came looking for his roots. In Shillong he met Mr Peter Furst, an ex-patriate and the last European Superintendent of the erstwhile Makum Namdang Company. Peter, who had worked under A.M.Nuttal as an assistant, on retirement   settled in Shillong, where he still resides.  

The visitor from England asked Peter to narrate about his father. It was with rapt attention that the couple listened to what Peter had to say. When he finished the lady quietly remarked that her husband was just like Arthur Mansfield Nuttal, a father the son never knew.  

                                                                                                          ALI N ZAMAN
Ex Manager Bogapani 
(1988 - 1997)

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September 10 2005


"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy", an adage followed by the British and applied to tea when candidates were interviewed for the trade. To the common query of "young man what games do you play" the mention of cricket usually sealed the appointment, regardless of the candidate's prowess with the game.

Tea boasted of some fine players and at one stage four expatriates Peter Bullock of Kellyden, Gerry Eastmuire of Thowra, Peter Atkins of Amluckie and R.S Kettle of Tarajuli (Borjuli) were regulars in the Assam Ranji Trophy Team. Bullock captained the State Team more than once and Kettle's record of a century, scored as 9th man, remains a feat in the annals of Assam's cricketing history.

Among Indian planters in the honour roll is Topon Barua, Assam Company/Williamson Magor, selected in 1958 for the East Zone Team to play the West Indies. Topon was also a regular in the Assam Team. Another talented player who represented Assam was Venky Naidu of Tata Tea, (James Finlay).

Cricket was the game where a budding planter proving his mettle progressed well in the company, especially when Superintendents and Visiting Agents took a keen interest and encouraged the game. Inter Company rivalry lead to regular fixtures and to this day the VA of Williamson Magor, John Morice, challenging the Superintendent of Joreahaut Tea Company, Bath Brown, better known as "ghusal", at cricket is remembered when the Morice Memorial Trophy is played.

In the cold weather a cricketer could be off for long weekends playing for the club, zone or company. A player would be picked for games in Darjeeling, Dooars or Calcutta, and the trip being more than an expense paid holiday with travel by air, in chartered Dakotas that literally lifted the players from their doorsteps, planters made the effort to play. However, regardless of an individual's interest in the game one turned up to participate in any match when asked to do so. The object was to relax and enjoy the camaraderie.

A cricket outing was always an exciting  and enjoyable experience.

Hospitality was always at its best, especially at the bar. The usual strategy of the host team was win the toss and bat, pile up a good score pre lunch. At lunch ensure that the opposition were provided with plenty of beer, pink gins and a large curry lunch and in no shape to see the ball well in the afternoon.

There is the incident of a player, aroused by the spirits, jumping into the Brahmaputra and surviving to play on till retirement.

The captain of a CTTA team, touring Assam, broke a leg, which had to be plastered. When the time came up for speeches the Assam leader mentioned, "a lot of drinking takes place at cricket meets but this is the first time we see a Captain visibly plastered."

A legendry planter, famous for his dairy herd and supply of fat free milk, flew with the Assam team to the Dooars, where he acquired a Haryana bull to improve his livestock. The prize catch flew back with the team in the same Dakota where a few of the bucket seats had been removed to accommodate the four- legged passenger. In spite of the special attention the bovine received from his owner, who sat beside his VIP and acted as his personal steward, it mooed loudly throughout the entire flight.

Prior to 1962 many planters possessed light aircrafts, which they piloted. A manager, ex fighter pilot of WW II, went out of his way to invite a fresher, from UK, to accompany the veteran in his two seater plane to an inter club match in Moran. When the plane zoomed over Moran Club the game had started and wickets had to be drawn for the plane to land. The youngster, excitingly describing the journey to his colleagues, became pensive post lunch. His decision to return by road, greatly disappointed the pilot, who, the new recruit learnt, had a leaning towards chokras!.

Umpiring decisions, at times questionable, were taken with the spirit of the game. At a  match the umpire, a keen cricketer, in spite of poor eye sight, turned down a loud appeal for lbw. The next ball was about to be delivered when hearing murmurs of his "not out" decision he instructed the batsman to get into the position he was in for the previous delivery. The umpire directed the batsman to shift to the front of the wicket and then declared him out.

Results of the game and post mortems on individual's performance, especially run outs on wrong calls, continued into the night. Amidst the arguments the evenings built up with singing and dancing. Hidden talents bloomed and Elvis numbers by Saroj Sharma, with his pelvis movements closely resembling that of  the legendary singer was a treat to watch. Lilting calypsos by David Ojha, sung as good as any Caribbean and in his Allahabadi dialect motivating the crowd to join in his ever popular number ‘nau tanki ka mela'are still remembered. The late Sanbah Pariat, in his inimitable velvety voice croon Siboney, Besame Mucho and other sentimental hits accompanied on the guitar by Jimmy Pariat, an accomplished guitarist and man of many talents remain haunting.The duos rendering the "Khasi Lament" are today cherished memories of cricket gatherings.

At one gathering a Calcutta bara sahib was so captivated by the musical talent of the rival team that he advised his company players to learn the guitar and sing.

With expatriates and Agency Houses slowly diminishing the stress on games and out door activities started fading from the 70's.

The time came when a leading group was unable to produce a team for the inter company cricket tournament. A fuming Superintendent issued a circular summoning managerial personnel for net practice. Members regardless of any past experience or an inkling of the game had to report for team selection.

An assistant clueless of any game, leave alone cricket, although a whole lot of ball games had been mentioned in his  application, prayed for guidance in tackling his first encounter with cricket. Standing at the nets he minutely observed the players' actions with the ball and bat, movements that appeared easy to emulate.

He noticed that bowlers took a little hop before delivery. When his turn came to bowl the hop turned into a leap that propelled him up and landed him on top of the wickets. The ball went shooting past in the opposite direction. 

His performance with the ball displayed the budding cricketer was asked to prepare for batting. It took the individual a long time to emerge from the changing room and longer to get to the crease. He moved like a robot not bending his knees.

Our player after minutely examining every piece of equipment in the dressing room had fixed abdominal guards over each knee before putting on the pads.

                                                                                                   Ali N Zaman.

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August 22 2005
Please click here to read a newspaper cutting of Lord Curzon's visit in the late 1800s to Assam

Thanks again to Ali for this piece
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August 30 2005
SEA WOLVES  story --the true facts

 This is a copy of the letter written by Cethin Davies to the Editor of the Telegraph, Calcutta--in an effort to correct the two parts of the story by Sri Jayanta Kumar Dutt which are quoted below under the headings "SEA WOLVES"--It is self explanatory and we thank Cethin for taking the time and trouble to set the record straight. Cethin's e-mail address is : cethin @

Dear Sir,

Re:          The Calcutta Light Horse.

I refer to your two recent articles under "Club Sandwich" published in your 21st and 28th August editions, written by your correspondent Sri Jayanta Kumar Dutt.

Unfortunately both the articles contained a number of errors which I feel require correction.

To start with it would appear that Sri Dutt sourced his writing from the film "Sea Wolves". This film was in turn based on the book "Boarding Party" written by James Leasor and published by William Heineman Ltd., in 1978. The film "Sea Wolves" was a rather inaccurate account of the event, having been hyped up to make the film more exciting. The book "Boarding Party", whilst containing a number of errors, is very much nearer the truth of the affair, and I give below an outline of the correct version of events, taken from the book and my father's memory.

1.             There were three German and one Italian merchant ships lying in the port of Marmagoa, Goa. These were not warships.

2.             The operation was planned by the Special Operations Executive, India, and commanded by Lewis Pugh and Gavin Stewart of that organisation. Because  Goa was neutral territory it was decided to use the Calcutta Light Horse as a screen for the operation.

3.             Fourteen members of the Calcutta Light Horse and four from the Calcutta Scottish volunteered for the operation. A number of Commandos and experts from the S.O.E. were also included. All these persons made their way to Cochin, which was the starting base for the operation.

4.                "Phoebe"  was not  a tramp steamer. She was a Hopper Barge belonging to the Port Commissioners of Calcutta and  was hired for the operation. She was commanded by my father, Comdr. B.S. Davies R.N., who was an Assistant Conservator, Port Commissioners of Calcutta.

5.             The "Phoebe" with crew only, was sailed from Calcutta to Cochin, via Trincomalee, where she picked up the boarding party. From there they went to Marmagoa

6.             In the early hours of  9th March 1943 the assault went in and the "Ehrenfels" was boarded, set on fire (mainly by her own crew), and eventually scuttled after a fight. The three other vessels were also set on fire and scuttled by their own crews acting under orders previously arranged to stop them falling into enemy hands. No radio message was transmitted by a CLH radio officer.

                Newspaper articles from the Times of India and the Statesman dated the 9th and 13th March 1943 reported the event, as did The Illustrated Weekly of India on 21st March 1943.

7.             The "Phoebe" then safely re-embarked all the assaulting troops and sailed to Bombay, from where they returned to Calcutta by train.

8.                "Phoebe" was then sailed back to Calcutta to resume her duties as No.5 Hopper Barge.

9.             No acknowledgement of the action was ever made until 25 years had elapsed and the Official Secrets Act  no longer took effect.  To my knowledge no medals, and particularly the Victoria Cross, were ever issued, and I quote from "Boarding Party":-

                "The authorities kept faith with the Light Horse over one particular promise. They would have no credit for what they volunteered to do, and there would be no medals. So closely was this last pledge adhered to that the men who had willingly risked their lives and careers, at their own expense,, to carry out a task which produced unparalleled benefits, were categorically refused the right to wear one of Britain's humbler issue medals of the Second World War, the 1939-45 Star"

I hope you will publish my letter in your newspaper to set the record right on this event.

Yours faithfully,

C.B. Davies.
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August 28 2005

This is the second and final part of the story. Please click on the blue link below
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August 21 2005

                                                SEA WOLVES STORY Part One

This item is the first part of a two part story about the work of the Sea Wolves published in the telegraph of India--we look forward to the second instalment  Please click below to read

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August 12 2005

Thank you Ali once again-for this  interesting story-- of yesteryear

For those who read this, if you have any idea as to why or what R.B.Lagden's special task for Tea was, please let the Editor know -


The Lagden Gate

At the southern end of the present day CC&FC pavilion is a small but elegant archway made of chunal stone, known as the "Lagden Gate".

It carries the following inscription:

In memory of R.B.Lagden OBE, MC,President 1933-44

This was erected as a memorial to Reggie Lagden, who died in tragic circumstances during World War 2. Having been secretly flown to England on some assignment relating to tea, he was on his way back when his aircraft overran the landing strip at Karachi and exploded. All those on board were killed instantaneously.

Former president Alec Leslie, recalled that "Reggie was held in such affectionate esteem in Calcutta that there was not an office in Clive Street or any club or public building in Calcutta that did not fly a flag at half-mast when the news of his death came through"

Originally the archway had been erected at the entrance to the Calcutta Cricket Club ground at Eden Gardens. The Archdeacon of Calcutta the Venerable G.T. "Tommy' Tucker--himself a playing member of both the Calcutta and Ballygunge Cricket Clubs--organized an impressive but simple service on a Sunday morning to consecrate the Gate.
A large number of members of both Clubs attended the service.

Sometime after 1950, when the Calcutta Cricket Club had moved to it's current venue, the Lagden Gate was moved to Ballygunge, where it now stands.

For the record, Lagden's full first class cricket career is given below

Born:               15 April 1893 Maseru Basutoland
Died :               20 October 1944, Karachi, India
Major teams:    Cambridge University, Surrey, Europeans (India)

Known as : Reginald Lagden

Batting Style:    Right Hand Bat
Bowling Style:  Right Arm off Break
Career Statistics

Batting & Fielding     M    I   NO   Runs   HS      Ave   100    50    Ct   St
                                     32  56   1     1751     153   31.83    6      6     18     0

Bowling                      R       W      Ave       BBI       5      10
                                                 343     11     31.18     2.22      0       0
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June 24 2005
        PANI GARI

Bamoon Pookrie is on  the South Bank of the Bramaputra in Assam near Nazira. It was one of the first estates started by Assam Co around 1840 and sold to the Kanorias in the 60's.


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May 18th 2005

Request written 1905

This letter dated 1905, was addressed by the Londiani station master to his senior officer in Nairobi;

To the Traffic Manager,
Uganda Railway,
Most Honoured and Respected Sir,

            I have the honour to humbly and urgently require your Honour's permission to relieve me of my onerous duties at Londiani so as to visit the land of my nativity, to wit, India, forsooth.

            This in order that I may take unto wife a damsel of many charms who has long been cherished in the heartbeats of my soul. She is of superflous beauty and enamoured of the thought of becoming my wife. Said beauteous damsel has long been goal of my manly breast and now am fearful of other miscreants deposing me from my lofty affections. Delay in consummation may be ruination most damnable to romance of both damsel and your humble servant.

            Therfore, I pray your Honour, allow me to hasten to India and contract marriage forthwith with said beauteous damsel. This being done happily I will return to Londiani to resume my fruitful official duties and perform also my maternal matriomonial functions. It is dead loneliness here without this charmer to solace my empty heart.

            If your Honour will so far rejoice my soul to this extent and also as goes equally without saying that of said wife-to-be, I shall pray forever as in duty bound for your Honour's life-long prosperity, everlasting happiness, promotion of most startling rapidity and withal the fatherhood of many Godlike children to gambol playfully about your Honour'' paternal knees to heart's content.

            If, however, for reasons of State or other extreme urgency, the Presence cannot suitably comply with terms of this humble petition, then I pray your most excellent Superiorioty to grant this benign favour for Jesus Christ's sake, a gentleman whom your Honour very much resembles.

            I have the honour to be, Sir, your Honour's most humble and dutiful, but terribly love-sick, mortal withal.

                                                            (Signed)                                                                B.A. (failed by God's misfortune) Bombay
Bombay University, and now Station Master,  Londiani   

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May 15  2005


The ex patriate joined tea as he was told that the work involved a ‘life of shikar, polo, tennis, clubs, in all a cushy outdoor life'. Further when his uncle, connected to a major teahouse in London, expounded the attractive perquisites of free transport, furnished bungalow, umpteen servants, summoned by a yell of koi hai, the young man just could not wait to get out to India, although the country was no longer under the Raj and had just gained independence.

The long sea voyage to Bombay, the train journey across the Indian plain to Calcutta, the brief stay in the great metropolis and finally the Dakota flight to Assam was fascinating and wonderful at every step.

The first disappointment came when he deplaned on a grass airstrip and found a battered old Bed Ford lorry waiting to meet him. Sitting in the cabin, next to the driver, proved to be too bumpy so he rode in the back with the jugalis and provisions. Not knowing the ‘baat' he was unable to enquire if this was the free transport promised back home. It was a tanned and dust covered assistant who reported to the manager.

The next disappointment was the bungalow. It looked imposing but furnishing was the barest minimum, with no curtains in any of the rooms.

The young man was not one to make a fuss and would have endured the discomforts but with the sun glaring on his bed, at murgi dak, and the chowkidar keeping a vigil over the sahib, in bed, and waiting for the precise moment to serve palang cha, matters had to be sorted out with the bara sahib.

The maibap informed of the predicaments summoned the godown babu. A hukum to issue one green sari and one white dhoti, for the new sahib's bungalow and have the garden darzee stitch curtains was made it. It was green curtains for the bedroom and white ones for the gol kamra. In those days the two items of clothing were statutory issues to workers before the Pujas. 

Even with Independence nothing had changed with the functioning of the estates and old dastoors of the Raj continued. However, welfare measures were being introduced, one being the most popular cinema show, biscope to the workers then. While some of the koi-hais termed the monthly entertainment as going soft on workers others opined that it was a long overdue requirement. 

For screening of the open-air movies, organized by the proprietor of the local cinema hall of the sub divisional town, the estate had to provide bamboos for erecting the open-air screen and a water tank for the water-cooled generator to run the projector.

The meager requirements for the cinema were grudgingly provided on a number of estates. However, on the estate with the new incumbent, a methodical worker, the arrangements were made in advance. Personally supervised by the tall and handsome young assistant the cinema proprietor had no problems in screening the shows.

The boga sahib made friends easily, and with no hang ups, occasionally invited the proprietor, an imposing looking man himself, with influence in the locality, to the bungalow for a cuppa. The Indian would reciprocate by inviting the sahib to select movies in the local cinema hall, "Lakhi Talkies."

It was on a hot and balmy evening when the sahib was invited to the screening of "Jhansi ki Rani," an epic movie of those days. The proprietor personally ushered his guest to the first class and seated him on a wooden chair, with no upholstery, directly below one of the limited fans the hall possessed.

 When the projection commenced the fan speed decreased and the odour of sweat increased. The VIP ignored the discomforts, and became engrossed with the movie, which he found interesting, and smiled when the audience clapped seeing goras knocked off by the Rani.

Although our planter was sweating profusely he felt a shirtsleeve getting a little more wet. He surmised that it was raining and his host had seated him under a leaky roof with a slow drip. Unlike the locals who would have created a din in the middle of the screening the sahib endured the discomfort and waited for the interval to complain about the rain.

At the interval the two stalwarts met and the host was puzzled when his guest mentioned of rain. Puzzled, he surveyed the sky where the stars sparkled and not a patch of cloud was detected. With his imposing height he surveyed the scene trying to solve the mystery of the drip. Glancing up at the balcony, above the first class, he detected the cause of the leak. "Oh Saar, ladies and children upstairs, very sorry saar, no latrine''. 

The sahib, remembered to this day for his diplomacy in solving issues, sat through the second half of the movie. He deliberated that as the great Jhansi ke Rani had suffered under the British perhaps a lonely Brit suffering under her now may even out things.   
Ali N. Zaman

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May 15th 2004


When the rains peter out work pressure on a tea estate slowly slackens but not for the bungalow malis. Memsahibs'start inspecting the day's work, spending more time in the mali barries and flower beds in preparation for the Annual Flower and Vegetable Show. Pressure increases and culminates only when the district show, which takes place in February/March, is over.

The origin of Flower Shows are linked to the IInd World War.

In 1942/43, the American General, Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, nicknamed "Vinegar Joe"; C-in-C of American and Chinese forces and deputy commander of South East Asia Command, (SEAC), under Lord Louis Mountabatten, moved the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theatre of Operations to Assam and established his head quarters at Ledo Club. It functioned as the famous Northern Combat Area Command (NCAC) Americans, British, Indians, Chinese and troops from the British colonies, operated under NCAC command. Added to the troops was the sizeable tea garden labour force employed on the construction of the Stilwell road from Ledo to Shingbwiyang in Burma, a distance of 130 miles, leading onto China. This formidable force, and the refugees who walked across from Burma on the dreaded Hukawng trail over the Pangsau Pass to Ledo escaping the Japanese, had to be fed. While dry rations flowed in there was a dearth of fresh vegetables.

  A grow more vegetable scheme, under the War effort, turned every bungalow compound in tea, timber, oil and coal into mali barriers. When the war ended, in 1945, Digboi Club decided to retain the enthusiasm shown and under the Digboi Horticultural Society held the first Flower and Vegetable Show in 1946/47.

  Encouraged by the grand success of Digboi the old Margherita Club, then under Assam Railway and Trading Company, with tea, timber and coal started their show a year later. Doom Dooma was the third Club to follow. With the large number of tea estates, where Superintendents and Senior Managers ruled supreme, it was inter company rivalry. The Doom Dooma Show attracted a large number of entries and maintained a high standard. The other clubs of the south bank, in course of time, started their shows, some as late as the 80's.

  Due to communication difficulties in the north bank, which only improved after the Chinese aggression of 1962, flower shows there did not start till the mid sixties. An assistant, credited to have green fingers, organised the first show in Bishnauth club. However, as tea nurseries did not thrive under his care a veteran planter, under whom the assistant was posted, said, "I am informed that you have green fingers but when you are on my estate keep your fingers to yourself".

  As the Bishnauth Show, which included the Boroi district, was the only show in the north bank, before ‘green fingers' introduced it to Mangaldai Club, selected entries from other clubs were permitted. A few enthusiasts from Thakurbari, Orang-Borshola and even far a field as North Lakhimpur participated in certain categories at Bishnauth.

  With ladies bent on winning the overall championship husbands and assistants were kept on their toes. Additional malies, gobar, aluminium paint etc, had to be organised. Transport, leaf trailers converted to covered wagons, as seen in cowboy movies, were arranged to carry the potted plants, to the venue. There was hell to pay if a pot broke or the transport was late in arriving. A superintendent, whose wife was a keen competitor, once sighed, "I am relieved that the show is over, we can all get back to work now."

  Competition grew and Flower Show Convenors faced difficulties in settling disputes. Arguments as to why a tray of mixed vegetables was disqualified because of the green papaya placed on it became a major debate. The owner of the tray vehemently argued that in Bengal green papayas were cooked as a vegetable delicacy. The Convenor held firm that it was a fruit, regardless of the colour green or even red in Bengal.

  Planter's humour is also seen in the shows. At a Dhunseri Club Flower Show, a perfect specimen of an Anthurium, with a prominent stem, was displayed under cut flowers. The exhibitor, who has recently passed away after a brief illness, and known for his great sense of humour, placed a scroll on the exhibit. He named his entry after a part of the human anatomy. Needless to add the specimen, which drew many glances, was disqualified.

 Whispers that some of the exhibits are procured elsewhere and not grown by the participant become rife. A manager driving to Guwahati on a flower show day was surprised to meet the garden banker on the road, far from his place of business. Queries revealed that a certain memsahib had ordered Shillong vegetables to arrive by the night bus. The vehicle had broken down and the banker was ordered to ensure the timely delivery of the precious cargo. He appeared distressed and more worried than the times when delivery of labour wages, and sometimes the bonus, got delayed.

  A bara mem, newly transferred to the estate, was informed by the head mali the names of the babus from where vegetables could be procured for the ‘phul khela'. The mali kept a watch to ensure that the prized vegetables were not eaten before the khel.

Entries increased when home produce was added to the flower show brochure.

A Doom Dooma superintendent's wife decided to enter eggs from her Rhode Island hens, a rarity in those days. As single exhibit did not qualify for competition, and there were none to compete against the prized eggs, the bara bara mem bought local eggs and entered them in the name of the dangua chota sahib. The large red eggs, polished in brandy to give them a sheen, stood out against the assistants, which did not even get a wipe to take off the bazaar dirt. However, the youngster had a smug look on his face walking behind the superintendent's wife for his prize. 

Bara mems on a certain Mangaldai garden always walked off with the first prize for strawberries, planted by the last ex-patriate's wife. Once when an Indian memsahib did not win the prize the organisers were taken to task. Rules for display of small fruits stipulated that four of a kind must be exhibited. The prized strawberries were disqualified as only two were found at the time of judging. The contestant was furious when she learnt that a colleague's child had eaten them. She marched up to the parents to vent her anger and was somewhat subdued when the father grabbed his naughty son and dragged him to the car park. Out of ear shot dad whispered "good you ate them mum will now get first prize for strawberries".

  Cakes, jam, jellies, wines etc came in.

Under category marble cake a round hard object, with glazed icing, was entered. The owner queried as to why her cake, which was the exact replica of a marble, was not even glanced at. She did learn from her mistake.

A visiting director once had to judge jams and jellies. He selected a jam and awarded it first prize as he found the make perfect. The taste lingered in his mouth all the way to Calcutta. At breakfast, next morning, he got the same taste and realised that he had awarded first prize to Kissan jam packed in a different bottle.

Once bachelors got drunk on entries of homemade wines, labelled by the judges as not up to the mark The erstwhile wine makers took consolation in the fact that although theirs was not prized wine at least it gave a kick. In tea there was a British mem that produced wines of class. Being a strict teetotaller she never tasted her brew but created the right blend by just monitoring the colour and aroma.

The flower shows makes the clubs buzz with the competitors- sahibs, mems, children, malis, ayahs and bearers. Drivers are seen zipping back and forte to fetch the forgotten entry. The fun of taking part, the palpable tension, the beautiful and talented displays, be it the ladies centre table decoration, the men's most original arrangement, the children's, bearers and malis vase or garlands by the ayahs. As some districts include bungalows, hospitals, office and factory compounds, for judging, mass involvement is created. Some Clubs auction their exhibits and donate the proceeds to local charity.

Apart from keen competition there is hard work in preparing, organizing and participating in a flower show. Many a novice has developed interest in flowers and vegetables by participating in the shows and has honed their talents to become authorities on the subject.  

The Flower and Vegetable Shows are there for planters to participate, learn, improve and enjoy. May they bloom on and add to the fragrance of  Tea Life t.                                                                                                  Ali N.Zaman.
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This is a  photograph of Bangladesh taken from Cheerapunji 
It was taken by Alan Wood and we thank him, he sent it to Ali Zaman who passed it onto the Editor--thanks to both



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This story is taken from the book review of the Assam Tribune is by one Manish Goswami, on an Assamese book written by Hiranya Kumar Bhatttacharya entitled "Fagunar Kopili". (The Kopili river in the month of Fagun ( mid March to mid April). Bhattacharya a keen angler writes about his angling anecdotes. The mention of Peter Castle makes good reading.  Peter was the last ex-patriate to leave North Lakhimpur ,in the 70's, an area he knew well, especially the topography of the hills and rivers. In 62 during the Chinese aggression Peter was consulted to prepare the maps for routes to the hills. 

This is the part from the Assam Tribune:
Sri Bhattacharya mentions an unsung hero-Peter Castle , a Britisher, who was the Manager of the Diju Tea Estate in Arunachal Pradesh and with whom the author went on several angling expeditions on the Subansiri river. Castle was not only a very good angler but a great person as well. After the 1950 earthquake which created havoc in Lakhimpur and Arunachal Pradesh, the river bed of the Subansiri suddenly dried up in its downstream. 

Castle, used his company's plane (piloted by Stew Campbell) to fly  upstream to find out what actually had happened. After covering a considerable distance he discovered to his horror that a hillock had tumbled due to the impact of the quake and had blocked the course of the river. Castle used his mechanized boat to rescue a good number of persons from a watery grave. It's an irony that few know about Castle's act of valour. No less a person than then the Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru had sent him a letter appreciating his brave act.

After angling in the rivers of the region for about four decades, Sri Bhattacharya is today a sad man. The jungles are fast disappearing. Insatiable human greed has created havoc in the eco system of the region. The timber smugglers have stripped the forests, poachers are driving the animals onto the verge of extinction. Even the rivers whom he terms as beautiful damsels are not being spared. Explosives are are being used to kill the fish. He is shocked when sees illegal migrants encroaching on the virgin forest  lands and plundering the forest wealth with impunity while the administration is oblivious about it.

The author points out that the region is endowed with one of the best eco systems of the world   The need of the hour is that all should come forward and join hands to preserve, protect and promote it.   Otherwise it will end up as  a page in the history books for the future generation
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8.5 Kg of Mahseer
A happy and proud Alan Wood having caught an 8.5 KG Mahseer on the Borelli

Ali Zaman reports 

A beautiful catch by Alan on the Borelli. 



Calcutta is often portrayed as a sweltering hell hole - but under the surface, it has much to offer visitors. The city's historical buildings and monuments are reminders of a rich colonial past; its citizens enjoy a cultural heritage of music, theatre, dance, literature and art. For those who once lived in "Cal", much has changed over the years, but paradoxically much also remains the same.

An excerpt from Haunting India - by Margaret Deefholts

[The following paragraphs occur half way through the Chapter on Calcutta]

"...We amble through the maze of stalls in Hogg Market-popularly known as the "New Market" even though it has been in existence since the early 1900's. Not too much has changed here since I was a teenager, except for a noticeable lack of Anglo-Indians thronging its passageways.

Part of the complex burned down some years ago and has been replaced by an upscale air-conditioned mall. We fend off persistent coolies and gawk at the merchandise on display: bolts of vibrant silks and crisp cottons, ready made garments, Bengali handicrafts, costume jewellery, cane furniture, crockery, and glassware, all for sale at a fraction of the price we'd pay here in Canada.

Not for the squeamish, but fascinating nonetheless, is the produce and meat market located in a cavernous building adjoining the main market.

Bluebottle flies shimmer around mutton shanks suspended from meat hooks, and entrails such as livers, kidneys, hearts and brains are set out for inspection on marble slabs. The smell of ripe pineapples and papaya permeates the aisles of the fruit section. Noelene and I stop to haggle over a basket of Indian gooseberries. These are small yellow berries covered in a pouch of dry paper-thin leaves, and as I pop one into my mouth, the juice spurts, sweet-sour against my tongue, evoking memories of my mother's gooseberry jam, eaten smothered in fresh cream at tea-time.

Indeed, what can be more evocative than the smell and taste of food relished in childhood? I take the time to drop by Nahum Confectioners in the New Market. The old proprietor has passed on, but his son peers at me and says, "Penn-Anthony? Of course I remember your parents? they ordered Christmas cakes from us for years! And didn't we once make a Birthday cake for you in the shape of a grand piano?" I'm astonished at his memory. Later, as I turn to leave, he comes up to me and says. "Next week is Easter Sunday, so here is something for you, just for old times sake." He grins and hands me a paper bag. Inside it is a small marzipan Easter egg.

Flury's on Park Street still retains its Edwardian ambience: afternoon tea accompanied by a selection of cakes and cream-rolls, is served on bone-china crockery. The Anglo-Indian maitre d' is intrigued to discover that Noelene and I are also Anglo-Indians. In the course of our conversation I casually mention that I wish I could find another well-remembered Calcutta delight-spiced sausages. Not only does he offer to make a trip to the Entally meat market at dawn to buy these on our behalf, but his wife cooks them for us as well, using a traditional Calcutta Anglo-Indian recipe which calls for them to be marinated in vinegar and mustard oil.

Only in India is the hospitality as warm as its sunshine!

At the other end of the scale from Flury's elegance, is Nizam's, which has been in operation for over 70 years. Tucked into a dimly lit alleyway in the city's hub, it is a small unpretentious place with ramshackle furniture, neon tube lighting and no air conditioning. But, as every Calcutta-wallah knows, Nizam's kati-kebabs and rotis are fit for a Moghul emperor. They sizzle with dark, mysterious spices that caress the palate like a teasing, smouldering flame. The four of us drop into Nizams one night, and despite the lateness of the hour, there is a steady stream of well-dressed customers driving up in their cars, or strolling in from a nearby movie theatre after the last show. Some things haven't changed at all, even after a forty-five year absence..."

The Editor received the following note from Ali Zaman accompanying the story

"The above excerpt is from a book called 'Haunting India'. The author Margaret Deefolts nee Penn-Anthony lives in Vancouver. It is highly recommend you buy the book, great reading about India. You can go to her web site and get all the details:


Could you please pass this on to your millions of jhat bhais. Half the

proceeds from the book go towards helping destitute A.I.'s. Great reading,

great cause. Thanks!!! "

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Footprints in the Bush

By: Robin Borthakur

Play any tennis?  No, Sir. How about shooting or angling?

Do shoot a duck once in a while, but no big game.

Any particular aversion to alcoholic drinks?  Yes, Sir I mean no, Sir, came the young fellow hesitant reply, knowing that drinking was a taboo in the family and yet not too sure whether admitting it would go against him. All right, all right. When you get back home, buy yourself a tennis kit. You will hear from us within a month.

This was how a typical interview for recruitment of assistant managers in tea companies would go those days. Family background was very important and so was one's personality. Academic achievements were not of much consequence. Arun Baruwa got his appointment letter exactly twenty-eight days after his interview. He recalled how he had bought himself a first-class railway ticket at Tinsukia on his way to the Goombira tea estate in the remote interior of Cachar district. The train arrived at Dullabchera station the next evening. Very few passengers either boarded or alighted from the train. The next morning, he landed up in the dusty and noisy bus station. There he chanced upon a puny, talkative fellow who turned out to be the banker of Goombira estate. It was a seemingly endless journey of seven miles. When he finally arrived at the garden, he was shown into the superintendent's bungalow-cum-office. Three gentlemen, one Indian and two Europeans, interviewed him and told him that he would hear from the Company within a month.

When Baruwa returned to the Goombira after a month, he was allotted a bungalow close to the factory since his initial posting was as the mistry saab or factory assistant. On his first day at work, he was shown around the factory and its functioning. In the evening, when the factory siren declared the close of the day-shift. After tea and a good bath, he sat down in a reclining chair and dozen off. Suddenly at the sound of a gong he woke up with a start. As he was wondering as to what it was, the gong was repeated quite close to his room. But out of sheer lethargy he ignored it. After a while, there was a knock on the door. It was his bearer, an old man. He almost chastised Baruwa and asked him the reason for not going to the dinner table. It was then he had realised that it had been the dinner gong. After dinner, Baruwa returned to his room and lay down. After sometime he heard another knock on the door. It was the bearer again with a glass of milk. He was quite vexed and asked the bearer not to disturb him again.

Hardly had he gone off to sleep, when there was a knock and this time Baruwa lost his temper. He jumped out of bed, opened the door and was about to shout at the bearer. But the cool authoritative voice of the old man stunned him: What do you think you are doing? This is no time to sleep. Get ready quickly and go to the factory before the burra saab arrives. A short while later, the burra saab arrived and went back without saying anything to the young factory assistant.

The wonderful performance of Julie Christie in a number of Hollywood blockbusters may still be fresh in the memory of many. But very few know that this one-time sensation of the film world was born in Upper Assam where her father was a tea planter. Her uncle Stewart Christie was also a tea planter who happened to be Baruwa's burra saab for sometime.

Baruwa, then a greenhorn in tea, was on field duty, learning the application of chemical fertilizer. As urea was not available in those days, the sulphate of ammonia was used for tea bushes. Burra saab Stewart Christie, who was on his usual daily round, suddenly arrived there. Suddenly he turned to Baruwa and asked him, What makes the tea grow?  Barua took time to understand what Christie was getting at. Then he hesitatingly answered, Fertilizers, I presume. Christie looked hard at him and asked him to take a walk down the row of young tea bushes where the SOA had just been applied. When he reached the end of the row, he was asked to turn around and walk along the other side of the row of plants. Now turn around and tell me what you see.   Baruwa turned around and could see nothing special except the footmarks left by his hunter boots. Christie said, Yes, remember it is those footprints which make the tea grow. An assistant manager in the field should be absolutely thorough in his supervision, a senior officer later explained
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July 2001

Pearson & the Maneater of Majuligarh

by Robin Borthakur

Almost half-a-century ago, a BOAC Comet jet airliner crashed for the first time, killing all the passengers and crew aboard. The tragic news made headlines in all major newspapers of the world and created an unprecedented sensation. People expressed grave doubt about the safety of air travel. The news created quite a bit of stir in tea circles of Assam as well. Because, the entire Pearson family perished in the crash while on their way home on furlough.

Pearson was the manager of the Majuligarh tea estate in the present day Sonitpur district. He was a good planter and generally quite popular with his colleagues. But he was reputed to be cheeseparing and even his staff would take the mickey out of him behind his back.

In the late Fifties, the tea gardens had vast areas covered with jungle which was the home of a variety of wild animals. Tigers were a common phenomenon in the tea gardens on the North Bank, like Paneery, Mijikajan and Majuligarh. But generally, these big cats did not harm to human beings. They would prey on wild animals or those staying into the jungle. Only on very rare occasions, would they steal domestic animals from the villages or labour lines in the tea gardens. But if by chance a tiger got the taste of human blood, it would turn into a man-eater and would wreak generally when a tiger grew old or got injured and his movements became restricted that it would start looking for easy prey and turn a into man-eater.

Once when a Pearson was the manager of the Majuligarh Tea Estate, a man-eater suddenly unleashed a reign of terror in the garden. Apart from killing a large number of domestic animals, the tiger started showing its preference for human blood. Quite a few men, women and children from the garden and the neighbouring bustees got killed and the garden wore a deserted look even during the day-time. Work virtually came to a standstill. Nobody would venture out of his house after dusk and even during daylight hours, movement of men and women in the garden roads became a rare sight. Electricity being generated from the garden was confined to the factory and the bungalows of the managerial staff and the garden would turn into a ghastly place in the evenings.

The workers, if at all they came out for work, would come in large groups armed with staves, spears, bows and arrows and would stand in their pahis almost shoulder-to-shoulder.

After quickly and carelessly plucking some green leaves just to earn their wages, they would run at the earliest opportunity, sometimes even abandoning their baskets and topas. There were reports of workers being lifted by the ferocious beast on their way home.

Naturally, work in the garden suffered greatly. The local management was pressurized by both the company head office and the workers to do something quickly. Pearson's friends and well-wishers advised him to declare a reward for killing the man-eater since that appeared to be the only solution. At last, Pearson was forced to declare a reward. But the amount he declared was so measly that nobody came forward to risk their lives.

Pearson had a personal bearer called Johan and he was very fond of this fellow. Johan knew every little detail about his burra saab and was the man Friday of his master. He virtually worshipped his master and Pearson was also quite partial towards him. One evening, on his way to his quarters, adjacent to the manager's bungalow compound, Johan disappeared without a trace. Initially, Pearson did not pay any heed, thinking perhaps he had fought with his wife and had gone to stay with a friend. But when Johan's wife came running to him the next day and started howling about a trail of blood leading into the nearby jungle near their house, Pearson realized the gravity of the situation. Much against his will, he increased the amount of the reward to Rs 1,000 and gave it wide publicity.

Douglas Meston was then the manager of Borpookri Tea Estate which was not very far from Majuligarh. He was a fine marksman and had already earned a reputation of being a good hunter by shooting several ferocious man-eaters. When Meston heard about this man-eater and the reward, he decided to try his luck. After all, one thousand chips was a tidy sum those days!

Armed with his favourite Winchester fully loaded and packing his hunting kit, Meston set out on his mission to Majuligarh. With his years of experience and expertise in shooting man-eaters, he did not have much difficulty in tracking down his quarry and shooting it with one single bullet.

Once the news of the killing of the man-eater reached the labour lines, the workers and their families were jubilant and even the villagers around the garden were on cloud nine. Pearson himself heaved a sigh of relief when he cast his eyes on the lifeless carcass of the tiger. And yet, when Meston claimed his reward, Pearson refused to pay. He took the plea that there was no evidence that the tiger killed was the same man-eater which had terrorized his garden!

Meston got terribly angry. But nevertheless, he kept his cool. He arranged to have the tummy of the dead animal opened in full view of the inquisitive by standers, including Pearson, and out came undigested parts of the human anatomy like fingers and toes with silver rings intact.

Everybody recognized the rings worn by Johan and no one was in doubt anymore about the fate of the faithful lackey of Pearson who had disappeared a couple of days ago.

Pearson was at last left with no option apart from parting with the money promised and Meston was richer by a thousand pieces of silver

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The first tribal to join the covenanted ranks of tea was Wanbor Peter Swer,  Bah Pete to his clan in the Khasi hills. Peter joined Williamson Magor in the 50's and was posted to Kettela .It was the estate of erstwhile Superintendent Manager Pat Balfour, a  koi hai  planter who practiced what he preached, work hard and play hard.The new recruit was billeted with the senior assistant Tim Graves, who initiated Peter to chai ka dastoors. The chokra had hardly settled in when a formal invitation arrived from the superintendent's bungalow the sanctum sanctorum which one avoided even when cycling past.

The invitation was the talk of the district for Peter was the lone invitee. ‘Most unusual', sniggered the club members. Excitement builtup as Peter counted the days to his dinner date. However, the daily briefingsof the senior colleague, on the do's and don'ts at the bara bungalow amazed and  confused this simple country lad.

It was the middle of summer and in spite of the youngster from the cools of Shillong roasting in the sweltering heat, he was advised to be formally dressed for dinner. ‘Impress the Bara sahib and his mem in your DJ', he was told. Peter's request for the use of Tim's car was turned down and he was advised to show the tribal toughness by cycling to the Balfours. Tim did mention that a leopard was on the prowl. However, as old man Balfour frowned upon youngsters borrowing cars, the cycling may result in an early confirmation and sanction of company transport.

The daily briefings on the code of conduct and its consequences, had Peter worried but the final bombshell fell on the day of the dinner party. Tim casually mentioned at breakfast that it was customary to take a gift for the hostess, the bara bara mem of Boroi district, Lila Balfour.Peter broke out in a cold sweat. The nearest town was miles away and although the distance could be traversed before dinner, it was sacrilegious to ask for leave from work, never done. It was a very distressed Peter who did morning kamjari contemplating his predicament. The Mawphlong cherry brandy that arrived the day before would have made a suitable gift but it was already half empty.The hand carved tobacco pipe, of Khasi pine, was definitely not suitable for the bara mem. Moreover, Peter did enjoy the occasional puff when his thoughts wandered back to Shillong's carefree days.

At the lunch table Tim remembered that Mrs. Balfour had once mentioned that she liked birds, the feathered kind, perhaps a parrot or maina would make an ideal gift. Messengers were quickly dispatched but no bird  fit for the lady was found. It was time to leave for dinner when Tim had a brainwave.He suggested that Peter present the bara mem with a duck. This Tim arranged from his own menagerie and quoted a price dearer than the bazaar rate.The desperate chokra sahib was ready to pay anything.

Wanbor Peter Swer attired in tuxedo, his dear bird in onehand, now decked with a bow round its neck, cycled off into the night. He arrived on the dot and was received by the Balfours attired in summer casuals,looking most relaxed, contrary to the briefings Peter was subjected to. Thegift was presented to a rather bemused lady. The Balfours, suppressing their mirth, escorted the new assistant, looking more than a wet duck, to the  gol  kamra, which was in darkness.

By this time a befuddled Peter was ready to die. The host in casuals? The house in darkness? Had he got the dates mixed up? Had he come on the wrong day? But just then the lights came on and lo and behold to Peter's surprise and utter delight, the whole district,including Tim Graves, was there to say, 'Welcome to Tea'.
PS: Peter retired in the 80's. Two days into retirement, in Shillong,  he died of a cardiac arrest.

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May 6 2001


Those were the days of no direct telephone dialing and one had to wait for hours to make a trunk booking through the local exchange which, usually, did not function. Even with all the bottlenecks the Calcutta head office received innumerable calls from upcountry managers wanting information, to the minutest detail, on the MD who had sent out his itinerary for an Assam visit.

A manager was informed that the big boss was averse to sundowners, as poured by planters, but on rare occasion did imbibe in a chota peg or two of Napoleon Brandy. As government policy then did not allow import of foreign brands a hunt for the chairman's choice was made. The search was far and wide but no French Brandy could be found.As D-day grew closer the manager's sprits were down. He brooded over his predicament and ways of making a French connection when the garden contractor, a man of little learning but great resources, which enabled him to procure anything for the sahibs, paid a visit.The manager explained, in great detail, of his requirement for Napoleon Brandy and was most surprised when the contractor enquired on the number of bottles required. The puzzled manager queried into the source of supply as he, a barra sahib, with all his resources was unable to obtain a single bottle. The contractor beemed and replied that any amount of Nepal Brandy could be procured from Siliguri .
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New manufacturing from Nagaland

June 2003


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To a budding planter regardless of his background and prowess with linguistic skill the customs  (dastoors) and tea terminology, peculiar to the trade, can be confusing and hilarious.

Here are a few true episodes.

ACTING - period when an assistant officiates for a manager

The Manager, on furlough, called on the acting manager's fiancée. Eager to give her news of the estate the gentleman mentioned that her fiancée was doing a good acting. The hard workingman was surprised to receive a letter from his betrothed mentioning that she was unaware of his flare for dramatics.

COW PEA  - a green crop grown between the rows of young tea for shade and improvement of soil status.

        The Manager on kamjari picked up the young assistant, an enthusiastic type. The Bara Sahib, inspecting the property, imparted the finer points of the trade to the junior. Driving through the young tea he mumbled that the tea would do well under cowpea.  Next day he threw a fit seeing cattle grazing in the area. Queries revealed that it was the natun sahib's hokum. Confronted the youngster explained that it was terribly difficult collecting cow's urine. By allowing the animals to graze they were carrying out the Manager's order without a hassle.

FLUSH - The periodic growth of tea termed as a flush.

He was the pucca brown sahib - with cravat, pipe smoking, strict with everyone, especially the assistants. His only love and subject of discussion was tea. Managerial staff had to inspect the days plucking prior to morning office and report on leaf growth etc. The assistant, freshly arrived from the Dooars, was asked " how is the flush this morning?" The puzzled assistant thinking that Bara Sahib had referred to the toilet, in need of repairs, replied, "It worked".


LUNGI SUIT - matching kurta and lungi, an unisex dress, in vogue a few decades back

The invitation to the London Director's Cocktail Party, at the Bara bungalow, specified lounge suit. The new assistant, not too conversant with the Queen's English, was told to be properly dressed and ready on time. When the senior assistant drove in to pick up the junior he was horrified to see the recruit in a printed lungi and matching kurta. To the youngster  -L-O-U--N-G-E was lungi.

NAGA HABI - in tea parlance a weed detrimental to tea
Bara Sahib said, "get rid of the Naga habi". The new assistant had heard about Nagas but habi was totally alien to him. Discussing the work programme with the JB he mentioned about Bara Sahib wanting the Naga out. The staff member was confused with the chota sahib. Nagas did visit the estate during the cold weather for jungle clearance and firewood cutting. But it being the middle of summer there was not a tribal in sight barring the Naga nurse and Bara sahib was fond of her!!!

SIKKINS - a tea terminology, not found in any dictionary, denoting a plate of small eats served with drinks

They were the first two Indian tea proprietors admitted as permanent members of the club. Not too familiar with tea terms they received the club chit informing members to bring a plate of sikkins for the cinema night. Members were delighted to see a dozen roast murgis served by the new members.

Bed-side Dictionary
In the old days new assistants arriving from the UK were told thattheir first duty was to learn the local colloquial Hindusthani and somewere given a book by their manager called " Memsahib's Hindusthani"which they studied with the hope that , after 6 months , they qualified for a Bonus of Rs. 500/- .
However some Assistants , who had a " liberal " manager , were encouraged to arrange for a Bed-side Dictionary which required them to go out to where the " Chukri Challan " were working and choose the most attractive one they could find .Her duties from then on were to educate the ignorant assistant on all matters !!!!

Those were the days !!!!

   Return to top                    ALI ZAMAN                                          


Surma Valley ITA

 This is the note from Ali to the Editor

This  is a photograph of a plaque in the Secretary's office of Surma Valley ITA (SVITA). This will be of interest to many of us .The Japanese bombed Cachar and the bombs fell on a garden called Derby!!  It is said that there is still an unexploded bomb there .

Believe it or not the present Manager of the estate is a Bill Chalmers. Some of the old Cachari planters will remember his father who was a koi hai of Cachar.

I am not too sure if you will be able to publish this one: ??

  .In Cachar the bushes tend to get high as they are left unpruned for many years. Women are employed to pluck the high sections.  As they have to hitch up their petticoats to an embarrassing height no men are allowed near the section and even the sirdar keeps his distance.

Did not enquire about the Managerial staff ?!!

The pluckers are referred to as the RANDI CHALLAN    (hope you remember your garden bat).One Manager was told that as the rounds were falling behind the retired randis will have to be called.!!!!

Never a dull moment in tea.

Hope some of the old Cachar planters will add to this.

As you know The Retreat Club in Silchar was where polo first started.  

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July 2002

An old poem published in CONTEMPORARY TEA TIME , Sept - Nov 96. 

This poem by an unknown planter was published at the turn -of-the-last century



When I started planting ,I lived all alone;

I lived in the jungle, I lived near the bone

Sixty years ago, my son!

Sixty years ago.

I rose every morning at 4.30 am

At 'showing a leg' I sure was a jem

Chota by candlelight, muster by lamp,

Then round the tote for a twenty mile tramp.

Tiffin I took in the midst of a field,

(Curry puffs and cold tea) and I worked out the yield.

Six o'clock saw me back at the muster,

If a plucker plucked coarse leaf, Lord how I cust her!

'Fore the muster was o'er,the light had diminished;

But do you imagine that my work had finished?

I kept the small check roll:(the big one as well),

I issued the rice and I rang 'muster' bell.

Off to the factory, walking of course!

In those days we did not do our work on a horse.

I examined the rollers , if a bearing was hot,

The dissolute mechanic was sacked on the spot!

At 'tasting' no one had the 'bulge' upon me,

In those day the stuff which we turned out was tea.

I handled the wither, I sniffed the ferment,

If ought there was wrong , the wrongdoer went!

I stencilled the chests! I'd a keen eye for stalk,

And mark you, I did all these things without talk.

At 8.30 i dined all alone,

Curry and rice (damned near the bone).

You may think that perhaps when the clock tinkled nine,

I considered the rest of the evening was mine.

Not a bit I then studied a language or two,

Canarese, Tamil and soft telugu.

By midnight I really was ready for bed,

And I slept all alone for I wasn't wed.

We'd no motor bikes in those far off days,

Our roads lay apart from effeminate ways.

Sometimes (tho' rarely) I had Sunday free,

But I didn't thereupon go on the spree.

Before the dawn broke I was off to the chase,

Always first at the 'meet' , always first as to pace.

The hounds were a mixture, a queer pack it's true,

And stags they were scarce, but what could we do.

For a short game of tennis , I'd then walk 20 miles

That night would perhaps be a night 'on the tiles'.

I'd return feeling fit, full of 'vim' as a duster,

In five years, my son, I never missed muster!

How did I do it, you ask in amaze;

We planters were men in those real good old days!

Sixty years ago,my son!

Sixty years ago.

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Land of the Brave

I spent 10 of my 16 years in the British Army with the Brigade of Gurkhas. During those years, I visited Nepal as much as I could and trekked in the mountains that were the Gurkha's ancestral homeland, even though nowadays most of the Gurkha recruits come from the major cities and the Terai.
I wanted to understand where my soldiers came from and how they lived. Gradually, however, the mountains wove their spell on me and I returned because I loved them and the people that lived amongst them. I also became aware of a story that had not been told. During this period, I had read everything I could about the Gurkhas and Nepal. There are many books about the Gurkhas but there is almost nothing written by a Gurkha or from a Gurkha point of view.
The old men that I had met in the hills, who had fought in World War II and in the jungles of Malaya and Borneo, had never had their say. There is a saying that "When a man dies a library is lost". I wanted to record some of the old bahadur's experiences for future generations. This was the genesis of a trek that took me from Darjeeling to Dehra Dun across the middle hills of Nepal, Kumaon and Garhwal between January and June this year: a distance of 2,300 km in 109 days. From the outset, I had decided that it would be too dangerous to do the trek on my own. In addition my route, especially in the far west of Nepal, involved trekking in remote areas, far
from any roadhead, where I would need to carry a week's food supply.
I finally planned for a team of four: a guide, two porters and myself. I broke the trek into four legs: from Darjeeling to Kathmandu, Kathmandu to Pokhara, Pokhara to the Mahakali River and the Mahakali to Dehra Dun. I bought a mini disc recorder and microphone to record my interviews with the ex-British Gurkhas that I met on my trek. My intention was to record a hundred interviews.
I started my trek at the end of January from a misty Chowrasta in Darjeeling. The only border crossing point for foreigners going to Nepal is at Kakarbhitta in the Terai. For three days I trekked through dripping mountain mists, dark Teutonic pine forests and somnolent tea estates sizzling with the sound of cicadas. On the road to Naxalbari, I was surprised to see some busts of Marx and Lenin under the cool shade of a banyan tree; they looked incongruous against the green paddy fields and palms.
There was a perceptible change in atmosphere when we crossed the border into Nepal. People seemed to be more open and friendly. Perhaps it was because I could speak the language, but I felt that I was amongst friends. In
Damak, I was able to interview the last Gurkha to win the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest award for valour. Honorary Captain Rambahadur Limbu VC, MVO was born and brought up in Taplejung district of East Nepal and won his VC charging an Indonesian machine gun post during the confrontation between Britain and Indonesia in Borneo in the Sixties. I asked him why he had not chosen to return to the hills on retirement. "Two reasons", he said: "there are no health facilities where my village is and the quality of the education is poor." It was a story that I heard repeated many times during my interviews and it encapsulated the lack of development in the mountainous regions of Nepal.
I realised that people from different backgrounds see the world differently when we were trekking through thick sal forest in the Terai between Damak and Dharan. "Watch out for the robbers and the jungli elephants," a group of villagers warned us one morning when we had to cross a large swathe of primary jungle. When we ventured into the labyrinth of towering trees, my
porters worried about the elephants whilst I was more concerned about being robbed. There are no elephants in the hills and my porters were terrified of the unknown. Luckily, we did not encounter either on our journey. One of my most interesting interviews was with an 87-year-old shaman in the mountainous district of Okhaldhunga in East Nepal. When I arrived at his village it was late afternoon. The old man was high up on the side of a mountain cutting grass for his cattle. A message was sent up to him and an hour later, a wiry sparrow of a man stood to attention in front of me and gave me a huge salute.
Later that evening, over many glasses of potent hill ruxi, he told me he used to be the jangri or shaman for his regiment during World War II. There was no room in his small house for us to stay but his family cleared a space for us on their porch and he offered me his bed. The next morning, he performed a shaman's dance for us to ensure us a safe journey. Throughout East Nepal, I had seen signs of the ongoing Emergency between the government and the Maoists. There had been checkpoints and soldiers dug in around their barracks along the Mahendra Highway where the Army appeared to be in control. In the hills, we were in Maoist territory and it was a different story. The Maoists had destroyed all the local police stations I passed on my route and forced the army and the police out of the rural areas into the district capitals.

I saw very few government forces outside these district headquarters during my four-month trek. It was the Maoists who held power in the hills and there was a palpable fear of them amongst the majority of the hill people I stayed with. We encountered our first Maoist patrol in Okhaldhunga when we were questioned by a group of 30 guerrillas. I was surprised at how young they were, most of them looked between 16 and 18. They wore camouflage uniforms and carried old, flintlock muskets and crude homemade grenades.
I asked the leader what the aim of the Maoists was. "Ninety per cent of Nepalese are poor," he replied, "we are going to take from the rich and give to the poor." I later discovered that the Maoists' control of rural areas extended to the rim of the Kathmandu valley. Their control of the countryside was not physical but psychological, utilising the fear of reprisals and punishment beatings. I spent three weeks resting in Kathmandu before starting the second leg of my trek. It was March and there was still a lot of snow on the mountain passes of Langtang and Rashuwa districts. One night, we were snowed in at the tiny hamlet of Somdang in Rashuwa district. Outside, a pair of black yaks were totally unperturbed at having to spend the night out in the deep snow. The next morning, we waded through snow up to our waists for four hours, squinting up our eyes against the danger of snow-blindness, to cross the 4,000-metre high Pangsang Bhanjyang pass.

In Northern Dhading, we heard wolves howling in the mountains on the Tibetan border. The villages in this area were the most remote that we stayed in during out trek; at night the villagers moved around their village using the light of bamboo torches. One old man told me, "In one day, I can collect enough ningalo (bamboo) to provide me light for 15 days whereas it takes me three days to walk to the bazaar to buy batteries." There was no electricity, no health posts and no toilets.
The weather became more changeable in April as we neared Pokhara. One morning, we were desperately trying to find water on the side of a mountain so that we could cook our morning meal only to reach the top just as a heavy hailstorm started. For half an hour, we were pelted by hailstones as big as mothballs on top of a freezing cold ridgeline. Luckily, we located a dharamshala or shelter and we were able to warm ourselves inside and hang up our soaking clothes. The next morning, the views of Annapurna and Machapuchare at sunrise more than compensated for the misery of the previous day.
In the village of Ghandrung, I stayed with my old friend, Mayadevi Gurung, a widow who used to be married to a Gurkha soldier. I was amazed at her devotion to her husband who had died 15 years before. Every morning she gets up, places incense and marigolds in front of his old army photograph and completes her morning puja. She has no children and only a little land. The Gurkha Welfare Scheme - a charity that looks after the welfare of ex- British Gurkhas - provides her with a small grant to help make ends meet.

Many of the old pensioners that I met were World War II veterans who had been discharged at the end of the war without a pension and who had returned to the hills. Nearly all of them are subsistence farmers. The majority of them are now in their late 70s or early 80s and are no longer in a position to look after themselves. The small welfare grant of 2,100 Nepalese rupees a month makes a huge difference to their quality of life. My route in the west took me through the centre of Rukum, a Maoist stronghold where the Maoist movement originated in 1996. The Maoists have set up a parallel administration in this area. I saw very little evidence of any development in the villages I stayed in and they were some of the poorest I had visited in Nepal.
We were stopped and questioned on several occasions by armed Maoist patrols curious to know what we were doing in their area. They were adamant that they were going to wrest power from the Nepalese government. The Maoists appeared to have a reputation of invincibility that is far from reality. On the path up to the district headquarters of Jajarkot, we were stopped and questioned by a young Maoist armed with a pistol. Another young man armed with a pistol did the same as we left Jajarkot. Yet there were a least several hundred heavily armed soldiers and policemen holed up in their barracks in the district headquarters.
In my opinion, both sides are at an impasse: the Maoists cannot defeat the Royal Nepalese Army and they in turn cannot defeat the Maoists unless they receive external support. The result is a bitter insurgency, the
cessation of development in the hills and widespread suffering for ordinary Nepalese people.
I had hoped to cross the western border between India and Nepal at the border crossing point at Baitadi but was prevented from doing so by an obdurate Indian border official. "We have no authority to let foreigners pass", he said, "go back". Going back involved a three-day detour by foot, bus, rickshaw and jeep taxi to Pithoragarh in Kumaon. I caught a jeep taxi to the suspension bridge across the Mahakali River where I had been refused entry and resumed my trek.
After Nepal, Kumaon seemed to be a developed country. There were metalled roads, an efficient transport system, concrete paths linked the small white villages, houses had electricity and there were shops selling medicine in every village. We had also left the problems of Nepal's Emergency behind us. There were no curfews or checkpoints and the feeling of fear evaporated. In Kumaon and Garhwal I trekked on old mule-tracks built by the British Raj a century ago. It was pleasant to think that 100 years before, Gurkha Regiments had marched up and down these tracks amongst the pine-covered mountains.
One evening we stayed in a temple, sharing our food with a sadhu who complained about our cooking. We visited the garrison towns of Ranikhet and Landsdowne, that had started life as home to regiments in the old British Indian Army. We spent a day jostled by pilgrims and orange and saffron clad sadhus beside the Ganges at Rishikesh. On my last day, I was
chased by an elephant on the road to Dehra Dun. Fortunately, a passing car on the road frightened it away and I was able to escape.Before Independence, Dehra Dun used to be the Regimental Centre for Gurkha Regiments and it is immortalised in many of the old Gurkha marching songs.
It also approximately marked the western-most extent of the old Kingdom of Nepal before the warriors from the hills had run up against an expanding British Empire nearly 200 years ago and been forced to withdraw.
I had walked across the length of the old kingdom and recorded the experiences of 85 ex-British Gurkha servicemen. Most of them were poor farmers struggling to feed their families and themselves in a country that was in the grip of an ever-widening insurgency.
They had always greeted me with courtesy and hospitality, sharing their food with me, happy that an officer from their regiment had walked many miles to visit them. And their farewell was always the same; "Pheri, pheri bhetaunla", they said as I left. May we meet again.

(The author was formerly in the British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas.)  

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June 2002


The British went away but they left a few legacies which have continued not only to influence us but also to determine our actions in many spheres of our lives and society---the judiciary the Administrative machinery, the Bureaucracy, the Education al.   The common link among all these institutions is the English language.  However hard you try to induce the general populace to accept and use our very own "Rashtrabhasha", (national language Hindu) English cannot be wished away so easily---particularly in the bastions of Government Offices whose very existence can get threatened if the English language is shown the door.

Railway offices are flag bearers in the use (or abuse) of the English language.  The Babu-prodigy (clerical staff) of bureaucracy, in all his wisdom has continued to cling on to the Victorian form of this language as though his life (at least his livelihood) depends upon it.  In the process, more often than not, he ends up being a big rigmarole in trying to communicate, splashing many more hues than the canvas can take.  So when Mr. Bhaban Digambar Borpatra Gohain,  (BDBG) an Assistant Station Master at a metre gauge station of the Northeast Frontier Railway in the north bank section near Lakhimpur, discovers the first flash of flood water gushing down the small yet fast river near his station, he sends a routine message to the Headquarters office on the MORSE, in a manner he is acquainted with for the past 20 years.




Mr. Setubannndhan Suryanarayana, the young and impatient Bridge Engineer is flabbergasted by the message, as it does not provide him much of a lead as to the extent of damage the flood can inflict on the bridge on the river and the station a little away from it.  He does not "bank" on the contention of the ASM and shoots off an angry message back to him:



Mr. BDBG sits takes up word by unsavoury word in the message chooses his array of epithets carefully, frames his reply point by point and flashes it off in right earnest.



Mr. Suryanarayana almost explodes on receipt of this reply to his message.  He, however, does not lose heart and still persists:


It finally dawns upon Mr. Bhaba Digamber Borpatra Gohain that he has to cut a long story and yet be able to convey the ground (or water) reality.  He games his full reservoir of grey matter, marshals his lexicon and shoots off with a vengeance:





The ex students of St. Edmund's School, Shillong, published this true report written by ROBIN KALITA in the EX-Edition, a periodical.

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 February 16 2002


A hostess par excellence

KOLKATA, Feb. 15. - She counts Ismail Merchant and Dominique Lapierre amongst her friends. She's been witness to the courtship of a suave Shashi Kapoor and a cherubic Jennifer Kendel. And she's "obsessed" with her hotel.
Meet Mrs Violet Smith: short, auburn-haired and well-coiffured. The 82-year-old Mrs Smith - a quintessential "Calcutta character" in the nicest way possible - owns the Fairlawn Hotel on Sudder Street. The hotel has recently received it's fifth national award for excellence from the Union ministry of tourism, the only one in eastern India to be so honoured in 2000-'01.
Mrs Smith can be described as someone pleasantly Miss Marplesque, except, of course, for the fact that she's happily married. Indeed, Fairlawn and Mrs Smith - Armenian by birth and wife of an ex-Major of the British Army - personify the bygone days of the Raj. British travel-writer Eric Newby had once compared the ambience of the hotel to a "slow-motion film of a coronation".
The Who's Who of the London stage, filmstars, artists... you name it and she has played host to them all. The list of guests who have partaken of her hospitality at Fairlawn includes Julie Christie, Tom Stoppard and Norman Hutchinson.
Mrs Smith reminisces fondly of the days when great numbers of people had almost gate-crashed for a glimpse of Shashi Kapoor on one of his first visits to Kolkata. The actor, meanwhile, was smitten by the daughter of Geoffrey and Laura Kendel, on a tour of India to render Shakespearean plays for
school and theatre audiences.
"The Kendels were our guests through their stay. Shashi first saw Jennifer at New Empire ... she was playing Juliet." At room 17 of Fairlawn the couple spent their honeymoon. "Since then, whenever Shashi's been here, he stays in that room."
Guests mostly turn friends for life. Others with whom Mrs Smith is on first-name terms include Om Puri, Ismail Merchant, Dominique Lapierre (who gets dinner on-the-house courtesy Fairlawn each time he's in the city) and Felicity Kendel.
"While City of Joy was being filmed in the hotel, the crew turned the whole place upside down for three days. Both Ronald Joffe and Patrick Swayze were on the team... And, of course, there was Om (who played rickshaw-puller Hasari Pal) who'd sometimes take me on a rickshaw ride!"
Fairlawn is a "family" enterprise. The ownership, with Mrs Smith's daughter Mrs Jennifer Fowler already involved in its day-to-day running, is now into the third generation. The staff has been working there for generations. And Shashi Kapoor's children Karan and Sanjana have kept up their father's tradition.




n 1967, Pertabghur was terrorized by a man eating leopard. The terror ended when the Kamjari Sahib, Alan Leonard after a few sleepless nights managed to shoot the marauder. The panic died down and the garden sighed with relief. The noble deed was announced to the Manager, Nasim Hazarika, by the excited KB who said,

"Sir, Mr. LEO-O-NARD has shot the bloody LEO-O-PARD."



         By Robin Borthakur

But what about the likes of William Singh?" ejaculated Wazir Khan, a warhorse in tea who has become sort of legend in his lifetime. He indignantly pointed and accusing finger at this writer, "You seem to have completely ignored the brave acts of many in tea during that period of crisis."

The context was the Chinese aggression of 1962 which happened to be the theme of this column last fortnight. I had to admit that there was a lapse on my part. But I explained that the intention of the piece was to throw light on the sacrifices of our valorous soldiers who, despite being handicapped by lack of resources, fought with hardihood unparalleled in the recent history of wars; to remember cannon fodder like Jaswant Singh who, despite grievous injuries had plugged away single handedly for quite long with his light machine gun (LMG) spitting out fury at a whole army of advancing Chinese till at last he ran out of ammunition and the enemy took a pot-shot at him. Jaswantgarh in Arunachal Pradesh still stands as a grim reminder of treachery of our neighbours and bravery of our heroes. 

It was also intended to recall the untold misery suffered by the civilian population, including those in the tea industry of Assam. As the foreign nationals were being repatriated from Assam in the unexpected turn of events, many of them refused to meekly desert their place of work and to fly to a safe haven, leaving their staff and the labour behind. One such person was Peter Armstead, manager of Teen Ali tea estate near Naharkatia in Upper Assam. Communication network having virtually broken down in the face of the skirmishes on the Sin-Indian border, with the situation having turned to a full scale aggression, word-of-mouth was the main vehicle of news, which traveled fast but got distorted on the way - making confusion worse confounded.

The expatriate planters were mostly leaving with their families, handling over charge of their gardens to their Indian assistants or to the members of the staff. For the Naharkatia and Moran planters, chartered flights were arranged from the airstrip at Doomur Dullung tea estate. P.N. "Bugs" Bhagwati, an assistant at Tinkong tea estate, recalls that he got 16 bunches of keys from the managers of various gardens left in his charge. His own manager, who was in charge of the repatriation, told Bugs to go and inform Armstead that he should also come to the airstrip. But when he heard this, Armstead was outraged. He said that he would never leave his workers and the staff behind and go away. If at all, he would love die with them.

Our assurance to highlight the above incidents seemingly satisfied Wazir Khan. He is a handsome person and despite his age, is a romantic at heart. I, therefore, requested him for a romantic story of his own life. Khan smiled sheepishly and recited from Daag:  

"Dohrayee jaa sakegi na ab


Kuch who kahin sey bhool gaye

kuch kahin sey hum

(The tales of love cannot be repeated now, 

she has somehow forgotten a part of it, 

'so have I another part)."    The sky was clear again.  

Wazir Khan's William Singh was, however, not a Sikh gentleman as one may presume. He was actually Maj. Patrick Hay Williamson MC, and the last in the bloodline of a pionerr in tea and founder of Williamson Magor & Company, George Williamson. Pat Williamson was the Calcutta based director of the company. He served the British Indian Army during the War in the Sikh Regiment and, consequently came to be known as William Singh. Pat Williamson was a bachelor, but that did not stand in the way of 

his having a Miss World of the Sixties as his guest in his yacht Merry Dancer for two days. In November 1962, when most of their company gardens were deserted by managerial personnel, Pat Williamson flew in to Pertapghur tea estate in a private aircraft from Calcutta with all the money for payment to the staff and the labour. R.R.L. Pennel, the superintendent of Bishnauth Tea Company, who was also the Chairman of Assam Branch Indian Tea Association in 1960-61, had also stayed back in the garden

both of them moved from garden to garden distributing the money.  

Ivan Surita, elder brother of the well-known cricket commentator Peasron Surita, was also in the army during World War II. He was a close friend of Pat Williamson. In course of the War, during the famous Cassino Campaign in Italy, Surita's regimentalso had participated. As the battle was at its peak, a machine gun bullet hit Surita in his stomach and although it narrowly missing his spine, busted his stomach open. Everything that he had eaten for lunch came out. He was, however, fortunate that 

prompt treatment saved his life. He was also decorated with Military Cross (MC) for 

his bravery.During the Sixties, Ivan Surita was the commissioner of North Bengal. Following the 1962 debacle, the Centre and all state governments took various measures to tackle emergencies. Training courses in rifle shooting, civil defence and first aid, etc. were introduced in the schools, colleges, offices and institutions, including tea gardens. The 

state administration regularly monitored these activities. Ivan Surita, in his capacity as commissioner, North Bengal, sent out letters, among others, to the tea garden managers to comply with the government orders and to report various civil defence and other training undertaken in the tea gardens. Donald Mackenzie was then the manager of Bagracote tea estate in the Dooars. He had an impressive physique - tall and hefty, and was generally called "Big Mac". In response to the Commissioner's circular, he made out a compliance report giving the details of the civil defence and other measures undertaken in his garden to enable his staff and workers to facepossible threats from across the border. At the end of the report he gingerly added,

 "And as a measure of abundant precaution, the Chinese variety of tea has also 

been uprooted!"  

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December 31st 2001


By : Robin Borthakur

The Chinese aggression of 1962 was a nightmarish experience for the people in the north bank of the Brahmaputra and it was a particularly hellish time for the people of Tezpur, a sleepy little town those days. Following the escape of the Dalai Lama from Tibet into India through Tezpur, the Chinese army suddenly invaded India in total betrayal of the friendship with this country.

After having overrun the present day Kameng district in Arunachal Pradesh, they marched downhill towards Tezpur. The Indian army was caught napping and hundreds of dauntless, but totally unprepared and ill-equipped soldiers foughtwith unmatched gallantry and laid down their lives for the sake of the country. It was in memory of the heroic warriors that poet Pradeep wrote his memorable Ei mere watan ke logon, zara aakh mein bhar lo paani, so beautifully sung by melody queen Lata Mangeshkar, which brought tears to the eyes of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. To commemorate their exemplary courage and supreme sacrifice, the Indian army built a grand memorial at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh.

As the news of the fall of Bomdila and the advance of the Chinese forces reached Tezpur there was utter chaos and confusion in the middle of which the town was ordered to be evacuated. Crores of rupees worth of currency notes were burnt and sackfuls of coins were dumped into the lakes. Vital installations like the electric supply station were on the verge of being blown up and Tezpur turned into a ghost town as the residents young and old, women and children, abandoned their homes and were forced to take shelter on the banks of the Brahmaputra under the open sky. Assam was virtually taken for lost which prompted Nehru to utter those oft-quoted and more frequently misquoted words, "My heart goes out with the people of Assam".  

Most tea planters those days were either English or Scottish. The foreigners were ordered to repatriate in the wake of the Chinese aggression. Consequently the European planters on the north bank handed over the properties of their Indian assistants or the clerical staff, gave away or shot dead their pet animals, stuffed their belongings into one or two suitcases and left the gardens with their families and boarded chartered flights for Calcutta. There was widespread panic among the staff and the workers, too. It was during those days that the legendary trade union leader of Assam, Mahendra Nath Sarma, along with a handful of his companions moved from the garden to garden on the north bank providing moral support to the staff and the workers.


The situation was only marginally better on the south bank gardens. The Nowgong Circle gardens, just across the river from Tezpur, also experienced a panic situation. Every evening the planters would assemble in the Misa Planters' Club and discuss their course of action. Their only source of information was the news over the radio. Everyday someone would go to Nowgong, while another would go to Silghat to gather information from people crossing over from Tezpur by ferry. Lack of adequate information made the situation even worse. But then, a small squadron of the Indian Air Force moved into Misa and took over the Club building and there was no meeting place left for the planters. It was the last straw on the camel's back. They all decided to leave the gardens and to move to Calcutta.


Readers of this column would remember Bob Grierson, manager of Salonah Tea Estate, then owned by Macneil and Barry and Tapan Barua, who had joined him recently as an assistant. His father had bought Barua a Fiat 1100 car. One evening Grierson came to Barua's bungalow and asked whether they could go to Guwahati by his car. Barry agreed and it was decided to leave early the next morning.


Mrs Grierson, who had a fracture and had one of her arms in a sling, hurriedly packed their stuff in a single suitcase and husband and wife along with their pet German Spitz got into Barua's car. They met some other planters and their families at Jagiroad where they had stopped for tea and when they all reached Jorabat, they got a message that they should go straight to Guwahati airport where the Joint Steamer Company had made all arrangements for them to move to Calcutta. At the airport they found everything  organized by Harry Beattie of the Joint Steamer Company who was in charge of planters' repatriation. Frequent chartered flights had been arranged to cope with the emergency. Women and children were to be evacuated first. As they were boarding the flights, many children were seen refusing to go leaving the father behind.

Readers of this column would remember Bob Grierson, manager of Salonah Tea Estate, then owned by Macneil and Barry and Tapan Barua, who had joined him recently as an assistant. His father had bought Barua a Fiat 1100

However, the operation went off smoothly and eventually everybody could go. 

Harry Beattie, who was in charge of the operation, was made an MBE by the 

Queen of England by way of commendation for his exemplary services.


Tapan Barua immediately returned to the garden. The company had earlier made a contingency plan that in case there was any possibility of the property falling into the hands of the aggressors, the factory would be blown up. Fortunately, however, there was no such eventuality.


On his return to the garden Barua found that there were only three other planters in the neighbouring gardens - Bijay (Bhaiti) Bhuyan, Harish Medhi and Arun Baruwa. Since it was cold weather and plucking season in the gardens was over there was not much work for them. So for the next few days all four of them moved around the neighbouring villages reassuring people that there was no reason for them to panic. This greatly helped the villagers to muster courage and to go about their daily business.


The Misa Planters' Club having been taken over by the air force, the four friends shifted the club bar to Amluckie Tea Estate where they would spend the evenings analyzing all the stories they heard from the passengers crossing over from Tezpur and whatever they heard over the radio.


Meanwhile, the Chinese army which had continued its advance and had reached the foothills of the erstwhile NEFA, precariously close to Tezpur town, suddenly stopped the advance march, declared a unilateral ceasefire and went back. On receipt of the information regarding the ceasefire, the expatriate planters and  their families who were preparing to fly back to their respective homes, changed their programmes and returned to Assam. Within just three days Bob Grierson and his compatriots were also back in the garden. And, thereafter, it was business as usual.

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December 16th 2001




Jorhat, Dec. 14: For those who have always wanted a feel of life in a tea garden but do not know how to go about arranging such a trip, here is some good news. The six-day "Jorhat Tea Tourism Festival", beginning February 4, will offer tourists the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in British-era bungalows and get a rare insight into the almost colonial lifestyle of tea planters. 


The festival, the first such tourism-related initiative in Upper Assam, will coincide with the 125-year-old "Jorhat Races", a localised derby that is a big draw each year. Additional deputy commissioner Lalit Gogoi, a member of the organising committee, told The Telegraph that tea garden executives would host tourists in their bungalows and show them around. "It is a rare opportunity to get a first-hand account of a tea executive's lifestyle, which is a mixture of hard work and leisure," he said. It is the first time that the tourism department, the culture department, the tea industry and the Jorhat district administration are collaborating in a tourism-promotion campaign. "Tourists generally consider Kaziranga the only place in Upper Assam that is worth a visit. Now that we have organised the tea tourism festival, they will realise that there is more to Upper Assamthan just the rhinos of Kaziranga. The historical Jorhat races are an added attraction," Gogoi said.

The additional deputy commissioner said the tea industry's wholehearted involvement in the festival was a welcome development. "The industry and the Tea Research Association have agreed to offeraccommodation to tourists and make arrangements for visits to tea gardens," he said. The organisershave asked tour operators based in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Calcutta to offer "attractive packages" to tourists interested in the festival, especially those who have already confirmed visits to the Kaziranga National Park. The tariff for accommodation in garden bungalows is, however, yet to be fixed. "We plan to put up posters and banners at airports, bus stops and railway stations in cities across the country to attract tourists to Upper Assam," Gogoi said.

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By: Robin Borthakur

It was a sultry morning in June, 1961. the Jam Air Dakota softly touched down at the grassy airstrip of Misa Planters' Club. Jam Air, successor airline of Sky Players, was originally owned by an Armenian called Popovitch. The successor company was started by the Jam Saheb of Jamnagar and J.B. Muff, an American World War II veteran, who flew Douglas DC3 aircrafts on supply sorties during the war from Dinjan in Upper Assam to China across the "hump".  


Flights of Jam Air and Assam Travels used to land in the Misa airstrip on alternate days carrying provisions, including cold stores for tea planters from the famous Great Eastern Stores in Calcutta. As a matter of fact, except for minor groceries and fresh vegetables, everything of daily use including Firpo's cakes and Dehra Doon basmati used to arrive by these flights.


Soon after the flight landed, a young, passenger climbed down the boarding ramp and stepped on the grass. He was feeling somewhat giddy because of the rather long flight from Calcutta in a non-pressurized aircraft. But as soon as he was out in the open he was greeted by a gust of refreshing breeze. He had come straight out of his interview in Calcutta to join Salonah tea estate as covenanted staff. He was still wondering if he had taken the right decision by giving up the cushy government job, which was equivalent to the rank of the present-day block development officer (BDO), and entering the unfamiliar world of tea.  

He vaguely looked up and down the airstrip,half-expecting someone from the garden to receive him. Just then he saw a young Englishman in shorts, half sleeve shirt and hunter boots coming towards him.

"I am Hay, Alex Hay, factory assistant, Salonah," said the young Briton cheerfully,  offering him his hand. "I presume you are the new assistant for Saonah?"  


"Yes, indeed I am," said the young man greatly relieved. "My name is Tapan Barua."


Following the brief introduction, Barua retrieved his baggage from the airline staff and accompanied Hay to the garden in the jeep he had brought. He was taken straight

to garden manager Robert Grierson whose imposing personality made an immediate impact on Barua. Hay had already told him that Grierson was the undisputed monarch of the entire area, feared and respected by all. He was better known by his nickname Lion in the tea circle.


Apart from his six-feet-four-inches frame and handsome features, his deep baritone would inspire awe among his assistants, staff and the labourers. "Are you an engineer?" asked Grierson, casting a piercing look at Barua. "No Sir, I am not. I was doing an administrative job with the government."

"Have you seen a tea garden before?"

"Yes I have, but only from outside."

"God save the Queen!" interjected the old man, "I had asked for an experienced  engineer for the factory and they have sent this greenhorn!" The snide remark was not lost on Barua.

"Anyway, you will work in the factory. Hay will explain everything to you," with an impatient wave of his hand, the meeting was dismissed. Barua's life in tea began.

The first few days in the garden he took to acquaint himself with his duties in the factory.  Besides, he also learnt the various customs or dastoors prevalent in the garden. Grierson,  a very hard and sincere worker himself, was a tough taskmaster. It was almost impossible to keep pace with him. He would put on his shoes at five in the morning, go out for work and take off the shoes only in the evening after returning from work. He was also a sports enthusiast and Tapan Barua being a good sportsman, was among his favourites. Although his initial reception on his arrival at the garden was somewhat chagrined, Barua soon discovered that Grierson was in fact, a very nice and sympathetic person with a rough exterior. After working hours, he was quite friendly with his assistants.In Misa Planters' Club, of which he was president, he encouraged them to participate in sports and even wouldn't mind a light-hearted banter. But while at work, he was a strict disciplinarian. As manager of the garden, he was almost omniscient and omnipresent for 

nothing that happened in the garden ever escaped his notice. His method of maintaining discipline was simple but very effective.  

There was once rampant theft of tea from the factory and the management did not have a clue as to how the tea was being pilfered.  

to be continued

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By: Robin Borthakur

Almost all tea factories in the Sixties used coal for drying tea. While manufacturing the stokers put coal into the dryers and kept a watch on the temperature. They had the easiest access to made-tea at the dryer-mouth. But nobody was able to spot any of them pinching tea.  

That day, Tapan Barua was standing outside the Salonah factory gate spying on the workers going back home after their shifts, some carrying empty aluminum cans like the ones used by the milkmen, in which they carried tea liquor for drinking during duty hours. The empty cans, loosely hanging in their hands, were swinging and making

a clatter.  Suddenly, the burra saab appeared from nowhere, swooped on one of the stokers, snatched away his can and slapped him hard across his face. He then emptied the can in the presence of everybody and inside was about a kilogram of freshly made tea. He pulled up Barua for allowing such theft in front of his eyes.  

Barua who was quite flabbergasted wondered how this could be detected. He later learnt that the manager, Robert Grierson, had a pair of binoculars with which watched everything-unseen by others. That day, he had noticed that while the empty cans of the workers were swinging backward and forward, the can carried by one of the workers was not swinging. Obviously, it contained something and what could it be but fresh tea from the factory! This Holmsain act of Grierson elevated him in Barua's esteem.Saturday was generally the club evening in all the planters' clubs. Misa Planters' Club was no exception. Attendance in the club was compulsory and that, too, in formal lounge suit in winter and collar and tie in summer. After about a week of his joining Salonah, Barua went to attend the club. Since he did not have his own vehicle, he 

got a lift from Alex Hay.  Barua was a teetotaller while his companion was a hard drinker. Sunday was a working day for the factory and they would have to start the factory at six in the morning. But Hay continued drinking till the small hours of the morning and since Barua had to take a lift with him, he had no alternative but to keep company with orange squash. Finally, they left the club at two and Barua had his full meal and went to bed. Consequently he could not get up on time.  

When he reached th factory gate, he was late by ten minutes and all the factory workers were waiting or were made to wait. Grierson, who was stickler for time, was sitting right across the gate. Barua confessed what had actually happened the previous night and the manager gave him a good dressing down. He asked Barua if he realised how much the company had lost in terms of production and wages for so many workers for the period of delay. Barua was very upset, went into his office and wrote a letter of resignation.

Meanwhile, Hay arrived at the factory and received a mouthful from the old man. Grierson then came to the factory office and asked Barua what he was writing. He took the piece of paper from the young man and when he saw that it was a resignation letter; he thought for a while and said placidly, "Well, if you want to resign, I can't stop you. I can accept your resignation right away. It doesn't even have to go to the 

company.  "But I suggest you take your time to think. You are just a week old with the company and you don't even know the industry functions. You see, I came here 36 years ago as a 19-year-old boy all the way from England, my home, 10,000 miles away. After a long sea voyage, I took a train from Calcutta and after several trans-shipments finally reached by a narrow gauge train the small and obscure railway station of Salonah.  "I was a total stranger in an alien land with absolutely no knowledge of the languages or culture. There was no one at the station to receive me. I managed to find my way to the garden. On my arrival, the manager did not even bother to ask me about my strenuous journey but threw a bunch of keys at me and told me to start work in the factory.  "You on the other hand, are a local man, your home being just a hundred miles away. You came by an aeroplane and someone received you on your arrival. Any way, don't take a hasty decision. There are a few Indian assistants around in the neighbouring gardens including one in Salonah itself. Talk to them before you finally decide". And Grierson was gone. Barua felt ashamed of himself. He tore off his resignation letter and threw it into the trash bin.  

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-September 2001


By: Robin Borthakur

The guest column in the September 11 edition of northeast - "Sacrificial Lamb" by 

Abhik Gupta - was indeed thought-provoking. It is a fact that vast stretches of forest 

land in the Barak Valley were once leased out to tea gardens, but the process of opening new gardens stopped many years ago, while indiscriminate denudation of forest areas continued unabated over the years, throwing bio-diversity to the winds.

The tea gardens at least partly preserve forests and add to the greenery in the form of tea bushes, shade trees and fuel plantations, but illegal feeling by the timber mafiosi, with the connivance of those responsible for protection of forests, is a said commentary on our system.

Four months after my joining the Indian Tea Association as an assistant labour adviser, I was sent as locum to the Surma Valley Branch of the Indian Tea Association (SVBITA) in Silchar for six weeks. Several such short postings to Cachar followed over the next few years, and I struck a rapport with quite a few Cachar based planters. During one such stint, I was sitting in my office one morning when I suddenly saw the tall and wiry figure of P.V. Wallerstein, manager of Coombergram tea estate and a past chairman of the SVBITA, almost framed against the door of my office chamber. He had a white shirt on with a pair of khaki shorts loosely hanging on his frail body. His fair hair was disheveled, the blue eyes were full of anxiety and his otherwise ruddy cheeks looked pallid with concern. Peter was otherwise a regular visitor to my office and would be there in Silchar every day. When I once asked him how he could afford to leave the garden and come to town everyday, he smiled indulgently and said that as long as his staff and workers knew that he was in the district, the garden would continue to run smoothly, and so it did.

But that day, he looked different, and I asked him what the matter was. He took time to settle down on a chair and breathe normally. Then he told me how valuable timber was being removed from the forests and smuggled out of the district right in front of the authorities. He insisted that we must do something to prevent this. He called me to the Happy Valley Club the next day, and sitting on the verandah of the club, we could see rows of timber-laden trucks moving along the highway.  

The following day, we prepared a representation and both Peter and I met the divisional forest officer (DFO). We explained to him how the timber mafiosi was denuding the state's resources and causing irreparable damage to the environment. The DFO did us the favour of going through our representation. But he pleaded helplessness, saying those forests were located near the border with Mizoram and were the preserve of Mizo insurgents (Mizoram was a troubled area those days). When we asked why the people who were transporting logs in trucks could not be punished, there was no response, and we returned disappointed.  

Several tea gardens, particularly in Upper Assam, are known to have prevented illegal feeling and transportation of timber through garden roads. Here is a story of a tea garden manager stopping vehicles carrying timber (whether felled legally or illegally is not known) through a garden road. This is, however, in a totally different context. It was sometime in the late fifties or early sixties of the last century. This garden, located by the side of the national highway in Upper Assam, was adjacent to a forest reserve and contractors used to take their timber-laden trucks through a private road passing by the manager's bungalow. The rattling sound of the ramshackle trucks and screeching of brakes often disturbed the burra saab's siesta. One day, the manager (let's call him George Osborne) ordered his chowkidar to close the garden gate and stop any lorry passing by his bungalow at siesta time. The chowkidar complied with the order and closed the gate before the next lorry passed by. When Osborne got up and sat down on the verandah, the lorrywallahs came running to him and profusely apologized and requested that the truck be allowed to cross the gate. They promised that they would never ply their trucks during his siesta time. However, the burra saab refused to listen and asked them to get lost.

In the evening, as Osborne was having his tea after returning from the garden, the lorrywallahs showed up again, this time with a couple  of bottles wrapped in old newspapers. They again started pleading  with him. Osborne, after some initial hesitation, looked at the bottles wrapped in newspapers from the corner of his eyes and relented. He warned them not to do it again in future and ordered the chowkidar to 

open the gate for the truck to go. It was a winter evening. Osborne asked the bearer to light a fire in the fireplace. He then had his bath, sat down comfortable near the fireplace and asked for a glass and some soda. His face lit up with anticipation as he asked the bearer to open a bottle, which he had expected to be good Scotch whisky. The bearer unwrapped the newspaper and lo and behold, there was bottle of tomato ketchup! The bearer then unwrapped the other bottle, too, and the contents turned out to be no different.  

The lorrywallahs had apparently gone to the nearest township, which was not much of a place those days, and asked the owner of the biggest store selling fancy goods what was generally popular with the saablog. Unlike today, there were no wine shops in the small townships those days, and the shopkeeper could think of only the tomato ketchup, which was mostly used by the tea planters. Hence, they bought a couple of bottles as gifts to please the manager and get their vehicle released!        

b          Robin Borthakur    September 2001

Almost all important newspapers in the state were carrying the news item - all the accused persons except one, in the Parthasarathy murder case which took place more than 20 years ago, had been acquitted by a Shillong court for "inadequate evidence".My eyes involuntarily wandered over to a group photograph taken in 1979. 

There he was - E.S. Parthasarathy, then commissioner of Upper Assam division, a tall person with a thining hairline, then deputy commissioner of Jorhat, A.P. Singh, me and my wife. The central figure of the group, however, was Sir Percival Griffiths, KBE, CIE, formerly of Indian Civil Service and the celebrated author of The History of the Indian Tea Industry. The occasion of his visit to India was the centenary celebration of the Indian Tea Association.Sir Percival was a versatile person, who, besides being an able administrator, wrote several books on India under British rule.F.L. Engledow, once professor of agriculture in Cambridge University, who had headed Engledow Commission of inquiry into the scientific department of Indian Tea Association (Tocklai Experimental Station at Jorhat), spoke of Sir Percival in the following words: "The Indian Civil Service, political work for the Government of India, a central advisory position in the Indian Tea Association, many-sided commercial and other connections with India and Pakistan, a deep interest in history with flair for research and for writing,have uniquely fitted the author to be the historian of tea."

At the end of World War II when the Assam branch of the Indian Tea Association had become somewhat organizationally weak, Sir Percival was invited jointly by the India Tea Association and its Assam branch in 1950 to examine the latter's organisation and on the basis of his recommendation, the branch was divided into three zones comprising Upper Assam, Central Assam, including Nowgaon and the North Bank, each with honorary chairman and a stipendiary secretary. Subsequently, each zone was sub-divided into several circles. Following the opening of the labour department, a labour officer was appointed in the branch headquarters and in each of the zones. 

The circles used to and even now hold meetings every month where the daily problems of the garden managers are discussed. The zone stipendiaryofficials have to find solutions to all their problems.At time, however, things are taken a little to far. For example, at a circle meeting in Dibrugarh almost 20 years ago, various problems of the managers were being discussed where a member was routinely asking at the end of each question as to what the association was doing about it.

Finally, the circle chairman raised the subject of weather and informed members that the dry spell was causing heavy damage to the tea bushes. 

There was no sign of clouds in the sky. Our gentlemen, without even batting an eyelid, shot out his question, "What is the association doing about it?" Everyone broke into laughter. It was then that he realised what he had said and sheepishly joined his colleagues. The zone committee meetings are held every quarter where subjects concerning the industry are discussed. The general committee of the branch officials, meets once a year.One such meeting was in progress in the Panitola Sports Club in the early Sixties of the last century. Members were almost entirely English or Scotsmen. 

The meeting which started early, was going on for hours with members coming up with all kinds of issues, some of which were irrelevant. 

J.R. Wilson, branch secretary, who was also the prime target of all questions, was naturally quite exhausted and exasperated. Many of the 60-odd strong committee members were yawning and showing signs of impatience.One of the members, Hamish Grant, superintendent of Doom Dooma Tea Company, weary of the tedium of at times aimless debates, walked up to the bar mischievously ordered 60 large whiskies for the members. 

When the drinks were served, people were somewhat scandalised at such a breach of convention - serving whiskies at lunch hour and that, too, during the meeting. Wilson was angry to think about the cost of 60 large whiskies which the branch would have to bear most of which would go waste. But he quickly turned the table on Grant as he announced,  "Gentlemen, I thank Mr Hamish Grant on behalf of all of you for the round of scotch so kindly offered by him, to cool the frayed nerves. Cheers!" Grant didn't know what to say. The drinks were naturally billed to Grant.

         At another such general committee meeting at Misa Planter's Club, Chairman T.T. Richardson having gone on leave, one Anderson alias Andy of Jiajuri tea estate was acting as Chairman of Nowgong circle. 

Andy was a short person with a broad Scottish accent. When he was asked to speak a few words, he rattled away and his audience looked at one another trying to fathom what he was trying to say. Once his speech was over, the branch chairman thanked him politely. "Thank you, Mr Anderson, for your illuminating speech. But may I request you to be so good as to translate it into plain English for the benefit of our members?"

L.F. Paget of Upper Assam Tea Company had a bad leg. He could not sit for long hours without resting his leg. Therefore, when he became branch chairman in 1957-58, he would keep his meetings very short. He would always carry a stub of pencil in his pocket. He would take a quick note of everything important with the pencil and would even sign official documents with the pencil to the horror of his staff

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 August 2001


The last bastions of British colonialism in India, perhaps, lingered on till the 60's in the tea districts of Assam. A sizeable number of ex-patriates, which administered the tea estates, held sway. The boga sahibs were the lords and masters of all that they surveyed, kings on their estates and knights that jostled in the clubs. Even though an increasing number of Indians were in the covenanted ranks it was the John Bulls who held the reigns. The Queen's birthday was celebrated and toasts drunk to her Majesty's health. Her portrait adorned the club bars. Admissionto the clubs followed strict  rules and a system of black balling or refusal of membership existed. Into this scene entered  T.M.Chatterjee.  

Mr. T.M.Chatterjee, popularly called "Chatt" started his tea career in 1931 as an apprentice fitter. By dint of hard work he became a motor mechanic, head fitter and factory in charge. When planters left for war service in 1939-45 Chatt was upgraded to a local covenanted assistant. He was instructed to behave like a member of the managerial staff but being from the ranks denied club membership.  

The routine tea life continued. The kale sahib's name, as a good tea maker and a talented factory assistant, spread throughout the district. With World War II raging spare parts for automobiles and factory engines could not be obtained from England. Chatt, who fabricated them on the lathe machine, was much in demand.  


In 1960 there was turmoil on the estate with workers striking against management. Chatt accused of instigating labour was confined to his bungalow pending the arrival of the bara bara sahib from Head Office. At the end of the investigation the Manager was sacked and Chatt appointed in his place, superseding Europeans and Indians.  

As bara sahib Chatt applied for club membership. The application was black balled with an objection that as both husband and wife had risen from the ranks they may not fit in. The main adversary was the manager next door. A point about the British is that with their snobbishness they displayed fair play. While a few objected to Chatt's application others opined that background was not a criteria for club membership.Mr. and Mrs. Chatterjee were made permanent members of Mangaldai Polo and Gymkhana Club.  

The Chatterjee's fitted into club life like a perfect blend. They were a popular couple with both Indians and Europeans. Chatt's support of club activities endeared him to the seniors and juniors. Especially the latter when in his deep voice he said, "bearer drinks ghurau" and joined in celebrating a football or cricket victory till murgi dak. Mrs. Chatterjee kept am immaculate bungalow and was a keen competitor at the annual flower and vegetable show. Invitation to their bungalow was regular and not being a couple to hold a grudge invited their next door neighbor also.  

In course of time the two became good friends discussing and solving each other's problems.  on chai ki bat. The memsahibs, inspite  ofone not being too conversant in English, also got along well.  

The years rolled by and it was time for the European couple to retire. The  Britisher  proposed at the club's annual general meeting that Chatterjee, who was on leave, should be the next chairman. Chatterjee was elected the first Indian chairman of the club  The ex- patriate finally left Assam. In Calcutta the couple called on the Chatterjee's and invited them for dinner at the Grand Hotel. 

When the two planters said their final goodbye, the Britisher's last words were," Sorry, old chap".  

PS: Both planters are no more in this world. They must be smiling when they see the club banters and members jostling in the prime cricket tournament of tea, "The Chatterjee Cup".

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  August 2001


People often silently rejoice at the peril of others, though perhaps they extend lip 

sympathy to them. But about those who are absent and are unable and unlikely to retort, generally they are very critical. Such is the fate of the expatriate planters who are no longer on the scene.

Admittedly a large section of particularly, the early European planters were not exactly scholars nor were they sanctimonious in their conduct. But the important thing is that they were aware of their shortcomings which they did not attempt to conceal.


They would merrily and loudly sing the Planters' Lament, originally composed by some rugby players in the Dooars plantations, in the Jorhat Gymkhana Club or elsewhere. I first heard this from P.N. "Bugs" Bhagawati, an ex-Andrew Yule planter:


I was walking the streets with a nonchalant air,

My trousers were tattered, my bottom was bare.

I looked up and saw an advert for tea,

And I said to myself "that's the job just for me".

Kaisa Hai, Kaisa Hai, Kaisa Hai,

There's no blooming future for him, you or I.

I packed up my bags and to London did go,

The directors they quizzed me as to what I did know,

I said I knew nothing, they said that's just grand,

There are plenty like you in that far distant land."

Subsequently I came across another version of the Lament suitably modified in the context of the present day scenario by R.T. (Ranga) Bedi, who was once a planter in Assam with James Finlay & Co. and a brother of the famous cinestar Kabir Bedi. He sent a copy to his one-time colleague and a friend Bijay (Bhaiti) Bhuyan, with whom I saw it.


A dispassionate look at the ways of the British planters, occasional prejudices notwithstanding, will leave no one in doubt about their administrative skill and ability. The following story may be scoffed at by many paladins of the "indigent" workers in tea plantations, who, from their ivory towers, occasionally click their tongues in pity, unconcerned and blissfully unaware of the ground realities.


However, these little traits in the Brits were the essence of man management which have kept the industry running smoothly through centuries till this day, notwithstanding the often "motiveless" social pressure and prejudices against tea planters and political and other forces meddling with the running of the industry.


The readers of this column would remember Rupajuli, a tea estate with a poetic name. The garden has two divisions - Rupajuli and Kuttalguri. The factory and other important installations being located at Kuttalguri, the manager's bungalow was also there, while Rupajuli division was about 7 km away from there.


It was May, 1964. The expansion programme carried out in Rupajoli division a couple of years ago had been showing good result and the young tea which had a luxuriant growth, was ready for plucking. The first plucking of young tea is always considered to be an important occasion in the tea gardens. Geoff Clarke, the garden manager, told Rana Ali, the young assistant resident at Rupajuli division the previous evening, that since plucking of young tea would start the next morning, he need not come to the main division for kamjari and after early breakfast, should be there at the site.

The next morning, as plucking was about to start, Clarke came to the site and told Ali that his bungalow had caught fire the previous night and had been damaged. He had, therefore, temporarily shifted to the garage in the bungalow compund. So Ali would have to pick up their company engineer, one Keith Wadham, from Thakurbari Club in the afternoon and put him up at his place.

Ali was quite disturbed to hear such a terrible news, but his manager's face betrayed no sign of distress. His mood was placid as usual. He asked Ali to carry on with his work, but to see him before going to the Thakurbari Club and left the place.


It was Wednesday and sports day when people would assemble in the clubfor tennis and golf. In the afternoon, Ali dropped in at the manager's bungalow and was surprised to see that the bungalow had been extensively damaged by fire, possible the result of a short circuit. Men were, however, already at work repairing and renovating the bungalow.


Clarke had shifted temporarily to the garage and Ali could see that the bearers had neatly laid out the golf set complete with golf shoes and an umbrella outside the garage for the burra saab to go out for his weekly rounds of golf, while they were busy preparing the bed inside. Everything seemed going on as usual without any sign of anything unnatural happening anywhere.


When Geoff Clarke saw Ali, he told him that he should come in the evening for a drink and dinner at his place along with the guest, Keith Wadham. Ali protested, "But, Sir, in this condition... Why not come to my place for dinner? I shall organize drinks and dinner for both of you. Please also stay at my place till your bungalow gets repaired and is ready for occupation."


"No, no. Thanks all the same for the offer. You see, the manager's bungalow is symbolic of his authority and everything in the garden is controlled from here. Now if I move out of this place on account of the damage to the bungalow, stay elsewhere and do not entertain our visitor here, there will be erosion of my authority. If I now shift elsewhere, the manager's position will also be shifted from this bungalow and everything else will be disturbed. This is something that cannot be allowed to happen. So, cheer up, my boy, and be my guest this evening." Ali gazed at his face for a while in stupefied silence, got into his Land Master and drove off to the club.

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