Ali's Gems - 2

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read the stories below please click on the name

AH the Sahibs  --it happens in tea

Welcome to Tea

E-Nose may give Tea Tasters a Pink Slip

Cachar visit June 2012

Calcutta Photos

Coffee is a sexy girlfriend but Tea is your long time companion

Tea Cups

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November 26 2012


AH THE SAHIBS - it happens in tea

Old timers will remember the hit Bollywood movie, ‘Bobby', which took the country, including Assam, by storm in the 70's. The factory assistants, of Corramore and Paneery, of Mangaldai district, hearing the raves of the lilting numbers and skimpy dresses decided, that in spite of manufacture running to full capacity and a taboo of leaving the factory unattended for long hours, they just had to see the picture in Guwahati.  A plan was hatched; report early for the Mangaldai Club Night, make their presence felt by ensuring that the Bara sahibs, especially the bara mems, noticed them and on the plea to start the factory depart for Guwahati, in time for the late show. They left as planned and were well on their journey when one queried about finance. To their annoyance and frustration neither remembered to bring any money, planters never did! Aborting mission ‘Bobby' was ruled out and they decided to bash on regardless. Past Tangla they saw a goatherd with a dozen goats looking for transport to Mangaldai. The chai wallas, seeing an opportunity to solve their pecuniary problem, decided to give a lift, at a price. The animals were loaded into the booth and a few, with the keeper, bundled into the back seat. Short of Mangaldai the passenger was suddenly ordered to get off with his animals, much against his protests of being charged taxi fare rates, above the normal, for the goats.  The bagan ki sahibs off loaded the animals in a hurry as they did not want to be seen carrying four legged passengers  in Mangaldai, the District Head Quarters, a place they visited frequently on Company work. They drove off quickly, delighted with the fare collected. The movie was enjoyed, a good dhaba meal relished (road side restaurant), and humming the hit song from the movie, ‘jhoot bole kaua kate' (crows will bite if you lie) they merrily drove back, planning excuses, in case they were caught for being absenct without leave. A quick peep into their factories assured that everything was normal before getting into bed. In the wee hours of the morning the owner of the car was woken up by the chowkidar who informed that a goat's bleating was emitting from the car! Sahib, with the chowkidar, who looked a little shaken, went to investigate. To his surprise, and delight, he discovered a black goat in the dickey of the Ambassador. Before the start of work in the morning the news of the unusual happening in chota sahibs garage had spread faster than a wild fire among the workers, as it usually does on tea estates. The executive's silence in not narrating the mysterious appearance the simple garden folks surmised that the animal's appearance was by a divine act and the creature must possess miraculous powers! The more the story grew Sahib added to it and eventually was persuaded to part with the sacred goat to the highest bidder for Rs 500.

At the next club night cheers to ‘Bobby' reverberated over the bar.


November 20 2012

  An International Tea Conference was recently held in Goa, the Tea Board published a Souvenir.where Ali Zaman's article 'Welcome to Tea', on  Peter Swer,was published in the Souvenir publication. Ali tells us  that it was read with considerable interest 
It is copied below




                                                                      By Ali N. Zaman

The first tribal to be appointed to the covenented ranks of tea was Wanbor Peter Swer, Bah Pete (mode of addressing elders) to his clan in the Khasi hills. Peter joined Williamson Magor, now McLeod Russel India Ltd, in the 50's and was posted to Kettela tea estate. It was administered by a Superintendent Manager,  Patrick S.K. Balfour, a koi hai (veteran) 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 (norms of tea). The chokra (youngster) had hardly settled in when a formal invitation arrived from the superintendent and his wife for dinner at their bungalow, a place one avoided even cycling past. The subordinate staff and workers dismounted from their bicycles and closed their umbrellas when passing the sanctum santorium. The dinner invitation was the talk of the district for Peter was the lone invitee. ‘Most unusual' sniggered the club members. Excitement built up as Peter counted the days to his dinner date. However, the daily briefings from the senior colleague, on the dos and donts, at the bara bungalow befuddled the simple tribal lad.

It was the middle of summer and  the youngster, from the cools of Shillong, roasting in the sweltering heat was advised to be formally attired for the event. ‘Impress the bara sahib and the memsahib in your dinner jacket', said Tim. Peter's request for the use of Tim's car was turned down and Peter was told to display the tribal toughness by cycling to the Balfours. Tim added that old man Balfour frowned upon youngsters borrowing cars; the cycling may result in an early confirmation and sanction of company transport!

Tim's daily sermons on the code of conduct and consequences perplexed Peter . The final bombshell fell on the day of the dinner party. Tim casually mentioned, at breakfast, that it was customary to take a present for the hostess, Mrs Laila Balfour, the bara bara mem of Boroi district. 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 request leave from work, never done! A very distressed Peter attended  his  morning kamjari (work) contemplating on his predicament. The Mawphlang cherry brandy which had arrived the day before  would have made a suitable gift but the bottle was already half empty. The hand carved tobacco pipe, of Khasi pine, was definitley not suitable for the bara mem. Moreover, Peter did enjoy his evening puffs when his thoughts wandered back to the carefree days of Shillong.

At lunch Tim recalled that Mrs Balfour had once mentioned about birds, the feathered kind, perhaps a parrot or maina would make a suitable gift. Messengers were quickly dispatched but no bird fit for the lady was found. It was time for Peter to depart for dinner when Tim had a brainwave; he suggested that Peter present his hostess with a duck. The waterbird, was arranged by the senior who quoted a price dearer than the bazaar rate. Peter was ready  to pay anything!

Wanbor Peter Swer, attired in a tuxedo, cradling his precious duck, decked with a ribbon round its neck, cycled off into the night. The senior cautioned the junior to be careful in pedalling to his destination,  a leopard was reported to be on the prowl.  

Peter arriving at the Balfours on the appointed time was surprised to see his hosts,  attired in summer casuals, greeting him with a look of disdain reserved for unwelcome visitors. A confused Peter hesitatingly presented the duck to his bara mem. The couple, suppressing their mirth, escorted the new assistant, looking more like a wet duck, to the gol kamra, (drawing room) which was in darkness.

By this time Peter was ready to die as everything was contrary to Tim's briefings. The hosts in casuals? The bungalow in darkness? Had he got the dates mixed up and come on the wrong day? Peter was at a loss wandering whether to go or stay when at that precise moment 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 Pete'.

ADDENDUM: Peter was apt at all outdoor games and represented Gauwhati University in Hockey. An excellent soccer  refree he was in demand for club matches. The introduction of the card systen, yellow and red, for infringement in international soccer had just been introduced. Peter conducting  an inter club match, at Bishnauth Club,  blew the whistle for an offence and summoned the player, with a flourish he pulled out a yellow slip, the club bar chit, and made the offender sign for a bottle of beer.

Peter retired from tea in the 80's. Two days into retirement, in Shillong, he died from a cardiac arrest.

GLOSSARY:  Mawphlong - A Capt Michael Hunt was posted to Shillong during WW II and was in charge of  Army Farm Supplies. Mike Hunt fell in love with the Scotland of the East. On cessation of hostilities he was shipped back to UK and being demobbed returned to his Shangrilla, Shillong. Marrying a local lady they started their home at a place called Mawphlang where he opened a Pub, like the ones back home, which gained immense popularity, especially for the Cherry Brandy  produced from a local fruit called ‘sohiong'.

EDITORS NOTE: The life of a tea planter involved hard work and living in isolation with limited occasions to relax. To break the monotony they would find ways and means to liven up their humdrum lives.

September 4  2012


e-Nose may Give Tea Tasters Pink Slip 


It may look like a scene out of one of those Isaac Asimovs science fictions now but maybe 15 years down the line it will turn out to be a reality.The electronic nose,in short e-nose,may in the long run replace the mystique world of tea-tasting,which has been in existence in India since 1830.The device,developed by Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC ) in association with a clutch of technologists at the instrumentation engineering department of Jadavpur University,has made a quiet entry into tea tasting in India and abroad.

Work on the enose began in 2006-07 and took a final shape sometimes in 2010-11.Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company (KDHP),Harrisons Malayalam,Parry Agro,Lopchu Tea and Malankara Plantations are some of the tea companies which have started using these devices.Even James Finlay of Kenya,a well-respected global brand,with a 250-year-old heritage has opted for the device,said Nabarun Bhattacharya,head of agri & environmental electronic group of C-DAC,Kolkata.

The initial response from tea companies seems to be quite encouraging for the scientists of C-DAC Kolkata.The e-nose has been impartial in assessing the quality.We are using it at our Madupatty tea factory, said Chacko P Thomas,managing director of KDHP,a tea firm owned by employees.Flavour and aroma are the important quality attributes of finished tea.The enose,which has the shape of a modern-day microwave oven,is an instrument that is designed to detect and discriminate among complex odours using an array of sensors.The usual practice is that a taster manually tastes teas by sipping it and rolling it on tongue and inhaling the smell.

At the auction centres,professional tea-tasters of major brokerage firms taste the teas manually before fixing their grades.E-nose is a tool that is capable of sensing volatile compounds in a tea sample and predicts tea-taster like scores with a high degree of accuracy,said Bhattacharya.Neural networkbased soft computing techniques are used in the e-nose to tune near-accurate scores, he added.During the peak season,a teataster may have to sip some 600-700 cups of the brew for determining the grade and quality.

India produces 980 million kg of tea annually and exports around 200 million kg.E-nose can help a tea-taster in a big way to ensure the quality.Quality is a major concern for the Indian tea industry for the export markets, said P Kanoria,owner of Lopchu Tea,which is recognised by connoisseurs the world over for its Darjeeling fragrant leaf.The Lopchu garden has about 226 acres under tea production and much of the tea is exported to Germany and other European countries.About 95% of the tea trees were originally transplanted from the Yunnan Province in China.C-DAC has just completed another device called e-tongue aimed at the tea industry.

This device distinguishes tea samples having different astringency values with an accuracy of more than 85%.We are talking to corporates for technology transfer of e-nose and e-tongue.The negotiation has entered the final stage, said Col AK Nath,executive director,C-DAC,Kolkata.However,Nath refused to divulge further details.

Tea corporates which are using e-nose say the software needs to be finetuned to meet their customised demand.Based on their feedback we will surely do that, Nath said.sutanuka.ghosal


JULY 4 2012

Ali Zaman has kindly told us of his recent visit to Cachar and the
changes which are happening

The changes and improvements in the Cachar area are:

Plantations in the Barak Valley started nearly two decades after Assam and
at one point the Cachar Orthodox Mark was better than Assam.

In the 60's, with the devaluation of the rupee to the sterling Agency Houses
started disposing their properties to proprietors and a gradual decline of
the Cachar mark started.

With India's internal consumption growing yearly the Cachar mark is now in
demand. Factories have started improving and to day some of the teas can
be compared to a good medium mark of Assam.

Although the old life style is gone with virtually no club life some of the
bungalows with thatched roofs hold their charm.

A four lane highway which will connect Silchar to Guwahati, via Halflong,
will reduce the 10 hours drive via Shillong to four - the Highway is due to
be fully operational by 2014.

Photographs shown below


Doloo Lake from Directors Bungalow


Rainbow over North Cachar Hills


Silchar / Gawhati Highway

Borail Range in Background

Urrunabund Bungalow

Water Conservation

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February 15 2011

This is the follow on page for Ali Zaman--his first page "Ali's Gems"  is full

























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 March 24 2012
Thanks to Ali Zaman we have this amusing comparison

'Coffee is the sexy girlfriend, tea your long-time

                  companion'   Hindustan Times

Stephen Twining, of the famed Twinings of London family, knew he wanted to
be part of the family business at the age of eight, when his geography
teacher asked him to give a class presentation about one of India's largest
exports, tea.

Coffee is the sexy girlfriend, tea your long-time companion'

Suprateek Chatterjee, Hindustan Times
March 24, 2012

Stephen Twining, of the famed Twinings of London family, knew he wanted to be part of the family business at the age of eight, when his geography teacher asked him to give a class presentation about one of India's largest exports, tea. Armed with samples and a briefing from his father Sam, then a

company director, Stephen hosted his first tea-tasting for twenty of his classmates. "I was horrified at their lack of awareness of something that was second nature to me," said Stephen, who then decided to spread awareness about the second most popular beverage in the world after water.

Coffee may be growing in popularity in urban India, but history shows that it was tea that originally held snob appeal. In 1706, Thomas Twining, founder of the eponymous tea brand, started serving tea at his coffee establishment, Tom's Coffee House, located off London's Strand street, to attract women from wealthy families who had relocated there.

"At the time, tea was terribly expensive and a status symbol," said Stephen, 48, Thomas's descendant. "Wealthy women were particularly enamoured of tea, so Thomas Twining took advantage of that."

At a tea-tasting he hosted in Mumbai earlier this week, he spoke about the merits of appreciating tea and tea-food pairing. "For me, tea is a lot like wine," he said. "Pairing the right tea with the right food can provide a gastronomic experience that is greater than consuming either individually."

They introduced pairings such as curry-marinated chicken puffs and a Darjeeling tea, and a vegetarian quiche, with sun dried tomato, broccoli and pitted olives, and green tea. Stephen is keen to see food and tea pairing evolve in India, going beyond the usual biscuits, pakodas and samosas.

But that would involve drinking tea sans sugar - which is how Stephen likes his cuppa. "I know Indians love copious milk and sugar, and I would never dream of telling one of the greatest tea-drinking nations in the world how they should drink their tea," he said. "It is merely a suggestion from our side."

Twinings, which imports most of its tea from China, India, Kenya and Sri lanka has had a presence in India's now R 10,000 crore tea market since 1997. Now it enjoys a 35% share in the premium and super-premium tea bag category

Stephen drinks between nine and fifteen cups of tea daily, from English breakfast to green tea, not repeating a variety more than twice. He has also been known to drink the occasional cup of coffee. "For me, coffee is the sexy girlfriend, exciting and heady, like in the beginning of a relationship. However, tea is the long-term companion you get when the relationship becomes deeper and more meaningful."

 March 1 2012 

GOLF by Ali Zaman


It was a formidable task for the European pioneers when they ventured into Assam to establish the industries following the discovery of tea, oil and coal. The ex-pats worked hard but took time off to relax following the adage ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.' They established the clubs for recreation and among the sporting centres created, the Digboi Golf Club with its eighteen holes, holds pride of place. To enlighten some of the readers, even golfers, as to why a full course consists of eighteen holes the following extract will be found interesting.

"During a discussion among the clubs membership board at St. Andrews in 1858 a senior member pointed out that it takes exactly 18 shots to polish off a fifth of Scotch. By limiting himself to only one shot of Scotch per hole the Scot figured a round of golf was finished when the Scotch ran out".


Pity no records of the pints consumed at the Digboi Golf Club is available as it would have made interesting history. I only recall an incident when a ladies foursome was in progress. Four ladies teed off and were progressing well until they came to a debatable point over the score. Two got into an argument which rose by the decibel. With no signs of appeasement between the two the other pair decided to move on leaving their mates arguing on a tilla. All of a sudden there were screams and the two were seen tumbling over each other down the incline. Thinking that they had come to blows, the ladies up front, yelled for help to separate the two rolling down the hill. Actually one had slipped and in trying to break her fall held onto the partner; both tumbled down the hill. It is just fair to add that they were all dead sober!

Many a senior have made their mark on the corporate ladder due to golf. It is said that a man starting his career should start off with soccer to show his prowess in sports, move onto tennis once he attains seniority and take to golf when he reaches the higher echelons. This is in keeping with the human anatomy where a vital body organ is said to shrink when one climbs up the social ladder!


February 21 2012

A wonderful collection of Tea Cups from Yesteryear





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