Sarita Dasgupta



Written by Sarita Dasgupta

We are delighted to welcome a new CORRESPONDENT 
                                Sarita Dasgupta
           who has a fund of stories for us all to enj

Please click on the story you wish to read

A Language of our Own
The Trials of a Tea Mem Sahib
In Fond Remembrance .....with Gratitude
Of Tea & television
A whimsical ode to Potted Plants
Actings and Murphy's law

Of Tea Memsahabs, creepy crawlies & other creatures
The Lost sounds of Tea
Seasons in the sun
Tea Notes

Tea Bands



 October 12 2015

         A Languageof our own                

By Sarita DasGupta

Everyone has heard the tale about the bewildered young Tea bride looking in vain for a round room, because the Bearer had told her that a visitor was waiting to meet her in the ‘gol kumra’. Another was taken aback to find the well furnished and nicely decorated guestroom referred to as the ‘faltoo kumra’! A third asked for a bowl (‘katori’) and was horrified to see the Bearer advancing on her carrying a knife (‘kataari’)!

In ‘Tea’ we have a language of our own; it is called Hindi…much to the consternation of people from up North! I remember sharing a bungalow with a couple for a couple of days during a transfer. Their five-year-old son complained that he couldn’t understand a word my little daughter was saying and asked her to speak in Hindi, to which she indignantly replied that she was! She in turn asked him to speak in Hindi! After a couple of misunderstandings, quarrels and a few tears, they understood each other well enough for him to propose marriage!

In our ‘bagaan’ Hindi, ‘hum’ is the singular form of the first person pronoun…which is rather like the Queen of England referring to herself as ‘we’… (as in the famous line, “We are not amused.”) So, we are all numerically and socially equal – no singular or plural. We do not have gender issues either, as everyone and everything belongs to the same gender! So man, woman, group…sab ‘jaata hai’, ‘khaata hai’, ‘peeta hai’!

If this were not bad enough for ‘outsiders’ and newbies, the pronunciation of some words confuses them even more. Imagine the state of a new Memsahab who’s asked if the ‘saalmees’ (sandwich) should be served on a ‘terrel’(tray) or the ‘taally’(trolley)! One can imagine her puzzlement if while eating her soup she hears the Bearer murmur ‘sippit’…(“What? Out of a bowl?” she would be wondering)…only to find croutons being offered to her!

A gentleman from down South scandalized his servants by ordering a eunuch (‘hijra’) instead of breakfast (‘hajri’)! If that was not confusing enough, he found that a wage was known as ‘hajra’…just the change in one vowel making all the difference in meaning! ‘Dharma’ (religion) lost an aitch to become ‘darma’, meaning payment, but sounded the same to him! He was constantly threatening to cut his errant servants’ religion instead of their wages!

Tea Hindi has borrowed liberally from the local language and the dialects spoken by the ‘tea tribes’ who originally hailed from other states of our country – hence, the words and terms alien to ‘proper’ Hindi. My husband once confounded a taxi driver in Kolkata by asking him to take a left from Rashbehari ‘charali’ (crossroads) and drive to Alipore over the Chetla ‘dolong’(bridge)!

I won’t even begin to narrate all my faux pas in Jaipur and Delhi…where I unintentionally changed people’s gender and number…not to mention my own!! (Yes, “Hum abhi jaata hai!”)

As half my cousins grew up in Tea and spoke only ‘bagaan’ Hindi, the other half had to willy-nilly learn the language just to communicate with us. Spouses and children have also picked it up so ‘bagaan’ Hindi is the lingua franca at any gathering of the clan now scattered all around the globe. Oblivious to startled looks and curious stares, everyone slips back into the language of our childhood… and oh, the comfort of it!

Written by Sarita Dasgupta


September 4 2015


                                             Written by Sarita Dasgupta 



A Visitor was coming,


And wouldn’t you just guess?


That very day, her kitchen


Was an unholy mess!




Her Cook, the ‘prima donna’


Threw a tantrum in the kitchen


Because, he claimed, the Paniwallah


Just wouldn’t listen!




Before this reached the crisis point


She smoothed ruffled feathers


Only to find, her Burra Bearer was


Feeling under-the-weather.




The doctor gave him medicine,


Pronouncing him “fit to work”,


But where’s the second Bearer?


He’s as drunk as a skunk, the jerk!




The Jharuwallah? He’s absent,


His wife has run away.


One can’t blame the poor woman


But did it have to be today?




She organizes things at last,


Holding her ‘ship’ steady;


She checks the smallest details


And, satisfied, is ready.




The Visitor meets his hostess


Who is gracious and serene,


Showing not an inkling of


What she’s been through in between!






Morning                                                                  Evening








Thank you Sarita for your amusing bungalow staff story 

June 5 2014

In Fond Remembrance… with Gratitude

by Sarita Dasgupta

The members of the household staff have always been an integral part of Tea life; they are essential if one has to maintain the expected standards, whether it be in keeping an immaculate bungalow and compound or entertaining in typical Tea style.

Over the years, there have been certain individuals whom I remember – some fondly, some with respect and some with gratitude.

When I was a little girl, my mother used to take me and my sister to stay with my grandparents at Rungagora T.E. (Jorhat). I still remember the bearer called Birbal, who would escort me majestically up the stairs to the ‘baba kumra’ at bedtime. I would follow him meekly while my mother fed my younger sister her dinner. He would hand me over to ‘mini’ (the temporary ayah), bow gravely, and leave. I truly believed that ‘Burra Bearer’ was quite as great a personage as ‘Burra Sahab’ (my grandfather)!

My parents’ Burra Bearer, Adhari, looked exactly like the late Indian politician, Jagjivan Ram – spectacles, white ‘topi’ et al! My siblings and I were quite in awe of this dignified individual. So much so, in fact, that once, when we saw him out of uniform on his day off – drunk as a skunk, staggering down the road and singing at the top of his voice – we refused to believe it was him…especially when we saw him back at work the next day, sober and as dignified as ever – shining spectacles and spotless white uniform personifying rectitude!

Shashank, my parents’ cook, was a virtuoso in the kitchen. A large part of our excitement at coming home for the vacations was his cooking. After nine months of rather banal hostel food, we looked forward to three months of delicious meals concocted by this culinary magician. Daily prayers included an entreaty to God that Shashank (or Bawarchi Nana, as we called him) would not fall sick, or be absent due to any other reason, throughout the holidays! We loved spending time in the kitchen because he would entertain us with his ‘English’ proverbs and poems, some of which I still remember! ‘Take it the good food; take it the rice’; and, ‘His name is the Radhaghonto Singh and life for that is very, very bad’. He pronounced ‘bad’ as ‘bat’ and only he knew why life for poor Radhaghonto Singh (whoever he may have been!) was so very, very ‘bat’!!

Joga, my parents’ driver, was a man who walked tall with the grace of a Masai tribesman. Once, when my parents couldn’t come to pick us up from school for the Puja holidays, they sent Joga to Shillong, with another trusted person, to bring us home. We were thrilled because we thought we could get him to stop wherever we wanted on the way. No such luck! He was stricter than our father! Another driver we had was Binanda, whom we addressed as ‘mama’ (maternal uncle). He was less than five feet tall and extremely scrawny, but we were terrified of him! He had no qualms about ordering us out of the car if we made too much noise. We neither questioned his right to discipline us nor dreamed of defying him!

 Kong Drien was a member of our household for many years. She was essentially my younger brother’s nanny, but stayed on even after he grew out of her care. Her daily routine included climbing up to the tree house with her little cane stool every afternoon and singing hymns in Khasi. (The reason for singing in the tree house was because it was far enough away from my parents’ bedroom not to disturb my father’s afternoon siesta.) We fondly named her Cacofonix after the bard in Asterix comics!

The day I set foot into my new home as a Tea bride, I was bemused to see a cake iced with this message, “Look after your servants and they will serve you well.” Obviously, I passed that test as Jugal, my husband’s cook (who had iced the cake), ‘served us well’ for fifteen years! He had learned to write English on his own but as he spelt words phonetically and, that too, according to his own pronunciation, deciphering his bazaar lists and ‘hisaab’ was quite a task! Since I didn’t want to embarrass him or hurt his feelings I made an effort and, after a while, became pretty adept at decoding words like ‘bainger’ (brinjal) and ‘fainger’ (lady’s finger or ‘bhindi’)!

Jugal’s two daughters, Kamal and Lachmi, and his granddaughter, Sumi, helped bring up our daughter, Ayesha (one taking over when the other left to get married). They were good, responsible, girls and as firm in handling their ‘Baby’ as they were loving.


                      Lachmi & Jugal with Ayesha (1990)          



 Boliram (2nd from left) with Mr & Mrs Bailey at Mijicajan T.E.

Boliram, who was the doyen of the Mijicajan Burra Bungalow for several decades, retired five
years ago and decided that he would come and look after us until my husband ‘returned’
(retired). Although I repeatedly tell him not to, he reports for duty at 6.30 am every day. If I’m
going out somewhere and expect to return late for lunch, he will insist that I have an egg and
two pieces of toast for breakfast. He clucks over us like a mother hen and takes all kinds of
\liberties for our own good.

Although most of these good people have gone out of our lives, some forever, we can
never forget their impact on our lives – they have certainly left their mark on the fabric
of our existence.

Phil and Jennifer Bailey sent in this photograph of Boliram and his family taken by them when they lived at Mijikajan T E  Sarita was happy to haqve it added to this page

Written by Sarita Dasgupta

March 7 2015

Thank you Sarita for your amusing observations of Tea and TV

On a lighter note… 

Of Tea & Television

                                             Written by Sarita Dasgupta
There was a time in Tea when the club libraries did brisk business and members eagerly looked forward to the arrival of new books, specially the ‘best sellers’. Reading was a good way for ladies to pass the evening hours before their husbands came home. Then, in the 80s a magical device called Television (soon abbreviated to ‘TV’) came into the homes of a few lucky people. Friends and neighbours dropped in to admire and envy while the owner proudly explained how it worked. (Quite like that old advertisement for Onida TVs – “Neighbour’s envy; Owner’s pride”!)

In due course we all owned a TV and became expert at turning the bamboo pole (with antenna attached) in the direction which gave us the best reception whenever the screen turned ‘snowy’. Everyone had that one servant who was expert at getting the picture and sound back, especially while ‘Chitrahaar’ (a proramme playing popular song sequences from Hindi films) was going on! This was the highlight of TV viewing in those days when Doordarshan was the only channel available, (even the spinning of the Doordarshan logo to its signature tune when telecast started, was thrilling!!) and Salma Sultan, the attractive Hindi news reader, with that rose tucked in her hair and an elusive dimple in her cheek, was the Glamour Girl of TV. Then came the first serial, ‘Hum Log’ and viewers got engrossed in the trials and tribulations of the family members… which now seem rather humdrum compared to the sensational twists and turns in the lives of the people populating today’s Hindi serials!

Once, I overheard a group of ladies hotly denouncing the scheming ‘bhabi’(sister-in-law)/ ‘saas’ (moher-in-law)/ ‘mausi’ (aunt) and sympathizing with the sinned against, pure-as-driven-snow, martyred ‘bahu’(daughter-in-law). I listened in total bewilderment, wondering who all those amazingly fiendish or extremely naïve people were, and rather puzzled to find that everyone seemed to know them except I! On learning that these were the dramatis personæ of a certain serial, I was intrigued and decided to watch it.

One has to admire the imagination of the writers! Evil schemers come and live permanently with hapless relatives, wreak havoc in their lives and end up taking all their money, sometimes their identities or even their lives! (They get hold of drugs, and even poison, as easily as if they were potatoes and onions, administer these with total nonchalance and literally get away with murder!)

Husbands are ‘stolen’ from under the noses of hapless wives (as if the men have no say in the matter!!) by vamps who even sleep in designer sarees, full make-up and blindingly blingy jewellery. A simpering woman (out for revenge because of some complicated issue) declares that she is going to bear someone’s child. The man shouts himself hoarse denying that he even knows the woman but her word is taken against his even by his own family and no one seems to have heard of DNA tests! (The Indian Man should protest at being portrayed as such a wimp! But then, he probably never watches these serials!)

In the end, to everyone’s satisfaction, the villains and vamps are exposed and punished, and the hero and heroine live happily ever after.

These are the ‘desi’ avatars of serials such as ‘Santa Barbara’ and ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ which showed the amazingly convoluted relationships and (rather immoral!) lives of the American rich and fascinated us when the tall antenna was, in due course, replaced by the Star TV dish. Then there was ‘Baywatch’, popularly, and certainly more aptly, known as ‘Babewatch’ with all those lissome, leggy, beautiful lifeguards running on the beach in slow motion or diving into the sea… not to forget David Hasselhof! Doordarshan certainly paled in comparison! (Had we really watched even ‘Krishi Darshan’ with such eagerness??)

Then came the DTH connection and we in Tea were at par with our city cousins! We are en current with the news in any part of the world now (so there’s no problem if the newspaper arrives a day or two late); we can watch a sporting event as it happens, catch up with the latest films, get absorbed in crime dramas or romances, laugh at comedies, enjoy cartoons, sing the latest chartbusters and even improve our knowledge thanks to educational programmes.

There’s something to suit everyone’s taste… and, if, on that odd day, there’s nothing worth watching, there’s always that book waiting to be read!   Written by Sarita Dasgupta

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 January 18 2015



Written by Sarita Dasgupta


To potted plants the Flower Show is

An opportunity not to be missed.

That day they preen, they’re at their best;

Showing off, ready for the test.

Leaves polished clean and shining bright,

Not a speck of dirt in sight!


To a Palm I hear an Ivy say,

“My dear, you do look smart today!”

An Adiantum waves its fronds

To greet its friend the old Staghorn.

A Rex Begonia’s leaves are tossed

In greeting to an Iron Cross.



A Violet that is standing close

To a fat succulent looking gross

Seems to shudder in distaste

And shrinks away in sudden haste

Towards Dieffenbachia, standing tall,

Who beams benignly at them all.



While a little Bonsai bends

Towards a Cactus to make friends,

The flowering creepers and the shrubs

Are looking pretty in their tubs.

The rarer plants are standing proud.

“We’re sure to win!” they say aloud.



Win or lose, be as that may,

The Flower Show is their special day.

They’ve been admired by everyone

But now their special day is done.

One tells the other, “Goodbye, dear,

I’ll see you in another year.”

Written by Sarita Dasgupta

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October 5 2014
                             ACTINGS’ AND MURPHY’S LAW

                                                                                                ~ Sarita Dasgupta


Until a couple of years ago, the Acting Manager had to occupy the Burra Bungalow whenever the Burra Sahab was away on annual leave. That stage of my husband’s career was the least enjoyable for me because not only was looking after someone else’s home, belongings and livestock for six weeks at a time such a great responsibility, but Murphy’s Law invariably came into play…

  For those who aren’t familiar with Murphy’s Law, it says, “If anything can go wrong…it will!” I am speaking, of course, from the lady’s point of view.

 I have had the most unbelievable experiences, involving the most incredible conversations with poker-faced ‘bagaals’ (cowherds) and extremely dignified Burra Bearers, all related to cows, and specifically their breeding problems. Of course, cows had to come on heat during an ‘Acting’ and on the very day when no transport was available to take the cow to the bull or vice versa. If transport was somehow organized, and the needful done, the well-deserved sigh of relief was cut short by the respectful report that the ‘deed’ wasn’t! Either the cow was scared or acting coy for some reason, or the bull was patently uninterested! Try telling your poor, harassed husband that it had all been in vain!


 I’ve had cows going off their food (Why, for heaven’s sake? It’s the same old food!), cows falling sick just when the vet is unavailable, cows dying for no apparent reason and cows calving at odd hours. I have even played mid-wife to a cow! The glow of satisfaction after this achievement was somewhat dimmed when I saw my spotted face in the mirror. Horrified, I realized I had been royally bitten by midges and mosquitoes during the delivery. No prizes for guessing what comes next…yes, a visitor was expected for breakfast. I slapped on the Calamine lotion, then washed it off and camouflaged the spots as best as I could. The guest left in rather a hurry.
I thought he had a plane to catch, but my husband said the poor man must have thought I had measles or some other infectious disease!


Some Burra Bungalow servants seem to think that ‘Acting’ time is ‘Acting Up’ time! I have been on tenterhooks on many occasions, because the Head Bearer would be drunk while serving the meal. Just twenty minutes back, he had been all right, but in the interim, he had nipped across to his quarters just behind the bungalow, and taken a mighty swig! His dignified demeanour would be in total contrast to the dangerous angle of the tray, ready to drop everything into the guest’s lap, or the symphony played by the crockery and cutlery as his hands shook with the DTs or whatever! The excuses they thought up for their absentism would make a scriptwriter applaud with admiration. I never knew one person could have so many grandparents or that they could die so many times!


During one ‘Acting’, I had to count the chickens each evening once they returned to the coop, because the servants were in the habit of helping themselves whenever they had ‘Gotia’(guests). Believe me, they led hectic social lives! Then there was the ‘bagaal’ who drank up half the milk and added water to make up the difference. I knew Jersey cows’ milk was thin, but this was ridiculous! The worst occasion was when none of the cows got ‘enciente’, but the unmarried ayah did!

One Burra Memsahib kept a beautiful compound. Most do, of course, but this compound looked absolutely fabulous with its profusion of flowers and shrubs. Early one morning, even before my morning ‘cuppa’, I was aghast to find a group of strangers armed with cameras strolling around and taking photographs! One young couple were even posing for rather nauseatingly coy pictures, which was a bit much to take on an empty stomach! The Mali was happily showing everyone around! (This was before the advent of  security personnel on the estates.) I sent the Bearer to find out who these people were. Apparently, they had been travelling by bus on the highway,
when they happened to notice this beautiful garden. So, they had decided to break journey and take a closer look! Luckily, they had not plucked any flowers or done any other damage. Tactfully, I sent them on their way. I suppose they were a change from those who broke journey at that particular bungalow to use the amenities! Many a time had I quickly changed into something decent to greet the ‘guests’, only to find that they had already ‘been’ and left.


Going back to Murphy’s Law, anything marked ‘unbreakable’ or which has adorned the same niche for months on end and been dusted by the very same servants, will be broken during an ‘Acting’. How that happens is one of Life’s mysteries. A beloved pet will fall critically ill, or die during an ‘Acting’, leaving the Acting Manager and his
wife feeling distinctly guilty, even though they know it is not their fault, and that they have done all they can for the animal.

 I could go on and on… I can see many of you nodding! Living in someone else’s house and looking after someone else’s animals and belongings can be a daunting prospect, especially if one isn’t closely acquainted with the incumbents. Having experienced Murphy’s Law first hand, I can sympathize with all my fellow sufferers. Thank goodness that particular Tea ‘dastoor’ has been discontinued …in this Company at least!

 Sarita Dasgupta                      Written by Sarita Dasgupta
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August 22 2014




                                                                  ~ Sarita Dasgupta

When my friend in the city had hysterics over a lizard which had wandered into her flat, I realized what a different attitude most of us Tea ladies have towards ‘creepy crawlies’ and other creatures. I, for one, have a ‘live and let live’ attitude towards lizards. In fact, I think they’re very useful creatures to have in the house, as they gobble up all the pesky insects they can curl their tongue around! They are otherwise quite harmless. The only time I took exception to a lizard was when it fell ‘phlat’ on the back of my neck early one morning as I lay sleeping. It was like being slapped with a cold, cold hand! Not the best of wake-up calls! However, before the advent of phones, TVs and other mod cons, I’m sure many a memsahib welcomed the friendly ‘tik-tik’ greeting of the gecko each evening!

Moving on to snakes, most of us know that some are non-poisonous, and
thus, harmless. Even the poisonous ones are left alone by us as long as
they do the same! I’m reminded of the occasion when a young reporter
from Mumbai was visiting our estate many years ago. We were all
invited to the Burra Bungalow for tea. At that time, I was having trouble
over baby snakes sneaking into our bedroom through cracks in the floor.
The Burra Memsahab enquired solicitously whether I had had to get rid
of any more baby snakes recently, while I politely asked her if she had
found any more families of snakes under her bath tub. I turned to offer
some sandwiches to the guest, only to see him staring at us as if we
were creatures from another planet! He must have thought we were
either mad – talking about such dangerous creatures as if they were a
minor menace – or pulling his leg!

One evening, after football tea at our bungalow, the men were inside,
indulging in some serious elbow-lifting while the ladies sat in the open
verandah. Suddenly, gatecrashers to the party in the form of large
crickets were all over the verandah! They climbed up ladies’ legs,
causing consternation and rather interesting dance steps! Some
ladies ran inside, but the rest started kicking the crickets off the
verandah on to the lawn, thus playing some football of their own!
Let me assure all you insect-rights activists out there – no harm
was done to the crickets who happily went on to make holes in
my lawn!

Another creature that can cause involuntary dancing is the leech.
No one likes to have such a cold, creepy bloodsucker attached to
her person! A friend of mine once inadvertently afforded sundry
people quite an eyeful of her shapely legs, while trying to get rid
of a particularly clingy leech. I suppose ‘Modesty’ can go to the
‘Blaizes’ when a leech is stuck to your leg! Still and all, in an
encounter between a Memsahab and a leech, it’s the latter which
curls up and dies!

That scourge of the household – the cockroach! As clean as one
keeps the bungalow, one will come across this nocturnal visitor
at least once! So, what does the Memsahab do? She picks up a
slipper, and, wham! What about ‘Hit’, you ask? Well, since
cockroaches are not regular visitors in the bedroom or bathroom,
one doesn’t usually keep that handy.

Talking about bathrooms, I once had a Peeping Tom there…only,
he was blind! It was a mole. What a time I had trying to chase
it out of the back door! My husband slept on, oblivious. The next
day, however, he did mention the peculiar squealing sounds that
had emanated from the loo the previous night! I said,
nonchalantly, “I chased away a Peeping Tom….”

Old bungalows usually have rats or mice nesting in the ceiling.
They probably have a long genealogy, going back to The Good Old
Days! When one of these crosses our path, we calmly jump on to
the nearest piece of furniture, and call the Bearer! From our
vantage point, we watch the ‘alarums and excursions’ on the
part of both mouse and man, sometimes issuing directions or
offering suggestions, but not budging till the rodent is out of
the way!

Come summer and armies of ants in all shapes and sizes…black
or red…march in long lines all over the bungalow. If one doesn’t
take the precaution of keeping the sugar pot, jam jar or a bottle
of honey in water, one should be ready for an invasion of
massive proportions!

A mass of wriggling worms may be a disgusting sight to some,
but to us Tea ladies, their vermi-compost is a good source of 
nutrition to the soil of our flower beds and vegetable gardens,
so, “you worm!” may just be a compliment, coming from us!

Furry caterpillars, little land crabs, slugs, snails, small four-legged
‘critters’ and strange insects that even an entomologist may not
recognize…. these are some of the inhabitants of our world. Not
all are pests, though. Some, like the colourful butterflies flitting
from flower to flower, the bright little ‘ladybirds’ landing gently
on your hand, gossamer-winged dragonflies and the
phosphorescent fireflies flashing through the dusk, help us to
appreciate Nature’s “infinite variety” and, on a more philosophical
note, ponder over what our very own Nobel Laureate, poet
Rabindranath Tagore once observed, “The butterfly counts not
months but moments, and has time

 Written by Sarita Dasgupta



July 11 2014

                THE LOST SOUNDS OF ‘TEA’

                           Written by Sarita Dasgupta 

“I hear the sounds, of distant drums…

 Far away, far away…”

I remembered these words from an old Jim Reeves song and thought nostalgically about the
rhythmic, hypnotizing sound of the drums that would waft to our bungalow from the workers’
Lines every evening, borne gently by the breeze. It was an integral part of an evening in the
tea estates of Assam during my childhood. In those days of simpler living on the estates
sans such things as TVs, the workers would sing and dance to the beat of the drum after a
hard day in the field. Now, the drums come out on special occasions only. Whenever I hear
them, I’m taken straight back to the halcyon days of my childhood.

Speaking of drums and music, we had a sweeper once, who tied his hair in a small bun at the
nape of his neck. This was sufficiently out of the norm to intrigue us. He was a taciturn man, so
we didn’t have the courage to ask him the reason. One day, a party of musicians and dancers
came to the bungalow to entertain us and lo and behold, if it wasn’t old Budhu, with hair down to
his shoulders, playing the ‘ektara’ (one-stringed instrument) and singing folk songs! My excited
brother kept calling out to him, but he completely ignored us. The next day, the old, taciturn,
Budhu was back, wielding the broom instead of the ‘ektara’! But, my little brother perceived him
with new eyes. It was rather like having a Pop Star working ‘incognito’ in one’s house !


Another sound one hardly hears nowadays is the howl of the foxes. One of
my younger sister’s favourite words, (‘sounds’, rather) was ‘hukkahuwaa’ -
this being her take on the foxes’ cry. I must say, it was a fair imitation! We
were taken out for a walk every evening, and it was the first call of the fox
which told the ayah that it was time to take us back home. First, one fwould
call, then another and another, from deep within the Section, till there was
quite a chorus going on, happily joined by my sister! I wondered where all
the foxes had gone, till I saw one on the garden road the other evening. My
husband was surprised at my excitement, which, to him, must have seemed
rather excessive. But, to me, it was like seeing an old friend after a long,
long time. My only regret - the fox hadn’t howled!         


Before watches and clocks became common on the estates, the factory ‘chowkidar’ would
beat a  gong on the hour, every hour. Other strategically placed gongs would follow suit, till
everyone  quite forgotten this, till some time ago, when I spent the night at an estate that
still follows this  practice. At first, I was happy to hear this lost sound from my childhood, but,
I must confess, it seemed less and less enchanting as the night wore on… my sleepiness
wore off… and my nerves wore thin! However, now that I’ve recovered from the experience,
I’m nostalgic about the gongs all over again!


The other sounds I miss are the sounds of words no longer heard on the estates. Everyone
says ‘factory’ nowadays, but when my father was a ‘mistry sahab’, his duty lay in the
‘kol-ghar’! In those days, we had someone called a ‘din-chowkidar’, who came on duty in
the afternoon when the other bungalow servants went home for lunch. One rarely hears of 
a ‘maliani’ (female ‘mali’) these days , or the ‘gobar-buri’, who used to come to the bungalow
everyday to make fuel cakes out of dried cow dung and coal dust for that huge cooking range!
Gone are those ranges. In fact, gone are those kitchens, separated from the rest of the
bungalow by a long passageway. Now, the kitchen and pantry are one entity, and so, the
word, ‘botol-khana’ is going out of the ‘bagaan’ lexicon too. 

Change is inevitable, and most changes take place for the better. However, like scents,
sounds are also evocative, and these lost sounds, if heard unexpectedly, take one back to
certain times or places in one’s childhood, where one dwells, in spirit, for that infinitesimal
moment, and comes out smiling.

 Sarita Dasgupta

Written by Sarita Dasgupta

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 June 17, 2014


 Winter in the tea estates of Assam is, literally, the ‘season in the sun’!

 Come morning, and I’m sipping my cuppa in the far corner of the verandah which first sees the sunlight. Then I wander around, enjoying the mild early morning sunshine, inspecting the flower beds to see how much taller the ‘pulis’ have grown since the previous day or how many flowers have blossomed overnight. A walk in the ‘malibari’ choosing the vegetables to be brought in for the day’s meals and then breakfast on the lawn under a garden umbrella with one’s ‘other half’. Usually, the hours between breakfast and lunch are spent on my computer, but in winter, I go back to pen and paper, just so that I can continue sitting in the sun!

 I don’t lack for company. The beautiful bottle-brush tree under which I spend most mornings is visited by birds and other creatures. A rather handsomely marked chameleon with a line of bristles down its neck rests on the orchid leaves and basks in the sunshine with half-shut eyes. He was rather red-faced when I caught him on camera!

                        The Chameleon                                                                       The Bird

Tiny, beady eyed greenish yellow birds and ‘bulbuls’ feed on the nectar of the red, bristly flowers. Several butterflies flit about throughout the morning, sometimes sunning themselves on the bamboo hedge or alighting on the grass at my feet.

                          Butterfly on the Bottle Brush                                                Butterfly on the Bamboo Hedge

Wood pigeons, wagtails, shrikes, and a mynah or two, wander around pecking at the grass and occasionally washing and preening in the birdbath which is always kept full of water. A kingfisher sometimes watches their antics from his lofty perch on a high wire. The last creatures I see in the day are my favourites, the owls that peer at me in the dusk from the same bottle-brush tree as I finish my evening walk. 


                                       Wood Pigeons                                                                Mynahs


I have always loved the winter in Assam. As a child, it meant spending three whole months of vacation at home with my parents and younger siblings. Since the annual examination got over before the holidays in December, there was absolutely no study to be done, so we had three halcyon months of total freedom!

 When she was younger, my daughter once asked me what we had done in the ‘olden days’ (referring to my childhood!) when there was no television. The answer is that we didn’t waste a single minute of daylight staying indoors! My siblings and I spent our time outdoors, playing all sorts of games, taking long cycle rides or going for walks. We had picnic lunches by a small stream or even at home, on the lawn under a tree or up in the tree-house, and ‘tea’ (sandwiches, cup cakes and orange squash) at a nice spot while out on our evening walk. On one particular estate, this was usually on the golf course. Quite often, we had friends staying or spending the day with us, and we would play ‘hide-and-seek’, cricket or French cricket, badminton and a whole lot of exciting games. We went in, very reluctantly, only once dusk set in and then became immersed in other adventures …in the pages of Enid Blyton’s story books. 


Then, there were the Club Meets on the weekends, in which we played tennis or golf. There was quite a gang of us from different schools and belonging to different clubs but we got together at the Meets and had a lot of fun. We weren’t allowed to attend the dinner-dance on Saturday evening but the band always stayed back for the ‘jam session’ held especially for us on Sunday afternoon, so we had a great time dancing.


During the week, we looked forward to the club day and the big-screen movie. Although telephones didn’t work very well those days, and even short distances involved ‘trunk calls’, we would patiently try again and again to ring up the ‘Club Babu’ and anxiously ask if the movie had an ‘A’ certificate or a ‘U’. Most often, it had a ‘U’, which the Entertainment Member must have ensured keeping in mind all the children home on holiday. I remember watching some entertaining musical comedies, the most memorable being ‘The Happiest Millionaire’, starring an actor called Tommy Steele.


Christmas parties at the club were wonderful – with games and prizes, carol-singing, a Nativity play, presents from Santa, a sumptuous tea, and, to top it all, a wonderful animated film on the big screen! (Remember, those were the days without cartoon channels…or even television). Every year, Santa found a new mode of transport, but, to me, the most sensational was his arrival on a sleigh pulled by a Husky. (Much, much later, I realized that Santa was my father’s Burra Sahab and the ‘Husky’ was his Alsatian!) One year, it was decided that all the estates in the district would make the Christmas presents for the children. They were very innovative. I got a life-size gaily painted wigwam made of canvas and bamboo; one of my sisters got a huge bamboo basket with curtained door and windows which she could crawl into and play ‘house-house’; my other sister got a lovely double-storied wooden dolls’ house. The whole back wall would slide out so that the rooms could be arranged and the doors and windows could also be opened. My little brother was absolutely thrilled with his red wooden fire-engine which he could sit in and pedal furiously around. It was a wonderful idea, extremely well executed by the carpenters and other artisans of the estates.  It’s good to see the tradition of Christmas parties continuing and one day in the club’s social calendar being kept aside especially for children.


Winter days are lovely but the nights are cold. There is an upside to this, though…. a barbeque out by the bonfire, roasting newly dug potatoes from the ‘malibari’ and tossing equally fresh lettuce, radishes, carrots, tomatoes and peas in a tangy salad dressing, to go with the barbequed meat. Then, there is the cozy warmth of the fireplace and the ultimate comfort…the hot-water bottle!!

 Ah, Winter – “a word spoken in due season, how good it is!” 


Sarita Dasgupta
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May 24, 2014

                                                     Tea Notes

                                                                  by Sarita Dasgupta

                                                                  Bordubi T.E.

“There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson…well, he could just as easily have been speaking about music!


The Tea Planter has had to, perforce, be ‘a man for all seasons’. The pioneer planters had to get people to clear jungles full of wild animals and plant tea on the land. They had to mete out justice, keep the peace, give medical advice in an emergency and, generally, build up an image of invincibility. Over the years, the profile of the Tea Planter changed but he still had to be versatile and wear many hats, not always of his choice! One hat that many planters chose to happily wear, however, was that of the Musician.


The Inspiration: Shillong bands

There were many talented musicians among the tea planters in Assam, who formed bands and performed at various clubs in the late 1950s and 1960s. They were inspired by the bands from Shillong who were invited to play at the bigger club ‘Do’s. In the late 50s, a band comprising Mark Fernandez (Piano), Toto Wallang (lead singer and guitar, who later became famous in Calcutta as ‘The Golden Voice of Shillong’) Frank (Clarinet) and Isaac (percussion and saxophone) was much in demand in the Upper Assam clubs. They were followed in the 1960s by other bands from Shillong, the most popular among them being The Fentones, who won

the Simla Beat Contest in 1971 and The Vanguards, who were very popular not only in Assam but also in the nightclubs of Kolkata. The band members stayed with planters when they came to perform at the up

country clubs, so they became friendly, helping and encouraging the planters’ bands.

The Fentones at Pinewood Hotel, Shillong


Tea Bands:


The Borgang River Boys


In the late 1950s, The Borgang River Boyswas a very popular planters’ band on the North Bank. The band comprised Hamish Pirie, Mike Dawkins, Tom Saltau, Peter Swer and Jeff Tomlin. They played mostly at the (now defunct) Behali Club after games on a club day, but were also invited to play at East Boroi Club and Bishnauth Gymkhana

Club.In 1959, fresh out of college,Jimmy Pariat was visiting his cousin, Peter Swer, and was asked to join them at a ‘gig’. Jimmy joined Williamson Magor the very next year and along with three other planters, formed PB4.

The Borgang River Boys


(L-R) Hamish Pirie (ex-Manager Koomsong T.E.
& Suptd, Bordubi T.E.) Jimmy Pariat
(guest guitarist), Mike Dawkins, Tom Saltau
(behind) Peter Swer and Jeff Tomlin

(L-R) Terry Morris, HIP Singh, Peter Baxter,
Eric Singh, Jimmy Pariat

The quartet, comprising Peter Baxter (saxophone), Terry Morris (percussion and clarinet), Jimmy Pariat (guitar) and Eric Singh (tea chest bass), played at clubs including Margherita, Digboi, Doom Dooma, Tingri and Panitola for golf and tennis ‘do’s.

PB4 performing at Tingri Club


Mr & Mrs. Reg Coomber (Mrs Coomber facing the camera) and other dancing to PB4's tune

Peter Baxter had bought a saxophone and taught himself to play it; Jimmy Pariat was one of the finest guitarists from Shillong; Terry Morris was an accomplished percussionist and Eric Singh, with great enthusiasm, soon mastered the Tea Chest Double Bass. Combining well to produce good music, they were very popular and in demand for Club dances in the early 1960s.


Appropriately enough, both The Borgang River Boys and PB4 used the Tea Chest Bass – an instrument using an empty tea chest with a broomstick and cord attached. Eric Singh of PB4 became quite a virtuoso on the tea chest bass. So did Alan Leonard of the Broken Pekoes, a Mangaldai-based band comprising him, Sanbah Pariat (guitar and vocals), David Ojha (guitar and vocals), George Barry (saxophone), and David March (percussion, using very effective cymbals made of two Avery scale brass faces!) They were sometimes assisted by Terry Kemble (noises off as required!) The band played at Mangaldai Club mostly but was also invited to play at the Thakurbari Club Meet and at Bishnauth Gymkhana Club on a few occasions.


The tea chest bass, a ‘home made’ instrument, was used by many ‘Skiffle’ bands of the 1960s. Alan Leonard was into ‘Skiffle’ in those “far off days”, as he says. “After a couple of prototypes, the third tea chest I had made was very strong and made a really good bass sound. The ‘stick’ was bendable which could produce quite a variety of notes, and the ‘string’ was a couple of old tennis racquet strings stretched and braided together! A microphone on a small cushion inside the chest, played through the amp, gave it plenty of oooomph!! This ‘buddhi’ saved a lot of wear and tear on my fingers!!

‘Skiffle’ originated in New Orleans in the 1920s and was a combination of American folk music, jazz and blues. In the 1950s and 60s, it became popular in Britain. The young generation was intrigued with this style of music in which one could create a hit song played on home-made instruments like a tea chest bass! ‘Skiffle’ became the foundation of what was later to be known as the British Invasion (1964-1966). Among the well-known British ‘Skiffle’ groups were the Barber-Colyer Skiffle Band of which Mick Jagger was a member, and The Quarry Men, whose members included John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney…later to become famous as The Beatles.

Interestingly, a member of another tea planters’ band actually played with The Beatles! As a teenager, Ron Aston, a member of the Margherita based band, The Mudguards, sat in for The Beatles (then known as ‘The Silver Beetles’) at the Neston Institute at Wirral when he was part of a group called ‘Keith Rowlands and the Deesiders’. The Silver Beetles played about four or five times at this Institute in 1960. Ron Aston’s group was often a back-up for ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ and other up-and-coming UK bands of the 1960s.

The Mudguards, formed in 1963, were so named in honour of the Shillong band, The Vanguards, who were their mentors. Bob Powell Jones and Larry Brown, founder-members of The Mudguards, travelled to Shillong as often as they could to learn from the Vanguards with whom they had become good friends.

They met many other talented musicians and singers in Shillong, one of them being the close harmony group, The Bigalsan Trio, named after the trio – Bivan, Gallant and Sanbah. (Sanbah joined Williamson Magor and formed the Broken Pekoes with Alan Leonard and others while at Mangaldai.)


Larry fabricated his guitar at the Namdang T.E. factory, where he was posted! He says, “A copy of my guitar shape was made by the head carpenter at Namdang and he carefully shaped the body and neck from solid pieces of Nahor timber. Radha, the head fitter, who kept Namdang factory always operational, made the stainless steel plate for the neck/body attachment and the string anchor too. Bob and I arranged to get a double pick up from Hong Kong and a fretboard, machine heads and strings from Calcutta. The Namdang carpenter fitted and glued the fretboard after painting. The guitar was completed and thanks to this crafstman, we had a perfect bass guitar!


Soon, people started asking Bob and Larry to carry their guitars along to parties. The first hosts who did so were Austin and Muriel Rufus at Margherita T.E., asking them to play at their daughter Lesley’s birthday party.


Larry (lead guitar) and Bob (rhythm guitar) were joined by Ron Aston (drums).

The band soon built up quite a decent repertoire of songs but didn’t know how to overcome ‘feedback’ noise when a guitar was close to a microphone so they gave up trying to sing and played only instrumental numbers by the Shadows and Ventures.


As Larry Brown reminisces, “Our first ‘gig’ was in Panitola Club. Ron had been approached by his Superintendent, requesting that we play at a function his daughter and all her friends who were out for the Cold Weather from the UK had planned. I dithered a bit saying that we were perhaps not good enough yet to play in public but Ron came back with “he says if we don’t play he’ll sack me”!! So we played and it was a fantastic night. The Club was beautifully decorated having a Roman theme and I remember the festoons of green balloons hanging from the ceiling formed to make giant bunches of grapes.

Complimentary drinks kept coming to the stage and were lined up on top of the speaker boxes and as these marched along because of the vibration, we had to catch and drink them before they fell! Everyone had a great time and from there we played at Margherita, Digboi, Dibrugarh, Tingri, Panitola and as far afield as Mariani. We were up and running!”


Bob Powell Jones says, “I had pink shirts with black buttons stitched for the band members and proudly presented these during one of our practice sessions, suggesting that the pink shirts would go well with our dinner suit trousers.

Indeed they did, and looked quite smart!” avers Larry Brown. Douglas Russell from Margherita TE was later co-opted into the band and given a crash course in playing a bass guitar.


The Mudguards were extremely popular though they played only instrumental numbers. They even played at a wedding reception held at Margherita Club.



                                             Margherita Club Circa 1965
                            The Mudguards: Bob Powell-Jones, Larry Brown, Ron Aston


 Ken and Shirley Namey lead the dancing at their wedding reception at Margherita Club.
     The Mudguards (L-R): Douglas Russell, Bob Powell Jones, Larry Brown & Ron Aston

Fast forward to the 1990s – a different generation of planters and a different kind of music. Mukesh Tandon, Balraj Barman and Munnawar Wahab (fondly called Pappu) all from Warren Tea Ltd, formed a band and decided to christen themselves Warranty. With theencouragement and support of their GM, Mr Ron Sircar, and senior executives, they started playing at Company get-togethers.


Mukesh Tandon says, “The enthusiasm of our audiences made us want to be able to perform larger sets with more variety, so we looked for more musicians outside Warrens. Gold was struck with Manoj Gogoi (Powai T.E.) and friend Sanjay Choudhury (Dehing T.E) followed soon after by Dr Raj Sharma (Nokhroy T.E.). In the meanwhile, Pappu and Balraj bowed out owing to personal engagements and we immediately needed a drummer. We found Prosenjit Chakraborty (Bubu) who was not only a great drummer but also an all round musician, and Parag Borah, a great keyboardist, later fondly called AR (Rahman) for his uncanny resemblance to the great musician himself.

I must recount how each of the members brought with him not only his individual style but also an uncanny flavour or resemblance to some great musicians of our times. Manoj, with his playing style, was our Clapton; Sanjay had Morrisson-esque vocal stylings, Doc Raj was our Freddie Mercury and yours truly was the Mark Knopfler with his Dire Straits vocal style. Planters’ Band had taken shape.”

From 1997 to 2001, Planters’ Band played in almost all the tea clubs from Margherita, Doomdooma, Panitola, Tingri, Dibrugarh, Moran and Naharkatia right up to the North Bank. The Coal and Oil circles also invited them to play at their clubs in Ledo, Digboi, Moran, Zaloni and Kaliyani. “The experience was fulfilling, making so many new friends, even admirers!” says Mukesh.

Be it PB4 or The Mudguards in the 60s, or Planters’ Band in the 90s, what all of them had in common was dedication. After a full day’s ‘kamjari’, the members would drive for miles every evening to practise together, sometimes foregoing dinner just to put in that extra bit of practice, then driving back late at night only to be up at the crack of dawn for ‘kamjari’ again! Music, to them, was not a hobby but a passion.

In MukeshTandon’s words, “It wasn’t just the glamour that kept us going. Every show would mean weeks of intense jamming, sleepless nights trying to get one song right and waking up to a full day’s ‘kamjari’. We had relentless practice sessions, and that’s what passion is all about. But thankfully since it is your passion, even too much effort is still not enough. Being part of a band was all about those long back-breaking pothole-riddled journeys to, sometimes, unfamiliar clubs; getting on-stage in front of hundreds of strange faces, forgetting you were a planter who had to write a monthly report next morning and just being a musician for the time being. Because it’s easy to be what you love. Because you’re living a dream at that moment; maybe even lending one to a couple of kids on the dance floor, watching you do that Knopfler number, in a voice made husky and drawling to get that Mark touch.


Planters’ Band performing at the Doom Dooma Club Meet (L-R) Dr Raj Sharma, Mukesh Tandon, Sanjay Choudhury and Manoj Gogoi

Panitola Club New Year's Eve, 1997 (L-R) Dr Raj Sharma, Bubu (on drums),Mukesh on lead vocals & guitar, Manoj Gogoi on lead guitar


It is a fact of life in Tea that people are transferred to different estates every few years, so it is difficult for planters’ bands to remain a unit for very long. However, in the time that all the bands I have mentioned were active, they wove magic and left a musical legacy which will live on in the annals of Tea history. Perhaps, in the coming years, talented musicians among the new generation of planters will take this legacy forward and create a magic brew of their own!

Life is one grand sweet song, boys, so start the music…and play on!



Note: I would like to convey my heartfelt thanks Mr Jimmy Pariat, Mr Terence Morris, Mr Robert Powell Jones, Mr Larry Brown, Mr Alan Leonard and Mr Mukesh Tandon for their generosity in sharing their experiences and precious photographs with me. This article could not have been written without their invaluable inputs. I dedicate this article, with immense admiration, to all planter-musicians…Thank you for the music.


Sarita Dasgupta, 7 September 2013.

 Written by Sarita Dasgupta