On a cool and cloudy morning like today, I could have fooled myself into believing I was in Bagracote Tea Garden in the late eighties. It must have been the freshness of the rain-washed breeze; Bagracote was a place where it rained everyday round the year. At three p.m., without fail - and that, as I said, was in the late eighties.
Those days, a hot meal of Uppuma and chutney like the one we just had for breakfast would have taken me back 'home' in the same way.
Home : a world both Mohan and I had left so far behind, in Delhi. We had to travel for many hours to reach Delhi. There were no telephones and certainly no coloured images flashing on screens to bring other worlds into our lives all day and everyday. For this reason, very few people in the city knew anything at all about tea gardens. I had never heard of the Dooars myself until I got married!
We were all afloat in a world that was remote and had very little in common with life in urban India. Almost all the little towns in the Dooars had come up only because of the tea gardens. The gardens themselves were less than a hundred years old!! The nearest city was Calcutta. There was no way you could bridge the gap between city and garden with ease in those days; besides, each seemed to exist in a different time zone.
Language, music and food: these were our connect with home. It was much the same for the people we knew here, for all our friends, for all Mohan's colleagues and their wives. In this way we were all united, in spite of the things that made each one of us different.We had all created a home away from home. We had gained a new community, new relationships, and a new family where we lived. We had two homes, then, and we enjoyed each in its place.
Most of the young planters today have their families living in towns nearby. There are two reasons for this. First, most of them belong to this region. The tea growing areas of North East India have well populated towns, and any number of youngsters choose tea as a profession. People from places like Delhi, Dehradun, Chandigarh or Kolkata don't turn up in large numbers looking to make a life in tea any longer.
The second reason is that many girls who marry planters get an opportunity to work in town these days, and their children attend school there. The bungalow becomes a weekend home for them, and often the planter husband/father goes and spends Sundays with the family in town. There is no longing for a home far away, and therefore no need to create another in the garden.
|Painting the verandah at Moraghat T.E. Burra Bungalow before Diwali|
This conversation took place at the club Diwali 'do' when all the children were having a wonderful time with 'pataakas' (fireworks). Diwali was two days away. We would all do up our bungalows with a bit of paint, lights and so on every year. Diwali has a special quality in the garden, an added 'flavour', and I've always believed it is enhanced by the darkness and the silence around us.
To get back to the conversation - Mohan asked Vijay whether he really wanted to leave his bungalow in darkness on Diwali night, and the boy replied quite blandly that the bungalow could never be 'home' for him, so why should he stay there and not light diyas (lamps) at home in town!
We were really stunned to hear that he - and so many others, as we now realise - thought that way!
Somehow, our longing for the old 'home' meant we lavished a lot of love on our new homes in what was then a distant land. We gloried in the otherness of this life. And this was home, after all, for our children!
One year, we were in Delhi at Diwali time. Our little one was just two years old. She heard the sound of 'pataakas' (fire crackers) going off early in the evening, and she announced happily to her grandfather that elephants had come! That was what firecrackers - especially the loud ones called 'chocolate bomb' or 'atom bomb' - meant to a tea garden child, because they were used to frighten herds of wild elephants and keep them away! Our children's idea of 'normal life' included elephants, leopards and snakes, forests, rivers and mountains.
The world of tea gardens is still unique. The language(s), the jargon, the 'dastoor' or customs ( most of them quirky and anachronistic ) and the hierarchy, the feudal spirit, the grave danger, the solitude, the darkness, the silence - it's all one of a kind. Definitely not a life to be taken for granted.
|Workers dancing and singing at Diwali time, Moraghat T.E. Burra Bungalow|