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Thursday, 01 November 2018

A Time that Was: Staying on a Tea Estate in Assam, India

Written by Prachi Kagzi
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As I opened the door of the living room in the heritage bungalow at the Addaberie Tea Estate, I was time machined back to the 1900's. There were artifacts and brick-a-brac from the 20's; a library full of books from the 30's; a piano forte in full attention from the 40's and a wall entrenched with fishing logs, hooks and rods including pictures laureling prized catches by an Englishman in the 50's. Such was life in the British Raj, that the only computing needed was to ponder over whether they would land a good catch or not.

The English influence seems to have been steeped in time in this part of India. The north east and especially Assam has many tea plantations with managers 'ruling' these gardens like small kingdoms for almost 4-5 decades. There are many who have trained under the predecessors of the burra sahib (the British era managers) and continued this legacy supreme, replete with mannerisms.

I was fascinated like a little girl who had chanced upon a page into her fairytale of sorts. At the homestay, I would wake up to English breakfast tea served in bed! The carved wooden tea tray, would showcase the kettle brewing orthodox black tea and a separate small jug with milk. Condiments such as granulated sugar, honey and lime slices would be arranged alongside a jar of sweet/savory cookies! This was quite a change from the Masala tea aromas in a cutting chai glass I had encountered in a homestay in the north earlier this month.

We had a small garden behind our bungalow where I read my book, to the chirping of birds, relishing my second Cuppa (only to dwell about my fairytale for longer).

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Wouldn't the memsahib tend to her unfinished watercolor in front of the porch before getting ready for the day? I would imagine!

At breakfast, it was quintessentially English all the way. Baked eggs, hash browns, baked beans, grilled tomatoes with toast alongside various fruit compote in a dining room filled with wicker furniture upholstered in floral prints – was I really in 2017? This experience was the best way for me to get a glimpse of the old times that were so often spoken about in these areas by senior citizens.

Leslie, my hostess, English by birth came to greet me in her curled tones. After she sat down nattering away like a old friend, I learnt that although she had been born here as her father was managing a tea estate, she returned to England for her schooling. It wasn't until she was 16 did she move back. In the middle of this story, she gave precise instructions to the kitchen attendants in her practiced anglicized Hindi. She offered to take me around and we saw the botanical garden and conservation centre they had set up to keep these green lungs breathing.

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Last modified on Thursday, 01 November 2018

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