Sometimes it’s the most absurd of things that sets one upon a career. The conventional manner is of course to complete one’s secondary education adequately so to be accepted by one institute of higher education or the other; alternatively to be born with the proverbial silver spoon in ones mouth which allows for greater wonders to be performed. Four years of higher learning and it’s assumed that someone or the other will look upon you as employable. Then of course there is the unconventional way – such as having the parents return from a weekend sojourn in the up country thinking that this the life of a planter most suitable for the exasperating black sheep of the family.
Fate had it that I was in fact looking for fresh pastures. The last eight months had been spend tapping away at two computers, trying hard to update a set of accounts that had been left undone since 12 months before I even appeared on the scene. But that’s all a tale for another chapter, which I will get to.
So here I am almost 21, a US secondary school diploma from a High School in a quaint little town in Central California, vertically challenged according to my previous employer and looking for something to give me a sense of direction. The life of a Planter certainly sounded appealing, where else could I get to spend most of the day walking in fresh air, attired in nothing more formal than a short sleeved shirt, shorts, long socks and stout walking shoes? It certainly sounded right up my street.
So what were the options? Two actually – both semi government institutes, the State Plantations Corporation or the Janatha Estate Development Board. Not one to do things by half I submit my application to both. All seemed well, for I soon found myself called up to for a preliminary interview by not one but both establishments a few months later.
SLSPC called me first and I still recollect the day I turned up suitably attired in tie and long sleeved shirt, clutching in my hands a file with my meagre collection of achievements - various scholastic, athletic certificates as well as the one I was most proud of, my birth certificate.
I had already steeled myself to a frosty reception since I had been warned that it was neigh impossible to actually join the corporation unless one was either the scion of planters or had what was referred to as ‘pull’ or alternatively had been incredibly successful upon the field of sport and or academia. I certainly did not qualify for any of these.
I am soon to find myself in a long corridor, peopled by a number of hopefuls such as my self – a fair representation of the better schools from Colombo to Kandy to Galle. The wait was long, there were I think more than 30 of us that day, all hopeful of perhaps a dozen if not 15 slots, which was supposed to be an average intake.
Having cooled my heels for over an hour I was finally called into what was quite an intimidating interview. Imagine if you will, two rows of parallel tables, curving to meet at one end forming an elongated horse shoe. Sitting around this were 12 of the grimmest men I had ever seen in my life. Snr Planters, desk bound Administrators and what nots!
Asked to be seated I look around be in sheer amazement, this cannot be happening, But it is and I am just about to be put in the hot seat, if I was not already there. The preliminaries of age, sex etc, dealt with, we moved on to more important areas. The primary one seemed to be to establish my pedigree which was by way of asking who my father was. Now my father, the least said of him the better and that’s still saying too much about him, Suffice to say that even now I usually refer to him as being the contributor of my Y chromosomes and little else.
I was inspired that day though, and like Alexander faced with Gordian’s knot I took matters into my own hands and let loose the fact that my parents were divorced. The reaction was the expected one, a moment of embarrassed silence and a quick change of the subject to safer ground and the name of my Alma mater. The fact was that I was about to put to test a number of myths which surrounded the romance of being a planter. The first myth was that you had to be connected. The second myth was that one had to excel at a sport or two or three. Another was that one needed to come from the right school. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say that I was rather lacking in the required attributes to toe the line if you will with the popular myths.
My alma mater was in those days known for one thing and that was the ability to field an amazingly talented team of young men with exceptional prowess on the field of rugby. The word ‘rowdy’ was also used when making general references to it amongst the so termed better schools of this city.
So, school, not quite the right one. Which left sport… did I mention the rugby? Well you had to be really really good to make the team. I was not ‘really really’ or for that matter of fact even ‘really’ – strike two!
To cut a long story short I didn’t have the connections either, which left me to deal with things as best as I could.
The preliminaries done we moved on… on to what I had been doing over the last few years, why I had chosen to seek a career in this field, why this, why that.
But you know the thing that they all seemed to find fascinating was that I had been to Disney. Looking back now I think I can understand that, but at the time I thought it was the most strangest of things. Here I was, sweating bullets and the most animated conversation we had was about a day I had spent on Magic Mountain.
That day was to be my first step on what was to become a passion. My entire adult life has revolved around those first steps into the life of a tea planter, maturing over the years into a romance with the wonderfully exotic world of tea in all its hues and flavours and shapes and sizes!