Monday, August 31, 2009

And with this I'll end...

When you say "Planter' the general reaction is to think of the apparently luxurious life they lead - bungalow, cooks, gardeners, watchers, drivers, a vehicle... Most people only see the green tea fields, the 'sallam's of the estate workers.

What most do not see is the work that goes on below the surface, or the risk that a Planter puts himself through in the process of doing his duty.

Planters have been killed - they were prime targets during the trouble times of '87 and '89, pulled out of their beds and mercilessly shot, sometimes in front of their families. Others injured or worse, robbed as they carried the estate payrolls back to their estates.

Being surrounded by an angry work force is no laughing matter, one man amongst hundreds, the situation a powder keg that could go off at any moment. Some have been held hostage for hours on end in their own offices or even their bungalows, others forced to march from one point of the estate to another.

My closest colleague Mr AT was a perfectionist, driving his workers and staff hard to achieve standards that were a bench mark for all of us - his claim to fame was that his 'Plucking Slopes" were so smooth, it was reputed possible to slide a plank all the way from the top of the field to the bottom along the top of the tea bushes! Sitting one day in the office another colleague came by to tell me that AT was being held in his division office by the work force. We both decided to pay a cautionary visit, choosing to do so from a distance, a cart road that ran above the building in which he was held. From the top of the hill, looking down, we could see the Muster Shed surround by the entire work force and our friend inside trying to talk his way out. We were eventually noticed and amidst a lot of cat calls and hooting about 50 of the workers started to climb up to where we were, all the time inviting us to come join our friend. It was time to go and we did, heading off to the Police Station to muster the cavalry.

A hour later we were back on the hill top to watch the Police come in and after further discussion extract AT and load him into the jeep. The workers however were not gonna give in so easily and they then positioned themselves across the road, some hugging the wheels of the police vehicle - stand off!

AT had to get down and come back in and it was almost fours later that the matter was resolved and he allowed to leave - in total almost 9 hours held against his will


On one particular estate I was on there were rising tensions between the 'High' and 'Low' caste's. Usually the "L's" out number the "H's" significantly as a result of which harmony prevails but on this particular property the ratio was a more even one. The point of contention was the Kovil, a particularly popular one which received homage not only from the workers themselves but even a number of influential businessmen from Colombo. The situation deteriorated to the extent that it became unsafe for members of one group to walk individually without getting set upon by member's of the second. One evening my watchman came running to tell me that a worker was being assaulted, and I, fool that I was, instructed him to stay behind and proceeded to where this was taking place. When I get there I find my watcher, lying on the ground, bleeding from a couple of wounds - he had ignored me and come ahead only to be set upon and beaten quite badly.

Having a Police presence was of no help, by the time we got to one site, the culprits were long gone and things were just spiraling down. The day I had a zero out turn at my morning muster was the point at which my Superintendent stepped in and dissolved the entire Kovil Committee which was the root of the problem. He then went on to appoint a new one consisting of representatives from both warring factions, the field officer, the divisional clerk and to head them, a Sinhalese Buddhist - me.

For the next one year my duties included participating at all the Kovil functions, presiding over meetings, getting called to the temple at all odd hours - which also meant I had to make sure that I wore socks with no holes. Too often do SD's get caught with holes in their socks, its tradition, the day you wore holey socks, that was the day you had to go to the kovil!

Tensions eased up there after, once control of the temple funds was gone the more interested parties lost interest and things returned to normal. I presided over the kovil and its functions participating at all the pooja's. It was on one such occasion, that I had a spiritual experience. The main statue was carved out of black rock, a standing figure of Shiva.For the annual festival the god was bathed in saffron water and was now completely yellow in color. As I stood there one night, listening to the chanting, the beating for the drums and the screeching of the pipes, breathing in the smell of burning lamps and joss sticks, the eyes of the statue opened looking straight at me as I stood there praying. What was a statue painted yellow now had two black eyes looking directly at me, my soul. It lasted for perhaps a few seconds, but I'll always believe that he opened his eyes and looked at me.


Sometimes of course, the reason that a Planter had to face such a situation was of his own doing and due to more personal reasons than work related. But such situations were the exception in spite of mythical tales to the contrary.

There was at one time some British engineers stationed at one of the dams in the Hatton area many of them with their wive's/ girl friends.

Mr B decide to have some fun and started plying Mr SM with tales of Anne, supposedly the GF of one of the engineers. Eventually SM picked up enough courage to go see her, enlisting B to take him on his bike. B takes him, parks near the gate and gives SM a bit of last minute advice, to go right ahead and ask for Anne if anyone else answered the door.

SM rings the bell, and its opened by the very ruddy, very large Englishman; who turns even redder when asked about Anne. Swearing blue murder the guy steps back in and SM takes to his heels. Good thing he does cos the guy comes out with a shot gun in his hand and fires it. Mr B by now is laughing so hard he can hardly keep the bike straight while SM is babbling on the pillion, now at least four shades lighter!


Workers were paid, cash twice a month, with the payment rounded off to 5 rupees. A typical payroll was anything between 550,000 to 1.2 million depending on the number of workers and the time of the year. And it had to be paid out individually. So, twice a month we would put on our best socks and go down to town with the Superintendent to the bank. There we would collect our packets, open them and count the money once. Once done, now with a Police escort we would return to the estate and from that point go on to each of our divisions, now with just one cop as a guard. On the division the Field Officer would read the name and amount due, in Tamil, and I'd count it out, 1000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10 rupee notes and 5 rupee coins, pay, go on to the next. 200 workers, 200 payments... at the end if you were short, it came out of your pocket. So I guess we were really really careful. I did acquire a skill though as a result of this, I can now zip through a bundle of notes faster than lightening, sadly its been a long time since I've seen a bundle of notes!

Sometime around the Kovil incident I developed an interest in Colombo, one that required my frequent presence in the city. Since biking it down every weekend was no option - 250km and four hours takes its toll - I traveled by bus. Saturday night I would ride to Bandarawella, park the bike at a friends house and walk on to the bus stand to catch an Intercity to Colombo at 11pm. Reaching Colombo in the wee hours of Sunday, I'd spend the day with my interest to catch the 11pm bus back up that very night, reaching the estate in the wee hours of Monday morning in time for work. I must have been nuts!

And with this I think I'll end my Planting posts. Planters can be and are at times an obnoxious bunch, I know I've met a fair number of them in my time. But many of them are hard working dedicated men who sacrificed so much to do what they loved doing. Most had little if any family life, wife and children down in the city for schooling, the husband father on the estate. Its changed now I can see; no longer the kind of dedication, love for the job. Better roads have made getting to Colombo or Kandy easier, better opportunities in the city have reduced the talent that once were drawn to the life of a planter, with time things change. But I have my memories, and truth is, tea is all I really know, its all I've ever worked with all my working life. tea has taken me from the mountains of Darjeeling to the Eastern Cape of South Africa, from the Hunan Province of China to tea fields in Uganda and eventually here to Ouagadougou where I'm sitting typing this today.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Figure it out...if you can...

I took this photograph about five years ago, down in Bentota. It was only later back home that I noticed a detail in it that I cannot quite explain.

Look closely at the bottom left hand corner and tell me what you see. Click on the image if you wanna larger image to take a closer look. No matter at what size you look at it, "IT" remains distinctive...

Of spooks and lovers

After four years in Maskeliya I was transferred to a property in Bandarawela - to a place which in older times was traditionally a 'punishment' posting. Bandarewalla seemed to be at the end of the earth as far as I was concerned and it was my intention to inform my new Superintendent of my intention to resign forthwith when I met him.

Ten minutes of meeting him I decided that I would resign if they ever transferred me from Bandarewella - a decision I was happy to confirm over the next two years and what was easily the happiest of times for me.

Though the estate was classified as a "High Grown" the property was spread out from 2500ft all the way up to 5000. My bungalow was more suited to the mid country with a lovely open veranda running 3/4ths of the way around the front. 7km away from the factory and office meant relative peace from the boring stuff. And being 2500 ft lower, it also meant that I could actually go almost 6km on the neutral!

Here I was responsible for 3 divisions, a total of 200ha, about 700 workers; best of all one of the divisions was an Organic one, which meant requiring a different approach.

So now, a few tales from there


This was the only bungalow I lived in that I ever saw/ felt a 'presence'. Most evenings, as I sat at the dining table reading I would see, from the corner of my eye, a vague shadow drift across the room. Human in shape, head, shoulders were distinctive in shape. With no prompting on my part, in time, three others commented upon this spirit.


Not too far from where I lived there was a 600ft waterfall, one that was generally viewed from the bottom could also be accessed from the top if one knew the paths. I used to camp out there at night, sleeping at the edge of the falls, gazing up at the night sky, watching the stars walking across the heavens...

It was at this spot too, that I had two once in a life time experiences

The first pertains to a beautiful young woman I had met, a gentle compassionate person, she moved through life with hardly a ripple, a calm peaceful oasis, a woman at one with herself and the world. She joined me out there one night and we spoke of life sitting there together near a campfire, the sound of water around us, the edge of the cliff just a few feet away from us on one side, the flowing stream on the other, toasting marshmallows, drinking coffee. Later we made love, in the cold air, our skin pricked by the minute drops of water blow back up and over the cliff, heated by the flames of our fire.....

My other memory is from another night, of sitting there one moonlit night, watching as a wild elephant quenched its thirst, not 50ft from where I was, from the stream at 2 in the morning.


There was a small herd - 10 perhaps 12 wild elephants, who had somehow found themselves up the hills having meandered their way here from the low lands of Wellewaya. These animals used to graze along the lower edges of the estate, occasionally venturing on to the property too. One evening, as I bid a good night to a couple of Policemen who had dropped by, I warned them to be careful that I had had reports of elephants in the vicinity. Not ten minutes later my Appu comes a running to tell me that two elephants had discovered the jak tree in my garden and were happliy making a meal of it. From that day onwards I was treated to the sight of two elephants in my back yard between 11pm and 12.


My boss, another truly wonderful man, often had visitors. And since the elephants were in my beat, I was expected to know at any given time where they were so that he could show them! Now understand, I was all for this responsibility.


This property was a large one, requiring 5 SD's in all, four for the field and one for the factory. Of the four field SD's three of us smoked, something boss detested, along with unshaven faces. With time the number of smokers decreased till it was just me. On that first day I was the sole smoker, the Superintendent walked in to the room we used, picked up the aluminum ash tray and crushed it, all this with not a word spoken while looking at me.


I never worked out how he did it but Boss, somehow managed to get the very best out of all of us - there was something about him that inspired loyalty and a desire to make him proud of us. As a team we celebrated each little milestone which took us from a loss making entity to a profitable one, achieved through hard work by a man who knew just how to challenge us to give our best.

Remaining silent

I wonder at what the common factors are that conspire to bring nine individuals to commit murder? Not nine members of a gang of robbers or killer but nine individuals who have chosen to serve their fellow man as the guardians of the law no less!

The Angulana Killings have been well documented so there is little need to go into the details, but I'd like to figure out what drove these men to take two lives.

The social economic backgrounds of the nine and their roots could not be a similar, for a typical Police Station consists of individuals drawn from various parts of the country. And while discipline and adherence to the chain of command is expected, surely as individuals, did it not strike anyone one of them that what they were doing was morally and legally wrong?!

How have we become so callous? Yes, a 30 yr war, two insurgencies must surely have taken its toll upon us, perhaps we can even allocate part of the blame to the influence of television and video games... but shouldn't we know better?

My own line of thinking is inclined towards the examples we are set, by parents, by teachers, by people we look up to, who are supposed to lead us in a just,fair, firm manner, but who in reality do so by stooping to the level of a gutter - who achieve their means by what ever course possible, be it right or wrong.

One has only to open one news paper or the other to find glaring examples of this - laws bent to accommodate personal agenda's, laws disregarded as politician storm Police Stations to free their henchmen, Policemen circumventing procedures, falsifying documents even as the general public protest outside, the list is endless.

Sadly our beautiful country seems to have become a the fiefdom of those in power and those that hold positions of power, a ripe fruit, lying there to be picked at of its sweetness by a few at the cost of the greater, who like lambs, easily swayed by empty word and promises galore

We are all responsible I think, as guilty as the bad, for we remain silent...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

A close up

Look closely and it's possible to see an eye and a little beak to the right of the image... the other 'Squab' is facing the other way.

The parents leave them all alone for up to a hour at a time, returning for just brief periods during the day. I presume they stay put at night

Thursday, August 27, 2009

They are out!

The day finally came and my bird is now a mom to two little chicks!

She's started spending more time away from the nest though that is certainly no indication that she's forgotten them. I have to only cast my eye around to see her lurking around, keeping an eye on the little ones even as she feeds.

Its amazing how instincts kick in... no sooner the mother goes, the chicks duck down and keep absolutely still in her absence, its only once in a way that there is any sign of life - most of the time, its just a blob of gray.

Looking forward to seeing them in a week or so...

Monday, August 24, 2009


The things we got up to were pretty hilarious sometimes down right stupid and even tragic.

At one time some of us started to run out of petrol coming back from the club - no funny matter at 1 in the morning on an estate road, 5km away from your warm bed. The culprit eventually turned out to be the 'podiun' one the of SD's used to bring with him to the club, supposedly to hold his billiard cue for him. The reality was that the kid would go drain our petrol tanks while we were at dinner so that his 'Dore' went home literally AND figuratively tanked up while the rest of us ran the risk of sobering up pushing a dead bike uphill.


A colleague in love ran up this humongous phone bill sweet talking his girl friend in Kandy. When shown the bill by the Chief Clark he loudly disputed it, demanding that an itemized bill be called for, putting off the inevitable for a few months. While it was no surprise that there was almost 15K worth of calls to one number in Kandy, it was a surprise to find 5000 bucks worth of calls to Galle! His best friend on the adjoing estate had been sneaking into the bungalow when he was out, to call his sweet heart!


Six months into my first billet I wanted to go to Kurivita to meet some friends for lunch on a Sunday, almost a two hour ride. Since the Superintendent was on leave I sought permission from the Snr SD, who gave the matter some thought before telling me that it was OK, but I had to check in with him before I left in the morning. He goes on to kindly offer me use of his bike - something unheard of - on the basis that my rust bucket would not make the journey without a break down. Needless to say I was touched by the gesture and expressed my appreciation.

I turned up at his bungalow at 7 to find the guy dressed to the nines and planning to leave the estate unattended! The rule is that there has to be one executive on the property at all times, no exceptions. The plan now as he outlines it to me is that I have to drop him at the Hatton Railway station and then pick him up from Avissawella Rest House at 4 that evening.

I'm not going to argue with him, he's the boss and if he wants to scoot its his problem, I've already got his permission to leave the estate, I'm covered no matter what happens.

I'm at the Rest House at 4, cool my heels for almost 90 minutes when this guy comes rushing in saying 'lets go, lets go'! He hops on front, I get on the pillion and we are off, tearing down the road...

'Whats the rush' I ask, "Boss' he says, 'where?' goes I, "behind us" he says... and looking over my shoulder, I do indeed see a familier Isuzu Trooper coming up behind us!


The Annual club dance was always something looked forward to and as it was a major fund raising event we cracked our heads trying to make things interesting to draw a crowed - It was also one of the few occasions we got to ogle the regions Superintendents daughters and if we were really lucky, their daughters friends too.

Mr SM, a man who deserves a post of his own, was club president one year and mooted the idea of a Cabaret. That dance night, at mid night the lights went off and after a few seconds a single spotlight focused on the stage at the far corner. On it was a cabaret line of three chorus girls who proceeded to do a Can Can while Mr SM did an incredible rendition of New York New York. The crowed goes wild, the guys are hooting, all going well. Song ends, light goes off, when it comes back the chorus line is gone.

Mr SM is mobbed as guys surround him asking him who the girls are and where they are,but he remains mum. What he knows and no one else does is that the three 'girls' were in fact me and another two guys dressed in drag, with wigs and make up!

By the way, the club was also used as a Lodge by the Freemasons who used to stack all their ritual paraphernalia - swords and spears - at the back of the ladies bathroom - a room which had this long corridor to it. Mr AT a close colleague and I used to have it at each other fencing in that corridor brandishing a sword in one hand and spear in the other. We were eventually caught by the Lodge Master who was also the Club President at the time. We had our bar privileges taken off for a month and had to rely upon our friends generosity for a drink.

Naff for today, more to come....

Volcano - Damien Rice : Drum & Guitar Cover Mealla Tarrant w/ Dimitri Z.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

All for a Rs 100/- annual increment

My day usually started early, up at 5am to be served with a cup of steaming hot tea, a leisurely toilet, to dress before either walking to the muster shed of the "Bungalow" Division or hopping on the bike to ride to a further one.

"Muster" was generally conducted by the Field Officer and consisted of allocating the men who turned up work for the day. Each guy was given a chit and told which field he was expected to turn up at for what work. The required tools would be handed over to the respective Kangany - labour supervisor.

This was also the time for me to check the previous days work, total number of people worked, the crop harvested, check on worker out turns, productivity, re allocate the work force if required - something that often happened during the monsoon because with the rains, fertilizer applications took priority.

Muster done, I would then make a quick round of the fields, especially to the ones plucked the day before, records were fine, but there is nothing like an eye ball to make sure that what was supposed to have happened actually did happen! The last thing you wanted to happen was for the Superintendent to ask you a question to which you had no answer!

The Tea Plucker's and men were expected to report to their respective fields by 7 - 730am. for many it would be anything between a 30 minute to 1 hour walk, usually up hill. I cant think of a harder working woman in SL given the physical exertion required of our tea plucker's and the multiple roles they played - Not only do they work, they clean and cook, bare children, collect the firewood, play a subservient role to the men, work long physically strenuous hours doing mind numbing work come rain or shine.

The chattering of the women, the rustle of the plastic sheet they tie around their waist for protection from the branches, the sound of people walking along the tea rows as they pluck, the shouts of the Kanganies, I can still hear that and it makes me nostalgic.

I'd spend a hour or so here, this was after all was in fact the only productive work on a tea estate, everything else was in support of this activity and this was the only income generating aspect, everything else was only expenditure - weeding, pruning, draining, lopping, road works, terracing, new clearings, planting, nurseries...

Breakfast at around 10, along with the third or forth cup of tea for the day, before heading out again. On the way I'd stop off to chat with the gardener, to see how my vegi's were doing, get the lawns trimmed, new flowers planted

This round took me to all the fields in which we had work for the day - this was one of the key control points, to ascertain physically, the number of workers. We may have allocated 20 men that morning for draining. It was the Field Officer and his assistants job to check the numbers and confirm them. An SD's job was to make sure what was, was and if this meant taking a head count, you did it; calling out each name on the field chit looking for the man in question, ticking his name off and signing the paper.

The first weighing of the leaf takes place around 10 O'Clock. Its a good time to be there to see how fast work is progressing, to see if we are on target, push the pace up if required, check on the quality of the leaf harvested.

This morning round usually took me on till 1:30pm or so around when the 2nd weighing was done and the women knocked off for lunch. Back then to the sundry works fields, because the men are generally on what was called 'Task' work, a set target after which they were free to leave. Generally men on a tea estate are done and off by 2pm while their wives toil on till 6.

Lunch at a round 2 or 2:30, to relax a little before getting back to the plucking fields before going down to the office around 5. This was the time to fill the Superintendent in on the days work, how much I estimated we would harvest that day, have a chat with the Chief Clerk and the divisional clerks, get up t speed with my colleagues, of whom the Snr SD was supposed to then plan with the rest of us the work for the next day - fertilizer applications, vehicle allocations etc.

From there it was to the factory to see the last of the leaf come in, to argue with the factory manager that the quality of leaf was acceptable before heading back to the bungalow.

A cup of tea while reading the news papers, a warm shower or a long hot bath sipping a short drink, book in hand, music playing, dog near by. Dinner, a walk around the garden cup of coffee in hand, watch the night sky for a shooting star...

Bed at 9, book still in hand.... up again, three times a week, at mid night to dress and go to the factory, to be there for a few hours watching the manufacture... taste the first batch of raw tea that spilled out of the dryer, back home to bed, to sleep, to start all over again.

A planter has no fixed hours, he is on duty 24hrs of the day, 7 days a week and those days of State run plantations the rewards were little - My starting salary was LKR 3300/- before deductions, with a guaranteed increment of LKR 100/- every year. My first letter of appointment went on to state that I was not expected to form a contract of marriage for a period of three years, that were I to chose to leave my post withing a 5yr period, I was duty bound to pay my employer the sum of LKR 60,000

In return I was provided with a fully furnished bungalow, a cook, a gardener and a nightwatchman, a motor bike with fuel, 40 days casual and 30 days annual leave for a year - leave I hardly ever took simply because I could not bear staying in a city for more than 2 -3 days once in 3 months or so!

Do I miss it? Yes I do. Things may be different now, I suspect that they are. But a few years back, planting offered a quality of life that no city job could offer. You were your own boss, decided your own hours, what mattered were your results, and as long as the division ran smoothly, met targets, the Superintendent usually left you alone.

Next time, Planting escapades!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Of firm and fair

How happy you are at work can depend a lot on the type of person your boss is - and there are so many morons out there that the chances of getting a 'good boss' rather slim all things considered.

I was lucky though, all three of the men I worked for were amazingly wonderful managers, with a great sense of fair play.

Being a Planter is about being able to manage people. A typical Estate Superintendent or "Periya Dorai" carries in his hands an inverted triangle, of anything between 350 to 1500 people - people of different personalities, whims and fancies. The PD's Assistent Supertintendents (Sinna Dorai's) would have a Field Officer reporting to them, the assistant FO's to the 'Kangany's" and then the work force proper.

My 1st boss, Mr T.S, was a senior planter with close to 25yrs experience, most of it in the low country. His diminutive stature and mild outward manner masked a shrewd, lightening fast mind that analyzed a situation in seconds. A man of few words, he kept us on our toes by appearing by seemingly knowing EVERYTHING going on!

He was the type of Planter who believed in work and play, insisting that his three SD's turned up at the club every week, participating in the social activities.

That first day I met him, after asking me if I had "taken over', he went on to tell ask about the motor bike and then to restrict my use of it! I was told that though the bike was given he would frown upon me using it before 5pm, and that too, only to come to the office or factory. And he went on to say that I was expected to get 'permission' in the event I wanted to leave the estate, even to go to town.

Might sound a little harsh, but I'll tell you this, I appreciated everything I learnt a result.

Mr TS loved Camellia, he loved her with a passion, often telling us that he owed everything to her. He was a firm and fair man who backed his SD"s 100% if they were right, took responsibility for their actions if they were not. When he wanted to buy time, he would feign deafness, getting the issue repeated a few times; but inside, his mind was five steps ahead of all of us as he considered the implications of what was to come and made his decisions.

As SD's we would hold a weekly meeting with our respective workers on Tuesday, dealing with the issues that popped up in this little world of ours - work issues, disputes amongst the workers, complaints, requests, the list was endless. We would write down every single one, sort out the ones we could, defer the ones we could not for the Superintendent to deal with the next day.

Wednesday morning our 'Labour Diary" would go to Mr TS, along with the action we had taken. By 5pm he knew what exactly had taken place the previous day and what to expect that evening.

I remember one occasion where I had made a bad call, one in retrospection I could have handle differently. As the Union Leader complained to him about my decision, from the corner of his mouth I heard him say "You messed this one up son", as he cocked his head and pretended he could not hear what was being said.

He then went on to deal with the issue which earned him a sense of loyalty and respect that I still hold for him so many years later, sorting the issue out in a way that dealt with the problem and still maintained my dignity.

He liked to drive himself around and would do so at most times. Being a little short, all one could really see of him meeting his jeep head on was just part of his head above the steering wheel. Anything we found amusing about this was quickly quashed were he to cast an eye in our direction! Everyday, after breakfast at 7 he would drive to the office from the 'Big Bungalow' taking a different route each time. Same applied going and coming from lunch and again going home in the evening - so we never quite knew where he would pop up, just that he would around this time or that. And let me tell you, come rain or shine, late night or not he did it everyday.

One 31st night he piled the 3 of us in his jeep and along with his wife - a sweet lady I have to write about too - took us for the dance at the Bogawantalawa Club. An arrack and soda man, he could out drink all of us, this man who was at that time in his 50's. His signature move was to walk on to the dance floor, place his glass upon his head and dance with bended knees' balancing the full glass without spilling a drop!

AT club nights, he would come up to us, put his arm around our shoulders, ask how we were, buy us a drink, joke with us, push on to the dance floor, laugh with us, joke with us. At work he hardly cracked a smile, held us responsible for our actions and tolerated no nonsense. Woe be unto you if you tried to bluff, for he knew everything.

His wife was a gentle sweet lady, atypical of what a planters wife usually is. She was like a mother to us and took a personal interest in all three SD's especially the bachelors who lived by themselves, dropping by once in two or three months with boss to see how we were managing the bungalow - it was to her that I turned for help in changing my curtains and I know she was the one who convinced boss that I should get it done.

She was also a perceptive woman, from day one she used to tell me that Planting was not for me, that my future was elsewhere, even today, when I meet her she reminds me, "I told you, didn't I, and now see where you are"

We got back to the estate at 5am that 1st morning, just in time to drink couple of cups of coffee, shower and turn up for muster at 630am.

As I stood there, taking a count of the workers that cold mourning, I heard a familier purr - Boss's jeep, he's on his way office, making sure we are at work. The warm, friendly man of last night gone, here came the Superintendent!

Mr TA, sir, thank you. You taught me, by example, to be firm and fair, that integrity, honesty and hard work were rewards in themselves, that the only thing that I get to take is my reputation and that, if tarnished, could never ever be polished to its original luster

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'll tell you why...

... at least I'll try...

This post is inspired by two recent posts by Cerno - about Planters. I've become nostalgic about what I still see as some of the happiest times of my life and what set me on a career built around tea.

DILMAH has a lovely site dedicated to Ceylon Tea for those who may like to explore the lore themselves

I joined the ranks just a few months past my 21st, posted to this beautiful estate up in Maskeliya. The closest town was Upcot, where the road from Maskeliya town virtually ended, becoming estate roads and foot paths.

That first day I was driven up win my parents in a double cab loaded to spill level with all the things a young man needed to start off in life - seven shirts, five pairs of shorts, socks and undies, rain coat and umbrella, three tea chests full of books, a carton full of cassettes, a small 3 in 1 boom box, a dart board and a 1500 piece jig saw puzzle and off course, the first of my "Appu's' Michael.

My 'Bungalow' was perched upon a hill, over looking a valley - four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a master bed which could sleep four at a pinch, a wooden boarded dining room, a living room with a fire place and a kitchen that was almost 30m away from the dining room.

I met Mr A, the SD I was taking over from, who in turn was going on to another property that very day. A quick hello and we were about to embark on a 100yr old practice, "Handing Over/ Taking Over"

What happened next was to happen in the space of 120 minutes

I was given a copy of the bungalow inventory and showed various pieces of furniture, carpets, curtains, a fridge and oven, all of which I was expected to become responsible from this point onward.

Next I was perched on the back of his (and soon to be mine) motor bike - a 89 Sri Honda CD 200 which I was to ride for the next four years and taken to the first of two of the 'Divisions" that were now my responsibility - tea fields, plant nurseries, building, accommodation for the workers, tools, a school, a dispensary, a coorporative shop - 89ha of tea, 250 workers and 8 staff members.

With the second division included I was now, at the age of 21 responsible for the productivity of 160ha, 480 workers, 14 staff members, responsible for keeping peace, dispensing justice attending to their welfare, paying them, planning and implementing work, checking on worker out turns and productivity, harvesting the crop and what not.

This day was also the day I met 'Brownie' for the first time. We had brought with us a loaf of bread from the Royal Bakery in Wella. While I was 'taking over' and squalling my signature on umpteen numbers of paper, my mom was setting up house for me and in the process left the bread on a windowsill. Suddenly, this medium sized bolt of brown lightning streaked across the kitchen, grabbed the loaf and vanished. A stray, she had apparently just given birth to some pups and was obviously hungry. She was to join my household within a week, pet to me, companion to my 'first' dog a year later, to move with me from Maskeliya to Bandarawella where she eventually died, sadly missed, still remembered...

More to come...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The bird in my life

This is actually inspired by Harumi who's posts on her Bulbul's I've been following.

Her tale has been a fascinating one and I'm saddened by what I've read today... which kind of prompted me to write about the bird in my life.

I noticed her first last year, when I moved in she was already there, and in those early days of adjusting to a new country, she was one of the few pleasures I looked forward to each evening

Seeing her back again this year was a pleasant surprise and I looked forward to re acquainting myself with her again.

Her chosen spot is actually quite safe, its at the edge of the veranda, in a bush thats growing up against a pillar.This year though I am a little concerned because the tree seems to be wilting, I'm hoping its just a natural cycle and not that the tree is dying. Even if is, if it lasts long enough for the eggs to hatch and the birds to fly,its good enough.

I sensed something wrong about two weeks ago, the tree does seem to be tilting, confirmed by the fact that when it rains now, water from the roof edge drips directly on to the pigeon in its nest.

That was soon solved with a rope fastened around the tree and the pillar.

Two eggs we have, and if what the books say is correct I can expect them to hatch sometime next week... fingers crossed

Btw, the last pic has nothing to do with her, thats just some other bird!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009



What is inflation?


Earlier you used to be 36-24-36. Now you are 42-46-48. So Now you have more of everything.Yet your value has become less.

This is inflation darling

In the shadows of the dark

In the cold of the night

I feel Death coming

I feel his presence

In the tingling of my hands

I feel his touch

In the beating of my heart

I see him there

In the shadows of the dark

I don’t fear death

I have lived my life

I fear for the living

I fear for ones left behind

I fear for those I love

Monday, August 10, 2009


Nothing special, but I liked the colors

Saturday, August 8, 2009


OK, why does my blog and its layout look so scrunched up?

If anyone can figure it out and let me know what I need to do to make it 'fill' the screen I would be so grateful - I've tried everything I know and all I've managed is to make it look worse

So, HELP!!!!

Three recent clips

The first, the sound of rain


The second, a dance competition


And the third, more dancing

Africa, the sounds, the music, the dance and its people!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Wither too the law of the land?

A Police Spokesman has gone on record saying "Police were not duty-bound to place the protection of a criminal over that of the general public"

I'm not the most knowledgeable of people but I'm pretty sure that Police Men are duty bound to ensure the safety of all of us - its the courts that are tasked with deciding who is a criminal or not and deciding the punishment, not the Police.

Now I'm all for an eye for an eye in cases where it was the intention of the perpetrator to carry out the crime - stories of little children kidnapped and killed make my stomach churn and I imagine bringing down terrible punishments on those animals - I can do that, I'm just a commoner, but for a uniformed policeman to do so just shows what little the enforcers of our laws actually know about the law.

Mr Police Spokesman, FYI, until such time the constitution is written, (which may happen sooner than we like) or the world decides to take a break and suspend Human Rights, you are duty bound to protect all of us!

One second in all that time

12:34:56 on 07-08-09

I was there along with 6,776,993,152 other people who shared that second with me.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Abraham Lincoln

Image from gallery moeding net

Abraham Lincoln the 16th President of the United States, held office during that country's greatest internal crisis, the American Civil War.

Not only did he successfully steer his nation through those times, preserving the Union, he also brought an end to slavery. Elected as president as an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery in the United States he introduced measures that abolished slavery, issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and promoted the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Lincoln closely supervised the victorious war effort, especially the selection of top generals, including Ulysses S. Grant. Historians have concluded that he handled the factions of the Republican Party well, bringing leaders of each faction into his cabinet and forcing them to cooperate. Lincoln successfully defused the Trent affair, a war scare with Britain, in 1861. Under his leadership, the Union took control of the border slave states at the start of the war. Additionally, he managed his own reelection in the 1864 presidential election.

A humble man, he is regarded as one of America's greatest Presidents, usually seen as a human being personifying the values of honesty, integrity, respect for individual and minority rights, and human freedom in general.

Given the manner of things in Sri Lanka, I thought it pertinent to post a few of his quotes this morning

- With Malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds.

- You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

- Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.

- I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lords side.

- America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

- As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.

- Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.

- Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

- Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

- How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.

- I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, and stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong.

- I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.

- If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee.

- It has been my experience that folks who have no vices have very few virtues.

- Knavery and flattery are blood relations.

- No matter how much cats fight, there always seem to be plenty of kittens.

- Public opinion in this country is everything.

- The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.

- The people themselves, and not their servants, can safely reverse their own deliberate decisions.

- The time comes upon every public man when it is best for him to keep his lips closed.

- These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert, to fleece the people.

- This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it.

- To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men.

- We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it.

- What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.

- When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.

- You cannot build character and courage by taking away a man's initiative and independence.

- You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.