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!


  1. and so your life story comes rolling out post by post.NICE!

    Must've had fun...

    As for the previous post, I think good bosses is a rare gift too... I've had good ones.. until this time-now..sigh.

  2. lovely! :D waiting impatiently to read about the escapades! ;)

  3. Dats some crazy shit going on aight :)
    Will return to check the next installments.. Btw, is there any making romance parts comin up?

  4. Thanks for sharing your very interesting life experience as a planter!

  5. there goes my dream of owning my own tea estate away..

  6. @ Lady D: Indeed, fortunate are those with a good boss

    @ Chavie: Lol, will post it soon

    @Girigoris the One: Lol, I might post something along those lines

    @ Kirigalpoththa: My pleasure

    @ St. Ville: Keep dreaming, its a wonderful place to be, hard work but deeply satisfying

  7. Sounds very interesting.. that much of work is something I would never take up not even for a million dollars. =D

  8. Hi , I like your blog. My Brother also a planter so I like to know how is planing career feels like. It is not easy it seems.
    And I like your photography too , I also do photography (still learning with my new DSLR camera). Sent you a fliker request.

    have a good day.

  9. @ Harumi: If you do something that you love, then you never have to work a day in your life!

    @ Bell: A DSLR, wow! Flikr request approved! My thanks indeed

  10. Oh ya, that's very true. I do have one such job in mind though it's highly not feasible.. least not for many more years. =D

  11. I linked your article in this post of mine. Hope it is ok? :)

  12. Thanks so much for this. I've followed Kirigalpoththa here and have also added a link to my tea factory post. Really good to get this inside view. Interesting blog, keep it up. ~VNdC

  13. @ anastasia: Thank you. enjoyed your tour post, brought back lots of good memories!