Published by Deepankar at Smashwords
Copyright © 2012 Deepankar
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I was born in a tea garden, fifty kilometers from the city of Silchar. Silchar district has the most beautiful tea gardens in India. The rolling hills, guggling streams, and ambient climate make it a wonderful place to grow tea. Hundreds of years old tea plants, or rather trees, whose leaves mature slowly, compared to other parts in the country, mixed with leaves of the younger trees, ensures that the tea produced there has a unique flavor. The tea is produced and packaged in the tea gardens and sent directly by trucks to Kolkata. It’s a pity most Indians never get an opportunity to taste the best of Assam tea, produced in these hills, since most of it is exported.
My parents were expert tea pickers, the very best in the garden. On a good day they were capable of picking nearly forty kilos, double of what their fellow pickers could manage. Picking tea leaves was an art. Pickers had to quickly spot the matured leaves and throw them on the baskets on their backs, leaving the younger leaves untouched. Each picker would select one tree and move on to the next one after all the leaves were plucked. Most pickers struggled to hold the leaves in their hands, afraid it would fall on the ground. They’d transfer the few leaves they’d collect, to the basket, before picking more. Wasting leaves, either by dropping them on the ground or leaving them on the trees, was not looked upon kindly by the supervisors. My parents were very good with their eyes and their fingers. The trees they plucked never had any mature leaves left on them. Also, they didn’t transfer as often which allowed them to pick more leaves in the same time, than others. They were respected by all laborers because of their skill which made them top earners of their community. The tea pickers were paid on per kilo basis of tea leaves picked. The more tea one could pick, the more money one could bring home. The Babu, the big boss of the tea estate, gave away monthly cash awards to the best picker and for years my parents had established a de facto right over that extra money. Between them, Ma was a better picker, though everyone considered Baba, my father, to be the best. Most of the times, she let Baba take the best picker award in order to give him a higher standing in our society. It was a matter of prestige among the tea pickers, when their baskets were weighed by the clerk in the storage shed, to see who had managed to pick the most leaves. At the end of a long day, walking back from around the many hills in the estate, the pickers would eagerly look forward to the weighing of their pickings. Though they were used to see Baba take the recognition most of the time, the expectation that someone would usurp him on an off day, always remained. Ma would secretly throw handful of leaves in Baba’s basket as she would walk behind him. She always made sure his basket came out to be the heaviest during the weighing. She loved him and took pride when Baba was cheered by his mates. She delighted in his fame, was happy to help him achieve that.