Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
CHAPTER ONE (17)
James woke up, had a shower and went down to have breakfast.
Arthur Stuart was there. He had ordered his breakfast. James ordered a full English breakfast.
“ You have a nice bunch of planters down here. It’s good to meet them.” said Arthur.
“ Yes. It’s good to come over and spend time, even if it’s only one night.” said James.
“ What’s the plan for today?”
“ We will go to Loolecondere but we will stop at The Peradeniya Gardens and meet my friend Robert Jones. He is in fact the man who grew the tea bushes which are now established in Loolecondere.” said James.
“ I look forward to that. Without Robert helping to nursery tea plants we would not here. I heard that coffee has collapsed completely. And most of the planters have returned to England.” said Arthur.
“ Yes. That was coming but we were all hoping against hope.”
“ I agree. So do we leave now.?” asked Arthur.
“Yes. Lets leave now. Hope you had a restful night.” said James.
“ Yes. i had a peaceful night. I had a perky little damsel coming and knocking at my door. She asked for you. I told her you were in another room but she was welcome to my room. She came in and locked the door. We had a very good time. She didn’t stay for long. i gave her some money.” said Arthur.
“ She was a local was she?” asked James
“ Yes . She was. Very pretty with a sweet smile and lovely perfect teeth.” said Arthur.
“I’m glad you have enjoyed another wonderful thing from this country.” said James.
“ Yes. I don’t blame you. The planters said that you were staying with a local girl. I personally have no prejudice on these matters. But I guess the cost of travel to England and maintenance for a family is very high.” said Arthur.
“ I must admit that I have enjoyed the company of my dear woman Thangam for several years. I may add that she has kept me sane. She has given her life to look after me.” said James.
“ I can understand your feelings. It’s natural to want company when you are alone. Anyone would feel lonely.” said Arthur.
They left Queens Hotel and the carriage reached the Peradeniya Gardens. They spent about an hour talking to Robert and walking around the a part of the gardens.
They left Peradeniya and reached Loolecondere soon after lunchtime.
James had planned a surprise for Thangam. He wanted to get a cup of tea for Arthur Stuart and go and look for Thangam. He wanted to give her a big hug and carry her to the room. He had missed her so much. It did not occur to James that he was not acting a sane man would. He had been sleeping with Daisy the previous night and been enjoying a night of sensuous delight. And now he was excited about seeing Thangam, wanting to kiss her and carry her to the bedroom.
He could not find Sinniah. He could not find Thangam. But Thangam’s relative, the young girl who helped in the kitchen was there. She knew some English.
“ Where is Thangam” he asked her.
“ She is not here Sir.” replied the girl.
“ Where is she ?” he asked.
“ She has gone home Sir” she replied.
“ She knew i was coming. I sent word to Sinniah.” said James.
“ She went long ago Sir. She went the day after you left.” she said.
“ Alright. Where is Sinniah?” he asked.
“He said he was going to the water mill Sir because it was not working.”
“ Alright. I’ll go to the watermill.” said James.
James felt agitated. Even though the water mill was important, Sinniah should have waited until he came. He did not like it. It was afternoon. There was plenty of time for taking Arthur Stuart to the watermill.
James told Arthur that they can take a walk to the watermill.
“ it’s very pleasant here James. i like the greenery here. The red flowers are pretty.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ I like the white flowers of of the jasmine plants. The estate workers plant them and use them for their morning and evening prayers. The women place them on their hair” replied James. His thought of Thangam with her hair full of jasmine.
They arrived at the watermill. Sinniah was supervising a carpenter who was working on the water mill.
Hearing footsteps, Sinniah turned around and said:
“ Welcome back Sir.”
“ Thank you Sinniah. This is Mr. Stuart. He is visiting our plantation.” said James.
“Welcome Mr. Stuart. We were expecting you and Mr.Taylor” said Sinniah, smiling a rare smile.
“ I did not see Thangam.” said James.
“ Thangam went to the village with her mother. Samuel is here. He wanted to go with one of the girls. The girl was going to gather some mangoes. So i let him go. It’s mango season.” said Sinniah.
“ When is Thangam coming back.?” asked James.
“ i’m not sure Sir.” said Sinniah and added “ i’ ll send word and find out.”
“ Alright. Looks like the repair on the wheel is complete.” said James.
“ Yes Sir. It’s been completed.” said Sinniah.
The next day began with James getting out of bed, having his wash and dressing quickly to take his walk around the house and nearby gardens, before breakfast. As he walked close to the garden, he saw Sinniah walking towards the house.
“ Morning Sinniah.” said James.
“ Morning Mr. Taylor” said Sinniah.
“ Did you find out about Thangam?” he asked.
“ Yes. Thangam has decided to stay back in the village Sir.”
“ But how can she stay back? Samuel is here and i’m back.” said James.
“ Her uncles have forced her to stay back.” said Sinniah.
“ How can they do that. Nobody can force her stay back. it’s against the law.”
“ It’s just that they want her get married Sir. Her mother’s brothers feel that she is bringing shame on the family by staying in Loolecondere Sir.”
“ I see. They think she is not married but having a bastard child. Is that it?” asked James.
“ Yes. Exactly. These people think differently.” added Sinniah.
“ is she not coming back?” asked James, his voice changing to a low tone, almost a whisper and his countenance showing distress.
“ Yes, sir. Sorry.” said Sinniah.
James’s body moved sideways as if he was about to fall.
There was a lull in the conversation as James turned around to walk away.
Then he turned around again and faced Sinniah and asked:
“ What about Samuel. How is he going to cope without his mother?” he asked.
“ Yes Sir. i told them they must think of the little boy. But they said it’s up to you. They are willing to take him to the village and look after him.” said Sinniah.
James’s eyes blazed as he stared hard at Sinniah. His anger was rising. He waved his hand showing negative feelings.
“ No question about it. Samuel is my son. He will stay with me, even if i have to bring someone to look after him when i’m out at work.” said James.
“ Yes Sir” said Sinniah respectfully nodding his head in agreement.
“ After all you are his grandfather. We can look after him.” said James.
“ Yes . We can look after him.” said Sinniah.
James turned and walked back to the house and into his room. He locked his door. He fell on the bed and sobbed. He could not contain himself. He pounded the bed with his hands.
“ No. No. No. I cant bear this.” he cried in a low voice so that nobody heard him. He sobbed quietly. He banged his head against the bed. After awhile he felt calm. He felt desolate. He felt as if he was living in a cave all by himself. He thought of Samuel. He forgot that he had Samuel. With Samuel there, he had somebody who would make him happy. He looked in the mirror. He was looking very grim.
He got up, checked his clothes and walked out. He saw Samuel with Punya, the young girl. He called out to Samuel. Samuel called out “Daddy” and they hugged each other. Samuel held James’s face with both hands and beamed a smile of happiness.
“ Mummy has gone.” Samuel said his face changing, and the smile fading.
“ Yes. we will ask her come back.” said James. Samuel and James played hide and seek which was Samuel’s favourite game.
After a while, Sinniah came out and asked them to come for breakfast.
“ We will look after Samuel while you have breakfast with Mr. Stuart.” said Sinniah.
Sinniah distracted Samuel by throwing a ball towards the flowers.
The breakfast was served. There was bread, butter, eggs, even roti and sambal. Arthur Stuart walked in.
“ I was admiring your garden. Heaps of beautiful flowers. And they smell heavenly” said Arthur Stuart.
“ We tend to get cuttings from various people and plant them here. Breakfast is ready.” said James.
They had breakfast. Arthur Stuart tried the roti and sambal.
“ The sambal is pretty hot. But the roti is delicious.” he said.
“ The roti has coconut mixed with the flour.” said James.
“ The bread is tasty too. I enjoy the bread . It’s very soft. It must be the type of yeast.” What’s your plan for today.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ We can go and see the mill and the tea rolling machine.” said James.
“ Thank you. I was going to make a request to see the mill and the tea rolling machine.” said Arthur Stuart.
They walked to the mill. Sinniah was there supervising the tea rolling.
They walked around the mill and the tea rolling machine.
“ This tea roller is working very well I can see. it’s almost as good as rolling by hand.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ Yes. With this fully equipped tea factory, I’m able to keep the costs low, thanks to this machine and the water mill.” said James.
Arthur Stuart and James completed their tour of the estate and returned to the house for lunch.
The lunch consisted of fried chicken, cabbage, potato and some local vegetables and a fruit salad.
James introduced Samuel to Mr. Stuart. Mr, Stuart shook hands with Samuel and asked him about his favourite play activities. After a while, Sinniah carried Samuel away saying that he must have his afternoon nap.
“ Do you feel like a nap yourself.” asked Mr. Arthur Stuart, realising that lifestyles in Ceylon meant that an afternoon siesta was something quite normal.
James was not used to having a nap in the afternoons, but he was feeling somewhat unwell, his stomach was churning a little.
“ Normally I don’t have a nap. But I do feel I could do with a nap. What about you?” asked James.
“ I think I could do with a quick shut eye, especially after that splendid lunch.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ That’s fine. We can meet in about one hour. And then decide what we should do next.” said James.
They met after the nap and decided to take a walk towards the hills to observe the country side and to mark out an area for extending the tea plantation. The skies were turning golden as the Sun started going down.
“ | think I mentioned that the company has decided to abandon coffee altogether.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ Yes you did.”
“ Well most of the planters have been sent back. I think you know that.” said Arthur.
“ Yes. i know that most of the planters have gone back.”
“ Tea is also a better choice because tea leaves grow back every six weeks . I’m told you have made your first shipment of tea to London.”
“ Thats’s correct. I’ve had a good response from London.”
“Of course, growing more tea in Ceylon and india is threatening China’s monopoly on tea growing and tea exports .” said George Stuart.
“ I can see that. China would be affected if tea grows well in Ceylon and India.”
“ There is a gentleman by the name of Thomas Lipton who is making a lot of changes to the way we sell tea to British tea drinkers. He is selling tea in his shops. The shops sell food like bread and vegetables. In fact selling tea in small packets of half a pound and one pound has shocked everyone, especially aristocracy. Many working class people have started buying tea.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ That is news to me. Tea has always been the preserve of the upper classes. “ said James.
“ Yes. Beer has been the drink for the working class. But Lipton has set out to change all that.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ The cost of tea would be too high for working class people.” said James.
“ Yes. But with the use of rolling machines and drying machines, the costs are coming down. Lipton id also cutting out the middle man and buying direct from the tea estates in India. You have made a big contribution to this reduced cost. At the same time the quality is good.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ I’m happy that things have turned out to be good for us all.” said James.
“ And Lipton has made a big change by making tea available in all his stores, along with flour, bread,sugar such basic food items. In fact he has let me know that he will be making a visit to Ceylon with the intention of meeting up with you.”
“ I’m honoured. It’s very nice of Mr. Lipton to want to meet with me.”
“ In fact Mr. Lipton wants to start his own factory in Haputale.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ That’s a great piece of news. Thanks for letting me know.” said James.
They walked back to the house. The mango trees were full of blossoms.
“ These trees are full of blossoms. Is this some kind of season for blossoms?” asked Arthur Stuart.
“This the time of year for the mango trees to blossom.” said James
* * *
Samuel was waiting for his father when they returned to the house.
Arthur Stuart was careful not ask questions about Samuel’s mother. He knew that the boy was James’s son. Samuel looked very much like his father in complexion and features.
They went to the dining room and had tea.
Arthur Stuart excused himself and went to his room. The father and son walked out of the house and along the familiar garden paths. They both missed Thangam. James hugged his son tightly. It was comforting to have the little boy in his arms. He had many features which reminded him of Thangam. Sinniah was seated in the sitting room having some tea.
“ Samuel, Daddy must go the toilet. Sit with your grandfather.” said James.
“ Are you alright Sir. You don’t look all that well.” said Sinniah.
“ Must be the change of diet. I ate a lot different types of food in India” said James.
He walked briskly towards the house and disappeared from view. Samuel saw his father disappear and his face lost the look of happiness. He looked towards his grandfather and then he cried.
Sinniah picked him up and patted him and gave him a hug.
Arthur Stuart returned from his room.
“ The little boy is missing his mother. Where is she Sinniah?” asked Arthur Stuart.
“ She has gone to her village Mr. Stuart.” answered Sinniah.
“ It’s understandable but she could have taken Samuel with her. Little children need their mothers.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ Yes. i agree. I think she wanted Samuel’s father to have his son with him when he came back from India.” said Sinniah.
“ Looks like your boss has caught some kind of stomach ailment. Hope he gets better soon.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ It’s quite common to have these problems when travelling out. A lot of people coming to work in the plantations fall ill. Some even pass away from the illness Mr. Stuart.”
“ Let’s hope nothing like that happens to James. We are all expecting a lot from him. “said Arthur Stuart.
“ Mr . Taylor is a strong man. He will not give in to any disease.” said Sinniah
“ I’m glad you have this opinion Sinniah. You are a good man. In a way, you are a great help in our efforts to grow tea in Ceylon.” said Arthur Stuart.
James came out and looked quite refreshed. Samuel smiled and ran to his father.
James picked him up.
“ You are looking much better James.” said Arthur Stuart.
“ Whatever was bothering me seems to have gone away.” said James.
“ Thats good. I want to plan my return trip back to England. The investors will be anxious to know what I saw in Loolecondere and the hill country” said Arthur Stuart.
“ Certainly we will make the arrangements. We must visit one or two more estates before you go. I can arrange for horses and we could go riding to these estates” said James.
The arrangements were made to hire two horses. James and Arthur went riding to nearly tea estates.
Arthur travelled back to England the next week. James felt a bit desolate without Thangam. She had been a constant in his life since his arrival in Ceylon. Her presence in Loolecondere was something he expected when he came back from India. He found it hard to cope, even though having Samuel was a great help. Samuel was his companion.
In the evening, James walked along the garden with Samuel. When they passed the jasmine bush, James thought of Thangam. The picture of her with her hair filled with jasmine flowers came into his mind. The same must have happened with Samuel because Samuel said “ Mummy”.
James carried Samuel and said : “ Yes. Samuel. We both miss your mummy. You can go and meet Mummy and bring her back.” James added: “We will play a game of cricket. I have made a little bat for you.”
James went inside the house and brought the bat and showed how Samuel could hit the ball. Sinniah had been inside organising the evening meal with Punya. He came out and James asked Sinniah to throw the ball and showed Samuel how to hit the ball. Samuel was enthusiastic about hitting the ball. The little boy happy trying to hit the ball and James was happy to see the boy in a good mood.
A few days before Arthur left for England, James had discussions with Samuel about how to handle the situation if Lipton came for a visit. They discussed the need for a second estate where more tea drying and rolling machines could be could be deployed.
Robert sent news from Peradeniya Gardens that Daisy had been very ill and was in a hospital meant for white people. The letter did not disclose what her aliment was. James felt embarrassed about visiting Daisy in hospital. He persuaded Robert to come with him and they visited Daisy. She looked very pale and her body seemed to have suffered much loss of weight. The visit to the hospital was timed in such a way that Crosfield was not there when Robert and James paid their visit.
Robert and James stopped at the Queens hotel for a meal.
“ Daisy looks very ill. What is it do you think.?” asked James.
“ I am told that they suspect dysentry. But they are not sure if it was a case of bowel cancer.” said Robert.
“ That is very serious Robert. No wonder she looks emaciated. I don’t know much about dysentry or bowel cancer” said James.
“ Me neither. All I know is that dysentry means that your bowels are bleeding internally. I suppose bowel cancer is something similar. But I don’t know anything about what causes these things” said Robert.
“ Me too. I don’t know. I wish I knew because I could avoid doing things that cause such things.” said James.
They came out ready to get back to their work places. As they came out, a young Sinhalese woman was crossing the road towards them. She was fair skinned and round faced. She was tall for Ceylonese woman. Her wavy hair was combed back and tied in a knot at the back. She avoided looking at them. They stopped to allow her to pass.
“ Hello. How are you “ said Robert to the lady.
The young lady looked up and smiled.
“Hello “ she said.
Her cheeks were pink, reddening slightly, embarrassed to be addressed by a white man.
Her dark brown eyes narrowed when she smiled, her mouth perfectly shaped, showing a perfect set of teeth.
“ We are on our way back to work. We came to visit a friend in hospital.” said Robert with a smile.
“ I’m on my way to meet a school friend.” she said.
“ I will mention to Nanditha that I met you” said Robert.
“ Thanks. Tell her to let me know when she is in Kandy.” she replied.
They said goodbye and moved on.
“ That was a stunning looker.” said James.
“ She is a good looking woman.Her name is Savithri.” said Robert.
“ My eyes are seeing more and more stunning women Robert.” said James.
“ You could try and meet her. You could be lucky, like I am with Nanditha.” said Robert.
“ Yes. The Sinhala women don’e seem to be under pressure from their parents to get married as soon as possible unlike the Tamil girls. tamil parents keep pushing the girls to get married.” said James.
“ You are right. Sinhalese people are much more easy going. But getting pregnant might change that.” said Robert.
“ Agree. It is a different kettle of fish.”
They rode on towards Peradeniya and reached the Peradeniya Gardens.
“ I will say goodbye here Robert. Best to get back to Loolecondere early and get a few things done.” said James.
“ Alright. I will tell Nanditha about your interest in Savithri. See what happens.” said Robert.
“ Thanks. I know these things don’t happen overnight. Maybe she wants a job. I can offer her a job around the house, house keeping.” said James.
“ Alright. that’s good. We will see If she is interested in getting a job.” said Robert.
“ Okay. Let’s see if she wants a job. We will take it from there.” said Robert as he rode away.
* * *
Riding past Peradeniya Gardens, James recalled Daisy mentioning that she loved to ride along the valley which led to Loolecondere plantation. He was now riding along that valley. He felt very disturbed thinking about the way Daisy looked, as if she had suddenly become an old woman. She was skin and bones and her smile had lost it’s sparkle. She was no more the Daisy who captivated him from the moment he laid eyes on her. He felt sad and tired when he arrived at the house.
Samuel was ready for bed when James arrived. James played with Samuel throwing the little boy up in the air and catching him. Samuel was the only person he could feel happy with. It was magical that a little boy could make him extremely happy. He read a story to Samuel while he was in bed. Samuel went to sleep. James felt that Samuel was his anchor, a little boy who provided him with a feeling of happiness and reminded him of his first love, Thangam. He wished Thangam was stronger in her affairs with the family. If she was, she would still be here and their life would have been peaceful.
James felt motivated to ask Sinniah about Thangam. Even if she was married, she could come and work for him and look after James. There was a chance her husband may not want to come. Even if he did, it may be worth the risk.
He called out to Sinniah. Sinnish came and they sat in the sitting room. Sinniah seemed uncomfortable.
“ I was thinking that Thangam might need some money. She is a good cook. Ask her if she wants to work as a cook. Maybe her husband might want to work as well. He could be helping out at the water mill.” said James.
There was no immediate response from Sinniah. He made a grunting sound as he gathered his thoughts.
“ Alright Sir. I will pass the message on. I’m not sure if they will want to come.”
“ Thanks Sinniah. Samuel will be very happy. Don’t you think?”
“Yes. Samuel will be happy if Thangam is here. I will see what can be done. It’s getting complicated.”
“ Agree it not easy to arrange it. But please convey the message and we can see what happens.”
“ Alright Sir. i will pass the message on.” said Sinniah.
Two weeks went by and there was no news from Sinniah. James felt awkward about asking Sinniah if he had heard from Thangam. After all, it’s not as if Sinniah did not want to see his daughter. Samuel was also asking about his Mummy.
“ Mummy will be coming back soon Samuel.” was James’s reply.
Sinniah would listen to the father and son and get up and go away. It was not very clear to James why he went away. It may be that he felt bad about Samuel not having his mother. Or it might have been because he did not want to be questioned about whether Thangam will come back.
James was feeling rejected by Thangam going away and Daisy being very ill and in hospital, even fighting for her life. He could not visit her often for fear of raising suspicion. He took a walk to his favourite spot overlooking the valley and sat on the rock and gazed at the scenery. He never tired of the view over the Gurugal area. The mild pleasant valley seemed to hypnotise him.
When he returned home it was dark. He felt tired and lonely. He even thought of returning to Scotland. But Samuel was a young boy who needed his father. He would not fit into life in Scotland. Neither did he fit into life in his mother’s home in Jaffna. Loolecondere was the place where he could grow and become an adult.
Loneliness seemed to overwhelm James. It was desperation too. He was desperate to hold Thangam. He remembered reading somewhere that all that one needed was someone to hold one’s hand. He needed someone to be close to him. He even started looking at the women who were plucking tea. He thought about approaching one of the tea pluckers. He knew it was absurd to try to approach a tea plucker. The news of his doings would be everywhere. He knew such things did happen in the tea estates. He wanted to be known as a fair minded person. Not someone noted for exploiting the situation where there was no way a woman could refuse a white boss.
When he got home he saw Punya and his thoughts drifted towards Punya. She was a small girl, maybe fourteen or thirteen. He censured himself for allowing such thoughts to drift through his mind.
Another week passed by. James was at the water mill where the tea roller was working when one of the young workers came running and told him that he had visitors in the house. James was excited. It could be Thangam. When James asked the young man who it was , boy could not answer in English. When asked if it Thangam, he replied in the negative, shaking his head. He mentioned that the visitor was a “dorai” , a white man.
James arrived in the house and was pleasantly surprised to see Robert. Robert had arrived with two ladies. The carriage was drawn by one horse.
“ Hello Robert. Very nice of you to come. I’ve been thinking of making a trip to Kandy.” said James.
“ Please meet Nanditha and Savithri. I think you will remember Savithri. “ said Robert.
The two ladies were feeling a little shy and could only smile bashfully.
“ Ah. Yes. I do remember Savithri . We met her on the road in Kandy.” said James.
“ Yes. Thats right. You met Nanditha quite a long while ago.” said George.
“ Yes. I remember. Very nice of all of you to come over. Thank you. You will stay for a little lunch. Let me talk to Punya. Punya is our home help. She cooks some dishes too. Sinniah helps her.” said James.
“ Well you needed some help in the house. Savithri is looking for a job. i decided to come here with her. She can see how things are. If she likes it here, she can help during the week and get home for weekends. She is very interested in plants. She is thinking of doing further studies in botany. She also wants to improve her English so that she can do further studies.” said George.
James was more than a little impressed by her. Her long hair tied in a knot. Her almond shaped face with a smile playing on her deep pink lips. Her very fair skin attracting his eyes ceaselessly. Her tall graceful body drawing his attention from the business at hand.
He wanted to say: “I will be more than happy to spend time with her. Just sitting with her and teaching her English would be enjoyable. She could sit with me in the evenings and learn English. She will learn some botany from me in the garden. Perhaps she will allow me to hold her hand,”
Instead he said “ She is welcome to help Punya to arrange the meals and help the boys to arrange the garden. It does need weeding and new plants. Some of the old plants are in need of replacement. I’m happy to help her with English. ”
“ That’s fine. Would that suit you Savithri.” asked Robert. Nanditha seemed to know how Savithri would respond for she was smiling while waiting for Savithri’s response.
“ That is alright for me. I will be happy to help around the house and the garden.” replied Savitri.
“ Well James. That is all arranged. Could she start next Monday?” asked Robert.
James’s excitement was almost overtaking his rational thinking.
“ Yes. That’s fine with me. We can arrange the visitor’s room for her.” said James.
“ Are you happy to start on Monday?” asked Nanditha, concerned that her friend may not be quite ready.
“ Yes. I will start next Monday.” said Savithri.
“ Good. Let’s have some lunch. This is Punya’s cooking. She cooks very mild. She gets some help from Sinniah.” said James.
They had lunch and Robert, Nanditha and Savithri left a little while later.