Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
CHAPTER ONE (10)
James walked out after lunch. it was a sunny afternoon. A very pleasant one. He felt happy. He put his worries away and enjoyed the walk. He looked out any signs of coffee blight on the young plants. They were growing well. There was no sign of any disease. This could be one of the few plantations that will survive the blight, he thought as he walked briskly, his boots digging into the soil. He needed to bring some aggregates and stones to make the paths stronger. It may all wash away when the rains came. He stopped to examine the trees that were looking taller and stronger. Some of the coffee trees were much taller and the leaves bright green with no signs of any insect attack.
He walked towards the East where the Cinchona plants were growing. They were in a good condition. He could make a success of the Cinchona. He thought about the railway that was going to come to Ambepussa. This could mean that even tea could be grown in addition to coffee and Cinchona. He was excited to think that he would be able to grow three crops in the same estate and coffee in Narangghena.
He became a regular walker along the estate. He enjoyed his walks and looked forward to his walking. He returned at lunch time and rested awhile after lunch. Thangam cooked carrots, beetroot, cabbage, and turnips regularly which made him feel that he was much appreciated. He in turn appreciated Thangam, Sinniah and the workers. They worked without supervision. The kankanee was hardly needed as they seemed to share their work among themselves, cooperating with each other in getting the planting done at a fast pace.
* * *
He had had a peaceful two weeks before McKenzie arrived suddenly. Getting off his horse he looked around.
“ I can see you have been working hard. Narangghena is also coming along even though the coffee plants seem to be suffering already. But I must warn you that these coffee trees are likely to produce nothing. They grow well when planted. It’s when they come to fruiting that the problem begins. The fruits fail to grow. The blight hits them at that stage. So my advice is the same. You are young. You career is ahead of you. Coffee planting has no future. We all know it. That is why eighty percent of planters have gone away. Just a couple of hundred are still left.” he said.
“ Yes. I realise that it’s not going to be easy. But the Cinchona is growing well. I believe tea will grow well. Dr. Tom Barron believes tea is the way to go.” replied James.
“ Tom Barron is a fool. He should know that even the Rothschilds failed to produce tea. They brought experienced planters from India. They tried everything. It all failed. You should know that.”
“ Yes. I heard about their trying out tea in Ceylon. But I think we should give it a go again.”
“ James you are a young man. You are barely twenty. You must think of a career away from coffee and tea planting. I heard that you were training to be a teacher. Why not go back to a noble profession.”
“ I was an apprentice teacher. But I did not like it very much. I wanted to get away from being a teacher.”
“ That’s understandable. You tried to become a teacher but it did not suit you. Why not try some thing else. Why not be a farmer. Like your father. I know you come from a farming background.”
“ That’s not something I want to do. I did help my father with his farm. It was not something I want to do. I like Ceylon. I want to do my best for the company.”
“ I want to have a look at the coffee trees again. The Cinchona seems alright.” said McKenzie walking out into the plantation followed by James.
The well laid out plantation stretched before them. Birds twittered and some flew out as they walked. The black and white dog walked along with them. It barked a few times as if to warn the birds that he was coming to visit them.
“ Did you know that forty thousand planters have left Ceylon in the last six months.” asked Mckenzie.
“ I didn’t know the numbers. But I did know that many had left,”
The sky was a deep blue. Clouds were arriving and gathering. It was certain that it will rain later in the day.
“ George Pride doesn’t want to face the facts. He thinks Cinchona will be a success and all the planters will be back working for him.” said McKenzie.
“ Cinchona is growing well and the prices are holding, from what I heard.” said James.
“ Ah. That’s the problem. The prices are holding because the new plantations are still growing and there is a shortage of malaria drugs. The price will drop as soon s the plantations start producing and the cinchona hits the market.” said McKenzie
“ That might happen but for now it is a good idea to grow cinchona” replied James.
“ Yes and no. What happens after the hard work has been done for cinchona. That investment has to be recovered. Besides some Ceylonese have been given land. They have the funding too. These Ceylonese are employing Indians to plant their land.” said McKenzie.
“ Are you saying the Ceylonese might oust the British planters?”
“ Yes. That possibility exists. The government does not do much to help us planters even though we are British planters.George Pride has been lobbying Governor Gregory to help by spending on roads. But Gregory is saying the Treasury has no budgeted funds for roads in Ceylon. The only hope he is offering is railways. There is a plan is to complete the first section of the railway by two years. That would be 1864. We can rely on the railway to carry the coffee from Ambepussa to Colombo for shipment.”
“ That’s great news. It could mean that the railway will come to Kandy soon after.” said James.
“ Ambepussa to Kandy is the difficult half. The worst areas are in Kadigannawa. You must have noticed that horses had to be changed every few hours when passing that area. I have to go I have to visit several plantations today.” said McKenzie as they walked back to the house.
As they passed the bathing enclosure McKenzie heard water being used in a bucket and looked at the enclosure.
“ Listen here Taylor.” he said quickening his walking. “ I have to warn you again. I know you are with this woman. That’s not something that the company encourages. So you have to do something before the woman gets into family way.”
“ I will be careful Mr. McKenzie” he said, knowing well that he was lying and that the matter was already beyond a remedy.
“ Taylor, my salary has been reduced. I am making preparations to travel in case there is a more serious situation. I’m getting ready for the worst. You should be doing the same. Get ready to go. Don’t rely cinchona. It’s a fad. There are much better remedies for malaria. It’s not likely to catch on. No. Not at all. A dozen labourers passed away last month no doubt due to malaria. You don’t want to catch malaria or any of the other diseases like dysentery. These are tropical diseases. We have no resistance to these diseases. It’s touch and go. Cinchona hasn’t helped to save these labourers.”
“ Thanks for the warnings, Mr. McKenzie. I will be careful” said James.
“ Being careful will not help. Things happen which are beyond your control. The native woman you are having is against the rules. This is how things happen beyond your control.”
James did not respond. He stood in silence.
“ Well. I’ve got to go. You think hard about what i have said. Goodbye” said McKenzie before getting on his horse and riding away.
* * *
James felt depressed. He had thought about leaving. But what had he look forward to? Nothing really. He won’t be able to become an apprentice teacher once again. He did not want to work in his father’s farm. He did not want to leave Thangam. That was the point. He did not see how he could be happy without Thangam in his life. Life in these warm countries was very pleasant.
He went to his bedroom and laid down on the bed. It was getting too much. McKenzie was not lying. He was stating facts. Only about ten percent of the planters were left in the country. Coffee was definitely on it’s way out. Coffee blight was happening in many countries. There was little defence against it. Here he was planting coffee trees hoping against hope. Even George Pride was doing the same, hoping against hope. Things could change around by some lucky chance. Cinchona was growing well but the price was still not known. Nobody knew whether some other anti malaria medication would be a better bet.
There was a tap on the door. Before he could say anything the door opened and Thangam came inside and locked the door. She came and stood near him smiling. He could feel his excitement even as she stood beside him. Her hand unbuttoned his shirt. After unbuttoning his shirt, her hand unbuttoned his trouser. Her fingers were inside his pants stroking him and gripping him. He pulled her pants down slowly rolling it. They were hand-made pants with strings to tie. He untied the strings and the pants were on the bed. She removed her dress. Her small belly button made him fondle her tummy and kiss it. The soap smell was still there on her skin. He sat up and hugged her. She stood between his feet. Her naked body made him feel a rush of love for her. When he first saw her belly it was flat and he loved it. He never failed to kiss her belly.
“It’s all yours” she said. He kissed her from her belly going down. He could feel her wetness. She bent down and offered her full round brown breasts. She felt the softness of his tongue. He stood up and she was below his chest. He had to bend low to kiss her on her lips. She climbed up on the bed and they lay feeling each other until he could not bear it any more. He entered her.
The dog barked and he wondered who could be coming. Seeing the expression on his face she whispered: “ That’s my father. He had to visit some relatives who were ill. He is coming back.” she said. They made love. She moaned and sighed each time he moved. It was a delicious sound. It gave him deep satisfaction. She was such lovely woman. She responded wonderfully. And she groaned and went silent. Sometimes she said a word or two as if she could not bear the pleasure. He knew she was in a world of her own. And when she went silent, he continued slowly savouring the the pleasure.
James was up early. Thangam was out of the room making breakfast. Samuel was with Punya. James stopped and carried Samuel and gave him a kiss.
James went out with his towel towards the bathing cubicle. the dog came along and snuggled against him. James stopped and squatted down patting the dog. The dog wanted to raise it’s front legs and he held the legs and the dog seemed to be pleased with it.
James brushed his teeth and had a bath. He got back to his room and changed. He went for breakfast. Thangam was ready with fried eggs, bread and home made jam. He ate his breakfast.
After breakfast, he walked out and was walking towards the Cinchona area when Sinniah walked towards him briskly.
“ Hello Sinniah.” said James.
“ Good morning Mr. Taylor.” said Sinniah.
“ I wanted to go and see the Cinchona” said James.
“ That’s good Mr. Taylor. I wanted to discuss my problem with Thangam” said Sinniah
“ Go ahead. What is it?” asked James.
“ Thangam is not married and she has a child.”
“ Oh! Sorry. I have to say I am responsible for this situation.”
“ In our traditions, it is not allowed Mr. Taylor. Only married women can have children”
“ I understand. It’s something that I regret. But I am not in a position to stop this. As I said, I’m ready to face my responsibilities. I’m not going to run away.” said James.
“ I have to face my responsibilities too. Our families will be very disappointed if a child is born outside marriage.” said Sinniah.
“ Okay. You go ahead. Make your arrangements,” said James somewhat annoyed but he controlled himself and walked away.
The dog followed him and they walked towards the Cinchona. He inspected the plants. They were in a good healthy state. He walked on towards the coffee plantation. There was no denying that there were little bits of dust settled on the leaves. The dog seemed to know what was going on because it twitched its nose under the tree in a grave manner, as if it knew that something nasty was going on.
Finally, James made his way towards the corner where the tea plants grew. He plucked a few leaves to add to the tea he was rolling in the house just to get more experience in the art of rolling tea. He had a little bag in his pocket for collecting tea leaves from plants he saw while walking. These tea bushes along paths were planted as a decorative addition.He walked home. It was a pleasant day. There had been some rain the previous day, signs of the monsoon. The rain he was assured did affect the tea during the rolling. The moisture in the air was a factor when it came to making tea.
He looked at the tea that he and Thangam had rolled. They looked like cigars that had been unrolled. The tea was placed on woven mats which were suitable for rolling tea. The mats were made from palm trees. Rolling on metals seemed to produce a flavour which was not highly prized. Rolling on mats made from coconut palm fronds seemed to be the way to go. Perhaps it was the additional ventilation that was available from mats made from palm fronds.
Thangam came in and they sat together rolling the tea that was gathered by James that afternoon. Thangam sat on the floor and James sat on his chair.
“ Would you like your dinner early. I’m nearly done.” she said.
“ I would like to have you early since I’m done rolling tea” said James holding her tight. James felt she was more mature suddenly, a woman rather than a girl. He kissed her as they stood, feeling her tongue meeting his in gentle jabs. She was taking his trousers off as they stood. He lifted her dress off her shoulders as they continued to kiss and dropped the dress down to the cement floor. He entered her lifting her up and placing her on his hips. It took only a few kisses to make her wet and smooth inside.
Thangam and James lay on the bed exhausted after the standing for nearly ten minutes, James carrying her on his hips.
“ Your father was talking to me yesterday. He is worried that your being pregnant will cause family problems.”
“ Yes. He was talking to me as well. I’m happy to have the baby.” she said.
“ I told him that I’m happy as well. Company has rules about getting married. The terms are different for married people. That’s why the company gets difficult.”
“ Any way, I told him I will cooperate” said Thangam.
“ Alright. You know how I feel about it don’t you?” said James.
“ Yes. Darling I love you.”
“ Thank you honey. You are my gold, because your name means gold, and my honey.” he said.
She kissed him.
“Okay dinner time “ she said and walked out of the room.
After dinner, they sat together rolling tea and experimenting with various ways of rolling and crushing tea leaves.
* * *