Taylers Tea Garden – By Ajit MutuCumsrawamy – Chapter 11 – Thangam went home……

Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy


              Thangam went home to visit her mother as she was having a fever. Sinniah accompanied her. She took Samuel with her. They did not return that night.

              James decided to go to Sinniah’s house. The company rules did not allow him to visit worker’s houses unless it was to attend to a maintenance problem. He could always say the he went there to check out a roof or other problem, in case McKenzie questions him. When he got to the house, he was surprised. In fact it was just one room with a pit toilet outside. There was no furniture except two small chairs at the entrance door. There were only two tiny windows. They were covered by two home made curtains made from cheap clothing. 

              “Thank you for coming Sir. We are honoured.” said Sinniah.   

              “ Not at all. I’m very sorry that your house is so small.” said James.

              “ We have got used to this house. It’s not very good but we manage.”

              “I’m not happy about this at all. I’m not happy that our workers are having to live in these conditions. It’s not fair at all. But there is little I can do about it as money is tight.” 

              “It’s how they built the lines. They were like temporary houses. But the permanent houses never got built.” said Thangam.

              “ You are right. This is meant to be temporary. I wish I could do something about it. But the company seems to be having money problems too.”

              “I will come over soon. Sorry that the girl Punya is not very good at cooking.” said Thangam.

              “She is doing well. Your father helps her. ”said James.

              “ I hope you are getting good food.” she said.

“ The food is fine. I can cook a few dishes as well. I do a broth sometimes. Punya cuts the vegetables. I make a stew with the vegetables, potatoes, a piece of mutton  and whatever is there.”

              “That’s good. I must try your broth sometime. Are you getting late” Thangam asked.

              “ I must be getting along. I’ve got to do a report for the company on the coffee trees. I’m expecting Robert to come over sometime next week. He is interested in looking at the tea plants. He has been getting new batches from Assam. He might bring some seedlings when he comes.” said James as he got up to go. James waved goodbye as he left.

              James went to the coffee plantation to check on the condition of the plants. There was some coffee rust on the leaves but it was not as severe as in some other plantations. Sinniah had told him that the situation could get worse when the fruiting season comes along. When he returned from the inspection, he wrote a report for the company about the situation in Loolecondere plantation. He planned to go Narangghena the next day. He had to inspect both plantations and write reports. Six months had passed by and the reports had to be sent to Colombo.

              He went to bed feeling tired. He put it down to his walking around. He was up early as usual but felt rather tired. His body seemed to feel sluggish. He stayed in bed an extra ten minutes but the tiredness persisted. He forced himself to get out of bed and go out with his toothbrush and towel. He brushed his teeth. He had his wash, got dressed, had breakfast and went out on his rounds. He felt a little dizzy. He could feel tiny flickers of pain on the right side of his head. That did not stop him. he kept moving along but he had a buzz in his head. He really must get back and rest, he thought. James completed his planned tasks for the day. But he felt exhausted when he got home. He had his favourite soup with potato, cabbage, carrots, sweet potato and meat and went off to sleep. All he needed was a good rest.

              The next day he felt worse. He even felt feverish. He got dressed and was having his breakfast. Sinniah came in with an anxious look on his face.

: Morning Sinniah” said James.

“Good morning Mr. Taylor. Punya had sent word to Thangam that you were sick. Are you feeling alright Sir”

“ A little bit under the weather but nothing serious”

“ There is a lot of malaria going around. Are you sure you are feeling alright. It’s drizzling out in the valley sir. Best to stay at home.”

“ I’ll be alright. I want to mark out some areas for the plants that Robert will bring” said James.

“ Alright.” said Sinniah.


                             James walked out wearing his hat. The drizzle seemed to turn into steady rain. The umbrella he carried helped but the wind had picked up and he was wet all over before long. 

              He inspected the tea plants. They were growing well but the leaf was rather thick and seemed to be unsuitable for good quality tea. There had been talk that Harrison, a plantation owner, had brought over many new plants from Assam. He had a reputation as a planter who wanted high-quality tea. He was even known to be evangelical about tea, being a member of the temperance movement in England which was aiming at stopping beer being consumed in homes as the water was not fit for drinking. Harrison had become a part owner of many estates including Loolecondere and was keen to grow good quality tea. It seemed like James would be planting the new variety very soon.

              James returned home after about three hours. The little boy Samuel was there. The boy was six months old. James carried him and sat on the chair. He normally enjoyed his time with Samuel. But today he was not feeling his usual self.

              He was definitely feeling feverish. He could hardly eat. The lunch looked good but his sense of smell was had disappeared. He wanted to eat something to show Punya and Sinniah that their effort was worthwhile.  Each bite of food was tasteless. The whitewashed walls seemed to be dizzying him. The wind seemed to be howling and buzzing inside his ears. He felt he could just about get up and get himself into bed. 

“ Thank you very much for the lovely food” he said getting up after eating, feeling unsteady. Punya came in to clear the dishes but looked at him and went back to the kitchen.

              He wanted to get up after an hour’s nap. But spent the afternoon sleeping. He realised he was not fit to go out. The weather was wild out there too. The wind was howling like the monsoon had reached Loolecondere. His body felt numb. He drank a little water. But the water did not taste normal. He could not smell anything in the room, not even the jasmines that Thangam had planted near the window. He went back to sleep. He woke up very late at night. There was a kerosene lamp burning outside. He tried to go outside. He could barely walk. As he stepped outside the room, he could see Sinniah sleeping on a bench. Sinniah had heard the door opening and got up.

“ How are you feeling?” he asked.

“ Not very good. I wanted to check on the kerosene lamp.” said James.

“ We wanted to wait till you got up. You did not eat any dinner. Its ready.”

“ I don’t feel like eating.” 

“ Have something, maybe a piece of bread with the soup”

“Alright. If its all ready.”

“ Yes. It’s ready. ”

“ Alright. I’ll eat something”

              The soup was brought on a soup plate. James dipped the bread in the soup and forced himself to eat his dinner. He went to the toilet and was back in bed.

              The fever gripped him the next day. He was feeling hot and cold at the same time. He was sweating profusely. His sight was affected. The vision was blurred. He curled himself in the bed. Sinniah was coming in and going out every few hours.  When he was awake, James could hear Sinniah’s boots coming close to him and walk away. 

              He could hear someone talking. He could hear Sinniah say something.

“ Have some soup. You will feel better.”

He heard those words three or four times.

He forced himself to get up and drank the soup. He tasted the soup and felt he could not taste anything. He drank the soup, went to the toilet and was back in bed.

              The next day, he could hear voices, including Thangam’s. He felt reassured. He was getting the best attention that he could have.

When he heard Thangam and Sinniah talking in Tamil, he said:

“Hello Thangam.”

“ Hello.  Your fever is bad. We have informed the office in Kandy.”

“ Don’t worry. It will go very soon.”

“ Mr. Robert was also told because he is your friend.”

“ Thank you.”

“ He is coming tomorrow. He said he was coming anyway to talk to you about the tea seedlings.”


“Will you have some food and some tea?” she asked.

“I’m not hungry.” 

“ Eat at least a bite or two. Drink the soup. It’s going to help.” she said.

              Robert nibbled at the toast but drank the soup. He was thirsty. His body felt like he had been fighting in a boxing match, sore everywhere. He was back in bed. After he had slept for a while, he realised that Thangam was asleep by his side. He kissed her shoulder gently, because he did want her to wake up.. He realised how important she had become in his life. There was a bond that he could not deny. A closeness. A warmness. He had never imagined that he could be feeling so close to a woman. He also had a new bond, the child Samuel. He felt an urge to look for and carry the child. But felt too tired to get up. Besides the fever he was having could be dangerous for a child, he thought.

              It was a week before he felt his strength returning. Meantime, he had a visitor. Robert from the Peradeniya Botanical gardens. 

“ How are you feeling. You could be having malaria,” said Robert.

“ Very poorly. It’s driving me mad. The cold feeling and the same time the hot body.”

“ That is a classic malaria attack. You have been bitten by mosquitos that were carrying the parasite. It’s passed on from other people with malaria.”

“ I guess i was out there where the workers live about a week ago. I was there for about an hour.”

“ That’s all it takes.”

“I’m getting better. Much better. Should be back at work in a day or two”

“ I’ve brought more seedlings for you. The seeds were sent from Assam.”

“ Thanks.  Thats very nice of you. I’m looking forward to working with these seedlings.”

“ You are welcome. Let me know how they are doing. I can come over if you need any help.”

“ That’s very good of you. Yes. I will let you know if there is any problem with the plants.”

“ I should mention that Harrison dropped in to see me. The Harrison who is the joint owner with George Pride of Loolecondere and Naranghena estates . He came to see me and we discussed prospects for planting tea. I told him that tea grows well in this part of the country. I had been experimenting with the tea plants in Peradeniya Gardens and I knew tea will grow well in this part of the hill country.” said Robert.

“ Alright. At least we know that there will be no problem with the tea gardens. I guess it’s the tea making that is a problem.” said James

“ That could be the problem. The difficulty is making high quality tea. The plucking is very labour intensive. The tea rolling is also very labour intensive. They tried to bring Chinese labour. It did not work. Locals objected strongly.” said Robert.

“ What we have to do is to use machines. That’s my answer. You can’t avoid the cost of labour when it comes to plucking. We need the labour from India. We all know that locals don’t want to work in plantations. It’s  not their way of life. They are rice farmers. Mind you I was surprised to find that there is a lot of yams and sweet potatoes growing as well.”

“ You are right. Up here in the hill country, it’s more sweet potatoes. They have them for breakfast and as a snack with coconut. the combination is fantastic.”

“ Agree. I have it sometimes for breakfast.”

“Look, I won’t keep you up any more. If you need a doctor please send word.”

“ Thank you for all the trouble you have taken. I will come over and see you when i feel better.”

“ Not a problem James. Get well soon.”

              Robert left for Peradeniya. Thangam came in quietly after Robert left and got into bed. The fever had subsided. Her hand was on his chest as she lay her head on his shoulder. Her lips touched his cheeks. James felt her soft kisses on his cheeks. He felt his erection stirring and this was a sure sign that he was on the mend. He could see that the skies were a little cloudy. A drizzle was more than likely later in the day. Thangam had placed a fresh bunch of jasmines flowers in her hair and this was a pleasure that enchanted James more than anything else. She felt his erection gently. He felt silky smooth feather like fingers run over his body. He felt energised. Her fingers were feathers moving slowly along his body. They worked a gentle magic. Without his knowing what it was, he could feel his body being energised. She climbed gently over him and inserted and lay quietly, stirring  only to move herself to kiss him. It was bliss.


              James was feeling fine by late afternoon. Thangam told him he should have a herbal bath. He agreed. The herbs were invigorating. She told him that the herbs were leaves and blossoms from the neem tree, a type of eucalyptus. He had heard that the oil made from the seeds of the neem tree was used for rubbing on the body to keep away mosquitoes and insects and was also used as a disinfectant, especially during illness. It had a pungent smell not at all unpleasant. It had a  a fragrance that was refreshing.

              James walked around the plantation feeling a new man. He had never felt better. Life was more relaxing and he was ready for challenges. McKenzie had stopped coming to visit him. His contract had come to an end. Nobody thought it worth their while to persuade him to do things their way. He had become part of the scenery. Not a a stranger any more. People were looking to him to provide leadership for tea planting and many persons came to him looking for work.

              The tea plants were planted along the roadside to provide easy access. There were rows of tea bushes growing. James walked along them and looked forward planting more bushes. he was anxious to begin tea processing properly. He sometimes lay in bed planning a tea machine that would roll the tea. Hand rolling was slow and made the tea expensive. Each person could only roll only a small amount by hand.

              James heard that there was a job coming up which meant that he will be visiting India and learning the tea making methods in Assam and Darjeeling. The job would make him an important man, travelling between India and Ceylon, supervising the planters and advising them on the better methods. He was excited. He applied for the job. He told Thangam about the job. They made plans for his travel. She would stay in the house with the baby Samuel. But he could try to take her with him. He could not do it officially as his status was a single person could not be changed. He would have to wait. If he was allowed married status, all the planters with local women would be entitled to married status. The expenses for the companies would soar at a time when coffee had become a serious problem. Coffee seeds did not grow well,  the way they did before.  Coffee production had fallen badly. Planters had been sent back. He was lucky to be holding onto his job. If he got the job he applied for, he would be made. His salary would be very good and he could be even travelling to Scotland.

              His excitement was short lived. He was told he did not get the job. he was very disappointed. He even felt he should not have come to Ceylon. He would have been treated better  as a teacher. He went about his work in a bad mood. Thangam was hid solace. She was loving and warm and made him feel bright. His life was not so bad after all, he told himself. He had come to be a planter and he was still a planter. He was doing alright. He would soon approach some companies with his design for a tea rolling machine. 

              The tea plants were growing well. He had planned twenty acres of tea. He had reason to be happy. Coffee was definitely going out. Tea was the way forward. Cinchona was a disappointment. The prices had fallen.  Cinchona grew well in the climate. One could say that  it grew well in any climate. It was being grown successfully South America, Asia and even in Africa. That was why the prices collapsed. 


              He was content with his life surely. He looked around the lush hills and the blue skies and he knew he was wrong to to think that life was treating him badly. He came home. As he walked past the window,  the jasmines were smelling lovely. There were birds twittering. He walked inside the house and there was Thangam seated with the baby in her lap. He felt happy. He walked up to Thangam and kissed her. Baby Samuel  saw at him and jumped out of her lap.  

              James looked forward to being with Samuel In the evenings. They took little walks now that Samuel could take a few steps around. Samuel was an early walker. James enjoyed having Samuel in his lap and chatting to Thangam. The baby was very pale skinned. the hair was light brown, very much like his own hair. His son was a beautiful boy. He was going to be a handsome man. the girls were going to be after him. James kissed the child and cuddled him. He was content.

              Two weeks passed by and he went to Kandy to find out the outcome of his application. They had rejected him. He felt numb. He was so sure he was the right man. He had the experience. He was in charge of two estates. He had been planting coffee, cinchona and tea. His coffee was being exported. Why did they reject him? He felt angry. He felt like going into the office and punching the manager. 

              He stayed in the hotel and planned a walk to the government office in the morning to argue his case. He had breakfast, got dressed and started walking towards the government office. He stepped inside the office when he thought of Thangam. What will she do if he is terminated? Will she be able to find a man when she had a white man’s baby? He calmed down. He had a lot going well for him. He had two estates to look after. He had regained his health. He had a loving woman, gifted in her own way, able to mind a house well and able to cook for even a King. He now had the gift of a child. His anger vanished and a smile played on his face. Don’t be stupid, he told himself. He walked out and headed for the hotel for a drink.

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                           He returned home late in the evening. Thangam took one look at him and went quiet. She was smart. She knew from his expression that he was not his normal self. She smiled a faint smile but did not say much. She could see that even Samuel could not make James feel better when he was looking that grim. She got up and was walking away with Samuel when James called out:

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not going anywhere” she said.

“ But you got up and walked away” he said.

“ i was only going to the kitchen.” 

“ No. You were not. You were walking away when you saw me.”

              She kept walking towards the door without saying anything. James moved fast and blocked her way.

“ Please leave me alone.” she said. Samuel hid behind Thangam sensing tension between his parents. 

“ No i won’t “said James.

“ What’s the problem. Why are you blocking my way. ”

“ No you are not. You are walking away from me.”

“ I’m not going to argue. I want to go out”.

Punya ran in and carried Samuel away out of the house.

              James swung his arms around Thangam and squeezed her tight. She made a choking sound as if she was finding it hard to breath.

“ You will never run away from me. Do you hear woman.” James said.

“Leave me alone. I’m going to take  Samuel to his bed.”

“ No you are not.” said James lifting her off her feet.

“ I’m going to scream.”

“ No you are not.” he said carrying her and walking to the bed.

              He laid her on the bed and locked the door.

              Thangam had turned away and was facing the wall. He pulled her skirt down and held her tight as he removed her under pants.

              “ Cheeky to me are you. I’m going to show you who is the boss here.” said James, dropping his trouser on the floor and getting back into bed. Her round naked bottom made him extremely excited. He felt her bottom with his hands. The silky smooth buttocks made him even more excited when he slipped inside her from behind.  The jasmines in her hair wafted into him as he moved towards the close. He could hear her moaning gently as he moved. The smoothness made him squeeze her harder and she made the sounds that he loved, a sigh almost, a sound of pleasure and happiness. He was in a frenzy. He moved with  extra vigour fuelled by alcohol. When he was finished, he moved over and lay back. 

              Thangam did not turn around. She faced the wall. He forced her to turn around and face him. She turned around but did not smile. He looked at her face. There was an emotion on her face that he had not noticed before.

“ What’s the matter. What did I do. Why are you silent?” he asked.

She did not reply.

“Talk to me. What’s wrong. Okay I went to Kandy and had a few drinks.”

“ You went to Stainton Hotel. You were drunk.” she said.

“ No I was not drunk.” he said

“ You were drunk. I could smell it from a distance” she said

“ Okay. Men must have a drink once in a awhile.”

“ Yes. But I know you have a quiet drink from the whisky bottle almost every day.”

“ How do you know that.”

“ I see the bottle go down a little every day.” she replied.

“ You have been snooping in my cupboard?”

“ No. i clean your cupboard and I can see that the bottle is going down.”

“ I have a quick swig that’s all.”

“ But you drink every day.”

“ Alright my dear. But I don’t get drunk every day, do I?” he asked.

“ You don’t get drunk every day, but you drink very day.”

“Okay. I will stop it.”

“ Is that a promise?”

“ Alright. That’s a promise. Why are you people against a drink?”

“ We don’t like alcohol being drunk especially in the house.”

“ You people are very funny. Alcohol is part of our life in England and Scotland. We don’t drink water like you people. We drink beer. Its safer to drink beer than water.”

“ But drinking alcohol is not good.”

“ Alright my dear. Dr. Tom Barron was telling me that he was hoping that everybody in Europe will drink tea instead of beer because beer was not good.”

“ That is a good man. He is someone i respect. We all respect him” she said.

“ The tea growing in Loolecondere is meant to be exported to England and to other countries like Australia so people will drink tea. The price is too high right now because rolling by hand is making it expensive. Thats why I’m doing all those drawings for a machine that will roll the tea.”

“ Alright. I understand.” said Thangam getting out of bed.

“ Won’t you have something to eat? Maybe a sandwich?” said Thangam.

“ Thank you darling. That will be nice.” said James giving her a hug. The jasmines in her hair clung on giving off their very pleasant scent.

“ You were angry with me. What got into you.” asked James.

“ I don’t like people who get drunk. Even my family noticed that you drink. They are not happy because I’m staying here with you. They want me to find a man to settle down with. There is a man who is willing to get married to me even though I have a child.” she said very slowly.

“ What? What’s all this nonsense?”

“ I love you. I’m not trying to leave you. But my family are unhappy about my not being married. They want me to settle down.” she said walking towards the bed and taking her handkerchief.

“ You know that I’m not allowed to have married status. The company can say I’m not working to the agreement. You know that.” said James

“ Yes. I know. I’ve explained everything. My father has also explained the situation. But the family are not happy. They want me to settle down.”

“ Very soon I will be replacing the tea plants with a new variety brought in by Harrison. We are going to have good quality tea. It’s up to you. I’m not forcing you to stay.” said James.

“ Sorry. i had to say it out. That’s the reason I’m not happy.”

“ Let’s hope the situation improves and the company makes good profits. It could happen if the company starts making money with tea. I know that the something like a tea rolling machine will change everything. The high cost of making tea will come down. Tea could become much cheaper and everyone will be able to drink tea then.”

“ I love you darling.” said Thangam, placing her arms around him and hugging him . James kissed her on her face. He felt a wetness on her cheeks. She had been shedding tears but wiping it very quickly. 

“I’m going to make your sandwich” she said walking out.


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