Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
CHAPTER ONE (4)
The coach continued it’s way and reached Narangghena Estate. A dog came out and barked. The coachman shooed the dog away. Henry and James got down and walked towards the small house while the baggage was unloaded. The accommodation was bare.
It was no more than a big hut with one reclining chair and two other old chairs in the front sitting room. There were two bedrooms followed by a store room with boxes. The bed looked neat and tidy but needed a proper mattress. There was a small dining table with four chairs. The last part of the house was the kitchen. It had a wood burning fire place for cooking.
“ Sorry about this place James. I guess that’s how things are at the start. Somebody has to live here and start the work. You can ask for a carpenter. There should be a plumber too. But the well or a brook should be able to provide water.” said Henry.
A man appeared and spoke English mixed with the tones of a local language. He was welcoming them with a smile. He wore a short sleeved shirt, khaki shorts and boots. The long socks he wore came up to his knee.
“ This is Sinniah. He was in charge of this place while waiting for you to come.” said Henry.
“Hello. Glad to meet you Sinniah.” said James.
Sinniah was a well built man. His hands looked very strong. He had an embarrassed expression on his face. It was a refined face, that of someone who had been educated and capable of assisting with the work. He was light skinned for a local.
“ Sinniah says there was no one in charge of the place. That’s why nothing has happened to finish the house. It can be built to suit a Dorai. Dorai means boss or Coffee Estate Superintendent. He means a white man as a Superintendent.”
“ Don’t worry about it. I did come prepared to begin everything. Even build a house. Sinniah, with some help from a carpenter, we can do some improvements to the house.”
“ That can be arranged.” said Sinniah.
“ Sinniah, if you don’t mind I would like to have a rest. I think Uncle Henry would like a rest too.” said James.
“ The beds are ready, Sir. We also made some dinner. It’s a soup made with vegetables and some meat cooked in a gravy with onions and potatoes. There is bread to go with it. My daughter does the cooking. She has been cooking for Coffee Estate Dorais. She will come when we send word to her.” said Sinniah taking a few steps towards the rooms and taking a peak to make sure that the beds were ready.
“ Excellent. You have been busy arranging for everything. Thank you Sinniah.” said Henry, smiling and shaking his head in appreciation.
“ Yes. Thank you very much for all the trouble you have taken.” said James.
James and Henry went out with Sinniah, rolled up their sleeves and washed in buckets of water.
“ The water is pretty cool Uncle Henry.” said James.
“ Yes. The water in these areas is always a little cold. But there will be hot water for the mornings.” replied Henry.
They sat at the little table and ate their dinner. It was surprisingly tasty as if a Western cook had prepared it. The gravy with onion was delicious.
“ It’s excellent cooking. Please give my compliments to the chef” said Henry.
“ Thanga comes in the mornings to do the cooking and then goes away to our family house which is about half a mile away. She is an expert cook.” said Sinniah.
“ The stew tasted like my mother’s meat stew with onions.” said James his mind casting him back to the happy days of his childhood.
“ She has been a cook with many dorai’s. Some of the the dorai’s wives were teaching Thangam how to cook Western food.” said Sinniah.
“ That’s great. Thank you for making such excellent arrangements Sinniah. Very good of you to think of everything.” said James.
“ You are welcome. We will do our best to make you comfortable in this country.” said Sinniah.
After some conversations about the estate, the management staff and visits to the coffee estate, Sinniah took his leave, saying he will return in the morning. The other staff also left. Only one remained.
“ The outlook for this estate is pretty good. The managing agents seem to be having a good budget for developing the plantation.” said Henry.
“ It does look good. The staff are very nice too.” said James.
“ I guess it’s time to get some sleep. I have a journey out to the office to sort out some problems there tomorrow.” said Henry.
“ It’s time we got some sleep” said James. He went into the first room and James went into the second room.
They both slept soundly. The duty guard slept outside the house in the portico. Nobody could enter the house without disturbing the guard. The dog barked a couple of times. Maybe there were some foxes or some other animals out foraging for food.
* * * * * *
It was a glorious morning. James was the first to get up. He walked outside. The morning dew sat prettily on the leaves. The brown dog barked and came up to James wagging it’s tail. James was almost in tears seeing the dog. It reminded him of a dog back in Scotland. He stroked the dog and it snuggled close to him. He bent down and hugged the dog.
Sinniah was around when James went into the kitchen area. He must have arrived early in the morning.
“ The bathing area is just outside Sir, near the kitchen. It’s got a fence around it and a drum with water. The hot water is on the stove in the kitchen. When you are ready we can fill the the drum with warm water for your bath. The towel is on the fence. The toilet is next to the bathing area.” said Sinniah.
“ Please go ahead and get the warm water into the drum. Thanks.” said James.
James looked outside. There was a shower area made from coconut leaves woven together and tied to posts providing an enclosed area for having a bath. A towel hung on the entrance to the shower area. One entered by pushing the makeshift door made of coconut leaves and stepping inside.
“ I’m ready for a bath Sinniah. Thanks for the warm water” said James and walked towards the coconut leaf shower cubicle set away from the kitchen.
There was a pit toilet made with coconut leaves separated from the bath area adjoining the bath. James had a shower using the little bucket to pour water on himself, after using the toilet. He made a mental note to improve the toilet facility.
The soap was smelling of something nice. He could not say what it was. He learned later that it was the smell of sandalwood. He finished his bath and was walking to his room wrapped in the towel when he saw a young girl working in the kitchen. She was pretty. Her complexion was fair. Her hair was in a neat bun with white flowers inserted into the bun. She wore a blue skirt and a smart white blouse. For a few moments James forgot that he was walking wrapped in a towel as he gazed at her. The girl turned around and looked up at him and smiled a shy smile. He smiled back. He had seen many pretty girls during their journey up to the estate but this girl was stunning with pink cheeks and dark pink lips.
“ Good morning” said James.
“ Good morning sir” she said
Her voice was was pleasing and surprisingly close to that of a Scottish girl he knew. James could smell the eggs and onion being cooked in a pungent oil. Only later he learned that it was the hunger inducing smell of coconut oil. He realised he should go and change.
He walked to his room feeling a little sheepish for walking around in a towel, carrying his cloths. He was excited and wanted to get to the dining area so he could see the girl again. He remembered Sinniah mentioning her name as Thangam.
Henry had his bath and Henry and James came to the dining table. James was looking forward to seeing the girl and hearing her voice. They sat at the table which was properly laid with a table cloth and napkins. The bread smelled freshly baked.
Thangam came with two plates and laid them on the table near Henry and James. the omelette was looking appetising and the smell inviting. There was fried tomatoes, sliced potatoes and onions.
“ Thank you for the nice breakfast Thangam. This is really delicious” said Henry, tucking into the food.
“ Yes. It’s really tasty” said James his eyes feasting on Thangam’s pink cheeks and dark eyes. He was feeling an urge to get up and kiss her pink cheeks.
“ Thank you sir. I’m happy that you like my cooking.” said Thangam.
The smell of the fried onions and taste of fresh tomatoes made James feel as if he was eating a meal cooked by his mother. He felt an urge to get up and touch Thangam.
Sinniah walked in and announced that the coach was ready.
“ I’m told that in Ceylon, names of people mean something. Does Sinniah mean something?” asked James.
“ It’s a common name among the Tamils, in the North. It means small boss or something like that.”
“ And what does Thangam mean?” asked James.
“ Thangam means gold.”
“ Ah, a golden person. That’s nice. It’s time for me go I think” said Henry getting up. James and Henry went to their rooms.
Henry was carrying his metallic suitcase when he came out.
“ All the best James. There will be someone coming to see you to give you instructions on your work. I will keep in touch. You can contact me in Colombo when transport is available.” said Henry and got into the coach.
“ Thanks a lot Uncle Henry. Hope to see you soon.” said James.
The coach moved away. James stood watching and waving as the coach disappeared from view.
* * *
James started looking for Thangam. She was washing up in the kitchen. He went up to her and said:
“ Hello Thangam. You look very busy. When do you relax?”
“ I’m always busy sir. I cook at home also.”
“ I’m sorry to hear this. Maybe I can help you with the washing up.”
“No sir. That will cost me my job.”
James resisted an urge to hold her. He felt that she would not respond. Instead he kept talking to her, getting closer to her.
“ Let me help with the drying.” he said.
“ We don’t use a dish cloth and dry the plates. The plates are left on the rack to dry.” she said.
“ What flowers are you having on your hair?” he asked.
“ It’s jasmine. We collect flowers in the morning for saying our prayers. I use some for my hair.” she said.
The pretty white little flowers added to Thangam’s charms. They smelled glorious and James could not resist bending slightly towards her hair and taking a deep breath while she was washing up. The flowers combined with the natural smell of her hair made James feel slightly giddy.
She did not move away from him. She seemed to allow him to enjoy the feeling of closeness. She even seemed to want him to be close to her.
It was the first time that James had ever been that close to a girl, almost touching her. He felt as if he had become someone different from what he was before he met Thangam.
She had a smile on her face as she continued to arrange the cutlery and the crockery. She seemed to like James being close her. He even felt that he could touch her and she would not withdraw. But he did not risk it. He wanted her to respond to him in her own time.
“ When you are not busy please come and talk with me.” he said.
“ You will be out in the estate sir.” she said.
“ I will be coming into the house for a break and to have some thing to eat. And I will be sleeping here.”
“ I will be here until afternoon. After cooking your dinner, I have to go home and attend to my brother and mother.” she replied.
“ Is your mother not well?” asked James.
“ She is alright. I only help her with the cooking, and house work.” she replied.
“ And your brother. What does he do?” asked James.
“ He is not expected to do housework sir. He is expected to do his school work. He has to walk a long way, about an hour to get to his school.” she replied.
“ That’s a long way to walk.”
“ We are lucky to find a school for him. Most people don’t go to school because there are not enough schools. He is lucky and I was lucky to attend school.”
“ You speak good English. It must be a good school.”
“ There are nuns teaching in the school.” she responded.
“ Good. i’m happy at least some schools are there and some nuns are doing the teaching.”
“ Yes sir. The nuns were very good teachers. Some were from France and others from England.” she replied.
The Sun was rising fast. The skies were blue with a few clouds looking cotton balls floating in the sky.
“ Have you finished washing up? James asked.
“ Yes. Now I have to make the beds.” she said.
“ You don’t have to make the beds. I can make them.” he said.
“ No. I’m supposed to attend to the housekeeping.” she replied.
“ If you insist. I can at least help you.” he said.
“ It will be alright.” she said and went into the bedroom.
Jamed followed her to the room. She started folding the cotton bed sheet .
“ Here let me help you to fold the sheet.” he said, taking one end of the sheet. They folded the sheet taking turns to come closer to each other as the sheet was folded smaller and smaller.
And then she burst out laughing. James moved close to her and placed his arm around her shoulders. She did not resist.
“ What makes you laugh?” he asked.
“ You are our dorai, our boss. But here you are helping me to fold the bed sheets. That’s making me laugh.” she said.
“ Ah. I must also do some work. I’m not going to sit around bossing people all the time.” he replied. He gently squeezed her with the arm that was around her shoulders. She was against him and he could feel her take a long deep breath.
“ I really like you.I know we only know each other two days” he said.
“ Thank you.” said Thangam.
James bent down and gently kissed her cheek. Her face felt soft and the scent of the jasmine flowers in her hair seemed to have wafted down to her cheeks. He could see her eyes gazing down at the floor. She had accepted him, accepted his wanting her. He felt a sense of warmth towards Thangam. He wanted to protect her and give her whatever he could to make her happy. They were similar in age but she seemed much younger.
Thangam felt the gentleness of this giant of a man with his large head and huge body. She felt she was safe in his company. She felt he would never harm her physically or in any other way. She felt his warm, protective feelings towards her. She felt no fear. He was a stranger, just arrived in the country. He was a white man, a revered person placed in charge of a large area of land with many workers including her father. He had the power to dismiss all the workers and replace them. Yet she felt safe when she was with him.
“ I must go to the kitchen. My father would be looking for me.” she said.
“ Sorry. i’m holding you up. I will look through some papers that are in my suitcase.” said James. He felt calm.
He stayed back when she went out of the room. It was silent. Nobody was talking. He came out of the room and entered the front area of the house. He was taken by surprise to see a white man seated on the chair nearest the front door.