Taylers Tea Garden – By Ajit MutuCumsrawamy – Chapter 6 – James’s journey to……

Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy



James’s  journey to Loolecondere was very pleasant even though the road was rough and the cart shook a lot. He noted that the old coach he had travelled in from Colombo was a luxury coach compared to the cart he was now travelling in. The cart had a flat surface, a floor  like a wooden tray where people could sit and keep their goods. The protection from the weather was a thatch roof over the wooden floor . It was a curved hood made of rattan and woven coconut thatch. It provided shade and protection from rain and the Sun for passengers and goods.                              

              James felt sorry for the bull that was pulling them along. He offered to walk alongside the cart to relieve the bull but Sinniah refused his offer saying that the bull was a strong one even though it was not a big made bull. The carter also told Sinniah that the animal was a strong one, young enough to enjoy the ride. James made up his mind that he will jump off the cart when the opportunity came, when the bull slowed down for climbing a hill.  

              The opportunity came when the bull slowed down when there was steep hill. The bull seemed to be passing out steam as it shook it’s head straining to pull up the hill. James slid off the tray walked behind the cart. Sinniah jumped out of the cart as well and followed James. The road was not paved or tarred. But the gravel seemed to hold together.

              The skies were light blue and clouds drifted lazily. There were bushes on both sides of the road. Some gave off a pleasant, aromatic smell of wild mint. The air was bracing, invigorating. James felt happy. He wished Thangam was with him. It would be perfect.  He knew he faced a problem with meeting Thangam regularly. McKenzie might be keeping tabs on his activities. 

              James’s  shoes were coping with the road. But they were getting a good bashing. He would try and get another pair when he could. A spare pair was essential in these rough conditions.

              There was a curve along the road. The hill on the right hand side climbed up sharply. They could not see the road ahead due to the bend in the road. There were a few small stones scattered around and the cart wheels made grinding noises as the stones were betting crushed under the wheel . 

              As the road straight up having taken the curve, there was a sound like thunder and a huge boulder came crashing down. The carter shouted “ bija mak” several times at the bull  and kicked at it’s balls trying to make the bull go faster. But the gradient was too steep and the gravel too stony for moving faster. As the bull struggled to move faster a boulder acme down, broke the wooden mantle and hit the bull on it’s side. The bull fell over. The cart turned on it’s side. 

              James ran to the other edge of the road and back towards where they had come from when he heard the sound coming from the top of the hill. Sinniah followed him. They were both unaware of the boulder hitting the bull .

“ That must have been a big stone coming down Sinniah” said James looking up.

“ Yes. Sir .This is a dangerous place. Big stones keep coming down. People hear the sound and run away. Some times somebody gets hurt.”

“ Maybe they should place a warning sign.” said James.

“ Yes. This is small road. We have to be careful.” 

“ It was made for people to use their carts and travel to other villages I guess.”

“Yes. There are villages along this road. No villages near this place because of the stones falling.”

“ Since this road is connecting our coffee estates, we must do something. i will come here with some workers and see if there is a way of clearing the loose stones.”

“ Yes. There are road workers who can do this.” 

“ Let’s go up and see what happened.” said James.

“ I think it’s safe now sir. I’m sorry to have brought you to this dangerous place.” 

“ It’s not your fault Sinniah. If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s the fault of the British Government. The government is responsible for keeping the roads free from danger. It’s actually my fault that I asked you to make arrangements for going to Loolecondere.” said James.

              They walked towards the cart. The carter was missing. They walked towards the bull. It was dead. the boulder had crushed it’s head. It had no means of escape as it was tethered to the cart.

“ Sorry about this Sir. It’s very bad.” said Sinniah.

“ At least we are all safe. Could have been much worse” said James.

“Yes, sir. It could have been worse. I’m told that the government is going to give this land to people to grow coffee. ”

“ In that case I might try to get this land. I can make it safe for people passing” said James.

              The carter climbed out of the side of the road. He had dived out of the way of the rocks.

“ My bull is dead.” he said ruefully.

“ Don’t worry about it. I will speak tot the company and arrange for you get get money for the dead animal.” said James.

              Some villagers arrived to check on what had happened. Some scolded Sinniah for bringing the Dorai along the road in a bullock cart. Sinniah pleaded that there were no horse drawn coaches available.

              The villagers  arranged to move the dead animal away from the road. It took two or three hours before James and Sinniah were away from there on another cart. 

              They arrived in Loolacondere just before it was dark. Sinniah changed into his clean shorts and made a simple meal. They ate their dinner, had some coffee and went off to sleep.

              The morning was sunny and the skies clear. The birds were singing the their songs. James got up and went out in his pyjamas. The dew on the smaller trees made him feel happy but some thing was missing. A pair of small brown birds were mating. He wished he could be as happy as they were. He wished he had  Thangam’s welcome presence. 

              Sinniah was up early .He was boiling water in the metallic kettle over three stones between which the wood fire burned. The tiny kitchen would barely accommodate James inside it. He would have to bend over to keep the wood fire burning. Even Sinniah was squatting as he blew into the fire with a metal pipe to keep it burning.

              After a breakfast of roti, a flat bread made with flour and coconut, dipped in a source cooked with tomatoes and chilli, they went outside. They walked around the place assessing what needs to be done. James could see that he would have to chop many trees down to clear the land. 

“ Plenty of work Sinniah. Clearing this place is going to take a lot of work.” said James.

“ I can arrange for a Kankanee to come Sir. You can speak to him about how many men are needed for the work.” said Sinniah.

“Thanks. That would be fine. I can see at least ten men are needed or else we will spend weeks just chopping the trees and clearing the bushes.” said James.

“ I heard that some men have arrived from India Sir. Mr. McKenzie had arranged with the kangkanee  to go to India and make the men come. They have come to work for one year”

“ That’s good. Since we already have them here, we can start tomorrow.”

“ Some are sick sir. They might have caught malaria while travelling through the jungles.”

“ Sorry to hear that. I was told to be careful about catching malaria. I’ve got some tablets.”

“Up here in Loolecondere it’s not bad. Hardly any mosquitos. It’s too cool for the mosquitoes. They don’t breed in the cold places.”

“ Great. The poor fellows from India  must have been bitten when they were walking through the jungles.”

“ Yes. The dry jungle areas between Jaffna and hill country are full of mosquitoes. Sometimes they have to walk through swamps They don’t wear long sleeve shirts or trousers. It’s easy to be bitten when you are wearing a sarong and banion.” said Sinniah.

“ What’s banion Sinniah.? asked James.

“It’s a vest sir. What you wear under your shirt. The banion is a thin cotton vest.” 

“Okay. Then the mosquitoes will have no difficulty biting. Sinniah. I have yet to see a coffee tree. We have been so busy moving from Colombo and then Naranghena.” said James.

“ We can go to an estate which has coffee trees. It’s quite close and will be the closest to Loolecondere. It might be part of Loolecondere. I’m not sure”  said Sinniah.

              “OK. lets’s go there now. I’m very keen to see coffee trees.” said James.


                                                                        *            *             *

              Sinniah and James walked to the nearest coffee plantation, also owned or managed by the same company. The coffee trees stood with coffee beans grown  to full size, the red berry about the size of a cherry. It was shining and ready for plucking. James was impressed by the sight of all the coffee trees with their fruit waiting to be plucked. The workers had arrived and plucking could commence any time. 

“Do you see the brown shade on the leaf sir?” asked Sinniah.

“ Yes. A little dust seems to have settled on the leaves.” 

“ That is the coffee rust sir. It’s causing problems. If the brown colour gets strong the leaves will die and the tree will die.” said Sinniah.

“ Thanks for that Sinniah. I heard about coffee rust but now I can see the problem.” said James, his eyes lighting up and the boyish expression and burly figure showing his youthfulness. 

              Sinniah could see that James was really a schoolboy released into the world of work. He felt a great sympathy was the boy. He was really a nice sensitive boy sent by the company but to do a man’s work. He was very taken up with Thangam and that could be a problem. White man rarely settled down in Ceylon. Some did but many did not. Thangam was his only daughter. He was hoping she will get married to a young man from the same community in Jaffna. He left it to God to decide what should happen. If Thangam wanted to be with James that will her choice and he will not interfere. But will James marry her or will she become one of those girls with children fathered by foreigners outside marriage? That would bring shame to him and his family. His family will blame him for leaving his Northern area of Jaffna to seek his fortune in the hill country. And ending up with a shameful problem for the family.

              They heard dogs barking at a distance. The sound of dogs barking was usually close to a house. but they were not near any house.

              “ That sounds like someone is coming Sir” said Sinniah.

“ Really. Someone is walking along with dogs, like they were on a hunt?” asked James. 

“ Somebody could be riding a horse, sir. It could be a dorai. One of the Periya Dorais sir. The dogs sometimes come with the dorai.”

              Sue enough, they could a figure on a horse riding towards them. As  the rider approached them, they could see it was McKenzie accompanied by almost a dozen dogs.

McKenzie was riding towards them. He was with them and the dogs stopped barking and surrounded Sinniah and James.

“ I see you have moved out of Naranghena Taylor. As I said there is no room for defying orders in our company. But what are you doing here” asked McKenzie.

              James felt insulted. McKenzie’s  supercilious and condescending tone upset James. James felt anger rising. He could easily have thrown McKenzie out of his horse. But he stood in silence. Sinniah moved far away so as not to hear the words that may be spoken in anger.

              “ I came to see the coffee berries. It’s my first time to see the berries.” said James refusing to apologise or  to say any words of regret.

              “ Alright. Are you able to carry forward the programme of clearing and planting the coffee trees?” asked McKenzie.

              “ Yes. I don’t see any problems with it. Sinniah will help me with anything unusual.” said James.

              “ But Sinniah won’t be there my dear chap. He will be given other work to do. Neither will you be comforted by that girl, Sinniah’s daughter. She has been given orders to pack up move over to the Periya Dorai’s bungalow.

“ But I need some assistance with cooking and washing.” protested James.  

“ No such thing dear chap. You have had time to settle down. You were helped to get started in the way things happen here. Listen, if you want a woman you have only to send word for her. The women are obliging. They don’t expect anything in return. They won’t accept money either. Enjoy yourself but don’t get involved. That’s my advice to you. Goodbye.” said McKenzie using his spurs to get the horse trotting way. The brown and white dogs barked and followed the horse. 

                                                                *            *             *

              Sinniah appeared after McKenzie left. James told him about McKenzie’s orders regarding Sinniah and Thangam.

              “ Alright sir. McKenzie Dorai is a very difficult person. We don’t like him. But there is nothing we can do. They are big people. We have to take orders.”

              “ Yes Sinniah. I also have to take orders. Let’s get back to Loolacondere and I can start the work. When will the person who arranges for the workers come over?” asked James.

              “ He should be coming today. He must have spoken with the men in the line houses and arranged for some to come with him.” said Sinniah.

              “ Alright. Let’s get there as soon as we can.” said James. They walked briskly. There were red flowers in the tall trees. Some birds twittered. The distant bark of dogs could be heard. It must be McKenzie’s dogs thought James. The air was fresh. They reached the Loolacondere estate before nightfall.


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