Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
CHAPTER ONE (7)
When James woke up, he could see that there were several people assembled at Loolacondere. The kankanee had brought his group for the work. James went to the makeshift coconut leaf shower room outside and poured water on himself from the drum using a can. I must get at least a small bucket he told himself. He got dressed and ate a meal of bread, butter and jam. He was not sure how Sinniah had managed to find the food. . The kankanee must have brought these he guessed.
“ This is Arumugam Mr. Taylor. He is our kanakanee. he has brought this group of workers for your work.” said Sinniah.
“ Hello Arumugam. Nice to meet you. How are you. Thank you for bringing these people. I can get started today.” said James, smiling at the group and walking up to Arumugam and shaking hands with him. His boyish looks and pleasant manner impressed the workers and they all smiled and said “Good Morning” in awkward English.
“ Sorry sir. They don’t speak English. If you explain to me , then I can translate into Tamil and give them their work orders. They will spend the day with you sir. I will arrange sleeping accommodation for them.” said Arumugam.
“ Thanks Arumugam. Very good of you to help in this way. I have to do two things. One group will clear the bushes and cut the trees so that we can plant coffee trees. Another will help me to work on the house.”
“ That’s fine sir. I’ll tell them that both jobs must be done. There is one person who could pick up some words in English. You can explain anything to him. He knows only a few words but he can help. I have to go and make some arrangements for their accommodation. But I will be back as soon as possible.” said Arumugam in halting English.
“ Alright. Thats fine with me.” said James.
Arumugam took excused himself and left. Some of the workers were slashing at the bushes with long knives. Two pairs of men were chopping at trees with gusto. James took off his shirt and got to work himself. Around midday, he could see that a good area of land had been cleared of bushes and trees. James was happy to note that the rather lean bodied men were quite capable of hard work. They were good workers. They stopped to drink water from their brass containers with lids but hardly stopped for a break. He wanted to ask them to stop and take a break but decided to let them work the way they were used to. He felt very sorry to see them work so hard, their lean bodies shining with sweat. He thought about Thangam. It would have been nice to have had her around. He could ask her to tell the workers what he wanted to do. He thought about visiting Thangam the next day. He could make an excuse and go back as if to collect some of his things. It would be great if he could have a horse. He could ride a horse. He used to ride one now and then when he felt like it.
The days work was nearly over when Sinniah returned with Arumugam. James was working along with the labourers when they arrived.
‘’ Sir, you should not be working like this. The labourers are here for the work.”
“I’m only doing something to help. They are doing most of the work.”
“ We have arranged a horse for you, sir. You can have it tomorrow for a whole day. The horse is owned by a man who takes it to the Dorai’s house every other day. You can have it tomorrow.” said Sinniah.
“ Very good of you and Arumugam. I would love to be riding it tomorrow.” said James, his eyes brightening and a smile playing on his face. He could ride along the boundary to check on the whole estate. He could even ride further. He could ride along the road and visit his old house to see if Thangam was still there.
The workers left along with Arumugam. James had his wash using a bucket of water. He poured water on himself with a small cooking pan with a handle which had seen better days. He had a surprisingly good meal: rice with fried chicken, fried aubergines and potatoes. He was asleep almost immediately after his meal. The coir mattress felt hard but he was too tired to think about ways of changing it.
When James got up, he took a walk to his favourite spot overlooking the valley and sat on the rock and gazed at the scenery. The blue skies and green hills made him feel energised and sit for a long time. He imagined how nice it would be to be able to fly like a bird over the Gurugal area. The pleasant valley made him feel a little bit nostalgic for Scotland. He walked back home.
The workers were back in the morning. Arumugam was giving orders in Tamil. Some workers were mixing cement. Others were carrying bricks. James had not noticed that under a canopy of cadjan (coconut fronds weaved into a mat) leaves, there was a pile of bricks. James was happy that they were going to build his house, transform it from a hut to a house. He will give a hand with the work he told himself.
Everyone stopped work to stare at the horse being ridden to the site by a local man.
“ Sir. Your horse is coming. If you are not sure about riding it, the muthu (horse keeper) will come along with you.” said Sinniah.
“ I should be alright with the horse. I ‘m used to riding horses in our farm in Scotland.” said James.
After a briefing about the horse, James had no difficulty getting on the horse and riding away. He was exhilarated to be on a horse in Loolecondere. It was such a nice cool but warm day, like a Summers day in Scotland. He rode around keeping a lookout for any fences which might show the boundaries. He could hear the cry of a hornbill, startled to see a man on a horse in Loolecondere. The countryside smelled wonderful, a breath of pristine air. The horse was a gentle mare, well trained and responsive to his commands with his heels. He was delighted and wanted to do something really exciting. He noticed the place where the boulder came down and crushed the bullock. He looked up to make sure that there were no loose boulders and started riding towards the dirt road.
When he reached the road, he could see it winding it’s way towards Narangghena. The horse was on the dirt road and trotting ahead. He decided to let the horse follow the road. He felt a yearning for Thangam. He urged the horse to move faster and the horse trotted at a fair pace. The road was in good order. No signs of boulders or fresh soil on the road. There were some trees with red flowers, shading him and the horse quite a long way. Gradually, he recognised that he was well on his way to the old house in Narangghena. He felt a surge of excitement. If she was there, he would enjoy Thangam’s blissful company . Thangam’s gentle ways and tone of voice made him feel happy and contented. Scotland was a long way away. Maybe he should write a letter to his father. The thought sprang up suddenly. He decided he will write a letter. But he must check with Sinniah about the postal arrangements.
The house came into view. It seemed deserted. Even the dog was not to be seen. he dismounted and tied the horse to a tree. He felt deeply disappointed, almost in tears. Be a man, he told himself. Be happy you had a wonderful morning with Thangam only a few days ago, he told himself. She was generous with her love and made him feel happy. He will find out where she is and bring her to Loolecondere.
There was the sound of a dog barking and the brown dog came into view, wagging it’s tail. James bent down and patted the dog. When he stood up he saw Thangam standing there, smiling deliciously. He ran to her and held her tight. The sound she made when he tightened his arms around her was what wanted to hear. It was a lovely sound, the sound of deep breathing, the sound of contentment. He kissed her and they stood there kissing, her lips touching his lips in short jabs. It was delicious. He knew she loved him. Only someone in love with him could make him feel that special sweetness.
“ I was sure we won’t see each other again” said Thangam.
“ No Thangam. Nothing will keep me away from you. Even if it means that I won’t be having a job.” said James.
“ My father said that Mr. McKenzie has warned you about seeing me” she said.
“ Yes. That’s true. But I love you and I won’t be giving you up ever.” James said.
“ I love you very much.” she said and she started crying, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“ My darling Thangam. Don’t cry. I will never leave you. I will live in Ceylon and look after you.” said James.
He gently wiped the tears from her face and kissed her on her cheeks. Her love for him was plain to see. She feared that he would be forced to leave her. She needed assurance that he would never let her down. His youthfulness may also be a source of worry to her, he thought. He was a young boy expected to behave as a young man. She was his age but wise enough to know that young men flirt and want the company of other girls as well, he thought.
“ I’m scared that Mr. McKenzie will stop you from meeting with me. My father said that Mr. McKenzie is a very bad man. Might even send you back to Scotland.”
“ Don’t worry. I’m not going to listen to him. i can look for another job.” replied James.
Her tears kept welling up. James wiped her tears once again with his hand. She was so sweet and tender,all he wanted to do was just kiss her face, kiss her on her nose, kiss her all over her face. As he kissed her, he a felt an awakening below, a stirring which grew stronger with each kiss. she also moved closer to him, as if she could feel his awakening below and wanted to move closer to feel it. He held her tight. It was a warm satisfying feeling. When she moved closer to him, he could feel her body against his and he was mesmerised and the feeling of wanting to feel her body again took over. The shiny brown skin on her face made him kiss her over and over again. They moved to the bedroom and he helped her to remove her cloths. His body covered her naked brown body when he entered her. He was afraid that he might crush her with his heavy weight but she only moaned with pleasure as he entered her. He looked at her and felt a heavenly feeling that he was in another world. Her face was angelic and her brown skin made him feel stronger down below. He felt a softness in his heart he could not compare with any other feeling he had ever felt. The jasmine in her hair smelled like no other sweet smell he had come across before. It was a smell from heaven. They kissed again and again as they made love, again and again.
He heard the horse neigh and he woke up from his nap. He was still on top of her. An angelic smile played on her face.
“ Sorry Thangam, my honey. I slept on top of you. I must have crushed you” he said.
“No darling. You did not crush me. I did not feel any weight” she replied.
“ Maybe you should be on top more often.”
She giggled and was on top and he felt a surge of power when he saw her brown breasts dangle in front of him. He savoured their smoothness and softness while she rose and fell in a gentle movement.
He got up when he heard the dog barking. Thangam dressed quickly.
“They will be looking for you. It’s the first time for you to go out by yourself.” said Thangam.
“ I will ride back now. I hope you will be here when I come next time. It might be tomorrow.” said James mounting his horse.
“ Be careful. Ride carefully. There could be some landslides” said Thangam.
“ I will be careful Thangam. I love you.” said James as he rode off.
* * *
James arrived in Loolecondere in half an hour. He was surprised to see how much work had been done during the day. Almost all the walls of the house extension had been completed. A window frame had been put in place and bricks laid. The vast area had been cleared as if a bull dozer had been at work during the day.
“ Sinniah please tell everyone that I’m very happy with the work that has been achieved today.”
Sinniah walked towards the middle and spoke two or three sentences in Tamil. He clapped his hands and everyone responded including James. They smiled and they clapped their hands. All the workers looked very cheerful inspire of having been at work all day.
James spoke with Sinniah about bringing seedlings to the Loolecondere site. Instead of waiting for the whole area to be cleared to start planting, James suggested that the area which had been cleared could be prepared for planting while the rest of the crew could continue with the clearing. Sinniah agreed after thinking for a while.
“ But it’s best to ask , Mr. McKenzie first sir. “ he replied.
“ That is a good point Sinniah. I agree I should contact McKenzie and talk to him.” said James.
“ Yes. I also found out that there are many places with the leaf going brown. They call it coffee blight.”
“ Yes. That is a very good idea. I really must go and meet McKenzie to make sure that we are doing the right thing.”
“ I can arrange for the same horse sir. You won’t need a cart or coach. Its about two hours walking and about half an hour riding.”
“ In which direction?”
“ That way.” said Sinniah. He pointed in the direction and continued “ This road comes to a junction where another road cuts across. If you turn right, you can’t miss the house. Its on a hill. Can be seen from far away.”
“ Thats fine. I can go there in the morning.”
“ I will speak to the moothoo sir. He can bring the horse in the morning.”
* * *
The bed he was sleeping on was a rough one and Sinniah brought some blankets and placed them under the sheet to soften the bed. He was very concerned about James’s well being and keeping a fatherly eye on James.
The horse arrived in the morning ridden by the moothoo. James had clipped his trousers so that he could ride to McKenzie’s house. He rode off early morning so that he could be at McKenzie’s house before eight o’ clock. It was a fine crisp morning, a little nippy, reminding him of a Spring morning in Scotland. He could hear the birds twitter and he knew he was somewhere different, like a palace with vast grounds where the birds showed their presence with a lot of chatter. He rode off at a gallop heading for the first cross road. There were a few people on the road. They moved aside and stopped for him to pass. He waved at them as he passed. He was hoping that McKenzie would tell him to plant tea because it was one of James ambitions to learn about tea, how it grows, how it was made and how it was sold in London.
He thought once again about becoming the owner of a tea plantation where he could employ Sinniah and Thangam and all the workers who were doing a good job in Loolecondere. He could be the boss. He could own his own horses and have a coach. Sinniah and he had talked about the coming railway which will make it easier to transport the tea and coffee.
When he reached the turn right, he met some village people walking along. He could only say “ Mr. McKenzie” to them and they pointed to the direction he was riding and he was happy that he would be arriving at McKenzie’s house in about half an hour. He could see a house on a hill a good distance away and he was sure he was going in the right direction. He arrived at McKenzie’s house by eleven o’ clock.
He tethered the horse and walked up the steps to the beautiful green and white painted house. He knocked on the door and a man wearing a white coat and a white sarong came to the door and let him in. Mc Kenzie was seated on a lounge chair.
“ Sit down Taylor. I was told you will be coming. So I stayed back. I’m glad you came because I wanted to come to Loolecondere to speak with you.” McKenzie said.
“ Mr. McKenzie I wanted to speak with you regarding the situation in Loolecondere. We are making good progress but we need more workers.”
“ Taylor you may have heard about coffee blight. The scourge has taken hold everywhere. Did you know many planters have been forced to go back home because of coffee blight.”
“ I did not realise that the situation is that bad.”
“ Taylor you must think about returning to Scotland.”
“ I’ve hardly been a month in Ceylon sir. I’m not happy that you are thinking of sending me back.”
“ I’m really thinking of your future. If you settle down here for a while, it will be even more difficult to uproot yourself and go back. It will be that much more difficult.”
“ Mr. McKenzie if coffee blight is that serious why don’t we grow tea instead of coffee.” asked James.
“ Taylor, even the bankers, the Rothschild family tried to grow tea and failed. Even with their immense wealth they could not succeed with tea. They brought tea planters from India, British as well as others but nobody could grow the tea that is needed to suit he English palates or palates any other place.”
“ Is it that bad. i would like to try growing tea sir.” said James, feeling down hearted.
“ Your best bet is to return to Scotland. I can make all the arrangements.”
“ I would like to be given a chance to plant tea.”
“ It must that native woman that must be holding you back. I’m telling you don’t get involved. Enjoy yourself by all means. They have no resistance. If they are not married you can take any woman home at any time. You know that don’t you.”
“ I’m sure you are right Mr. McKenzie. But all I’m saying is that I need to be given a chance to work in this country” said James.
“ I’m telling you you are wasting your time here. The sooner you leave the better.” said McKenzie.
“ I will get back to to Loolecondere sir.” said James walking towards the door.
“ You will hear about the company’e decision very soon” said McKenzie in a final comment as James stepped out of the house.
James was very upset. He got on the horse and rode away. He could hardly wait to get back home. But home was confusing. Home was where Thangam was. He really wanted her comforting him. The rain tree that he passed on his way out passed in a blur. He did not really see the tree as his mind was in turmoil. He was riding towards Loolecondere but his mind was directing him to Naranghena. He did not have to make a decision. He was going to ride past Loolecondere and go on to Narangghena. He had to at least try to meet with Thangam. At least lie down for a while on that bed where he felt a sense of peace. He thought he heard a distant sound of thunder. He feared for rolling boulders. But nothing stopped him from riding on.