Taylors Tea Garden – by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
CHAPTER ONE (9)
When James arrived, Sinniah was waiting anxiously.
“ I’m not happy about Periya Dorai McKenzie not giving you transport Mr. James. He should be sending you two horses and a carriage. That’s normal. He is not treating you like a dorai. All of us are not happy about the way things are being done by the company.” said Sinniah.
“ Don’t worry too much Sinniah. Tell everybody that I will do my best with what the company is giving. My trip to Kandy was to apply for land. Keep this quiet. Don’t tell anybody about it. It might reach McKenzie.” said James.
“ Yes. I will keep it secret. No need for all to know about this.” said Sinniah.
“ I feel a bit hot. Maybe I should lie down for a while. How is the work going? I will come out and see what’s happening in a little while.” said James.
“ It could be malaria. It’s best to rest. I will get some tablets.”
“ I’ve got some tablets. I’m going to take them. By the way we will be growing chinchona which is a plant used for treating malaria.” said James.
“ I’ve heard about this plant. I’ve never been to any plantation where they are growing cinchona.” said Sinniah.
“ Robert, the botanist at Peradeniya, will be sending us these plants. George Pride is arranging for us to get more from Haggala.”
“ They say George Pride is the owner and McKenzie is the manager sir” said Sinniah.
James felt dizzy and tired. He felt he was about to drop down.
“I’m going to lie down. Call me if you want me to do something.”
“ I’m bringing a glass of water. Take your tablet before going to lie down.” said Sinniah , walking away .
James was in bed for three days. He only saw a blurr when his eyes opened. He did not know whether it was day or night. He thought he saw Thangam. But he was too weak to check it out. He did get up and go to the toilet. He drank hot soup. It felt like he was drinking watery rice. He fell asleep. He thought he heard Thangam talking to him. Asking him how he felt. He could not answer. He only wanted to sleep. He heard Sinniah’s voice and the voices of several people. But he could not sit up and talk. Talking was out. His head felt like it was in a vice, things pressing his head from all directions. More voices could be heard. One voice was Thangam’s. He could feel soft fingers feeling his forehead and saying some words in Tamil.
After three days, he finally felt he could hear voices and people walking outside the bedroom, he opened his eyes and looked around. The fever had left him. He had no strength in him to get up and go outside. He lay in bed and lazily looked out through the window. His eyes could barely open as the Sun was bright. And then he heard Thangam’s voice. Thangam was there talking in Tamil. He had a feeling he was in safe hands. He wanted her to come in. He did not have the strength to go outside.
He heard some one walk in. He opened his eyes. Thangsm walked in as if she heard his wishes. Thangam bent over and kissed him on his cheek. They embraced. She walked to the door and closed it without making a sound. She came back and slipped into the bed. They held each other tightly.
“ Are you feeling alright” she whispered into his ear.
“ Much better. I’m feeling almost normal.”
“ You were very ill. The doctor came and said that it must be malaria. We had to tell Mr. Mckenzie that you were having fever.” said Thangam.
“ Yes. I understand.”
“He sent the doctor from Kandy.”
“ I cannot remember seeing a doctor”
“ You were still sleeping when the doctor placed the thermometer under your arm.”
“ I must have been asleep.”
“You look much better now”
“I’m feeling much better. Can I have a bath?”
“ Alright. I’ll get the hot water ready. Before I go I want to see you.” she said.
She removed the sheet and stroked him below. The response was quick and hard. She bent down and sucked it and sat on him, leaned over and offered her breasts. He was delighted. He felt more than normal. He felt fully energised and happy. Her pale brown breasts were beautiful. He looked at them, sucked them and licked them. She moved gently and then moved with a sense of urgency. He felt himself releasing. She began to breath heavily and then gently fell over him.
“ Is Samuel around.” asked James.
“I brought him with me. He must be playing in the garden ”
“ I must see him. Did I tell you that I applied for land.”
“ I know you went to Kandy to apply for land.”
“ Yes. Thats what I went for . Don’t let anyone know.”
“ My father told me about it and he warned me not to tell anyone.”
“ I also met Mr. George Pride and Dr. Tom Barron. Mr. Pride wants me to grow chinchona.”
“It’s a herbal plant. It can be used for treating malaria.”
“ So you won’t be growing coffee?”
“ I will be growing both coffee and cinchona.”
“ It must be the cinchona plants that came this morning.”
“ That’s good. Robert has sent it. But tell me, how come you are here.”
“ I heard you were very sick and the doctor came.”
“ It’s good you are here. I’m going to be very busy now. Dr. Barron said I can grow some tea plants to see if it grows well in Loolecondere. He will help me to make it grow well. If it grows well, I can stop coffee.”
“ That’s good. The coffee plants are not growing well.”
“ I know but right now there is no choice. I’ve got to keep McKenzie happy.”
“ McKenzie dorai came when you were in Kandy.”
“ And what did your people tell him.?”
“ My father told him that you went to the botanical gardens to check out if there were any medicines for coffee blight. My father had shown him the plants which were already catching coffee blight.”
“ That’s good. I don’t want to talk to Mckenzie.”
“ Are you feeling alright now. Do you want me to boil water for a bath.”
“ Yes. I’m feeling much better” said James grabbing her waist and holding her tight, her slender body almost disappearing into his. They kissed again.
“ I’m going to boil the water and make some breakfast for you. You haven’t eaten well for three days.” said Thangam getting into her dress. She wore a sort of saree sometimes. A shorter version of the saree. This version of the saree was attractive as a little bit more of the waist could be seen below the blouse.
She went out and he could hear her talking to someone. He could hear the sound of the bucket clanging. Water was being poured from the fifty gallon drum into a cauldron. He could hear the water being poured. The sounds stopped. He knew the cauldron was on the fire. It would be ten or fifteen minutes for the water to heat up enough to take a hot bath. James felt confused. McKenzie had come when he was away. He must have come to try to get him to go back. Mckenzie can reduce his expenses if James goes away. He can even cut down on the labour force expenses. Being a manager, he was interested in reducing his expenses and showing a profit. James had a contract for another six months at least. But what would happen if the six months is up and nothing has changed. Where could he find work? George Pride was his only hope. But Pride was also facing a severe problem with most of his plantations being hit by the coffee blight. What was more confusing was the tea situation. Now he had to start cinchona. And get it going well to prove that he was a good planter who could be relied on to produce the goods.
Thangam came in. She looked lovely. He wanted to get her in bed again but he also felt a tiredness and a need to have a bath and freshen himself up. He took the towel she had left on the bed and walked towards the door. Thangam called out to him to take his change of cloths. He came back to the bed and took his freshly laundered cloths and walked to the bathing cubicle. The water felt refreshing and warm as he washed away three days of sweat. He felt good. He even forgot that McKenzie was likely to come back at any time. The ground had been prepared for the new batch of coffee plants. The soil had been dug up about two metres apart leaving enough room for the plants to grow. It would be at least an year before it becomes clear that the plant had taken hold.
James changed after the bath and walked out knowing that Thangam would collect his cloths and wash them. He felt good about it as it felt as if there was someone like his mother who really cared about him and did everything to make him happy. He found Samuel in the garden Punya the girl helping Thangam was with him. He carried Samuel and kissed him. They walked out together looking at the flowers. Samuel stopped near the jasmine plant and picked up a few of the flowers. They walked back to the house.
After taking Samuel back , James walked out towards the place where the new plants had been planted. There was visible progress, enough to impress Mckenzie or at least enough to show that work had been done. James could not have had a better team. Thangam felt part of the team. She was in fact the most important part of the team, making sure that James’s health was sustained. Malaria had killed many workers during the rainy season. His team had lost three workers. All taken away to a crematorium where a funeral pyre was built with logs and the body placed on the pyre and burned all night. He had to make sure that he was not a victim of malaria. Thangam was there to look after him and Sinniah was there to keep the team moving. She had never asked for money.
His falling ill suddenly and without a warning made him realise that living in a tropical country was not all fun and enjoyment. There were hidden enemies, the bugs that got you very sick suddenly. Many warnings were given by the company officials but at the time it seemed like they being over cautious. But it had been now proven that the warnings had to be taken seriously. Malaria and dysentery were rampant and it was important to heed the warnings and take precautions.
After inspecting the new plantings, he watched the workers prepare the soil for the next batch of plants. The holes for the plants were dug using mammoties, a strange looking tool. It was meant to dig the soil, like a spade. In Scotland, the spade was the tool used to dig the soil. Here it was a mammoty which was swung in the air and brought down onto the soil to dig into the soil. James came back to the house.
* * *
Thangam had made breakfast. There was bacon and eggs. She had made coconut roti, a type of flat bread. He enjoyed it with the taste of coconut coming through. There was coconut milk, coconut sugar, ripe bananas and sambal, chilli mixed with coconut, to go with it. He found the chilli sambal quite hot but used very small amounts along with coconut milk. Samuel sat and ate some breakfast with his father. Thangam stood aside while they ate. She did not want to sit with them even though he had asked her to join him. She would be around making sure that they took extra helpings of the meal she had prepared.
The lunch food preparation was called puttu. It was one of his favourites. Samuel also seemed to enjoy puttu. It was made with rice flour. Coconut was scraped on a coconut scraper. He had heard this strange sound of scraping and had walked towards the kitchen to investigate. Thangam was seated on the coconut scraper. It was a low slung stool just enough to sit on. The metal scraper was protruding from the stool. The coconut was split open with a heavy knife. She sat sideways on a scraping stool and scraped the flesh of the coconut against the metal teeth of the scraper. The scraped coconut fell into a round basket made of coconut leaves. The scraped coconut was mixed into the rice flour with salt added. He had watched her make it. It seemed a difficult process but interesting. The rice flour mixed with coconut was placed in a hollowed out bamboo steamer and steamed. The steam produced a delicious flavour and aroma stirring the appetite. He looked at Thangam while he ate. Thangam also looked at him as he ate. A smile played on her face. He found the colour of her skin irresistible. She must have been equally attracted because she kept looking at him with a smile.
He finished eating, thanked her for the meal and walked out of the house with Samuel telling Thangam that he will be coming after he had finished his rounds of inspections to check on the progress of the plantings. Punya followed to take Samuel back home.
There was a cottage next to the kitchen. It must have been built for Sinniah as he was now helping out in both locations, Narangghena and Loolecondere. Thangam must be sleeping in the same cottage to avoid being seen by Mckenzie. James carried Samuel and gave him a big kiss before Punya took Samuel and walked back home.
Walking further, he could see that several acres had been cleared and coffee trees had been planted. Some tall trees had been left standing. It must be to provide shade for workers working in the hot Sun, he concluded. Walking further towards a hill he could hear the faint murmur of water, which brought memories of Scotland. He kept walking towards the area where the familiar sound of water was coming from and came to the waterfall. It became clear that this was where they got much of the water for the plants to grow, when the dry season set in. It would also provide water for the watermill.
The hill was planted with coffee trees. It was a pleasant walk. He felt he had recovered from his illness. He could walk a long distance without feeling tired. The hill had a steep drop on the other side. He walked up there and he could see that there was road at the bottom. It could have been one of the roads connecting various plantations. He also remembered that Robert had spoken of a railroad that was going to be built from Colombo to Ambepussa, a small town about half way to Colombo. He wondered if the railway would come all the way to Kandy where the hills were steep and even the roads seemed to be very risky for travellers.
He took a walk to his favourite spot overlooking the valley and sat on the rock and gazed at the scenery. He never tired of the view over Gurugal area. The mild pleasant valley seemed to hypnotise him. He wanted to walk.
He had walked for almost two hours and was ready to come back home and take a rest. On his return home, he noticed a flock of red and green parakeets on one of the trees chattering and tweeting. He stopped to take a long look at them. They were very beautiful birds. It seemed a good thing that some trees were left standing so that birds could come and take a rest from their daily flights looking for fruit.
When he walked to the far end of the estate, there were bullock carts travelling on the road laden with timbers and bamboo for scaffolding. Some carried tiles made from red soils. There was construction going on somewhere close by.
James got home before the Sun went down. Thangam was cooking. The small girl was helping her. He went inside the house, took off his shoes and socks. He sat on the chair for a few minutes and went to the bath area for a wash. The water was warm, ready for him to have his wash. He thought of installing the kind of outdoor shower seen in catalogues made by the Army and Navy store. It seemed a waste of effort trying to place an order for a shower when there were many things to do. He had his dinner. Samuel sat on James’s lap for a while eating bits of food from James’s plate. Thangam was there standing close by .
After dinner, James played with Samuel for a while before Samuel was taken to bed.James went to his room for a little rest after his long walk. He fell asleep almost immediately. He felt the bed moving slightly and woke up. It was Thangam snuggling up to him. He was delighted. He hugged her. Her warm body against him. Her hand was on his him,stroking it, and bending over . He was floating in a sea of bliss as she got on him and moved gently. It was a feeling he could not describe. He was happy as never before. He had everything he would ever want, he thought.
When he woke up in the morning, she was gone. He did not notice any movement. He could hear the coconut being scraped for breakfast. It could have been for making sago pudding which he loved. Or it could be for making coconut roti which was delicious with a dab of butter while it was still warm.
He gathered his towel, toothbrush and shaving kit and walked out towards the bath enclosure. After his bath and shave he returned to his room. He could see Thangam laying the table. If only he had no problems with Mckenzie, he could have relaxed and enjoyed his life with Thangam. Samuel had to be hidden to avoid McKenzie will take advantage to put pressure on him. Even Robert had mentioned in some conversation that having a baby with a local woman was considered a serious situation. He had no solution right now except to face the problem when it happened.
Thangam came into his room and whispered in his ears: “ Come for breakfast. But before that give me a kiss.” He was delighted to grant her request but the deep kiss gave him excited. He closed the door and took off his cloths. Thangam was getting out of her dress. He kissed where he could taste her . He made love to her, relishing the sudden impulse and delightful feeling of being content with life, at least for the moment.
After breakfast James walked through the plantation again. Work was going on in various points where groups of workers were planting coffee trees. He gave instructions about planting the cinchona trees on the side.
He walked out to the furthest point where there were no workers and saw a row of plants which seemed different. On closer inspection he found them to be straggly tea bushes. When he returned to to the house he spoke to Sinniah.
“I saw tea bushes at the furthest point of the plantation. Who planted them?”asked James.
“ I planted them. These bushes were brought by some workers and I told them to plant them somewhere in case you want to check them sometime.” said Sinniah.
“ That’s good. Please have some leaves plucked because I want to see how they roll the tea leaves.” said James.
“ I can show you the way the Indian workers do it.” said Sinniah.
“ Ah. That’s good. I was reading about the way they do it in China.” said James.
“ That’s good. Some of the workers were talking about tea being planted in a place called Ootacamund in South India.” said Sinniah.
“ That’s interesting. I want to go to Assam and Darjeeling to learn about making tea. I’m very interested in tea.”
“ That’s very good Mr. Taylor. I’m also very interested in tea. I want to become a tea maker one day Mr. Taylor.”
“ That’s very good Sinniah. I might go to India and learn as much as I can from British planters working in India. You can learn from workers whom you meet. We can compare notes.”
“ That’s a very good idea sir. Tea seems to be the good plant for Ceylon. The coffee trees are dying.”
“ Yes. I agree. But there is a very good demand for coffee. Tea is only being drunk by rich people in England. Maybe because the price is high.”
“That’s not good. We can grow tea as you can see. This area Loolecondere and even Narangghena is good for tea growing.” said Sinniah.
“ Yes. I can see that. Have more tea plants growing but grow them where McKenzie can’t see it. He will use any excuse to get me out.”
“ Alright. We will place the plants out of the way or on the roadside where it will only be a decoration and it will stop the soil from breaking down.” said Sinniah.
“ That’s fine. I’m going to try out the hand rolling. Have you done it?” asked James.
“ Yes. I’ve tried it. It’s very slow but it come out as good tea after it’s been dried.”
“ Okay. That’s what I want to try. Then I will work out how I can build a machine that will do that work” said James.
“ So far there are no machines to do this work Mr. Taylor.” said Sinniah.
“ That’s okay. I’m going to design one.”
“ Alright sir. Are you going to send the design to England?”
“That won’t be easy. Nobody will build a machine without the order coming from a reputable company. I’m thinking of finding a company in Ceylon.”
“ Very few companies in Ceylon that can build machines.” said Sinniah.
“I’m going to look around for one in Kandy. If not, I may have to go to Colombo. McKenzie will make a big deal about my going.”
“ Yes. He will find out somehow.”
“ Can you arrange for someone to go and get some tea leaves. One basket of tea will do.”
“ Alright. I ‘ll send someone who knows about tea leaves” said Sinniah walking away.
Seeing that Sinniah had gone, James wanted find Thangam. He walked around and heard washing sounds in the bathing cubicle. He walked to the cubicle and called out:
“ Thangam please come over to the house.”
“ I’m coming” responded Thangam.
He heard her talking in Tamil to Punya, the small girl.
He walked way back to the house and changed into a pair of shorts. Thangam came into the room and shut the door and locked it.
“ Hello. You came back early.” she said.
“ Yes. I sent your father to find some women to pluck some tea leaves. Meantime I wanted to be doing something nice with you.” he said.
Thangam took off her dress and got into bed. He took his shorts off.
“ Are you going to make tea from green leaves?” she asked. Her words came in bits and pieces as she bent down on him. James fondled her pinkish brown breasts while she was massaging him.
“ Yes. I’m planning to learn how to make tea. I will need some help.” he said as she climbed over into bed. James went inside slipping easily through as she was ready.
“ Is it alright for you to plant tea. Won’t McKenzie dorai make trouble?” she asked kissing him on his lips and giving his lips a quick bite.
“ Yes. McKenzie will make a fuzz. But I’m doing this in secret.” he mumbled, quickening his movement.
“ Don’t let anyone see you. We don’t know if some of the workers are going to be questioned by McKenzie about the work going on here.” she said offering her breasts, the nipples enlarged by the excitement.
James savoured the smoothness and wanted to stay inside her forever. He felt her tightening her muscles around his erection.
“ No. I’m going to try this out in this room. Rolling tea by hand seems to be a difficult way of making tea. I want to make a machine. I want design a crusher which will gently crush the tea. And a roller to roll the tea. Maybe you can come and we do it together.”
“ I don’t know anything about making tea. Oh..Oh..” she said with a moan as she let out a groan.
“ What happened” asked James.
“ Do it yourself.” she said closing her eyes and relaxing her body.
“ That was quick”
“ You do it by yourself.” she said closing her eyes.
Looking at Thangam’s peaceful face, James felt a surge of love for Thangam. She looked angelic. He was happy to stay inside her. He kissed her on her cheeks and when he kissed her on her lips he felt himself releasing.
They got dressed.
“ I will get the lunch ready.” said Thangam walking out towards the kitchen.