Ceylon tea

A story from a bygone era:


Aadam was his name. He was a man of probably about 55, tall and lanky, but his face was drawn with lines crisscrossing all over, perhaps a result of many years of living and travelling. 

He brought out two glasses of black tea. And a small plate of jaggery. He told me it was Kithul jaggery. I was to break off bits of the jaggery and add to my tea.

It was my first posting in southern Tamil Nadu as an Assistant Engineer. The town was new to me, but people were very respectful as I was the only engineer in the place. The department office suggested I meet with Aadam, amongst other elders of town.

So you say, you have plans to setup a new sub station here?

Ah no. Not my plan. But yes, I will be executing the plan.

Aadam looked away for a moment.

Boy, take care of the hamlet in the area near where you propose the sub station. I will be forever grateful.

I could not meet his gaze straight away. Resettling was not a direct concern for the Electricity Department. What was I to do anyway?

He poured us some more tea, and stretched out his legs.

I had gone to Ceylon some 30 years ago. It was probably not the best time to start out, as Ceylon then was becoming very unsettled. But my workers were hard working, and soon we did a lot of business. Perfumes, ink, soap. We were able to come back to the village every 2 – 3 years. Tea from Ceylon was much in demand here back then. 

He chuckled quietly. My grandson. He loves biscuits! I think half of my return cargo was filled with biscuit tins.

I had to strain to hear him, he was almost mumbling to himself.

I was quiet yet, not wishing to disturb.

Aadam roused himself and spoke again.

We traded for almost three decades. And then on a journey we were struck by misfortune. The government there was cancelling many agreements with our traders. We had to struggle to raise the money for all workers to return home. The small ship almost capsized in stormy waters.

We came back home, a ragged bunch. I sold my properties to pay debts. Some of the poorest workers I was able to settle on a piece of land I had. But they do not have useful employment anymore.

He gave me a pouch filled with Kithul jaggery and a small tin of Ceylon tea.

I urge you to think when you resettle the hamlet. My old workers have nowhere else to live.

I said goodbye to him and went off my way. The final plan was not signed yet. Perhaps I could visit a few other sites for the sub station? 

We (perhaps, the urban middle class) accept development (a truly ironic word) without thought and without any resistance. Displacement of land and people, poisoning of resources, is widespread when we build factories and make large structures. Who benefits? Who pays?


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