Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Drink your tea with respect

I’m generally lucky, for I always get to do what I like. I love my profession; the challenges in engineering and to get involved with birds and nature.

It was some years back that I was offered to be a bird guide to a British team of Bird Watchers. I was to assist the professional tour guide Theekshana [Tikka]. There were four couples and one single member, nine in all. Picked up at the airport the tour commenced right away. Our first stop was at Sinharaja with Martin for two nights, then Udawalawe via Rakwana, night at Hambantota, following day to Nuwara-Eliya via Weeravila, Ella and Hakgala. Birding in Nuwara-Eliya was in the park, the golf links and the Galways reserve. Horton Plains was reached at crack of dawn to watch Aranga [Sri lanka Whistling Thrush]. Birding was great. Down from Nuwara-Elya to Kandy a visit to a Tea Factory is a general ruling in the tour business. 

A well tendered Tea Garden

Labookele Tea Factory a modernized one is visited on prior arrangement and ours being a birding tour appointments were not a priority, thus Labookele was supplemented with another at Ramboda which could be visited without pre-arrangement. This factory practiced the old fashioned production line unlike the modernized color separation techniques etc. 

A Tea Factory
Out of birding for a moment, everybody followed Mr. Teamaker explaining the production process from wilting to rolling of leaves to fermenting, drying, separating teas from dust to BOP’s and even enjoyed the strange Tea Tasting procedure of tumbling the tannic in your mouth and spitting out to a bucket.

Tea plucking by hand
Out of the factory seated at a low table enjoying a cup of tea at the tea center, I asked Norman and Sandra [Norman a retired police officer] of his views on the tea making and the tea trade the British left us with, about the amount of hands that go into its production, about the South Indian labour they brought, their generations that still toil in the hills to give us the brew that we enjoyed and relaxed with. My question to Norman triggered a discussion and personal opinion as well.

Norman an ex- British police-officer from Northern England said, “From here on I will drink my tea with respect.” He went on “It was only today that I learn there was so much labour involved in its production.”

There was Allan a cockney, a proud retired school Head Master from London’s East-End “I am going to think; should I be in the habit of drinking tea from now on.”

The third comment came from John a retired Office Manager now doing some consultancy work on Industrial Safety, “I think there is great potential to improve the safety practices and procedures in the production line.

Back home after the trip I was to  think on the reality of these comments that showed a division on personalities be it a developed country or otherwise. Allan a proud cockney was commenting on the hygiene of the product. If only he knew how James Tailor rolled tea manually from palm to elbow. Yes he would have preferred a white-man doing it; than a estate labourer.

John was looking at possible investment avenues going by today’s business trends. Yes there is much potential in this aspect. Safety procedures were over looked then, through social discrimination. It is no better today, though practices of 5-S systems etc, is being adopted in the factory premises, with minimum benefits trickling down to the labourer.

Norman was an exception; showing sympathy towards the labour. I am sure he studied the humanity of these people and the unsafe atmosphere that they are exposed to. He being an ex-police officer and a good one……… would have known human attitudes towards oppression that give rise to abnormal behavior.

My friendship with Norman and Sandra flourished to a lifelong one. He was back in the country once more on a birding tour with a different tour group, and he made it a point to have dinner with me before he left. He was scheduled a third time and wanted me to arrange a stay in the hills among the tea. This trip did not materialize as the war intensified. Nevertheless I will be posting my Greeting Card to them this December as well.

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