Nov 28, 2008

Bhagawathi Tea Estate

Sometime between December 1985 and February 1986

I got permission from my Dad to go on a business (actually a service trip) with two uncles and a service engineer to rectify a nagging problem in a weighbridge supplied by our company, EFGE Load Cells to Bhagawathi Tea Estates, Wynad, Kerala. EFGE is pronounced FG, which means ‘foil gauge’, a delicate little strain sensor.

We left Bangalore in our HM Ambassador Mark III by 6 30 pm heading towards Mysore. On the outskirts my uncles picked up few beer bottles. After a while, one of my uncles, handed me an open bottle and asked me to have. What?? I was like… Anyway, I tasted the cold beer and liked it. I went real slow. I enjoyed my first bottle of beer. We broke our journey at Mysore and decided to continue the next morning.

The next morning, we had dosa for breakfast at a real tiny place in the narrow streets of old Mysore city. The dosa just melted the moment it landed on my tongue. This is the most memorable dosa I ever tasted. We got with our journey… Gundlupet, Sultan Battery… and we reached Wynad some time afternoon. The weather there was hot and humid… typical for a tea estate. I guess we did not work much, may be just a cursory check of the weighbridge. That night we had wine, and I had some and liked the taste. The color was wonderful and taste was excellent. As it is, grape juice was one of my favorite. We had a good dinner and peaceful sleep in the silent hills.

We started the new day with typical Kerala style tea served in glasses and after a while was Kerala breakfast. I think it was ‘Pattu’ with Bengal gram and 'Appam'. Every morning our guest house cooks served us different dishes of Kerala. Real expert cooks they were. For me it was more of a holiday… while my uncles were trying to sort out the weigh bridge problem. I walked around the estate through the tea shrubs, up and down the slopes. From one point I looked down towards our guest house and then to its left further down the hill, a little stream flowed in the valley with little houses next to it, children played around while the women washed clothes in the stream. Typical story book scene it was.

This is where I first saw tea leaf picking. It was a women’s job, they carried huge woven cane baskets on their backs and dropped leaves into them as they chose and picked the leaves from the shrubs. Once the baskets were filled, they carried them down to the factory area where the leaves and weighed and wages paid accordingly. One of the days, the factory manager showed us around the plant. It was interesting to see how raw leaves were washed, dried, dehumidified and turned into dust and then graded and packed. The place was full of managers… AM, DM, EM, FM, GM, etc. I can recall few; Accounts, Deputy, Estate, Factory and General.

Not sure if it was the second or third evening at the estate; we were invited to the GM’s bungalow for drinks. Whisky was offered and I declined it, I was not sure if I could handle it. The GM was an ex-army person and cordial to us. I think, the same evening, my uncles decided to go to a nearby town to fetch drinks and on the way back a big stone hit the underside of our Ambassador damaging the oil sump. Back at the guest house, the booze session was little wild with one of the uncles in real high spirits.

Work on the weigh bridge was going nowhere and the managers were getting impatient with us. After several rounds of discussions over phone with my Dad, it was decided that we head back home, leaving the job incomplete. Somehow nothing was going well… no progress on work, bad remarks from the customer and a damaged car. Our journey back home was a real drag; because of low oil pressure the engine was damaged and we drove real slow... litreally limped back.

If not for anything else, this trip introduced me to the world of booze. I had the confidence to handle it while most of friends had not even touched it. Now, I'm a teetotaler.

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