A Memsahib's Visit & A Caretaker

Saturday, 23 January 2021


A Memsahib's Visit & A Caretaker

Gaurav Borthakur | December 02, 2020 20:04 hrs

The fringe of grey-white hair, tired-looking eyes, shrinking body & deep wrinkles adorning his face confirms Vishwamitra Yadav to be an old man, maybe at the age of 65 years or even above.  

Yet, his twinkling eyes & alarming voice makes one impossible to go straightaway inside, opening the gate of the bungalow no 2 at Cinnamara tea estate without encountering a few words from him. He would come forward to the gate looking at the visitor as a responsible caretaker of this grand old bungalow.  

Vishwamitra Yadav came to Assam nearly 35 years ago from Bihar & settled at Cinnamara tea estate. He was initially made to work in the Cinnamara tea estate factory as a chawkidar, the role he continued to play for several decades. Impressed by his vigilant behaviour, honesty & most importantly his reluctance to touch alcohol, one of the Managers of Cinnamara tea estate put him to look after the Bungalow no 2, the erstwhile Manager's Bungalow for Sadar office of Jorehaut Tea Company,  which now serves as the residence of  Managing Director of Assam Tea Corporation Limited.  

Cinnamara tea estate situated in Jorhat district of Assam was a European-managed tea garden under the Jorehaut Tea Company Ltd till 1972 after which it was acquired by Assam Tea Corporation Ltd, a Govt. of Assam initiative started on 9th February 1972. Following the tradition of its predecessors, the Assam Tea Corporation Ltd. too made Cinnamara the headquarter of the Corporation. 

However, the office of the MD, Assam Tea Corporation is situated in Guwahati and that's why the bungalow is put to use only when the MD visits the garden in Jorhat. It remains mostly vacant and locked up. Yadav in between working in the factory and as caretaker of the bungalow has seen the lives of many MD's and several Managers in his 35 long years at Cinnamara. He brought back his son and two other relatives from Bihar and they too started working at Cinnamara tea estate. He remembers when he first came to the bungalow it was in much better shape with trees, shrubs, and flower gardens in full bloom. He could describe the landscape of the bungalow campus with stables, rockery, mini stream, a wooden bridge & circular pathways from the stories he had heard over the years.  

Like other Bungalows in the vicinity, this too is ill-fated now losing the glory of its heyday. Though Yadav never encountered any foreigner in his entire life, there was one occasion, when he was surprised to see a European Memsahib all of a sudden at the bungalow gate some 8 years ago. Yadav couldn't tell anything specific about the lady, but he has confirmed one thing that she had stayed in that Bungalow some 65 years ago.  He went on to tell about her one-hour stay at the bungalow admiring its past & her association with it.

Well, that European lady as described by Yadav was Viv Griffith who after her visit to the bungalow penned down a beautiful writeup in "Koi Hai", a website dedicated to the Planter communities in India and operated from UK. She stayed in this bungalow as a child just for 2 years between 1954- 1956 when her stepfather Bill Doran used to serve as a  Manager of Sadar office at Cinnamara. In spite of her short stay, she was deeply in love with this place and couldn't resist making a revisit plan nearly after 55 years in 2012. She left Cinnamara in 1956 & after that came only once in 1958 during her summer holidays when she was barely 10 years old. 

Though she kept on visiting India on several occasions, but never to Assam after 1958. In the year, 2012, while visiting a few places in Assam with her husband, she came to visit this Bungalow without having any prior correspondences with anyone at Cinnamara tea estate. Griffith got quite emotional to find the bungalow almost the same persevering the colonial relics up to an extent after so many decades and to discover the bench by the water lily pond where her mother would sit to admire the beauty of her flower garden. The garden, shrubs & the pond no longer carried any charm as it was surrounded by weeds from all sides, yet the discovery in itself made her contented. Griffith's write up also provides useful insights into the lives of tea executives just after India's independence & before Chinese aggression. She recalled her idyllic childhood inside the bungalow amidst reteneue of domestic help & an aayah to look after. It was indeed remarkable for a woman at her 60s from a faraway land to have made a tour to recall some old memories associated with a place just for 4 years or so!

A long pathway with tea bushes in both sides leads to the two-storey chang bungalow with six large rooms & verandas all around which gives a panoramic view of the vast lawns and sprawling tea garden. Nestled in an area of several acres of land, the bungalow was built in the early 1920s. The driveway goes to the backside & that's how one makes an entry to the east-facing bungalow. 

Built with iron frames from TATA steel and iron company ltd. &  the oval-shaped lounge and dining hall with wood panneled glass windows and doors, the bungalow still stands as evidence of a prosperous,  leisurely lifestyle of the colonial era. The propeller of the Hispano Swiza E - 30 aircraft used by the Superintendent of Jorehaut Tea Company which might be some 70 years old, hangs in the ground floor lobby. The otherwise untended bungalow has a maintained wooden floor made of Burma teak that still gives the shine of the bygone era.  While these bungalows are seen now as fraught with colonial overtones by many, but it's high time to consider these bungalows as architectural marvels rather than an episode of colonial exploitation and to carry forward the glory, albeit in a different way!

Courtesy - Koi Hai correspondences & Viv Griffith

(The author is a tea, heritage and cycling enthusiast and is currently working as District Project Officer (NRC) at the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Jorhat. The views expressed in the article are his own.) 

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