As I sat watching TV on a lazy Sunday afternoon, sipping Darjeeling tea with my husband, we got into one of our favourite debates….. “Tea versus Coffee”. Born and brought up in a tiny picturesque town at the foothills of Darjeeling, I have basically grown up amidst lush green tea gardens! Living in Canada for the last few months, I sometimes feel that caffeine is the fuel on which North America runs! For me an occasional cup of coffee is good but if there is any addiction that I have apart from chocolates, it is a smoking cup of Makaibari first flush!
Picture courtesy: Indranil Sarkar
My relationship with tea gardens began even before I was born. My grandfather was one of the “Babus” living in and managing tea estates in Doars. My father grew up amidst the lush greenery that Doars had to offer. As for me, the most vivid memory I have of tea gardens is staring out of the window of my school building at the massive tea gardens that surrounded it at that time, mesmerized by the sprinklers spraying water on neatly cropped tea plants. I still remember how my mother used to describe tea gardens along the slopes of Himalayas as green carpets nature has spread out for us. My childish curiosity used to wonder about the “amazing” life of the tea pluckers with massive baskets strung on their heads. I used to spend the long evenings sitting on the balcony of our house against the backdrop of twinkling lights of Tindharia up in the hills, listening to stories from my father about life in tea estates. I remember envying the job of tea tasters, even though my mother had almost turned herself into one, blending different kinds of tea to create her very own flavor. It’s almost like I can still smell the raw freshness from the other side of the planet. I guess some feelings just get enmeshed in your entire being and you spend the rest of your life reliving those memories!
Picture source: Internet
Urbanization soon struck my small town, with sprawling shopping malls and townships cropping up all over the city. And the first blow landed on our tea estates. With one tea estate after the other being sold to giant real estate companies, who burnt down tea trees to erect Malls and multiplexes, I was suddenly face to face with reality. I felt that my town was transforming into a blooming city, albeit one without a spirit! The protests of tea pluckers whose sources of income were now dwindling and the raring competition from neighbouring countries made me realize that perhaps it was time to grow out of my fantasy. Tea gardens didn’t just represent foggy, carpeted hills and giant sprinklers now; they represented struggles of thousands of daily wage workers and of Darjeeling Tea as a whole, to retain its fame all over the world.
Picture source : Internet
But no matter how my conscious, educated mind looks at the scenario, whenever I sit in a charming tea shop in Dakshinapan, Kolkata, sipping a cup of Oolong, or when I am at home brewing my Lopchu orange pekoe, or even when I am in Canada taking in the freshness of a steaming cup of Jasmine green tea from Gopaldhara, my mind always rushes back to my hometown. A tiny, beautiful town, with the gigantic Himalayas looking down upon it … with the mighty Teesta flowing through it…… and with lush green tea estates surrounding it. In retrospect I realize that Darjeeling tea for me is not just a drink, it is a sentiment running deep down, it is a steaming, rich, aromatic cup of my childhood.