Sunday, 6 July 2014

Sourenee Tea Estate And Us

My grandmother spent the larger part of her growing up years shuttling between Kurseong, a few miles from the touristy town of Darjeeling, and in a tea garden called Sourenee Tea Estate. My great grandfather, her father, was the manager at Sourenee, which made dadi something like local royalty.

I have grown up listening to so many interesting tales of this place from my father, my uncles, and dadi about how every summer, they would sit on a train and run off to Sourenee, which they swear to this day, is the most beautiful place on the planet. Unfortunately, after my great grandfather died of cancer several decades ago, the management of the erstwhile grand tea estate passed into rather incompetent hands. Over time, Sourenee became a forgotten name in the highly competitive world of tea-estates.
It became a name that I unconsciously began to associate simply (and very mechanically) with the place that dadi grew up in. Somehow, very foolishly, I never considered the possibility of an emotional bond that she might have formed with the place. Or memories that she still holds close to her heart that were born in those green hills as the Himalayas looked on approvingly.
In my defense, I have never met a more pragmatic woman in my life. My grandmother doesn't indulge in wasteful human follies such as dwelling on the past or recollecting old forgotten days and wasting tears on what once was.
This morning, as the whole family sat together for a noisy Sunday brunch of dosas, idlis and Colombian coffee that literally knocked my socks off, my uncle showed dadi an article from yesterday's newspaper about how a few summers ago, Sourenee had taken to organic farming and a few German buyers seemed to be showing interest in possibly revamping the place. There were a few photographs of the estate, and a rather well-written article that dadi didn't care to read. Her eyes were fixed on the photos of what she had once called home, and I saw something that I haven't often seen in my life. She weeped sadly and fondly, and I found that I couldn't look at her as she did. Her sudden/rare outburst offered me a glimpse into a part of her life that I wasn't around for, that I had only ever heard about in stories that were shared with me on those sleepy nights from my childhood, dabbed with additional layers of adventure and spice to make for better bedtime storytelling.
It gave me a sharp reminder of how, once upon a time, my grandmother wasn't my grandmother; she was just a young girl who lived and grew up frolicking around in this beautiful tea estate under the watchful eye of Mt. Kanchenjunga. She must have had her share of stereotypical growing-up experiences, and if DNA is anything to go by, then she must have had a rebellious edge to her otherwise poised appearance.
It is so easy for us to record every little thing we experience today on pen, paper and cyberspace. No one needs to worry about earthquakes, wars, fires or floods stealing away our memories from us. We've got it all covered.
I felt so bad to see those tears in her eyes this morning, because it took her nearly forty years to get that tiny glimpse of her old home, and yet it was so obvious that this was a special moment for dadi.
She showed me today how she comes from a generation that's soon going to be lost in time, that practiced patience and derived joy from simplicity. And very unconsciously, she added another place on my bucket-list.
I felt a bit ashamed of the generation that I belong to, which shows appreciation and approval through Facebook 'likes'. The internet has stolen away the romance of holding a photograph in your hands and experiencing the flood of memories that had been tucked away for a long time in forgotten crevices of your mind. But perhaps this is just me indulging in what they call 'golden-age thinking', and perhaps this is how evolution and change occurs.

As I listen to Miles Davis and type these words, I am imagining myself sitting at the pergola in the Sourenee manager's bungalow, staring at the lush green expanse of tea-leaves before me as if to go on and merge with the mountains that seem to shelter this heavenly estate from the merciless ways of time. Life feels beautiful.

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