Tea is known for it’s ability to calm and to clarify the busy mind. “I’ll put the jug on!” your friend says after you tell her of the fine you were issued for speeding. “We could do with a cup of tea!” the chairwoman of the Country Women’s Institute says after a particularly long meeting. “What you need is a cup of tea” the capable nurse chirps after you have just given birth. “I’ll get the tea!” your daughter says when family crisis looms. “You’ll be needing a cup of tea” your spouse says when your in-laws finally leave.
Saturday took an awfully long time to get to Sunday here in the Antipodes. It was like Saturday got stuck behind a camper van on the road between Herbertville and Pongaroa. Most roads were closed anyhow. Otago and Canterbury were lost in snow and in the central North Island winter holiday makers were reported ‘trapped’ at The Chateau on Mount Ruapehu! Weather reminiscent of the weather during lambing season 2005 some thought. It happens every year – the earliest lambs arrive as soon as the weather turns nasty.
So what does one do while waiting for lambing to start during the worst winter storm since 2005? I baked. I baked the best carrot cake since the carrot cake my grandmother baked in 1975. After that I made real hamburgers and potato chips, positioned myself near the fire and read all I could on Assam, a state in north-eastern India. In the meantime the earliest lamb arrived, safe and sound, and more or less right on time. It is not an easy thing – lambing or childbirth. Especially during a storm.
Of course this called for a special-occasion tea, something with a bit of stamina. I chose an Assam tea from T leaf T: Mangalam (ftgfop1; fine, tippy, golden, flowery, orange pekoe.) If the Mangalam estate smells as good as this tea, of rain and sweet marjoram, then I think I would like to work there. Or would I? Could working in a tea plantation be any worse than working as a checkout operator at a supermarket? I don’t know. I do know I will be ordering more of this tea.
It depends what you read as to how you view the tea industry in Assam. Assam is one of the poorest states in India. In the 1900s, to compete with low-cost tea from China, the Assam tea industry became super-mechanised. This mechanisation went to extremes as it applied to labour management and worker efficiency, with all stages of tea production supervised, some say militaristically. This gave the owners of the tea plantations license to exploit the worker. Tea workers lives were, by western standards, precarious and difficult, while the tea-lords gathered massive profits. The health, wages, housing and literacy of tea workers were of particular concern. On the other hand there are also Indian tea workers who tell a different story. Their employers were strict but fair and if quick at their work the tea worker could earn more. These workers report that their bosses – the sahibs and memsahibs – were aloof but also kind.
It took a long time for the tea industry in Assam to change – that much is clear. Far, far too long. It took unrest and absenteeism and reports and more reports until in the 1980s an Assamese separatist movement turned violent. Exploitation always turns to revolt. In 1992 the Indian military finally ended the struggle and the tea industry began to admit: consumers in the west were not impressed with conditions at the tea plantations, especially given the enormous profits being made in the industry.
However, “Much of this [change] has been forced out of the companies at the point of a gun …”, yet “the situation for tea has changed quite dramatically for the better in the last fifteen years.” (Green Gold The Empire of Tea, ) by Alan and Iris Macfarlane.) Today companies compete with each other in the setting up of schools, provision of good roads and medical facilities.
This article confirms, to some degree, the reality of these claims.