Gardens Clock In To Real Time

A manager of a tea garden must be a rather out of the ordinary sort of man. To be of any use, he must be of strict integrity; in order to gain the confidence of his employers, sober, businesslike; a good accountant; not easily ruffled; handy at carpenteering and engineering; know something about soil; have a smattering of information on all subjects; or to put it concisely, he must be a veritable Jack of all trades. – G.M. Barker in 1884

One hundred and thirteen years later, that wish-list may still hold true, but the 1990s Assam tea garden manager’s lot is dramatically different from that of his predecessor from the Raj days or even the ’60s. The sociopolitics of the North-east have changed radically in the last three decades, and that unique institution of the tea manager is being transformed. Call it evolution, call it the loss of a certain way of life. The boxwallah’s existence has been turned upside down by economic liberalisation; the tea garden manager, as India has known him for one-and-a-half centuries, may not last into the 21st. And this, strangely enough, when a typical manager’s day remains more or less the same as in 1838, the year The Assam Company, the world’s first tea company, was born.