All work and No play?

Philip John

Those of you who felt sorry for us may be forgiven for thinking that the life of a Tea Taster was boring. All work and no play made Jack a dull boy! However, even before the management gurus were writing books on balancing work – leisure the Tea guys were working hard, playing hard, and partying hard! 

Some of the us took up Golf on Sundays. This was played at the Bolgatty Palace grounds. It was a 9-hole course and except for the boat ride there I didn’t find it exciting enough to wake up early on a Sunday morning. Instead I took up Sailing on Saturday afternoons! And it soon became a passion!

I will have more to say about Sailing later on our journey. 

The party scene at Cochin was divided into formal, informal and crazy! As young Assistants we were not often called to the stiff-necked formal evenings. But the bulk of the parties was of the Informal category. And these were largely Drinks parties with hors d’oeuvre or heavy short-eats. 

The invitations were always through a card with an RSVP, which specified Time and Dress. Drinks parties specified a starting time and closing time – usually 7:30 PM to 9:00 PM. 

The stragglers would be asked to stay back and share the evening meal. The hosts would walk around and discreetly ask some of their friends to stay back for supper. 

I had a dear colleague called Adi Davar (Ardeshir Rustum Davar). His wife Freny and he had arrived in Cochin not long after I did. We joined JT, Calcutta around the same time. The big difference being he was a Chartered Accountant in the Finance Department and I was in Tea. 

Having noticed that the party scene favoured the Tea guys Adi & Freny honed and perfected the art of entertaining much to the delight of TCS (T.C. Satyanath). The more the JT executives entertained the more exposure the company would get!  

Adi had three lists – A, B, and C – based on the hierarchy of importance. List A was for the heads of companies, perhaps next in line, high government officials and so on.

When the RSVPs came in, and say 4 people said No they can’t come, the top four on List B would be invited. The guy was a genius! He was also the top client of the local bootleggers. 

Adi & Freny left of Sydney after a couple of years in Cochin. He joined a firm of Chartered Accountants as a Partner. At the time of writing I hear he has retired. I am trying to re-establish contact with him. 

Since I was a bachelor and did not have the wherewithal to entertain at that level my senior colleague PDG (Prafull Goradia) called me in one day and said, “Philip, I am sure you must be attending a lot of parties in Cochin. I feel you should call your hosts and repay their hospitality.” I was overjoyed! 

Since, the Cochin Club chummery was hardly conducive for me to hold a party for senior company executives and wives, I was delighted when Prafull and Nayana offered their home for me to host the party. 

They had cards printed in my name, helped me plan A to Z, and stepped out of the way giving me free rein to play host. Prafull also paid the costs of the party. How many people would do that today?!

And now for the crazy parties!  TKM (Madhav) called me the other day and reminded me of a party he and his colleague had organized at Carritt’s Castle. This was where the two bachelors in Carritt Moran stayed. It was a two storied building with an apartment on each floor and a great big terrace on top and a large garden below. TKM lived on the Ground Floor and Bruno Holloway on the First Floor. 

They printed cards and invited about 50 people to a terrace party.

Bruno and Madhav
invite XYZ
to Drinks

Time: 8 to 8:30
Dress: Informal 


For a couple of days everyone kept quiet then someone called and pointed out the strange timing. As more and more calls came in Bruno and Madhav took turns to say, “Please check our invitation card again. We have not specified PM or AM! We want you to have Toast & Eggs for Breakfast the next morning and then go home!” Many did!!   

In the mid sixties the US was sending out a lot of young people overseas to volunteer a couple of years doing projects in partnership with host countries. They were known as the Peace Corps. At the same time the UK also embarked on something similar albeit on a smaller scale. This was known as VSO or Voluntary Service Organisation. 

A couple of Peace Corps girls and VSO’s landed in Cochin! These volunteers came out to work among the ‘natives’ and were pleasantly surprised that a few gallant and erudite bachelors awaited them in Cochin, willing to fulfil their every whim!

These young ladies plus the daughters of senior British Planters on holiday visits, were part of the social fabric of Fort Cochin in the early days. 

Like I said the Cochin tea-wallas could give some advice on balancing work and play to the management pundits of today!      

7 Responses

  1. Seems, from your and Madhav’s anecdotes, a JT bachelor’s(or similar Mercantile Executive’s) life was even more exciting and adventurous in the 60s! I thoroughly enjoyed my early years in the 70s and 80s. The 90s also were great days, with our wives and children around.

    Like PG, Sat also encouraged us to have parties which were ‘official’ and hence on Company Account, which was a huge incentive! We had to be on our best behaviour when the ‘senior’ lot were invited.
    We also had numerous ‘bottle’ parties, where the younger lot got together after dinner and each brought along a bottle(full or part) of whatever he fancied drinking that night! These were great fun and often went on into the wee hours, with music and dancing. Smtimes , we bachelors also joined the dances at the YWCA or Mariner’s Hall in Fort Cochin. Philip, I leave it to you to expand on that!

  2. These memoirs bring alive those days in Cochin again, for all of us who were part of it! Your recall of different aspects and nuances makes great reading, even to the uninitiated!

  3. Dear Philip,
    Thanks again for this superlative write up. My only public school experience was between my Matrons Dorm ( Kindergaden) and the 7th Standard in the famous Trinity College Kandy as we were domiciled in Ceylon as my father was a proprietary Tea planter in Norton Bridge situated upcountry in Ceylon. We were all Indian Citizens with temporary residential permits and we migrated to India in 1965. Straight from a Public school my father admitted us in the Sri Vivekananda Vidyavanam , Tirupparaithurai , on the banks of the river Cauvery near Trichy run by swami Chiddhbavananda of the Ramakrishna order . I completed my SSLC there . My father used to mention that he has met you as well as Mr TCS —. Mr Subramanyam , Manager Talliar Estate in the early 70’s. & later Manager Highfield Estate Coonoor . I was unable to live upto my dad’s expectation of joining the Indian Civil Services after my M.A. in English . As I was unable get employment ( went for an interview with Malayalam Plantations but not selected as no sports achievement!!!) I took up to agriculture in our native village and one day my father came – blasted the hell out of me — “ this is not your fathers property , this is my father’s property get the hell out of this place and handed me a an advertisement in the Hindu calling for Trainee Tea tasters in Harrisons & Crosfiled and that’s how I was recruited by H&C . Those days we had many expat Britishers in H&C and I was groomed into the Tea culture there though not in a blue blooded manner as the J.Thomas youngsters of those days. Remember getting cards from my boss Mr KGN for dinner at his house though I was just seated outside his room. Used to be perplexed in the start but got used .
    I have a two page letter typed & sent by my father after he saw me off at the Madurai Railway station to Coimbatore to connect the Tea Garden Express to Cochin Harbour Terminus. The letter was received within three days of my joining. I wish to share the same with you — shared with a lot of my friends after Appa’s passing away in 2008. My referees for my employment in H&C were late Mr Thangavelu of Havukal Estate and Late Mr Ramaswamy of Janatha Tea Trades. In fact Mr Ramaswamy kindly gave me accommodation at the Janata Tea Trades guest house in the Willingdon Island for a few months till I moved to Ernakulam. We were the Ernakulam guys as known in H&C , The managers ( Sahibs) in Fort Kochi used to travel by H&C’s boat “ Annabelle” and we somehow wangled that perquisite and after dropping the Sahibs at Willingdon Island “ Annabelle “ used to pick us up from the Fine Arts jetty at Ernakulam. We had the option of lunch – buffet at Casino or Ala Carte at Malabar hotel. The Sahibs went home for lunch by “ Annabelle” . Whenever Mr Weavers had lunch at Casino you had a glass of beer if you shared the table with him.
    I am enjoying your write up’s and recalling those lovely days when a boy from Madurai District was developing into a Tea Trader . My first few months of Retirement at Madurai is well spent reading your memoirs . Keep going Philip.

  4. Another well documented posting of the days of the Raj in the Tea Trade in Kochi in the 70’s. Really enjoying reading your write ups and being catalyzed to also write on my Tea Career spanning 43 years – Kochi / Coimbatore / Colombo as well as Mombasa in my years with J.V.Gokal. My father Mr Subramanyam was a farmer manager of Talliar Estate in the early 70’s and he used to mention of his association with J.Thomas – yourself and Mr TCS.
    Congrats Philip.

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