After a break I thought I should get back to my Tea story…
Goings and Comings at JT
Life in Cochin was idyllic but there were comings and goings at JT. As I wrote earlier Govind & Promie Jauhar had returned to Calcutta and Vijay & Shamlu Dudeja had taken their place. Since I got to know Vijay during our stint at Thomas, Cumberlege and Inskipp, UK I was pleased to work with him again. However, these frequent transfers and changes in our Cochin setup was unsettling and Satyanath was not pleased. He felt that Cochin needed a team that was committed to growing the South India business. Vijay Dudeja was not going to be permanent in Cochin either, and would leave after a couple of years.
Sat must have felt that Calcutta did not quite appreciate his concern.
The Annual UPASI Conference
The planting community and the tea trade looked forward to the UPASI Conference which was held in Coonoor in August. The United Planters Association (UPASI) was the Apex body of the plantation associations of Tamilnadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. A representative of one of the three state associations would be elected President while the next in line from another State would become Vice President.
Tamilnadu had the largest Tea acreage, while Karnataka’s main crop was Coffee, Kerala produced the bulk of Rubber and all three States grew Cardamom and Pepper.
There would be sporting events the week prior to the meetings culminating with the prize distribution and dance at the Wellington Gymkhana Club. Badminton, Tennis, and Golf were the primary sports events. Badminton was the most popular sport and had the largest entries because of which matches started a couple of days before the other tournaments. I would enter the Badminton tournament because I could spend a full week participating in the sports events and meetings. Satyanath encouraged my prolonged exposure to prospective clients and in the bargain I had a ball!
In my first year someone spread a story that I was Kerala No.2 in Badminton, because of which many wanted to partner me in the Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles. I was No.2 in many things but Badminton was not on that list!
Mrs. Kusum John and I won the first couple of Mixed Doubles matches largely due to my partner’s heroics. That year the handsome Jimmy Kamdin, a nationally ranked player was in the tournament. A lot of people had gathered to watch him, as well as, the Kerala No.2.
I heard people speak in hushed tones that Philip John’s game was off colour because he was getting used to the altitude – Coonoor was 6000 feet above sea level. Our third match was called almost at midnight by which time I had quite enjoyed my wait at the Bar. When the match began I saw several shuttlecocks coming my way, I would swing wildly in the hope of connecting to one of them. My partner’s valiant efforts to compensate did not help and we crashed out, as did my reputation as a Badminton star!
Jimmy Kamdin easily won the Singles title.
The younger lot who had come up for the Sports Week would go back after the UPASI Sports Club dance on the Saturday at the Wellington Gymkhana Club. This was the highlight of the year for the young planters and tea company executives; the dance floor was crowded as people danced into the wee hours of the morning.
The Assistants and younger lot would return to their plantations on Sunday since it was their bosses turn to participate in the rest of the UPASI events.
There would be many business meetings on Monday. The Chairmen of the various Boards – Tea Board, Rubber Board, and Coffee Board would be present to support their constituencies. These were government bureaucrats, who did not mind enjoying the ‘planters lifestyle’ at such occasions.
Monday night was the social event of the year – the Planters Ball! It was always held at the Ooty Club which had a mystique and aura as many Indian planters were still not members. There was limited seating and so there was always a rush for tickets – months in advance! Though the Planter’s Ball was held at the time of UPASI conference it was a Club function and only members of Ooty Club could buy tickets.
It was a grand affair, with a five course sit down dinner and a band in attendance. The men wore tuxedos and black tie, while the women were in their fineries. The Ooty Club was tailor made for an evening like this!
There was prohibition in Tamilnadu but we were allowed to bring our own bottles and leave them with the bartender. The local police station was supplied with a couple of bottles and the cops were more interested in enjoying their evening than spoiling ours!
Most guests partied late into the night. Tuesday was the main UPASI annual conference and everyone assembled at 9 am for Coffee and tête-à-tête while awaiting the Chief Guest, who would invariably be a Minister from the central government in Delhi. It was the prerogative of the current UPASI President to invite the Chief Guest and he showed off his prowess by reaching for the most important person he could find.
The President’s address, would consist of a litany of gripes starting with the mounting labour wages and wind its way to an appeal for reduction in taxes. Everyone knew that the Minister could do nothing about these complaints but he would make a series of platitudes. Many delegates would be dozing because of the late night at the Ooty Club.
The annual general meeting would be the outgoing President’s last function. Some of us would irreverently remark that a planter’s ambition was to hang himself on the UPASI wall. The main hall was embellished with portraits of past Presidents from 1893!