Inauguration of the new Nilhat House!

Philip John

When the building was over in April 1966 Satyanath used his clout to have the Governor Bhagwan Sahay declare Open the new Nilhat House at Cochin. Dipak Roy, came down from Calcutta with Basant Dube for the opening. It was a gala affair and Satyanath pulled out all stops.

Basant Dube was another Director, a colourful and charismatic character. Let me describe him by relating an incident at JT Calcutta. He was assigned to look after Jayshree Tea & Industries, owned by the Birlas. (http://jayshreetea.in) The executive head of the company was the fabled B.P. Kedia. Any Jayshree man would stand up when B.P. Kedia’s name was mentioned, even if he was not in the room!

At the time Jayshrees had an office next door to JT. One day Kedia arrived with the General Manager of their Assam gardens. He had brought a set of ‘experimental’ samples and Kedia wanted Basant’s opinion on them. The batch was put out while the visitors enjoyed a cup of tea in Dube’s room, and then they went up for tasting. The General Manager was looking forward to a glowing report from their Broker.
Basant Dube walked down the batch slowly, stopped randomly and tasted a cup or two. He then walked back and started closing the sample tin lids and flinging them from our fifth floor Tasting Room across into the Jayshree compound. The GM went into deep shock! It took a couple of minutes for Kedia to regain his composure, then he  asked in Hindi, “Dubeji, what are you doing?”

“Kediaji, I am ashamed to have these in my tasting room. These should remain in the Jayshree campus!”, came Dube’s reply!

Without much ado Kedia and his GM left. For a few days we wondered whether Birlas would pull out their teas from the J.Thomas catalogue. Instead, the relationship grew stronger and Basant Dube’s stature became larger than life! He had them eating out of his hand.

The guest list for the inauguration was star studded. There was a very long line of cars outside the new Nilhat House. Because the Kerala State Governor was there, the Chief of Police, as well as, the District Collector were in attendance.
All the heads of companies in Cochin, many heads from Planting companies and all the Buyers were there. It was a proud moment for me to stand beside Satyanath and Dipak Roy and receive each guest.
The first to arrive was Aravind Saraf, who was the Tea Trade Association Chairman in 1966. Most of the invitees signed the Guest Book before they left.

As the head of South India operations it was a personal achievement for T.C. Satyanath. He had arrived from Calcutta in early 1964 and had toiled hard to set up the JT masthead in Cochin. Though Calcutta was by far the bigger Tea centre and JT was the biggest Broker, the South India tea companies stayed loyal to Forbes, and Carritt Moran. JT’s arrival was seen as an intrusion and therefore resented. Satyanath did very little to ingratiate himself with the local heavyweights as he rightly deduced that their loyalties wouldn’t change easily. He therefore adopted a blitz of high level parties with many sought after names on his guest list. This required money and contacts – both of which Satyanath had access to! And the inauguration of Nilhat House was the culmination of his efforts. J.Thomas and T.C. Satyanath had arrived and were here to stay, whether anyone liked it or not!

I must add here that Satyanath had advised me privately to stand up to the bullies at the Cochin Club. Some expatriate would complain to him about Philip’s ‘lack of propriety’. He would inform me and indicate that I had his blessing, without saying as much! Imperceptibly, Satyanath taught me ways to deal with situations that arise in the rough and tumble of business.

Once the office inauguration was over we said goodbye to all our guests and just the JT family got together for dinner. We were delighted to entertain Dipak Roy and Basant Dube visiting from Calcutta. We went to Sea Lord for dinner. This hotel had the most happening restaurant in town. It had an Italian GM, lady waiters, and a small band with a fabulous crooner, with a Tony Bennet kind of voice, called Rufus.

When the mood turned more jovial Satyanath mentioned to Dipak Roy and Basant Dubey that I could impersonate Luis Armstrong and sing numbers like “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “Hello Dolly”, and so on. Dipak immediately asked that I should take the mike. I played coy because I was afraid to fail before the high command. I thought I had got away, then out of the corner of my eye I saw Basant (who was a nicer looking version of Edward G. Robinson), walk over. He smiled broadly and gave me a thump on my back, then whispered in my ear, “Philip, please sing, and this is not a request!”

Rufus made way for Philip John who belted out ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ a la Satchmo style!

I wanted to take some pictures of the Cochin Nilhat House before writing this blog. I am beholden to Nimish Parekh, the Director in charge of South India operations, for showing me around. He had also put out a few teas for me to taste. It was a nostalgic visit though I missed meeting Raman who used to bring me Tea, when I was with JT! Raman is now 70 and is being careful during the Covid19 pandemic. Nimish confided that only Raman knew where all the old files were!

I was happy to get an update about the company’s South India operations. JT started Auctions in May 1964 with a 12 Lot catalogue, way behind Forbes and CM. Nimish mentioned that the company was now in the lead in South India. The latest Dust catalogue showed 742 Lots!
A remarkable achievement made possible by the hard work of the many people who worked for the company over the years, led by TC Satyanath, TK Madhav, Ajay Atal, Ashok Batra, Vijay Shankar, and K. Ashok. I wish the company useful service to the Tea Industry in the years ahead!

Calcutta – Again!

Once the din of the inauguration had died down Satyanath called me into his office and said, “Philip, I want to send you back to Calcutta. You will get to visit some tea gardens in all the major tea growing areas in North India. This must have been discussed when Dipak Roy was in Cochin. Visits to Darjeeling, Assam and Dooars had been arranged and I was to accompany Seniors who were on their annual visits to the gardens. Looking back, I must give full marks to J. Thomas & Co for the meticulous way they trained their executives. There could have been many short-cuts but the company went the ‘whole hog’ and did not stint on preparations to make me a top class Tea Broker.

And I on my part, gave my all to the company who had opened up so many opportunities for me.

I got ready to fly to Calcutta where I was to spend a few months!

 

10 Responses

  1. Always look forward to your posts.If published as a book ,it will be treasured by many.

  2. That was a lovely walk down memory lane! Many thanks for your delightful post, Philip. I’m the middle son of the late Basant Dube, by the way. (Incidentally, it was sent to me by one of the daughters of Dipak Roy – so your blog is clearly being read by a lot of ex-J.Thomas folks)! My brothers and I were not aware of either of the stories you recounted about Dad, and it was a pleasure indeed to read your comments about him.
    I’m based in Geneva, and it would be lovely to host you should you or your family happen to be in these parts.

      1. Memories came flooding back after your write up on Nilhat House,Cochin.First met Sat & Sudha in 1961 at Calcutta,through a common friend R Axel Khan of the IFS.Stayed with them in Park Mansions,while Sat facilitated a visit to Davenport’s,which landed me a job in Satali in the Dooars.Their old world charm and hospitality of the Satyanaths’ was what I cherish even today.Caught up with Sat in Cochin in the 80’s for a week’s stay.It was great fun catching up with some of the planter’s and tea brokers like Farook Agha,Dick Graves,Madhav and Ashok Batra.
        Sat had a solution for almost everything!One evening he told me that we were going to Willingdon Island to attend the farewell of Admiral Ronnie Pereira and welcoming Oscar Dawson.As it was a formal tie and jacket occasion,he solved it by lending me one of his tweed jackets which was one size too large!It was a enjoyable evening.Ronnie Pereira knew my brother who had joined the then RIN in 1949.
        Caught up with Basant Dube when he was a consultant to the Jalan’s in the Dooars.It was a Sunday morning at the TM&MC office cum residence in Alipore.While the tea tasting was in progress,he asked me if I’d like a cup of expresso coffee which was more then par for the course

        1. Hello Osborne,
          Thank you for your comments to my blog. I had heard about you from both Axel and Sat. In fact I helped Axel buy his bungalow in Coonoor, which we (JT) took on as a Guest House.
          I also knew Admiral Ronnie Pereira, and Admiral Dawson was a close friend.

          When you visited Cochin in the early 80’s I was heading Contemporary Tea, another Broking company and Dick Graves was working for us. Incidentally, I wonder if you are aware that Dick passed away in Nelspruit, South Africa, a few weeks ago. Warm regards, Philip

    1. I have added a photo of Dipak Roy, TC. and Sudha Satyanath, Basant Dube, Govind and Promilla Jauhar, with the Bhagvan Sahai, Kerala Governor.

      1. Many thanks for the terrific photo ( which my brothers and I had not seen previously). I’m.afraid I did not receive your earlier messages ( to my email address), however.

  3. Good afternoon Philip – your article comes as an unexpected Google search treasure – one that’s fondly taken me and my siblings back in time and allowed us to reminisce about our father, Mr. B.P. Kedia. I am Pradip Kedia, his younger son, currently residing in Calcutta.

    Thanks to you and your beautiful post, we have been made more aware of our father’s working style and the honour he enjoyed amongst all. We thank you for keeping our father in your mind and writing about him despite the passage of time.

    I have subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading your posts.

    Thank you again!
    Pradip Kedia (pradipkkedia@gmail.com)

  4. Philip.A book from you is now over due.Please write soon.Some of us are beyond sell by date!Would love to hear more vintage stuff.I think I know enough about you from 77!

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