The churn

Philip John

I must apologise to my non Tea readers for the granularity of this blog. You are welcome to gloss over the dates and details and go on with the main story. Since this is a kind of my personal dossier I would like to keep these details as part of the ongoing narrative.  Read on….

The churn
Meanwhile at J. Thomas there had been some important developments. Vinod Parekh, was the first Indian Chairman of J. Thomas & Co and Guy Routledge the last British Burra Sahib (Big Boss) to preside over the Board. In an earlier post I had mentioned that Guy was a Polo playing friend of Prince Philip! He and Margery lived at Ewshot Hall, a stately home surrounded by trees and meadows near London.

Before Guy left he had positioned Dipak Roy to understudy Vinod Parekh and John Hollander. Dipak Roy was made Managing Director when he was barely thirty years old! Vinod left the company in 1967 to take charge of James Warren, a huge plantation and managing agency company, and Dipak Roy was appointed Chairman of JT. He was to become the longest serving Chairman of the company, having been Burra Sahib from 1967 till 1988. Soon after retirement he met a tragic end. Dipak drowned in the Hoogly river after a party. It was fashionable, at the time, to have dinner parties on boats plying on this iconic river. This tragedy made shocking news in the Calcutta business circles. His young family and all of JT were devastated!

Dipak Roy had been Chairman for 21 years. No other JT Chairman can boast of this feat – before or after!

As a person Dipak Roy was a Rockstar, handsome and perennially young looking, with an attractive personality. With his pretty and vivacious wife Preeti, they were much sought after as guests to any party. What made Dipak a standout was that he did not keep a ‘power-distance’ with the juniors, he was down to earth and made them feel at home. When he interviewed me I had picked up his packet of Regent cigarettes and helped myself to one;
he did not bat an eyelid, but offered a light instead!

The appointment of Dipak at such a young age was due to the largescale exodus of expatriates such as, David Naismith, John Jacques, Norman Wilson, Tony Liddle, Colin Burn, Bob Nice, and John Hollander. With the exception of Bob Nice, all of them had left our shores between 1965 and 1969. Apart from Dipak Roy, the Indian Directors at the time were T.C. Satyanath in South India and Basant K. Dube. In 1970, Satyanath was appointed Managing Director, and G.K. Jauhar, and N.J. Sethna (Finance), as Directors. Satyanath becoming MD was a red letter day for us in Cochin.

Basant Dube left to join Gordon Fox from the UK, who bought up a couple of groups in Assam and Dooars and became one of the largest Tea producers at the time. Basant looked after Gordon’s interests in India and was in a highly influential position in the early seventies. After a few years he moved out to start his own consulting company, Tea Manufacturing and Marketing Company (TMMC).

Govind Jauhar, was appointed a Director in 1970, and made Managing Director in 1980. He took over as Chairman of JT from Dipak Roy. He stewarded the company from 1988 till 1992 before retiring to Pune. He had joined the company in April 1955!

J. Thomas & Co had to have fresh blood to replace the vacuum created by the exodus, and also as the company had opened operations in the South. In 1963 Harish Parekh and Prodosh Sen joined JT. Harish came from Octavius Steel while Prodosh was a direct entry from St. Stephens. In 1964 Vijay Dudeja transferred from a Bombay company, and then in April Ranabir Sen joined straight from North Point School. I joined a month later, while Deepak Sarkar arrived in July. Deepak’s father was the head of Tea at James Finlay in Calcutta.

In 1966 Mahendra Singh Jhala came in. He was my contemporary at St. Stephens, Delhi.
Dipu Roy Choudhry and Ajai Atal joined the company on Jan 1st, 1967 while Jani Uthup transferred from TC&I in March that year.
Dipu, a talented and colourful young man, left after a few years to join Basant Dube at TMMC.

Training as a tea taster and auctioneer is a slow, painstaking process and quite expensive for the company. A youngster leaving before ‘contributing’ was therefore painful to JT, but there was no way to prevent it.

Meanwhile in South India
Sir Kenneth Warren’s health was failing and Richard was asked to return to London. In September 1965 Vinod Parekh asked Govind Jauhar, who was with TC&I at the time, to return to India. He and Promie landed in Calcutta in January 1966 and in February they were in Cochin. Richard re-joined Thomas, Cumberlege and Inskipp were he was a Partner.

In an earlier blog I had written about Govind and Promie’s time in Cochin. By the end of 1968 they returned to Calcutta and Vijay & Shamlu Dudeja came out to replace them.

I was sorry to see Govind and Promie depart. We had grown close; we continue to be actively in touch even to this day. They have now retired to Pune where they built a house calling it Dover Park; they had lived at 6 Dover Park in Calcutta. The cover photo of the Bougainvillea is from their Pune residence.


After their return to Calcutta there was an incident that is etched in my memory.
I was on my annual visit to Calcutta. Govind Jauhar had been visiting Assam and was returning home. Their driver was on leave and so Promie asked whether I could drive her car to the airport to collect Govind. She would accompany me, she said. I was of course more than willing, and so off we went to Dum Dum airport, which was quite some distance away from the city. Those who remember Calcutta of yore know what a pain it was to get out of the city through the narrow roads and frequent traffic snarls. We were running a little late – aren’t we always running late when we go to the airport?!

Outside the city the traffic opened up and I stepped on the gas. By now we had relaxed and were talking of the great times in Cochin. I looked forward to seeing Govind as I had not seen him for a year.

It was by now an open area with hardly any people and not much traffic either.
All of a sudden a boy ran across the road. I hit the brake with everything I had and succeeded in avoiding the boy. By swerving left I was able to get out of the way of the car that was behind me. Everything seemed to happen in a flash! In the commotion I heard my name being called feebly. The door on the passenger side had flung open and Promie’s head was touching the gravel outside but her feet were in the car. I hate to think what would have happened had I sped on!

Govind was already outside the airport terminal by the time we reached Dum Dum. He may have wondered why Promie and I were unusually quiet on the journey home, which seemed to go on forever.  Finally we reached the Jauhar residence and I was invited up for a drink; but I made a lame excuse, took a taxi and sped away.

Promie recalled this incident recently and I felt a cold chill going up my spine once again!

3 Responses

  1. Wonderful recollections. Being a ‘tea man’ your ‘lessons’ are particularly interesting. J.Thomas an Co. were are brokers. Chosen assistants in our company would be regularly sent down to Calcutta for Tea Tasting courses. I do rembember the wonderful sit diwn lunches with Deepak Roy at the head of the table! Dipu Roy Choudhury was my brother in law Bhaskar Roy’s younger brother. Very charming person but older brother was something else. Sadly they are no more. Those were the days and I am so happy you are keeping the times alive with your writings.

  2. What a wonderful memoir! The incident with Mrs. Jahaur is very sobering. I am glad the company is doing better than it’s probably ever done in its history…under the very able leadership of Kavi Seth!

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