The Move to South India!

Philip John

Three months went quickly. Tea Tasting, Auctions, and Office routines were still interesting. Sale days were tough on the youngsters. After sitting in the Auction Room all day (JT catalogue was big!), we would have to hang around the office waiting for the Contracts (Bills) to arrive. We worked late on Sale days and so Scotch was served – but this was only for the Directors and Seniors! Occasionally someone would walk into the Junior room holding a glass of whiskey but we had to be content with the clink of ice and the waft of peat. 

It was left to the Juniors to sign the contracts. We signed as Pro, while the Seniors signed as Per Pro on behalf of the company. Every Pro waited for the day he could sign as Per Pro! 

Just as we thought the Contracts were done, the darban (attender) would drop off another load on our desks. 

This is how I developed my signature. Dog judges are required to sign one twentieth of that after a show and many use a rubber stamp. I keep pace with them with my regular signature, thanks to my early days in JT!

When the Sale work was over Deepak Sircar and I would head out to the famous Nizams to buy Katti Rolls, and wash it down with a drink or two. Deepak had joined JT a month after me so I could pull rank over him. He had a car and sometimes we would drive to the banks of the Hoogly and make a picnic out of Dinner. 

I was beginning to enjoy Calcutta!

Then one afternoon while I was tasting tea upstairs, a 3rd floor darban appeared and said, “Roy sahib salaam diya hai!”. Dipak Roy, the Managing Director had asked to see you! I ran down two floors, two steps at a time and arrived at his door a little out of breath. Waited a minute to compose myself, knocked and went in. 

“Hello Philip, come in, take a seat! Would you like a cigarette?” He proffered his tin of Regent cigarettes. “I hear good reports about you. We are happy with your progress. I think it’s now time for you to go to South India!” He let the words sink in. “But before you go to Cochin, we have arranged for you to spend a month at a couple of South Indian Tea Gardens.” 

I was both disappointed and excited at the same time! Disappointed to leave Calcutta but excited to study Tea Manufacture and move on to Cochin which I knew would be my final destination. 

Dipak Roy asked me to make my own travel arrangements and send the bills in. I thought I would be considerate and travel by train and save JT some money! 

I regretted that. The journey from Calcutta to Madras took two nights and then another night on the Madras – Coimbatore train! From there I took a Bus to Sholayar in the Annamallais Hills. These properties belonged to the mammoth Birla Group of companies and I was to spend a month in their Kalayar and Sholayar Tea Factories and learn CTC manufacture. 

It was a 3 hour Bus ride from Coimbatore to Sholayar, up winding Ghat and Forest roads. Not recommended for the uninitiated! The Bus stopped at the Sholayar Tea Factory gate! I was to stay with Zachariah, an Assistant Manager at Sholayar. Soon a car arrived to collect me and take me to my place of stay. 

The Butler took charge of my luggage and showed me my room. It was large and spacious, but bare. Zachariah was a bachelor and did not bother with the niceties of home décor. When I came out after a shower Zachariah had returned home for lunch. 

We made customary introductions but he was a man of few words.

The Birlas were Marwaris, who were strict vegetarians as were most of the managerial staff. Zachariah, like me was a Malayalee Christian, and by inference a strict non-vegetarian! And that was the reason why I was to spend the next month with him. 

But alas he was as much a vegetarian as everyone else and I had to make weekly trips to Spencers to augment my diet! 

At 9 am the next morning I was taken to the Sholayar Factory and awaited the arrival of the Group Manager, N.C. Kankani. Over the next 4 decades, I grew to respect this man more and more. He was Indian to the core with nil trappings of western culture around him. He looked like a fish out of water at the Ananmallais Club sipping Orange juice and was grudgingly accepted by the Planting community initially. But he overcame their prejudices by sheer brilliance and hard work and later was to become a spokesman for the Tea Industry. Kallyar and Sholayar consistently produced the best results in the District by way of crop, tea prices, and agricultural practices. 

For the next month I became a part of the factory staff going through the manufacture of Tea daily along with the Head Tea Maker, Jeevanesan and others. I have to admit that a large part of my expertise in CTC manufacture was due to the grounding I received at these factories.

Thereafter, I spent time at other Tea factories in South India, as well as, Assam, Dooars, and Darjeeling, about which I shall write later. But suffice it to say that in 1970 when Sri Lanka wanted to introduce CTC manufacture at two of their Factories, Hingolaya and Hunesguria JT’s sent me to show them the ropes! 

So I have the dubious distinction of introducing CTC Tea to Sri Lanka, which predominantly is a producer of good Orthodox Tea.

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