Taylors Tea Garden
– by Ajit MuttuCumaraswamy
Final Chapter (20)
Loolecondere was abuzz with news of the new baby. James was happy to see the baby in the house. The baby’s eyes seem to stare at James. Sinniah was content with the changes in the household. He arranged for a local lady who had been a Nursing Assistant to visit every day. She was the person who delivered babies in the workers houses.
James was happy in his own way. He could see that the household was busy with the new baby. He felt that it would be churlish to think about whether the baby was Thomas Lipton’s offspring. He looked a lovely baby and that was all he cared for. He was absorbed in looking after the baby boy just as much as Savitri, Punya, the nursing assistant and Sinniah. The centre point of all activities was the baby. Savitri and James discussed a name for James.
The baby was named Ivor. After a week, Savitri left for Kandy. James stayed back in the morning to see the mother and child off. Samuel was puzzled and sucked his right finger while he waved goodbye. He was content with staying back. The horses interested Samuel and he stood outside looking at the horse and carriage as it disappeared from view. James could not go out until Samuel went for a nap. James took Samuel for a walk. They walked around the flower garden. The Sun was bright. A slight breeze shook the branches of trees gently. Punya stood by at the door ready to take him away.
When Savitri returned, she was not her usual self. She seemed to be absorbed in her own thoughts. James noticed that she seemed distracted but did not want to question her as to the reason for her mood. Finally, he could not wait to find out and asked her.
“ Savitri, what is bothering you. You are always thoughtful and seem worried,” said James.
“ I’m not worried about anything.” she said.
“ Please let me know if you or your family need something. i might be able to solve the problem.”
“ it’s nothing important. Don’t worry about it.” she said.
“ There you are. i knew there was something bothering you. Let’s talk about it.”
“ It’s nothing really. My mother and father would like me to get married. I told them that it’s nothing very important.”
“ Oh I see. Let me take this matter up with the company. Last time it was not accepted. but they may accept it now.” he said. He felt anxious but kept smiling.
James returned home early after work. Savitri thought he had come early to work on some papers but he rushed to the toilet. He seemed to be in the toilet for a long time.
When he came out, Savitri was shocked to note that he was looking worn out and tired.
“ You don’t look well at all.” she said.
“ I am not feeling well. I had loose motions. It may be that sickness I had last month. it must have come back. My stomach has a burning sensation.” he said.
“ It’s best that you rest at home. It’s better if you can go to Kandy and see a doctor” she said .
“ Yes. i had better go and see the doctor. i feel very tired too.” said James.
“ Alright darling. I noticed that you sleep early. And don’t wake up when I touch you.”
“ Sorry. I guess you are right. I am feeling very tired these days.” said James.
“ It’s alright. In the early days, you wake up when i touch you slightly. But now you don’t get up even when I touch you and hold you. You don’t get strong. Not like before.” said Savitri.
“ Must be this problem I’m having. It makes me feel very tired and worn out.” said James.
“ Don’t worry. You will be alright soon.”
“ Yes. About what your parents said: do you want to get married?” asked James.
“ Yes. I want to. But only if you agree. I don’t want to feel that you must get married.” said Savitri.
“ I want to do the right thing. I have learned my lesson. I will check about what needs to be done. We can have our wedding at the registrar’s. Solves the problem about going to church and inviting all the civil servants and important people.”
“ My parent’s will be happy. We can invite some relatives to come to the Registrar’s Office.” said Savitri.
* * *
The wedding ceremony was held at the Registrar’s office. A reception was held at The Queens Hotel. The best man Robert was in a good mood. He delivered an excellent speech.
The beginning of his speech paid a tribute to James : “ Most of us here to day are planters and planters families. You must agree with me that the leadership of my friend James has changed the future of the tea industry in this country and indeed the future of tea as a beverage in England and many other countries. His high quality tea is the standard to which all tea producers must keep up with.” These comments drew claps from all present.
Many of Savitri’s relatives were invited to the wedding. The family had a large table set up for them. The colourful sarees made a change from the black and white outfits worn by the planters. The Kandyan Sinhalese wore their sarees in a different way. There was a team of Kandyan dancers who stood at the back waiting to perform, dressed in traditional attire for temple drummers. After Robert’s speech and James’s short speech, the drummers began their performance. The drums were loud and strong and the dancers leapt into the air amazing the guests with their agility.
The dining began and the delicious looking local cooking as well as sumptuous European style roast meats were served. Wine was served as well as fruit juices made from local fruit.
Daisy and John Crosfield had been invited. James was a little shaken by Daisy’s frail appearance. She seemed to have shrunk. Her face was hollow and she seemed very weak, almost a very old woman.
Seeing Robert later, James discussed Daisy’s appearance.
“ Robert I cannot believe that Daisy has changed so much in such a short time.” said James.
“ Agree. It is a shocking thing. The illness changed her looks so suddenly. She could pass for an old woman.”
“ I guess we will all look old in the end.” said James.
“ We will have to face it bravely sooner or later. i prefer later.” said Robert.
“ Let’s drown our sorrows.” said James heading towards the bar.
“ I see Savitri is very careful about taking a drink.” said Robert, joining James.
“ The family are very conservative. She would have a glass of wine with me. But she won’t do it in public.” said James.
The newly married couple returned to Loolecondere the next day. A celebration had been laid on for the estate workers. It was a modest meal but sumptuous compared to the meals cooked in the estate workers homes. There was chicken curry, a rare treat for the estate workers. The estate workers welcomed the couple in their own traditional way. The newly married couple were greeted and welcomed with large garlands placed around their necks , made with a variety of flowers, a traditional welcome.
* * *
The baby was named Arnold as James had a grandfather called Arnold. In the evening, the family gathered around Arnold’s cot. Samuel was showing signs of being unhappy. The baby’s presence disturbed his routines. He cried a lot. He was curious about the baby and watched the baby being breast fed by Savitri. But he showed his displeasure by crying and Punya had to keep talking to him and distracting him from his bad mood. Samuel was happiest when James returned from work. James spent a lot of time with Samuel, walking out with him and throwing the ball and chasing after it with Samuel.
Samuel’s bad mood worried Savitri and James . It was clear that Samuel resented the baby being there. He wanted all the attention to be on him, as before. Both Savitri and James spent a lot time with Samuel, playing with him and carrying him. But the baby took everyone’s attention away from Samuel. James and Savitri decided to tell Samuel that the baby belonged to him any that he was going to look after the baby.
“ Samuel, this is your baby. You can play with it. Do you want to play with the baby. Come and see how the bany is playing.” said James.
“ Yes. Come and see the baby. You can hold hands with the baby and later baby will come with you for a walk. Not now. He is too small. But soon he will be big. And you can take him out for a walk.” added Savitri.
Samuel came close to the baby and looked into the cot. Baby Arnold was staring at the ceiling
“ Say hello to Arnold. See he is up. If you call his name he will look ay you. He can’t talk. He is too small. When he is a little bigger he will come out and play with you. He is your baby brother.” said Savitri.
“ Samuel. He is your baby too. You can play with him. Do you want to play with him now?” asked James.
Samuel shook his head to indicate he wants to play with him. Savitri carried Arnold out of the cot and placed him on her lap. Arnold moved his arms.
“ There you see. Arnold is waving at you.” said James.
“ You can hold his arm. He will know that it’s you Samuel.” said Savitri.
Savitri gently placed Samuels hand on Arnolds arm. Arnold waved his other arm but seemed to acknowledge that his other arm was held back.
“ Say Hello Arnold” said James.
“ Hello Arnold” murmured Samuel.
Arnold moved his head as if he knew that Samuel was close to him.
“ Look Samuel, can you see Arnold is trying to talk to you. But he is too small. Soon he will be able to talk to you. He will be a big boy soon and you can take him outside to play in the garden.” said James.
Samuel was looking happy. He played with Arnold’s hands. He played with Arnold’s fingers.
“ See Arnold is trying to hold your hand. He is closing his fingers. Can you see.” said Savitri.
Samuel looked up and smiled at James and Savitri. It did look like Arnold was curling his fingers around Samuel’s fingers.
“ See he likes you Samuel. That’s why he is holding your fingers. He will soon be coming out to play with you.” said James.
Samuel smiled. There was no doubt in Samuel’s mind about Arnold wanting to play with him.
A few days later Robert dropped in and went to the tea factory to find James.
They walked back from the factory. The trees were in bloom. The leaves on the trees were almost replaced with the red flowers in some places.
“ It’s such a nice day. No wonder you decided to come over” said James.
“ Yes. I wanted to let you know that Thomas Lipton is building a tea factory in Haputale.
I also wanted to collect some samples of leaves for testing. And catch up with you of course.” said Robert.
“ I’m stunned. He decided to build a factory so quickly. He might even buy our factory.” said James.
“ That’s true. He is in a great hurry. He is doing everything to increase the tea production.”
“ Well, our factory has been producing tea for more than ten years. We first shipped our tea in 1875. Now it’s 1888 and we can’t suddenly double our production. I’ m pressing hard for more tea production on that new tea garden. But I’m not able to keep chasing like I used to.”
“ Lipton is in a hurry. I hope he doesn’t do anything rash like getting someone from India.”
“ It’s up to Lipton. I’m doing my best to meet his targets. If he is not happy there is little that I can do.” said James.
The fragrance from the roses greeted them as they came close to the garden.
“The garden looks great. Savithri has been busy. Looks like you have settled down with Savithri. ” said Robert
“ Yes. Robert. I do have a peaceful life once again. I’m grateful for having a settled home life.” said James.
“ I guess I should say the same. It’s only too easy to take things for granted. In my case, i don’t like babies and all the work that goes with having babies. Luckily Nanditha is happy to go along with this.” said Robert.
“ Yes. I agree. It’s only too easy to take things for granted. i sometimes wish i could take Savithri, Samuel and Arnold and go to Scotland. i want to do this. But I know it’s going to be very very difficult. The company will not pay for the trip. They are struggling with finance too. The travelling will take a long time as well. I don’t have the money and the price of tea goes up and down, not up and up.”
“ Yes. It might seem to others that we are living a charmed life. But it’s just another way of life I reckon.”
“ We do our job and hope for the best. I guess we are not too badly off. Weather is excellent. Sunshine most days. Why complain?” said James.
“ Ah. Thats another point. It’s been a very cold Winter up there in Scotland and England.”
“ I don’t know why we are complaining.”
“ I guess we are not complaining.”
They walked into the house. Savithri greeted them.
“ You must be very busy with the baby.” said Robert.
“ Yes. Punya is a great help when I need a hand with the baby.” said Savithri.
“ Nanditha sends her greetings.” said Robert.
“ Please give her my best wishes.” said Savithri
Punya came close to Savithi and said something.
“ Lunch is ready. Let’s go inside .” said Savithri.
The table had many dishes. The red unpolished rice contrasted with the yellow coconut laced potato curry and the deep brown meat curry. The green cabbage and purple fried aubergine added to the attractive meal.
Robert and James returned to the factory and Robert collected tea leaves from the days tea pluckings. He placed them in small jute bags.
“ I will do some laboratory tests on these leaves.” said Robert.
They returned to the house and had tea.
“ Thanks James. It’s been a great day. Time for me to trot off.” said Robert.
“ The horse will be ready. Lets’s go and check “ said James getting up.
Robert rode out after bidding goodbye to James and Savithri.
* * *
The weather had got warmer than normal. James returned a little earlier after work.
He had felt unwell earlier in the day. A sharp pain in the abdomen. But he ignored it. He thought it must be something he ate. Savitri, James and Samuel went for a walk. Baby Arnold stayed with Punya. They walked toward the edge of the hill which was James’s favourite spot to sit and think and plan.
It took awhile to walk there. Samuel was distracted by the twigs and sticks and flowers fallen from the tall trees. He stopped to pick them up.
“ That is not something good Samuel. We can get nice flowers from the garden” said Savitri.
The sunset was beautiful. The golden sky made them feel cheerful and happy.
James had to carry Samuel to make sure that they returned home before it was dark.
“ We should be doing this more often.” said Savitri.
“ Yes. Let’s do this more often. I will try to leave early and we can do this walk.” said James.
They went up to James’s favourite rock and James sat in the middle. The three of them sat and they spoke.
“ James, when you went to India, did you find it a nice place? We don’t think India is a nice place. We meet a lot of Indians here who are poor people.” said Savitri .
“ India is a very big country. It’s really huge. It’s much bigger than England, Scotland and Ireland put together. So some of the people are poor people. That’s why they leave their country to work here. But I met a lot of Indian people who are rich. They own big houses and big farms.” said James.
“ So you think India is a nice country and the people are good?” asked Savitri.
“ When go to India you realise India is huge and you get all types of people. Some are very rich, some are doing well and some are poor. Maybe we should go to India. I really want to go to Assam. It’s the best place for tea.” said James.
“ Thank you James. Will you take me with you?”
“ Of course i will, if you want to go.”
“ Yes. I want to go and see India. After you told me about India, I remembered some Sinhala people went to India to visit the place where Buddha was born. They had some good things to say about India to my parents. Also some bad things. They said it was very hard travelling in India. I think they went to Calcutta first.” said Savithri.
“ Yes. It’s not easy to travel. It’s like here in Ceylon. Its not easy to organise travel from place to place. You need money.” said James.
“ I’m looking forward to our travel to India.”
“We must arrange everything well. It will be hard for the children.”
“ They can stay with my parents when we go to India.” replied Savitri.
“That’s a very good idea. They will be happy.”
“ Thank you darling . I’m very happy we are going to India. ”
“ I’m happy when you are Savithri.” said James.
“ Will we be going soon.” asked Savithri.
“ Well, I have been writing to the company about the visit for some time. They have not agreed that I should go to Assam. I think I will try to arrange things so that we can leave in about one month.”
“ I want to go and spend some time with my parents before I go.”
“ Alright. You can go tomorrow or day after.”
“ Okay. I can go tomorrow.” said Savithri.
James gave orders for the carriage and horses to be ready for Savithri’s trip to Kandy. She left for Kandy after breakfast.
Robert came over to Loolecondere two days after Savitri left.
James and Robert met at thhe factory.
“ I had to come James because it’s been spoken about that your services will be terminated and a new person is arriving to take over from you.” said Robert
“ This is very serious . Thanks for letting me know. I had a feeling that something was not quite right. I had not heard from Thomas Lipton for two months.” said James.
“ Many of the British planters are not happy about this. You are the pioneer and you have been persisting with tea and you have a track record of shipping tea for more than ten years. It’s not right that Lipton walks in and starts a new factory with bigger machines and takes you out just like that.”
“ As for me, I’m not surprised about this. Financially, I’m not too badly off. I can manage to survive. My wife and two children can be looked after adequately. I may have to cancel my holiday to India.” said James.
“ Yes. I think it would be a good idea to postpone your visit.”
James felt depressed after Robert left. He thought of Samuel, Savithri and Thangam and felt more depressed. He retired for a short nap but had to go to the toilet. He felt a pain when the bowels moved and put it down to something he ate. The pain continued and he remembered that he had this feeling last year but had ignored it. During the night he felt a severe pain and woke up. He felt very hot and dizzy and wanted to go to the toilet. when he got out of bed, he noticed blood stains on the sheet. The fever was still raging and he wanted to call for Sinniah but did not feel strong enough to get out of bed. He felt dizzy and fell back into bed. He lost consciousness.
* * *
The carriages kept arriving continuously in Loolecondere estate. Most were British planters working on coffee and tea plantations in the Sri Lanka hill country . Some were government servants from Kandy. The carriages lined Loolecondere Tea Estate road stretching back from the house where James Taylor lived.
Savithri’s family had arrived by carriage from Kandy. They sat with Savithri under a tree near the house. Savithri had closed her eyes. She was resting herself on the tree trunk. Arnold was sleeping in her lap. She had tears drying on her cheeks. Her eyes looked tiny. She sobbed again and stopped. Her hair was dishevelled.
A small circle of planters stood close to the entrance to James’s house.
They were dressed in black trousers and white shirts.
“I can’t believe James passed away so suddenly. How did this happen” asked George Page.
“ I guess James knew he was having some serious problem. But was hoping it will go away.” said Robert.
“He is really the man of the moment, with Lipton carrying the flag of Ceylon tea in England and Scotland. James had everything going his way. And he is so young. Do we know how he died? It’s not clear to me.” said Tom Barron.
“ Dysentery. It’s hard to treat it. James had two episodes of passing blood in his stools but he recovered. It’s a question of being fit and being able to fight off the dreadful disease.” said Robert.
“And what happened this time?” said Tom Barron.
“ When Sinniah went to check on why James had not come out of his room for breakfast, he was in a coma and there was blood on the bedsheets. Sinniah sent for the doctor in Kandy and sent somebody to inform Savithri at the same time” said Robert.
“ And what did the doctor say.” asked George Page.
“ The doctor said it was too late. James stopped breathing while the doctor was examining him.” said Robert.
The estate workers were in in groups. They stood further away in the shade. The atmosphere was heavy. Clouds covered the Sun. Many of the Indian estate workers wore white sarongs and white shirts.
Sinniah was wearing white trousers and white shirt. He approached Robert, Barron and the group of planters.
“ The workers want to carry the body to the cemetary, Sir. They want to show their respect and love for Mr. Taylor” he said.
“ I don’t see any problem. We agree with the request.” Said Robert.
“ Yes. Sinniah. Please tell them that is no objection from us. You need to check with the wife’s family.” said Tom Barron.
“At least tell them that the workers want to carry the body to the cemetary.”
said George Page.
“ Yes. I’ll speak to the wife and family.” said Sinniah and walked towards Savithri and family.
The estate workers were in in groups. They stood further away in the shade. Clouds covered the Sun.
Sinniah returned a few minutes later.
“ The family have agreed to the estate workers carrying Mr. Taylor’s body to the cemetery.” He said.
“ Can you tell me why they want to carry his body” Asked Baron.
“ Sir, the workers have a name for Mr. Taylor. They call him “Swamy Doray” which means “holy boss”. They have much respect for Mr. Taylor as he was always sympathetic towards his workers and did everything he could to improve their pay and their lives.” said Sinniah.
There was loud wailing as the coffin was closed and the workers moved in to carry the coffin.
The procession of workers clad in white vestis and shirts carrying James Taylor’s body began moving slowly towards the cemetary at the far end of the estate.
“ We got to inform James’s family in Scotland. Do you know anything about his family in Scotland” asked Tom Barron.
“ Yes. James told me a lot about his family and his life in Scotland.” said Robert.