Well, to begin, Joy and I usually fill our plates with a hastily prepared meal and plonk ourselves in front of the television. However, when my parents pay us a visit, our dining table is converted from a computer table/work zone/dresser/knick knack holder/utility section and so on to a dining table where we get to feast on a real elaborate meal.
No meal is complete without the conversation that goes along with it and before the parents arrive, Joy always tells me Aabar cha baganer golpo shuru hobe (tea garden stories will start again) and acts real bored. Since Dad retired before Joy and I met, he keeps ribbing me whether the stories are true or not as they seem too farfetched from our humdrum city life. I am sure he must be secretly enjoying it as he has numerous comments to pass. Well, my Dad and Mom have been associated with the tea gardens almost all their lives so their stories usually centre around life in the tea gardens of Assam, Dooars and Darjeeling, the clubs, the flower shows, the picnics, the bungalows and of course the numerous interesting characters you get to meet and so on.
My parents were posted at this garden called Rajmai in the late 70’s. A young chap called Sanju Krishna joined the same garden as the Assistant Manager. It was his first job after college. The stories that went around were that his Dad was influential and the Director of a company somewhere in the Andaman’s and that was how Sanju Krishna landed this job. Well, not to say he was bad…in fact he was well liked by one and all as he was charming and sophisticated. He quickly gained a fan following among the female tea workers as he was amiable towards everyone and a great source of entertainment due to his happy go lucky and carefree attitude.
He was fond of music and blew up his first salary on a record player and records of Jim Reeves, Cliff Richard, Abba, Boney M and so on. That left him with no money for other basic expenses. In the tea gardens, you are provided with furnished bungalows, servants, transport, and several other amenities. You have vegetable gardens where you can grow veggies, but you still need to buy your own groceries such as rice, oil, pulses, bread, and so on from the local grocer in the tea garden or from the nearest town that is usually an hour or two away.
Since he was perpetually broke, the cook from his bungalow would arrive at our doorstep almost every morning and borrow 4 slices of bread, 2 eggs, a glass of milk and whatever were the requirements. Sometimes, instead of sending the cook, Sanju Krishna would arrive from the back door, enter the kitchen, make an omelette and toast a few slices of bread, eat and vanish without my Mom noticing his presence. The bungalows were large and rambling and had a pantry attached to the main house. To get to the kitchen you had to cross this long veranda so most of the times the memsahibs were unaware of the coming and goings at the back of the bungalow.
Club nights in the tea gardens meant a strict dress code of formals only. Sanju Krishna used to always look dapper in the various blazers and suits that he owned. Late one Saturday night in early January, Sanju was returning from the club in his brand new Ambassador that he had recently bought. It was a real cold and foggy night as is the case during that time of the year in Assam. Suddenly, there was an accident in the empty tea garden roads where you don’t even see a soul at that time of the night.
My father who had arrived much earlier was woken up by the Chowkidar and could hear lots of voices near the main gate. He came out to see a large bus in front of the bungalow, which is a rare sight indeed as public transport in the narrow roads of the tea gardens is a rare sight indeed. On seeing my dad, the bus driver comes running towards him and says that there has been an accident with the Burra Sahib (Manager) of the tea garden. My dad enters the bus to see Sanju Krishna (the Chhota Sahib) sleeping.
It seems that after the accident, Sanju Krishna got down from the car, walked some distance to the main road where the night buses ply all over Assam and hailed a passing bus. He convinced the bus driver he was the Burra Sahib of the tea garden and that’s how the bus managed to navigate through the small and winding roads to reach the tea garden to drop him off. My dad paid the driver and sent him off. Then he did a thorough checkup of Sanju Krishna to see if there were any bruises or broken bones and could not find any. Then he asked him where the car was and what happened that night. This is what Sanju Krishna had to say.
He was returning that night after an enjoyable club night (movie, dinner, a couple of drinks and of course good company). Suddenly, a beautiful lady in white appears in the middle of the road, which is located in the middle of a thick jungle. To avoid hitting her, he swerves to the right and the car lands up in a tree. Sanju Krishna manages to get out of the car safe, walks a couple of miles to the main road and hails the bus to drop him off. My dad asks him what happened to the lady. Sanju Krishna says she had disappeared by the time he managed to get himself out of the car. Since it was late, my dad decided that next morning they would go to the accident site with the garden tractor and get the car. So they go off to sleep.
Next morning, Dad and Sanju Krishna go in a jeep to the accident location. The tractor follows them. When they reach the accident site, my Dad sees a large crowd gathered at that spot and that the car is halfway up the trunk of a large tree. Everyone wonders how a car can get up so high. It’s a mystery. Somebody, in the crowd mentions that definitely there would have been no survivors. The laborers manage to secure the car with ropes and after a lot of struggle manage to get the car safely down. Everyone wonders whether the car will start. The key is still in the ignition. Sanju Krishna gets in, starts the car and drives off.