Interesting Tea menu in a fancy spot,
“May I take your order please”, she asked gently
Firmly I said, “Special Darjeeling Tea”
and it came in a beautiful porcelain teapot
with a design of fiery dragons in the sea.
As I opened its lid,
a complex aroma like a breeze
made my mind slid
down the lane of memories.
Memories of childhood in kamaan-bari,
of laughing aloud and playing luka-mari.
Sheer greenery called for revision,
those ukalis and orhalis clouded my vision.
Ahh! The first sip…
it graciously took me back
to that romantic nostalgia in the cold of quhiro;
and youthful promises made over “dui paath, ek suiro”
Ahh! The scent of my motherland in every sip,
it quenched the longing of my forlorn soul;
that longing for belonging to my maato
that I have always subconsciously borne.
That single cup of tea
Oh! What absolute tranquility!
Known for its quality – ‘Darjeeling Tea’
that cup gave me a sense of identity!
While I was drowning myself in its beauty still…
with a warm smile she got me the bill;
a total of RUPEES THREE HUNDRED a cup!
And in it, the taste and the smell of my tea-garden hill.
I took a pause,
and then with curiosity and concern
I googled this question-
“How much per day does a tea-garden labourer earn?”
Result: RUPEES TWO HUNDRED THIRTY TWO per day,
increased to RUPEES TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY.
Suddenly, I grew cold
and my heart grew hefty.
And those last few sips down my throat
felt like I was swallowing clod,
for me it wasn’t tea anymore
but labourers’ sweat and blood.
That sense of belonging got replaced,
by a sour aftertaste;
that finishing cup told me in a scream
that it is, but a mother’s vanishing dream.
Perhaps, she had to pick up doko, namlo, and ghum,
and labour tirelessly to make their future bloom.
But the system is rigged, who can fight against it?
Their lives – is it destined to doom?
‘Special Darjeeling Tea’
Indeed, what specialty…
plucked, processed and marketed
at the cost of each half-fed family.
Its aroma for me is now
odour of a labourer’s sweat,
no matter how fine its leaf or bud
it is to me but a worker’s blood!
Tea I sipped or the tea sipped me,
both of us were left feeling abrupt.
Darjeeling Tea, Oh! Darjeeling Tea
How did you become this blood in my cup?
kamaan-bari: tea garden
luka-mari: hide and seek
ukalis and orhalis: uphill and downhill
dui paath, ek suiro: a bud and two leaves (tender and finest part of the tea plant)
doko, namlo, and ghum: traditional agricultural tools used while hand-picking tea
Note: The daily wage of a tea-garden labourer mentioned in the poem is true as of this date. (Rs 250 per day)
Amplifying voices of the marginalized- Shikha Sinchury, Life Coach www.chautari.in