Recently I came upon this book and was instantly transported back to the tea plantations of South India which I was lucky enough to visit in the 1950s and 60s when my father was a visiting doctor to some of the Nilgiris tea estates and when many planters were patients at the hospital in Mysore where he worked.
If you’ve met an elephant at close quarters, you will recognise the extraordinary gentleness described by M Ravindran in his story about a nocturnal visitor …
‘There in the hazy porch light, stood a massive elephant right at our doorstep, blowing kisses on the glass pane.’
Many of the stories are about encounters with wild animals; not surprising considering the isolation of plantation bungalows, surrounded by hundreds of acres of tea bushes and dense highland jungle.
There are other tales about hauntings, fire-walking, snake catching, lightning strike, and quite a few anecdotes that will have you smiling at the eccentricities of Estate staff and servants, and neighbouring planters.
Saaz Aggarwal started working on the book in 2013, interviewing, among others, M Ravindran. Six years later Ravindran told her that he had written a collection of stories … and so the book came about.
Saaz has interwoven M Ravindran’s tales with stories from other planters; Carolyn Hollis, Denis Mayne, Ravindran’s son and daughter, plus some recollections from Saaz herself and interesting extracts and advertisements from old publications such as the ‘Madras District Gazetteer’ and the ‘Planting Directory of South India’. Along with more than a hundred photos and Saaz’s line drawings, this has created a fascinating insight to the lives of planters from the start of tea planting in the Nilgiris in the early 1800s until today.
In Saaz’s words; ‘This book took me back to an idyllic childhood, its pristine air-quality, vistas of sloping valleys of smooth green from sitting room windows, brilliant night skies and a certain formal grandeur and privileged way of living compounding the fundamental isolation of plantation life.’
The paperback book is published in India, but you can buy it on Amazon –