Monday, September 28, 2015

A Good Cup Of Tea

Tea, very Ceylonese from the beginning now of course very   Sri Lankan, it doesn’t matter "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” as well our tea it will tests as sweet by any other name. The tea was introduced by British, we were the world’s number one tea exporters in 70’s.Still we are able to manage our position as the number 4th tea exporter in the world.

Most of Sri Lankans start their day with a bed tea most of the time it’s served with milk and sugar. Then late morning tea about 10.a.m, it does not matter where you work almost every Sri Lankan offices provide a tea break at least for 15-10 minutes.

Then the afternoon tea evening tea. Well we don’t have everywhere the high tea as British, but still we do have evening tea with some sweet. An average Sri Lankan consumes at least 2-3 cups of tea per day, but depending on the affordability and the time this could be varied.

A cup of tea is the symbol of welcome of many Sri Lankans. If we visit a friend’s home relations home or even for an official purpose it is a custom to offer a cup of tea. It is very bad sign if we were not offered with cup of tea, it could be either they don’t welcome as a visitor or they could not afford a cup of tea. This is a very rare situation. As Sri Lankans we do not have garden tea parties like British, because having a good cup of tea is not special occasion to many of Sri Lankans. Even the head of the country does not invited any diplomatic or delegate to a tea party.Generally we Sri Lankans don’t dress for a tea. As a female it consider as a terrible insult if someone says that she can’t make  good cup of tea. Tea is very much linked with Sri Lankans.

Also we Sri Lankan are not very fond of Green tea. Those who very figure conscious might drink green tea these days but we preferred plain brown tea with slice of ginger with some sugar.
But there are very few Sri Lankans were invited for tea with Queen Elizabeth.
Our former President CBK somehow able to get 15 minutes from Queen Elizabeth during her time and went to Buckingham palace but CBK was not offered even with a Cup of Tea. I think Queen may have thought same Sri Lankan tea to its president.
 But we Sri Lankans did not do the same way as Queen Elizabeth did. Last time when Prince Charles was in Sri Lanka we welcomed him with a garland made out of Tea leaves. We it is not only the royal family we served Tea even the Cuban Leader Fidel Castro was served with Sri Lankan. There is a rumor in Sri Lanka who was known as “The Yankee Dickey “sent best quality tea to the Cuban Leader and he sent best Cuban Cigars in return.Sri lanka tea did well to the Cuban Leader still he is surviving, but our ex-president  passed away but he also spent a reasonable age.

But UK is a one of our biggest customer for long time also we export a large quantity to Middle East. Though we say that tea was introduced by British but originally all the tea Planter were from Scotland.
 The first tea planter in Sri Lanka James Taylor was a Scottish Guy. So almost all the big tea plantation owners were Scottish people including Thomas Lipton. One of our famous Tea brand is Lipton Ceylonta making Thomas Lipton world famous.
Actually before tea plantation introduced we were producing coffee.Sri Lanka is a country within the Coffee belt. But unidentified epidemic started over coffee plantations in Sri Lanka and commercial growing of coffee was very unsuccessful. The tea plantation was introduced after that.
I’m not sure how many of you have read Christine Wilson “the Bitter berries”. The transitional period coffee into tea well explained in that book. The pioneer planters in Sri Lankan have had very harsh life at the beginning of the tea plantation in central hill area. Today the central hills covered with tea plantations are looking very picture perfect.
 Even Sri Lankan tourism board using tea as a main element of promoting tourism in Sri Lanka. It was very famous photograph that Mrs. Rossi Senanayake was serving a cup of tea to former Libyan leader Col.Gadafi during his official visit to Sri Lanka in 1976.
Those days Col.Gadafi was in his early 40’s and he was the main attraction of the 1976 summit which made most of Sri Lankan men jealousy over Col.Gadafi .So much has changed over cup of tea. Col.Gadafi is not there anymore.

A cup of tea has a lot of influential over Sri Lankan society; it is our main commercial plantation. A lot of people involved in the industry. Before Mrs. Bandaranayake took over priestly owned tea estates there were tea planters who owned over 10000 acres of tea plantation. The tea plantation known as the “tea estate”.
 The structure of the tea estates had a very strong hierarchy. The tea states were a country within the country. The superintendent of the estates most of the time European guy or a Sri Lankan who is more British than the original British. Within the tea estate he had magistrate power. Then there was a medical clinic with a qualified doctor. The administrative office was occupied with English educated Sri Lankans mainly Sinhalese but not Buddhist.

 During the leisure time they had places for play Golf within the tea states. They had special boarding schools for their children. The Rugby was introduced by the planters to the hill country. Still in Sri Lanka main Rugby playing cities are Colombo and candy. They had their clubs especially only for the planters. Still at Nuwara Eliya the good old days are remaining at some extent. The superintend bungalow was an attempt of localizing the Tudor architecture. The Gardens were well maintained throughout the year.

 That was the top of the hierarchy .Down the steps there are estate labors. In Sri Lanka Sinhalese people did not ever wanted work in the tea estates. Because they knew from the beginning within the plantation there is no space for an independent farmer. 

So British had to bring labors from India. Most of them were south Indian Tamils. They were brought up here offering a job with accommodation.but it was not like tobacco plantations in Virginia these South Indian Tamils were not slaves. But they were for a some extent a property of the tea plantation. This was very similar in tea plantation in Assam India. 
The notable Indian writer Mulk Raj Ananda‘s novel “Two leaves and a bud” based on labors of tea plantations.
 The men were sent to hard working at the plantation while the women engaged on tea plucking. Daily they have to produce specific weight of row tea leaves. The thumb rule is two leaves and a bud from each tree.

The tea plantation has provided row houses within the plantation, but they had religious freedom. They were not forcefully converted in to the other religions. Most cases they had Hindu temple and freedom of celebrating their cultural events within the plantation.In-terms of profit making of the plantation this system worked.

 But time has changed .British left the country; Sri Lankans became superintendents of the plantations.ownership changed due to the nationalizing privately owned tea plantations. 
But the life of the estate labors did not changed much. the period  of 1970 there were over one million of Tamil people lived and worked in tea plantations.the thing is that time it was their second or third generation was working in the plantation. But they were not welcomed by the outside.
 Tamil people who were based on Jaffna never welcomed them considering they are low cast. Sinhalese never welcomed them saying they are Tamils. During this time even the government did not accepted them as the citizens of the country. With the plantation there was a school, but it was not a pathway of way out of their life.

Later this people were accepted as Sri Lankans and gave the power of voting. When they were awarded with power of voting couple of politicians started pay attention. They had their own political party the “Ceylon labor congress”. 
The pioneer of this political party was Mr.S.Thondaman. Certainly nothing has changed their lives even they had their own political representative at the parliament.Mr Thondaman was cabinet minister was a cabinet minister for almost every government.
 The life of the tea estate labors not been changed much, but Mr. Thodamans great grandson    is driving a Hummer in Nuwara Eliya town. He says it is one of his favorite vehicles among his collection.
The sad story of the plantation workers did not ended up cheating by their own people. Now the nature has already coming against them. The central Hills effected by landslides often past years. Clearing forest of the central hills, housing settlement on steep slopes so and so reason get together and resulting with landslides.
 Most effected people of this worst scenario is the plantation workers. They don’t have their own land except the row houses provided by the plantation. Even their third or fourth generation able to save some money to buy small plot of land the traditional villager does not mixed up with them. The plantation does not want to re settle them simply it will lose their workforce. 

The politicians whom they have selected will only come for the next election. Throughout all the debates are happening they are left the option buried in alive. From Koslanda landslide 190 people buried alive, then Miriyabadda, entire school with over 40 children, Few days ago Kothmale.I ‘m not sure  when and where next landslide will happened, but for certain tea plantation workers will affect by it most.
 Sadly the tea plantation workers are the people who never get any chance to taste a good cup of tea, the factory provides some amount of tea which is known an "THE LABOUR DUST".

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