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THE GARDEN ANECDOTES : MEET THE FARMERS


  • 20 February 2019

 Our Teas are truly our pride. The colossal task of putting the luxury of premium quality Indian Teas on the global map has not been an easy one. Not only has our individual approach to ‘tea’ evolved in this period, but we have all cultivated a more intimate relationship with the ‘art of making tea’. The endless pursuits in this tedious journey, where we connect these celestial teas to tea lovers, start with ‘two leaves and a bud’. 

Yes, the right balance of terroir, climate, altitude and a lot of other parameters decide how good a cup of tea would be. But just like in a celebrated symphony, the maestro brings together the brass, percussion, woodwinds and the strings to eventually form a masterpiece. Similarly, the art of making tea would be incomplete if a farmer wasn’t there to orchestrate these factors, make the most of it, and harvest the most flavorful teas that nature has to offer.

The Indian Tea industry is the second largest employer of organized labor in the country, run by a complex network comprising of the National Tea Board, state-level administrations, tea plantations, permanent and seasonal farmers, auction houses, export agencies, distributors, retailers amidst others. Our then 23-year-old Founder, Bala Sarda, whilst understanding the operation of this traditional supply chain of tea in India, found several loopholes in the system. These loopholes negatively impact our farmers the most. Since decades, our farmers have struggled with poor wages and unstable working conditions. This obsolete supply chain is riddled with several middlemen like auctioneers, retailers, distributors etc. who skim out most of the profits; leaving practically morsels for our farmers. This constantly augments the dire cycle of uncertainty in their lives. 

 This is what prompted Bala to launch Vahdam Teas, with a ground-breaking supply chain which works both for the farmers and the consumers. By leveraging technology and eliminating unnecessary middlemen from our sourcing operations — we manage to retain all the profits at source where these divine teas are grown and nurtured. This helps our farmers in getting a better price for their tireless efforts of skillfully tending to your teas and making sure that you get the best cup, every single time.

Our farmers put up a fight against the forces of nature — the harsh seasons, mind-numbing altitudes, the lashing rains, or the brute of the sun — to get you the very best of Indian teas. They make the most of each day to put food on the table for their families, ensuring that they do everything in their power to build a better and a sustainable future for their families. This is why, our first social initiative ‘TEAch Me’ was designed to positively impact a critical micro-issue — Education. 1% of our revenue goes towards funding the education of our farmers’ children. At present, this program is running at one of our partner plantations in Darjeeling where all our farmers’ wards have been inducted in the program. And as you read this, we are working towards replicating this initiative across several other estates in India. 

 Besides all of this, we wanted to further bridge the gap between you, the consumers, and our farmers. How often do we get an opportunity to take a peek into their lives and connect on a more humane level?

This piece brings you intimate narratives of our farmers’ lives. Their profound conversations with nature, their work, their families, the society and possibly the universe. What floats on their mind while they pluck the leaves, or what gets them going each and every single day to bring us the luxury of these teas?
 
We invite you all to be a part of these conversations and applaud these laborious farmers who toil day and night to ensure we can indulge in the luxury of these magnificent teas. 

.  .  .

 Urmila Pradhan, 50, Darjeeling

Urmila Pradhan, Tea Farmer, Darjeeling

“It has been 7 years since my husband passed on. I continue to work here to feed the family and now, I am the sole breadwinner for the lot. I have no education to see me through other jobs and I don’t think I am cut out for the rough task of construction. Thankfully, my mother-in-law used to work at this estate as a tea picker too. She taught me the delicate art of picking the perfect ‘two leaves and a bud’. It is a lot harder than it looks! 
 
Since then I have been working at this garden. I take great pride in being able to put food on the table and help my children build a better life than I had.

When I started out here, I used to wear my fanciest clothes to work. This is when I had my husband around. Now,
I wear his shirts to work. It reminds me and my children of him and is a constant reminder of the better days that I had seen with him. Nonetheless, I wake up every single day with the dream of making sure our children get the very best in life”.

Asha, 70, Darjeeling

Asha, Tea Farmer, Darjeeling

 “Chin up! If life has taught me anything in the last 45 years of working in this tea garden is to keep my chin up every single day! Life will surely throw a lot of curveballs your way, but the best way to survive is to keep your head up and take it on head strong.

How one sits, stands, or talks says a lot about the person. I often look at the young kids in my village. Though very sweet, they are all hunched! There is no honor in that. Their parents toil day and night to make sure their children get the very best in life. Least that the kids can do is to stand tall and proud. Such a shame.

Take a look at me. I am 70! I still stand straight. No matter how heavy the basket is, I always stand straight. Life will give you a lot of reasons to bend. But those who bend under its load don’t survive.”

Dharma, 55, Darjeeling

“Don’t listen to these girls. They keep spoiling my name! I was given the name ‘Dharma’ at birth, but got stuck with the name ‘Drama’. This is because of my life-long dream of becoming an actress. I love acting and I have been practicing scenes and enacting songs since I was 7 years old. I still do it every now and then. I love a hearty laugh and to have people around me laugh with me as well. I think I would have a good name for myself as a film actor. Eh! That’s okay.

I usually sing while I pluck tea. I sing well. So many visitors have praised my voice over the years and they have recorded it too! I meditate when I sing and it keeps my sanity.

Now I am too old to become a film star. But ‘Acting’ shall always be my first love. “

Raju, 34, Darjeeling

Raju and Shera, Tea Garden Workers, Darjeeling

“This is Shera, my best friend in the whole wide world. He is like a brother to me. Ask around and they will tell you! We are always together. Our lives are all about work, play, and rest. But it was not always so. 

I am the youngest of four brothers in my family. Typically so, I used to be bullied and harassed quite a lot. I grew so tired of it that one day I packed my bags and left for the town. I had reached Darjeeling and was just stepping off the bus when I first laid eyes on Shera, who was a puppy then.

His mother had just been run over by a car and he just sat in the middle of the road, wailing by his dead mother. To worsen it all, people were throwing stones at him to make him move. He kept wailing and did not budge. I went and tried picking him up in my lap. He tried to fight and wriggle out at first, but then took one long look at my face. He suddenly become calm and still. 

We have been together since that day and I have been blessed to have him alongside all these years. I work as a tea picker here at the garden and he guards the gates of the factory. I told you, we both work here!”

Nitai , 33, Darjeeling

Nitai, Tea Farmer, Darjeeling

“You might join in with my friends at laughing at my receding hair line. Yes, It bothers me at times. But I certainly don’t fret on it like my younger brother. He isn’t taking the aging very well. Early hair loss and receding hair lines are a family trait. 

One day my brother came across a commercial which claimed that raw green tea leaves help with hair loss and can aid regrowth. Our estate did not harvest green tea back then. In a moment of desperation, he sneaked into a neighboring garden with the help of a friend. While he was merrily plucking a few leaves, he was spotted by some men who worked at the garden. Obviously he was chased and this news spread in the village. It managed to reach our father, who was not going to take this lightly. 

Well, my brother bore the wrath of my father who asked him as to why he had brought such shame to the family. Thinking it would lighten the situation, my brother blurted out the reason to my dad who only got angrier. My brother certainly did not grow a single strand of hair on his head, but he certainly had to hide in a friend’s cowshed to escape my father’s rage!” 

.  .  .

Now that you have read these accounts, don’t you think that no matter how distant our shores might be or how different our worlds might seem, ‘Life’ will always be relatable. These accounts are redolent with struggles, loss, dreams, camaraderie, joy and so much more. We loved these stories which helped us see our farmers in a new light. It gave us a peek into the people they were within and outside the garden. If nothing, it has made us grow fonder of our farmers.

Let us know if you loved these stories as much as we do! We intend on sharing many more of such stories with you all. After all, aren’t we woven together in our love for this one beverage?

Mayuri Ghosh
Editor,
Vahdam Teas

Connect at
mayuri@vahdamteas.com