Alan Lane, my dear friend and a retired tea veteran of Assam fondly remembers the start-up sound of the Lister diesel tea machinery of bygone days. Here is an amazing and ingenious imitation by two little Indian kids. Please turn up your sound to enjoy. You won’t believe it! Thank you Alan, for sharing this lovely video.
Tea garden bungalows come equipped with a retinue of servants and often a resident spook (no extra charge!). Invariably the spook is a boga-sahib (white master): an old British tea planter who died on the job and who is buried somewhere in the tea garden. The bungalows themselves are creepy: drafty with echoing rooms, weak-wattage bulbs, creaky wooden floors and rattling rafters. Many are located within deep forests and surrounded by bamboobaris (FYI the spooks love bamboo as much as pandas!). Add to that the blackest, deepest nights of Assam, lots of melancholy rain and vapors steaming off the jungle floor and voila! you have a phantom’s paradise.
Folks died easily back in the old days of tea. Tea gardens were far-flung and remote, the roads bad, communication poor and medical help often too little, too late. Malaria, black water fever, typhoid, tetanus, wild animals, accidental drowning, gunshot wounds…all claimed planters lives. As a child I believed the dead turned into backward-footed entities that prowled the bamboobari shrieking their heads off. I always made it a point to check out people’s feet, just in case.
Many young Europeans fell victim to accident and disease, never to see the shores of their homeland again. Some took their own lives in desperation. There are hundreds of moss-covered graves scattered across tea plantations in Assam, mostly in wooded areas, tangled in vegetation and overrun by creepers. Many are unmarked but some have carved inscriptions that speak of the short, precarious lives of these young men in Assam.
Assam (which grows the finest tea – click the red link if you want to learn more about Assam Tea) is riddled with ghosts. Over 60 different ghosts and evil spirits have been identified in the state of Assam – that’s enough to fill a whole bus (imagine what a jolly ride that would be!) Assamese spooks have their own personality and agenda. Check out some of these heavy-hitters:
Bura Dangoria (the old one)A good spirit dressed in white clothes and a white turban, often seen on a white horse who guards Namghars, the community places of worship where the sacred Bhagavad Gita is kept.
Baak A malevolent ugly creature that sometimes kills a person and takes on the corpse’s appearance. Often seen hanging around isolated ponds and lakes.
Ghoda PaakHas the hooves of a horse, but is otherwise human looking. Some stories show it as helpful, while others call it so deadly that you can die if it looks at you.
Bira (Poltergeist)Like all poltergeist of the world, usually believed to be unleashed on a family by an enemy to eliminate and torture them.
Bamboo Ghost This one lurks in the bamboo grove and bends down a bamboo on your path. If you try to step over it, it’ll snap back the bamboo and kill you.
Jokhini A female demon like creature that often tries to lure males and kill them.
Bordoisila (the storm goddess)She’s the storm in April who throws a tantrum because she has to return to her husband’s house after visiting her mother for the Assamese new year which is around that time.
Puwali Bhoot (tiny ghosts)These are mischievous ghosts the size of small children who steal rice and sweets from the kitchen
Khoba-khubiA pair of evil spirits who haunt a newly wedded couples and can be scared away by reading the hara-gauri (Shiva-Parvati) mantra on the third day of marriage
KhetarA local evil spirit that is said to harm little children
Churini Bira A female evil spirit that steals items from the house and kitchen
FYI this is a ghostly sampling of just one tiny state in India. India has 28 states so if you do the maths you will realize, we far outweigh the western world in both spirits and spirituality. The western world sure pales (pun intended) in comparison, besides Indian ghosts are more rowdy and fun.
Western ghosts are tame and well-behaved compared to the Indian hoolie-ghoolies. They are polite lurkers and don’t like to create a ruckus. Here are some ghostly facts courtesy of Midlands Ghost Hunters, Britain’s leading spook experts: (comments in red are mine: no disrespect intended)
Ghosts want to be noticed
Ghosts have no sense of passing time
Often, they do not know that they are dead
Ghosts can smell things and love the smell of lemons (ha ha! It’s the opposite in India people actually string up lemons–limes actually–to ward off evil spirits. Go figure!)
Ghosts have a sense of humor and love to hear humans laugh (maybe I should stop laughing so much – oh hell!)
Sometimes ghosts get bored with their surroundings (that’s why they come snooping around)
Most ghosts are happy, but some still cling to an emotional pain
They can appear to the living in dreams
They can leave behind certain scents, such as perfume (or apple pie *)
They can make sounds that are audible
They use their energies and ours to move things
They are pranksters
They usually appear as intense balls of light called orbs
Ghosts favor night due to the decrease in daytime energy use
Ghosts may appear as mists or vapors
Ghosts can read your thoughts
Ghosts retain all the memories and emotions of their lives
Sometimes ghosts are trapped and need to be released
Noisy, troublesome ghosts are known as poltergeist
Ghosts tend to be very temperamental
Ghosts hang out in cliques with other ghosts
Ghosts make friends with other ghosts from different eras
Ghosts do not sleep
Ghosts like to climb up and down stairs at night (especially creaky ones)
Most ghosts can’t or won’t hurt you
When a ghost enters a room, the room usually gets cold
Animal ghosts exist and have been sighted
Ghosts who lived hundreds of years ago keep up with the trends (not clear about this one – like fashion? That does not sound right. Imagine a castle ghost in a tank top and Jimmy Choos!)
Children perceive ghosts as imaginary friends (that I know for fact)
The accent of one’s birth place persists in the mind and heart as much as in speech
La Rochefoucauld (Maxims 1665)
People say I write just like I talk. Now is that a compliment? I’m not sure. I get teased and imitated all the time. More than my accent, it’s the way I talk–my gestures, expressions etc. The cross-pollination of several cultures, I believe– Indian, British-colonial and American.
We Indians are probably the most imitated people in the world. I don’t find that offensive. I think our funny English endears us. An Indian accent can break up tension, pretty quick. Take a stressful situation, say in a courtroom or workplace. Throw in someone like Appu from The Simpsons (now that’s a gross exaggeration, but you get the idea) and before you know it, smiles will start peeping out of people. This may not work for every situation. Like when your computer is on the blink, the last thing you want to hear on the customer service line is an Indian trying not to sound like one. Speaking of which, who’s seen The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie? Great movie. Deeply human and touching in parts, I thought.
Indian words have added color and variety to the English language. Most date back to the colonial days. Especially delightful are the double-barrelled rhyming words that are so essentially Indian such as: hurdy-gurdy, tip-top, higgledy-piggledy, hocus-pocus, tit-for-tat, topsy-turvy, harum-scarum, roly-poly ,slip-slop…”
A friend of our family’s (a well-known glutton) would over-stuff himself at our dinner table and refuse another helping saying, “Thank you but I am fully fed-up!”
Another time an Indian student explained her absence in my design class saying she had “the loose motions” (A common Indian term for ‘the runs’). “Oh wow,” exclaimed this American girl, looking impressed. Later the American girl told me she thought “loose motion” was some kind of exotic dance. Like “Do the locomotion“.
Don’t you just love it!!!
If we Indians mess up English, the Brits mess up our language too. “Theek hai Babu” (“alright clerk” in Hindi) becomes “Ticketyboo” for the English. (Thank you Larry Brown for that little gem!)
Consider these British-Indian words which have become mainstream.
PS: If you are a huffy Indian who gets offended by stereotypes please go read some other blog. This is not meant to offend anyone but to revel in our rich cultural uniqueness. I love being Indian.
I love accents – all kinds. French, Scottish, Cockney and Ghetto. They sure give me the jollies. Do you get a kick out of accents? Do you speak with one? Please share.
Cheers, dear friends!
My debut novel “Teatime for the Firefly” (MIRA/HARLEQUIN) is slated for publication in 2013. You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me your comments. Thank you!
This was my childhood home. Yes, we lived in a mansion. British colonial lifestyle, liveried servants, big game hunting, fancy formal dinners -the works. Strange to think of it because these palatial residences were built in the middle of nowhere. Assam. One of the most rain-locked, deeply forested and inaccessible regions of North-east India. Early colonial planters braved the malaria-ridden jungles, dangerous wild game and head-hunting tribes to set up the tea industry in Assam and grow the finest tea on earth. Check the map here if you want to know more about Assam and Assam tea.
While researching “Teatime for the Firefly” I started collecting information about tea garden bungalows in Assam. I discovered each one had its unique architecture, charm and even RESIDENT GHOST!Tea garden bungalows come in a baffling array of styles. Here is an except from my research notes:
“In the early days of tea, Managers had plenty of say in the design of their personal residences. It was one of the ego-perks allowed by the Company to entice capable men to join tea. As a result, tea garden bungalows were a startling medley of styles, reminiscent of the dreams and aspirations of their first owners.
Some managers tried to replicate the English-style manor houses of their home country, but the result was a confused mish mash of western architecture using Indian materials, incongruous but fanciful nonetheless.
I am attaching photos to showcase these wonderful bungalows from Assam tea gardens– most of them have mysterious and quirky names. These photos have been shared with me from tea planters from all over the world. (Planters! I need captions for Bungalows marked “unknown”. If a you have any information of these featured here please send me a message. )
Many thanks to the members of the KOI-HAI.COM community for help your loving support.
If you are an Assam Tea planter and would like to share a photo of a bungalow, please send me a message HERE I will give you my direct email where you can upload the photo. Don’t forget to include the name of the tea garden and the year the photo was taken. Many thanks I have started a separate photo gallery to showcase tea garden bungalows and will be adding to to this from time to time. Please click PHOTO GALLERY OF ASSAM TEA GARDEN BUNGALOWS here to see what I have so far.
Teatime for the Firefly is my debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.