Wonderful true-life story recounted by Ali Zaman
Reprinted courtesy of Koi-Hai.com. Many thanks!
THE ELEPHANT BOY OF TEA
Many will remember Sabu, the first Indian actor who made it to Hollywood and became the legendary Elephant Boy. This is the story of The Elephant Boy of Tea, son of an ex-patriate planter.
Arthur Mansfield Nuttal was born in 1906, at Digulturrang TE, which was planted out by his father.
His great grandfather was Maj General Sir Arthur Nuttal of the Gurkha Brigade. Arthur’s parents became estranged when he was very young and his mother returned to England leaving the toddler behind. His father died soon afterwards. The Miri bungalow servants adopted the abandoned child and raised the white baba in their village.
Soon the young lad, brought up in the Miri traditions, became an expert at kheda operations, training of elephants and a talented shikari. Assam in those days was prone to malaria and kala- ajar, which periodically surfaced in epidemic form. The youngster fell violently ill and was brought to Digulturrung in a critical condition. The Bara Sahib seeing a white boy and learning of his antecedent had the patient admitted in the estate hospital.
Planters on hearing of the English boy, gone native, decided to get him back to their civilization. Colleagues of the boy’s father helped to send Arthur to St. Paul ‘s School, in Darjeeling . However, the lad so much at home with the local tribesman and the wild animals of Assam , especially the elephants, was a total misfit “among” his own. The English language and the western culture he was being educated in was totally alien to him. Not being able to express his inner feelings he developed a violent temper and was quick with his fists, traits that made teachers and students leave Arthur alone. The loner not academically inclined, but excelling in sports and games, left school before completing his final studies. He returned back to Assam .
With the tea industry expanding rapidly contractors were engaged to clear the jungle for plantations. A renowned contractor was Walter Smiles, later knighted to become Sir Walter. The gentleman, who engaged elephants for jungle clearance, employed young Nuttal and put him in charge of the herd, a job he loved. But the fiery temper, which develops when one is brought up in a disturbed environment, surfaced and Nuttal fell out with his employer. It was with a heavy heart that he said goodbye to his beloved elephants.
He joined the Railways as a temporary ticket collector at Makum Junction. Those days the Railways had a three-tier salary system, for Europeans, Anglo Indians and Indians. Arthur was paid the middle wages. Finding out that he was entitled to the European scale Nuttal applied but got no justice. The refusal of the higher scale was on the grounds that although he was a white man he lived like a native. In frustration he resigned.
A planter seeing Arthur in Makum offered him an apprentices post in Moran T.E. By dint of hard work Arthur Nuttal was promoted to the covenanted ranks and proved to be a diligent planter. He was very energetic and able to realize good work from the labourers without friction. He was adept at all garden work. Could do a full nirrick in pruning and pluck as well as the best plucker. His weakness was friction with fellow planters, especially seniors, poor administration and hostility to paper work. He was nicknamed Nutty Nuttal by his colleagues for his eccentricities.
He went to England on leave, his first trip overseas. While in UK he met and married an English lady. It was only after marriage that he was taught to live like a foreigner. The English mem that turned Nuttal into a “Bitish sahib” was, however, unable to curb the fiery temper, even when he became the Acting Superintendent of Moran Tea Company.
In the 40’s Assam came into the orbit of World War II. The Japanese Air Force bombed many areas and their land forces moved rapidly through Manipur into the Naga Hills , then a district of Assam Province. Planters evacuated their families out of the war zone. The tide turned only after the Battle of Kohima when the Japanese were defeated and started retreating.
When the Superintendent of Moran Tea Company went to leave his family in Darjeeling , Nuttal, the Acting Superintendent spread the rumour that his senior had run away. The rumour cost Nuttal his job.
With a family to support, the couple had two kids; Arthur Nuttal accepted work as a temporary garden assistant with the Makum ( Assam ) Tea Co in ‘44. In 1947 he was promoted as Senior Assistant and put in charge of Top Side division of Margherita TE. In 1951 he was transferred to Namdang Tea Co where he received his billet in Bogapani.
Bogapani, in the 50’s, was in the midst of a thick jungle infested with wild animals. News of a rogue tusker, creating havoc at the Bogapani railway station, was reported with Government orders to destroy the pachyderm. Nuttal went to inspect it. He looked at the rogue and declared that it was not wild. He slowly approached the animal, talking in mahout’s language. Soon he had the animal following him and led the tusker away from the railway tracks, where a train was held up. When forest personnel queried as to how the sahib knew that the elephant was not wild he pointed to the faint chain marks on the animal’s feet.
Nuttal was Manager of Bogapani from 1951 to 1959. During his term he cleared the estate of encroachers and started the out garden Nazirating, then infested with tigers. For killing a man-eater he was given a small plot of land by the forest authorities for a shikar camp. The story goes that every time Nuttal went for a shoot he moved the Nazirating boundary pillars thus acquiring 100 hectares of prime forestland for the company. To clear the jungle two retired sirdars were given the timber as bakshis. Once the trees were removed he distributed the land to the workers and allowed them to cultivate ahu paddy for two years. With the land levelled Nuttal started planting. Today, even after half a century, Nazirating has some of the finest teas.
The fiery tempers never abated and lead to Nuttal’s final downfall. He quarrelled with the Superintendent and was dismissed. In 1959, aged 53, he left India for England with his family for good. Arthur Mansfield Nuttal passed away in the 80’s. The story does not end here.
During his bachelor days Nuttal frequented Shillong where a Khasi lady befriended him. Out of that friendship a male child was born. When the boy was of school going age Nuttal had him admitted to Dr. Graham’s Home, Kalimpong, with the instructions that the boy must never be told of his father.
The youngster grew up and went off to England where he married and settled down. Just a few years back he, with his wife, came looking for his roots. In Shillong he met Mr Peter Furst, an ex-patriate and the last European Superintendent of the erstwhile Makum Namdang Company. Peter, who had worked under A.M.Nuttal as an assistant, on retirement settled in Shillong, where he still resides.
The visitor from England asked Peter to narrate about his father. It was with rapt attention that the couple listened to what Peter had to say. When he finished the lady quietly remarked that her husband was just like Arthur Mansfield Nuttal, a father the son never knew.ALI. N. ZAMAN Ex Manager Bogapani (1988 – 1997)