Chai for Cancer x Indian Chai Stories

We are ecstatic to publicly announce our collaboration with Indian Chai Stories as part of the Chai for Cancer Season 8 Campaign!

Indian Chai Stories is a blog by Gowri Mohanakrishnan with almost 200 original stories from 58 contributors from the tea gardens of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka!

This year our campaign tagline is “Ek Chai Zindagi ke Naam”, and what better way to take the campaign forward than to showcase the real life stories of tea planters? As Gowri herself puts it, “Back in the tea gardens, our motto has always been “Ek Zindagi Chai ke Naam””.

When Gowri was married to a tea planter in 1986, she had to leave her city life behind and experience first hand, life in the “Dooars”. Amazed by the incredible stories people shared at the tea clubs, she decided to start a blog and share their stories with the world! “Life here is a celebration of the human spirit. Indian Chai Stories is all about the people who live here!”

Tune in to Chai for Cancer every Wednesday for stories of elephants and leopards, of people and of ghosts; some stories so vivid and amazing, they beggar belief!

Read On!

1. Flying into the Unknown
A big hello to all of you. Let’s take our first flight into a tea garden with Aloke Mookerjee. That moment of arrival – that first breath of air and the effect on your senses – unforgettable.
Says Aloke: My appointment as an Assistant Manager of Nagrakata Tea Estate of the Dooars Tea Company was tied to a ‘signed and sealed’ covenant of three years including an initial six months period of probation.

Dum Dum Aerodrome, Calcutta, May 7, 1963, 3:30 a.m. : I entered grandly with air ticket in pocket – the only document in possession. Security checks were non-existent; hijacks and human bombs unheard of.
Read the story

2. Another Land Another Age – My Memories of Tea
Venk Shenoi, who says, ” It was a hell of a life in 1962: I would have been poorer without those experiences and my memories of those days,” writes about his first days as a Chhotta Saab in the breathtakingly beautiful Nagrakata area of the Dooars.
He recalls a myriad of little things with such clarity, you’d think he was talking about yesterday!
Here is Venk’s story: Read the story
3. Oh Assam
Simran Sandhu writes about her early days in the tea gardens of Assam when she was a young bride. This brand new world was filled with several wonders, some terrors and some hilarious misadventures.
Over to Simran: Read the story
4. Pulga Primate and Pooches
“We’ve had stories from the tea planter and his lady, so now it’s time for one from a ‘cha ka baba’ – someone who grew up in a tea garden!
Alan Lane takes us to the Barak Valley in southern Assam. Don’t lose any time if you want to meet the charming occupants of the various bungalows. You’ll realise why we say life in a tea garden is a life like no other!
Read the story
5. The Bridge of No Return
Story by Madhumita Neog, a ‘cha ka baby’
Read the story
6. Blazing the Scholastic Trail
Story by Roma Circar, a tea planter’s ‘mem’ who brought up her children in the tea gardens.
Read the story
7. Freshly Brewed and Packaged Beautifully
Ranu Singh Taragi’s ‘Freshly Brewed and Packaged Beautifully’ was the first story to go up on Indian Chai Stories. Ranu puts her finger on the very thing that makes this life so unique and so blessed. Read the story
8. The Gracious Hostess
Sarita Dasgupta’s ‘The Gracious Hostess’ gives you a little peek into what goes on behind the scenes: just what it takes to give the visitor that ‘perfect’ experience of staying in a tea bungalow. Read the story
9. Back in the Day
Shipra Castledine writes from in Australia. She grew up in the tea gardens of the Dooars. Her stories will make you wish you too had spent your childhood in the wonderful world she brings to life.
Read the story
10. The Dinner
Rajesh Thomas, a planter like his father, writes from the beautiful tea estates of the Upper Nilgiris. He serves up a feast in this story from his days as a young ‘Sinna Durai’.
Read the story
11. The Haunted Bungalow of Dumchipara
When we started sharing stories here, one of the first things I mentioned was ghosts! You’ve waited long enough: here it is, the ghost story I have heard many times from the writer, who happens to be the man who brought me to the tea gardens many years ago.
Read the story
12. The Tale of a Wedding Less Ordinary
The planter and his family live in surroundings that are far from anybody’s idea of ‘normal’. But has anyone ever let that get in the way? Life goes on: children go to school, we have Diwali and Christmas, Bihu and Eid, births and weddings. Yes, beautiful weddings, held in Burra Bungalows. Today I’m sharing one of my favourites from Indian Chai Stories – the story of a monsoon wedding by Mrinalini Rautela Pahwa. She writes: “… in the midst of friends, family, love and laughter, set against the backdrop of a political agitation that would change the face of the state I knew as home and draw the curtains on a way of life…I got married.”
Read the story
13. A home beside two areca palms
This story is as heartwarming as a cup of chai on a rainy day! Joyshri Lobo writes about a feisty woman from the tea gardens of the Dooars – one of those who ‘sock life in the face and take its hurdles in their stride.’

Joyshri was among the first six contributors to Indian Chai Stories. Many years ago – in the 1980s – she gave us our very own tea garden magazine in the Dooars ( North Bengal ), “Reach Out”. My friends and I were so grateful to have a chance to write and publish right there in the tea gardens!! That’s a story for another day.

Today, I leave you to enjoy ‘A Home Beside Two Areca Palms’.
Read the story

14. A Predator - Lost & Lovelorn
“..Sadly the mighty river swallowed up Oaklands. The stories that read like fiction but aren’t, make me feel like an ancient part of history”, writes Shalini Mehra. Her story ‘A Predator- Lost & Lovelorn’ illustrates beautifully how people living in the tea gardens have to be prepared at all times to share their space with other creatures – and not all of them from the realm of the living.

Shalini started the Camellia magazine over twenty years ago from her bungalow at Nuddwa Tea Estate in Upper Assam, and was among the first contributors to ‘Indian Chai Stories’. The Camellia ( named for the tea bush ) was a magazine much loved by the tea community, and it was a huge success. One day, I hope Shalini will tell us more about her journey with the Camellia and beyond!
Read the story

15. Ghenwa the Jewel: A Birpara Tale
The people who serve us in tea bungalows become family, but it takes time. Just as a bride or groom is inspected and ‘passed’ by prospective in-laws, a new memsaab has to pass a tough examination by the ex-bachelor’s devoted retinue.

I lived in terror – not of leopards, elephants or of the dacoits who struck everywhere those days, but of Ghenwa, whose word was law in the domain I had dared to enter! Hope you’ll have a good laugh at the plight of the hapless 24year old city girl set adrift in a wild world – her new husband’s natural habitat, the tea gardens!

Here it is, this week’s offering: Read the story

16. High Tea at Sunset
What is a life in a tea bungalow without teatime ? Where else would you be served the most princely teas on multi-layered trolleys with all the time in the world to work your way through at least two savouries and two sweets?

All of this to be followed by the drinks trolley with rounds of snacks and eventually dinner, of course. But I’m rushing you…no, let’s go back to the tea trolley of Mandira Moitra Sarkar’s childhood; she’s going to share lots of goodies with you here: Read the story

17. Our Childhood Picnics
Story by Mandira Moitra Sarkar
Read the story
18. Becoming a Planter
Life isn’t all tea and cake, as any planter will tell you. The situations that ‘the boys’ face would make anyone long for boredom. ‘Assault’ ‘attack’ and ‘gherao’ aren’t just words in a tea garden. After living in a tea garden for 35 years, I think boredom is the most desirable state in the world!

Minoo Avari’s piece on Darjeeling, ‘Becoming A Planter’ is a classic. It’s not just a memoir, but a piece of modern history. Cheers to the indomitable spirit of the tea planter!
Read the story

19. Azaadi ka Din : An Independence Day Story
There’s a song that goes, ‘It Happens Only in India’ and it comes to my mind often, because there are some things that can happen only in a tea garden! Independence Day is special for all of us in different ways.

I love the way Ipsita Sengupta captures the atmosphere of a tea garden on a holiday – sleepy, but not uneventful. ‘Independence Day started like it always did every year in the gardens. I tagged along with Bapi for the flag hoisting…. It was a bright sunny day with one dark
cloud hovering!’

Ipsita Sengupta on Independence Day in the garden

20. A Cup of Indian Chai
Seema Anand – mythologist, scholar and probably the best storyteller I’ve ever heard. What connects her to the tea gardens is her love for Indian stories and for one of her oldest friends who lives there. I won’t say more, I’ll leave the stage to Seema!
Read the story
21. Anecdotes of the Maskeliya/Upcot District
Today I’m delighted to take you overseas – yes, Indian Chai Stories is proud to present two storytellers from the tea plantations of Sri Lanka – Devaka Wickramasuriya and Bernard VanCuylenberg.
Read the story
22. David and Goliath
Bernard’s is a true story: a fascinating portrait of that romantic young daredevil, Bracegirdle. Human nature, and human behaviour in the unique environment of a tea plantation is what is at the heart of every chai story, be it India or Sri Lanka.

Cheers to humanity! Cheers to the spirit of sharing! Cheers to life.
Read the story

23. To Embroider a Story...
Sunayana Sarkar, ‘tea kid’, scientist, blues singer/composer is also an expert at sewing, embroidery and crochet. Add writing to the list, for she creates a beautiful tapestry of a bygone era.
Read the story
24. Turbulent Times
This story is set in the Barak Valley ( Cachar ) in southern Assam. The history as well as geography of the region is fascinating and the valley is a place of great natural beauty. Shivani’s narrative brings the place and the people alive, and I am sure you will enjoy it!

Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!
Read the story

25. Christmas Lunch
Story by Gumi Malhotra. ‘Christmas Lunch’, is a great example of the kind of thing that can only happen in a tea garden!
Read the story
26. Trains and Toddlers
Story by Gumi Malhotra. It is about train journeys and children. I can see you smiling already!
Read the story
27. Darjeeling Days
Shall we take a peek at a tea garden in Darjeeling today? Not just any garden, mind, but one with a view of the majestic Kanchenjunga!

Radha Madapa writes with deep affection for her surroundings: ‘… the lofty, fog enshrouded spectacular mountains of Tukvar Valley.’
Read the story

28. Drama in Real Life
There are all kinds of tea garden stories, as I mentioned at the outset. For the most part, I’ve shared the happy, carefree ones. Do take a look at what P.G. Wodehouse once said about his craft: ‘I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn…’.
So here’s a story for you this week that goes ‘right deep down into life’ – the life of a twenty year old rookie in the tea gardens of the Dooars as he stares death in the face. The tea gardens aren’t exactly paradise, as Anjan Roy reminisces. Read
all about it here
29. The Great Flood of '54
Please bear with me as I bring you another story about the hardships that people endure in the tea gardens.
And at the end of it, fear not, you will feel cheer, because it is a story about courage and generosity and the value of human life. So here it is, Bill Hudson’s account of the great flood of 1954, which Aloke Mookerjee kindly shared with Indian Chai Stories. The place – Dooars, and the river, Jaldhaka.

And this was the 200th story to go up – so cheers to the fund of tea stories, and cheers to the lovely people who tell them!
Read the story

30. Language Opens Hearts
Mirza Yawar Baig’s story, ‘Language Opens Hearts’ is very special: “I recall Mr. Ahmedullah, the General Manager, telling me, ‘You must speak Tamil not only fluently, but like a Tamilian; not like a Hyderabadi or an Englishman.’ “

A planter from 1983-93 in Anamallais and Kanyakumari, Yawar’s mission is to work across boundaries of race, religion and nationality to bring hearts together. Cheers to the spirit of humanity!
Read the story

31. The Power-full Problem
With the festive season here, let’s keep the laughter alive and set aside our worries for a while. And let’s try to carry a little spark of laughter in our hearts, so we can offer compassion and support to those whose burdens are heavier than ours.

Now you will find these elements of laughter, compassion and struggle in the first story I’ve chosen to share; a lovely story by my old friend Jaya Dutta.
Read the story

32. Hello Darkness My Old Friends
Story by Gowri Mohanakrishnan
Read the story
33. From Town to Tea
Ranu Singh Taragi describes a little one’s first trip to a tea garden in this utterly charming story –
Read the story
34. Shobha the Bison
Here’s Norman Woods’ lovely story about a rather unusual pet – truly, this could only happen in a tea garden.
Read the story
35. Begonia
Get yourself a cup of tea before you settle down to read it, because you will be lost in Mamlu Chatterjee’s spellbinding narrative. And I am sure you will love the beautiful photographs from the Malaysian tea plantation where this story is set!
Read the story
36. Lychee Tale from Cha Bagaan
The story I have for you is from a visitor to the tea gardens. Now there is something about the tea gardens that draws visitors in and makes them a part of ‘tea life’ as we call it. Maybe it’s the adventures, the shared meals (and the many rounds of drinks), the merriment, the goof ups and the calamities that come along at regular intervals!

Indian Chai Stories is proud to be back with another story – and Madhu Nair tells it like it is, with much love and laughter. Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!
Read the story

37. Friends Forever
I’ve always loved sharing stories by the ‘chai ka baba and baby log’. The children who grow up in tea bungalows have a wonderful childhood, and they have the most lovely stories to tell. Dip Sengupta takes us to a ta garden in the ‘Terai’ (plains adjoining the Darjeeling hills) where he spent many happy days as a ten year old, and introduces us to his special friend.
Read the story
38. Mangra Oraon – A Man of Many Parts
Aloke Mookerjee’s engrossing story will transport you to the Dooars and to another era. And you will enjoy meeting Mangra: ‘In the driver’s cabin, Mangra would regale me with stories of his love life and other small gossip of the ‘lines’. He had charm and a way of storytelling that I thought was wasted as a driver in a remote area.’
Read the story
39. My World in a Teacup
Hello to all the dear good people at FOM/Chai for Cancer.
December begins, and suddenly everyone is longing to drink lots of tea!
What is your favourite style? I like mine very fresh; brewed for exactly three and a half minutes, with just a drop of (lactose free) milk and half a teaspoon of sugar. Today I have a story by Mansi Chaturvedi, and it’s a tale in a teacup. She invites you to join her in a little gupshup over her favourtie cup of masala chai.Thank you, Mansi!
Off to Mansi’s verandah, then! Read the story
40. Caught in a Shootout
Hello, friends! It’s Friday, and I’m so happy to be back with another story from the tea gardens for all of you lovely people at FOM/Chai For Cancer.
There’s a song that comes to mind whenever I think about our life in the tea gardens. It’s called C’est La Vie and the refrain goes, ‘You Never Can Tell’.
You wake up on one of those gorgeous mornings to a world of gold and green with sunlight dancing on the tea bushes. You marvel at the deep silences, taking in lungfuls of sweet, pure air and think, ‘This is heaven’. And then something happens to make you realise it takes just a moment to shatter the idyll. Today’s story by Vijaya Sarmah is about one such incident. Read the story
Life can change forever in one second, so here’s to the spirit of optimism that takes us all through, and cheers to that marvellous cup of Indian tea that prepares us to face Life every morning!

See you all next week! Yeh vaada raha.

41. Bungalows that became homes
Hello again, friends! It’s so joyful to go through the Indian Chai Stories blog in search of the story that I plan to share on the coming Friday. We’ve read two very different accounts of life in the tea gardens over the last two weeks; each of them from a tea planter’s wife. We’ll continue with the memsaabs today.

I’m particularly fond of this story, and I won’t spoil anything for you by telling you why. Read all the comments at the end and you will understand!

So here is Gumi Malhotra, with an invitation for all of us to take a little virtual trip to the tea bungalows that housed her and her family over the years. Be sure to sit down with a cup of your favourite chai before you set off on your little tour! Bungalows that became homes Read the story

Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea, and cheers to the spirit of the planter’s wife! More about her later. See you again next week, folks! Yeh vaada raha!

#42 & #43
It’s that time of year, and I would like our dear readers to get a taste of a real tea garden Christmas. Santa was in my dreams last night, and I woke up thinking of what he said, ‘Spread some Christmas cheer, my girl! There should be at least two stories today!’ Sigh! Santa, thank you for calling me a girl!

Dear readers, here you go!

Gumi Malhotra brings us ‘Christmas Lunch’ for your Story Number One: Christmas Lunch

Second, Niloufer Patkar, shows us an unusual gift
and Sudipta Bhattacharjee takes us to the Western Dooars with this heartwarming and poignant reminder that Christmas is all about love and loved ones.

Ho! Ho! Ho! That’s three cracking good Chai Bagan Christmas stories! I know you will all enjoy unwrapping these presents. Oh, and they’re all sent to you by Aunty Santa! For now, we’re continuing with our Memsaab theme.

Have a very Merry Christmas, everyone! Joy to the world, and Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea.

See you all again next Friday…yeh vaada raha!

#44. Unrequited Love
A very Happy New Year to all the lovely folks at CFC/FOM!

The New Year is a time for friends old and new. More old than new today, as ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind’ plays on in my head. Memories of crawling home in the early hours from merry gatherings at the club made me think of this story by my old friend Roma Circar. I loved it when I first read it almost six years ago, and it remains one of my favourites.

We’ve been reading tea memsaabs’ recollections these last few weeks. There are plenty more to share. Now the men – the planters – tell you stories of a different kind. Being gentlemen, they will wait for their turn.

Roma describes the chai bagan saheb with inimitable flair: ‘Like a De Beer’s diamond, a planter radiates multiple facets. He is the original Superman, identified not by a swirling red cape, but rather a prosaic pair of shorts.’ Over to Roma, then.

Enjoy your read. I’ll be back next Friday with another Indian Chai Story – yeh vaada raha!
Cheers to the spirit of Indian tea!

#45. Hawa Pani - from a tea bungalow
Greetings to all you lovely people at CFC/FOM! Foggy mornings and freezing nights in Delhi leave me longing for the warmth and colour of the Dooars (North Bengal).

The Dooars, that beautiful green haven which was our home for three decades. As I flit back to the past, I’m also putting the calendar in fast forward to April, that magical time when it’s not too hot or cold.

So dear readers, I invite you to enjoy this little taste of Dooars life with me.
This is my account of a typical April storm from Moraghat Tea Estate in the Dooars. Don’t forget to pick up your cup of chai before you start reading!

Cheers to all of you! Cheers to life! I’ll be back next Friday with another garam cuppa for you. Yeh vaada raha.

#46. The Lord of the Garden Gypsy
Greetings to all you lovely people at CFC/FOM!
It’s that magical time of day when I sit down with a good cup of tea and lose myself in dreams of all the tea gardens we’ve lived in over the years. Life in each garden had its own flavour.

My old friend Ranu Taragi tells a delightful tale. Her story is itself like life in the gardens; charming, pleasant and full of fun, and then without a warning, terror and danger! ‘Life in the wilderness can take sudden frightening turns’, says Ranu.

I know you will enjoy this story, with all its character sketches and descriptions of the thousand little things that make life unique in Tea. Oh, and I must thank my own ‘Bawarchi’, ‘Bearer’ and ‘Baghal’ from the time when this story was written, because they posed happily for pictures to embellish the tale – not that it needed any pictures! So pick up your teacup and sit down to enjoy this little road trip to the tea gardens. Off we go!

Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea! And cheers to all the wonderful people who bring us that lovely cuppa!

I’ll be back with another chai ki kahaani for you next Friday…yeh vaada raha!

#47. Back in the Day - Part II
Greetings to all you wonderful people at CFC/FOM.
Today I’m sharing a personal favourite, a lovely story that captures the atmosphere of a lost era: Shilpa Castledine’s childhood recollections of life in the tea gardens of the Dooars. Read – Back in the Day – Part II

You will enjoy her description of her mother, and of the routines as they existed back then.

A little excerpt: ‘ At breakfast mum and dad would chat away about all sorts, not only garden matters and bungalow matters but world politics, India’s politics, the news. We had a Phillips radio which had a cat’s eye that had to warm up as you turned the knob and it would turn green telling you the radio was on. I remember listening regularly to Radio Ceylon….’

I’m sure you can’t wait to read on. Do settle down with your cup of garam chai and enjoy the story of tea life back in the day!

Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea! We will meet again – next Friday, with another story! Yeh vaada raha!

#48. Here Comes the Bride!
Hello, all you lovely people at CFC/FOM!

Friday has come around again, and I’ve been going through a lot of stories to decide on today’s pick.
An enjoyable task, and for this reason a difficult one; I get lost in the stories, in the memories and in my thoughts of the friends who’ve written these stories.

When my friends and I were younger, we couldn’t talk enough about our first few months as tea brides. Life changed completely for us city girls when we married our planter husbands! Now when I heard my friend Sarita Dasgupta’s tales of her early days as a cha bagaan memsaab, I realised that becoming a tea wife was no cakewalk even for the girls who grew up in the gardens! You can enjoy this entertaining account here. Don’t forget to get yourself a cup of chai before you settle down to enjoy Sarita’s reminiscences!

I will be back next Friday with another story from another friend, and that’s a promise. Yeh vaada raha!
Cheers to the spirit of Indian Tea!

- Gowri Mohanakrishnan,

Indian Chai Stories

This segment is a result of our fruitful collaboration with Indian Chai Stories, a blog by Gowri Mohanakrishnan, a planter's wife who's been writing tea stories for many years and is also an active supporter of Chai for Cancer.
Her stories come straight from the tea gardens of India and are best enjoyed with a cup of garam chai.

So go ahead #raiseyourcup #DrinkToACause
Visit to donate towards our cause.

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