It was a bright and sunny autumn morning in the year 1905. A festive mood was in the air as it was the day of Tika which is the tenth day after the Navratri Puja celebrations.
The elders as well as the children in the village of Bhutakheti in Oaks Tea Estate had turned out in their best attire to give and to receive Tika blessings. It was then the news trickled in that Sardar Kishanlal Gurung and his wife were blessed with their youngest son whom they named Kharga Bahadur.
In those days opportunities for formal education were unavailable in the vicinity. As a young boy Kharga Bahadur was enthusiastic about learning. Every evening after completing his allotted work in the house, he would travel three to four kilometers on foot through the jungle with a lantern to learn the alphabets from a teacher, Mr. Lepcha, who was fondly called ‘Lepcha Sir’ and resided at Rungmook Tea Estate.
The days turned into months and the months into years and Kharga Bahadur grew up to become a fine young man. Considering that he knew how to read and write, his father, The Sardar, decided to approach the Estate Manager, Mr. James Arbunnott, with the request to absorb his son as an apprentice clerk in the tea garden office. Armed with a pair of ducks he pleaded his case before the Manager and as luck would have it, the request was considered favorably. Thus in the year 1922 Kharga Bahadur got his first job as an apprentice clerk at Oaks Tea Estate.
During the years that followed young Kharga Bahadur was found to be hardworking, honest and loyal. He earned the confidence and the hearts of his friends, colleagues and superiors and all of them started fondly calling him K.B.
Considering that those were the pre-independence years it was absolutely important to have the blessings of the British Manager if one wanted to succeed in life. K. B. was result-oriented in his work, disciplined in his habits and easily became the trusted one.
In the year 1927 K. B was offered better prospects by Mr. George W. O’Brien the proprietor of Goomtee and Jungpana Tea Estates and he began the second stage of his life in those gardens from 1927 to 1932.
In those days many gardens in the tea industry were managed by Managing Agents on behalf of the owners who resided in England. Duncan Brothers was one such large firm of managing agents and Oaks Tea Estate was amongst the many that they managed. In the years after K. B left Oaks, James Arbunnott, the manager was also transferred out but in the year 1932 he returned to Oaks again. Coincidentally K. B had come home to visit his parents and having come to know that his old “Bara Sahab” had returned he thought it proper to drop in to pay his respects. To his surprise, Mr. Arburnnott asked him to return to Oaks but this time, as Head clerk of the garden. K.B happily accepted and worked in that capacity for fifteen long years and under many British Managers the last of whom was D.J. Stradwich. Stradwich was transferred to Poobong Tea Estate in the year 1948 and this is what he wrote about K. B on 16 January 1948 before he left:
He has in my opinion a good knowledge of tea manufacture and garden works and he has considerable influence among the garden labour which he has used in the garden’s interest. He has also taken charge in my absence during local leave. He is most trustworthy.
During that period of time there was political turmoil in Nepal and ‘The Ranas’, who were the ruling class, were fleeing the country and looking for investment opportunities in India. Oaks Tea Estate was sold to one ‘Rani Tika Kumari’, who was the wife of Major General Satya Shumsher Junga Bahadur Rana.
Stradwich had already left the garden and the new owners in their wisdom decided to bring in one Bengali gentleman called Mr. A. Bose as manager and appoint K.B as his assistant. Mr. Bose however did not stay more than three months and K.B was appointed acting manager in the same year. He was subsequently confirmed as a full-fledged manager from 1 January 1951. In those days he was perhaps one of the first locals to be appointed in that capacity, a position he held till his retirement in the year 1968. Kharga Bahadur passed away in the year 1976. I continue to remain his proud son.
About the Author
Jeewan Prakash Gurung is an active member of the Darjeeling Tea Industry for the last 45 years. He has journeyed and transitioned into various roles in the industry, donning many hats as General Manager for Darjeeling Plantations India Limited to Advisor, Consultant and Quality Controller from Swiss Singapore (part of the Aditya Birla Group) to the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation. He is currently the Whole Time Director for the Tea Promoter Group of Organic Gardens.
In his long association with the Darjeeling Tea Industry he has been the President of the Darjeeling Planters Association as well as the Planters Club. He was Vice Chairman of the Area Scientific Committee Darjeeling of the Tea Research Association and continues to serve as a member of the North Bengal Committee.
Socially, he has served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Dooars and Darjeeling Medical Association. Since 1989, he has served as District Chief Commissioner of the Bharat Scouts 8c Guides, Darjeeling District and was awarded the Medal of Merit by the Governor of West Bengal in In the little time he has free, he loves spending it with his family.