The things that come in the mind when we talk about Assam are the vast tea-plantations, spread through acres and acres of inclines on the numerous teelas that are so common in this part of the country. The green carpet that flows smoothly from one teela to another with snaking narrow roads passing though them. Primarily grown in the region which known as Upper Assam, the tea has been the identity of the state since a long long time. More so because all the big brands of the tea-industry grow, process and sell (and export) their variants of assam tea from this region. The Southern part of Assam hardly has any big brand to boast of. That however does not mean that there are no tea-gardens there.
Tea bushes thrive under hot and humid climate and the southern part of Assam, just like upper – Assam, provides just that. But things are not so rosy in this part of the state. There is really no particular reason that I can think of because of which this region has hardly seen any corporate presence while the upper areas of the state boasts of a lot of the same. May be it is because of the connectivity and communication with the rest of the country. However, it had not been this way always.
During the pre-independence days, the Barak Valley was well-connected with mainland India via what is now Bangladesh. It took much less time to reach Kolkata than it takes today. With another country now geographically sitting between two regions of India the only connection to the mainland was now through the long the hills of Meghalaya and Assam.
Crossing hills, be it by road or rail, meant time-taking journeys and in turn, late arrivals at the destinations. Over time, the focus shifted towards expanding the plantations to the areas which were well-connected with the rest of the country. The tea-gardens in and around the towns of Silchar, Karimganj, Hailakandi etc. kept getting less and less attention and with time many factories and tea-estates downed their shutters.
People who had worked for the tea-companies their entire lives are now finding it hard to take-up jobs they have never done but they are left with no other option.
There are a handful of tea-gardens in and around my home-town Silchar and at-least for now, they are functional and the charm of a tea-garden still remains.
For someone like me who has his roots deep in the tea-gardens of Assam and its way of life I feel deeply pained by the way things are. What adds to this pain even more is the sad that, if there’s no helping hand from those who are in a position to turn things around if they want to, it will only be a matter of time before the tea-gardens of south Assam will become a thing of the past.
I hope that things start changing for good before it is too late.