Sun and light: the dirt road leading into Moulvibazar District’s Chatlapore hillock country feels forgotten. At the final village bazaar the rickshaw pulls to a stop. It’ll be on foot from there. There’s a sentry post and a boundary. It’s in the nature of gardens to be distinct from the wider world. They’re supposed to be nature rationalised and improved.
|Houses are different in the garden.|
The houses of usual Bangladesh can venture no further in, because usual Bangladesh has ended. Ahead are old structures of a new kind: workers’ cottages in rendered brick, washed in white, pastel blue or green, with brick chimneys distantly reminiscent of an old English village and more directly of colonial India. Only the tin roofs are the same.
|The small hills of Chatlapore.|
Since the dawn of time gardens have been planted, pruned and tended as a space for relaxation, of beauty and contemplation. Gardens are usually a place to escape ourselves – but for its inhabitants the tea garden defines. Instead of being away from daily life the tea garden is daily life. It’s the only life. In place of a border to block out a shabbier world the tea garden boundary hems a world in. Das was born in Chatlapore.
|In Chatlapore tea garden, Moulvibazar.|
As a boy there were games – one with two sticks, a longer one as bat and the shorter as ball. They played jambura football too, kicking the large grapefruit – called a pomelo or shaddock in English, about any patch of open ground. “As kids we ran naked,” says Das. “We didn’t know much.”
|Tea garden housing for the workers.|
|Rajkumari Das never went to school. She started working when she was 12.|
|Rajkumari Das, 40.|
His wife Rajkumari Das, 40, is originally from Khajadura Tea Estate. She also started working at age twelve. “The tea garden was exciting,” she says of those first days, with an initial month devoted to fertilizer before she began helping her mother to pluck. “But I am still plucking!” she says.
|In the garden they speak a blended language called Chilo-Milo.|
In the garden is a new culture and language of an old kind – or rather a mixture of many.
|The first tea workers were brought in from across India.|
|Tea workers taking a break from weeding, extra work undertaken before the plucking season peak.|
There’s only to accept the multi-generational dislocation from original culture and ancestral identity. The British wanted tea. The garden came to be. In their family, all hope of genuine change belongs wholly to the next generation.
|Identity tends to dissolve in the salt tea of the garden.|
The house allocated to Mr and Mrs Das is, by coincidence, opposite one of the garden’s primary schools. “I used to see other children going in there,” says the father of four, “so I sent mine.”
|Sagar Das aims for a future for his children beyond the garden.|
|Allocated workers' housing.|
|The British wanted tea. The gardens came to be. Evening arrives at Chatlapore.|
This article is published in Star Magazine, here: In The Garden
|The tea garden hems life in.|