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Tainted tea, Bangladesh

Estate — maybe just a word, and yet words have their own tales. Picturesque plush green fields, healthy livestock grazing, and that grand mansion, are all etched in popular history. Yet, there are tales of lives which have remained shaded, in fact shadowed, under clouds that caress either the fertile fields, or for that matter the flowing hills of Tea Estates of Assam in India, or Sylhet and Hobiganj in Bangladesh. They are the tales of cornered lives, chronic poverty and chained hope. This is the tale of ‘Tainted Tea’.

prawling green hills, petit women in colourful saris, picking tea leaves and throwing them into the tukri on their back — the image we are shown. A picture perfect tale of harmony and prosperity, as portrayed by the many tea companies, is what belies modern day slavery. The impeccable bone china tea cups filled up with affordable light lemon tea has a long journey. And that journey is not as pleasant as the vapour rising from that cup in a lazy Sunday morning. It is ‘tainted’ with the humid sweat of those tea workers, their cornered lives of minimum wages, their servile existence of generations stuck!

I see Sabitri, dying without the right medicine. I see Alomuni, barely in her teens, carrying the sack of tea leaves, much heavier than the school books she will never carry. I see Nunia, with her irritated look while picking leaves, as my face wears the worry about insect bites. Yet I see, Bondhon building a new house for the family. I see an eternal hope, in their gaze over the mountains, a dream of the Promised Land. They have remained our forgotten oldiers of fortune’.

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