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High on tea, planters gear up for noisy New Year
- With the leaves fetching best prices in a decade, estates in Assam are out to party wild and hard

Guwahati, Dec. 30: Tea will be the new wine this New Year with planters across Assam readying to raise a toast to the most miraculous year of the industry at the stroke of midnight.

Though the dirty word called “recession” has choked even the most die-hard optimist, estates in Assam are gearing up for a noisy round of revelry to celebrate profit margins that were unheard of for at least a decade.

A band from Mumbai has been invited to add spice to the celebrations at Jorhat Gymkhana Club, one of the most famous watering holes in the tea-rich Upper Assam.

At clubs in Margherita, Tingri Dibrughar, Panitola and Doomdoma, local bands will set the dance floors ablaze.

“Tea planters are known to be party animals. But the mood for revelry was missing in the past few years. This year we are back in celebration mode,” a planter in Dibrugarh said.

Industry officials claimed that the average price of tea at the auctions this year was the highest in 10 years, fetching around Rs 90 per kg.

Tea from Halmari estate, in fact, set a local record, with CTC tea from the estate in Dibrugarh district being sold for Rs 260 a kg.

“After over a decade of recession, we have something to cheer about. New Year’s eve is a great occasion to kick off the celebrations,” said Prabhat Bezbaruah, former chairman of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association.

Echoing Bezbaruah, the chairman of North East Tea Association, Manoj Jalan, said the year has provided a “breathing space” for the industry since its “downfall”, which began in 1998. “There is much to cheer about, no doubt. But we will need another two to three years like the one gone by to be back on rails,” Jalan said.

If the planters are upbeat, so are the local bands, which have found good business in the planters’ dens this year.

Amitabh Baruah of the Brahmaputra Boys, a popular rock band in Upper Assam, said it has always been “a pleasure” to perform at planters’ clubs since the crowd appreciates old rock numbers. “I enjoy playing the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Eagles or Deep Purple. These people really have a feel for the old Western numbers, probably because of the British hangover,” Baruah said.

Brahmaputra Boys has been booked by Dibrugarh Planters’ Club this year.

Whatever the band, the one to raise the spirits will certainly be liquor — whether tea or wine is the question.

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