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Saturday , October 13 , 2012
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A heady brew of history
- Book on tea heritage of Assam to be launched in Calcutta

The cover of Burra Bungalows and All That

Calcutta, Oct. 12: Every steaming cup of tea, at a roadside dhaba or a tea bar, carries the whiff of a story.

Telling tales of times when a dozen precious chests of India’s tea sailed to Britain, on board a sailing ship named Calcutta, in 1838 and the ensuing boom in Assam, and after.

Documenting the history of the buildings that have witnessed the growth of the tea industry in Assam, is Burra Bungalows and All That, with a plethora of maps and memories, to be launched by The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) tomorrow.

A part of Intach’s endeavour to promote tea tourism in the country and abroad, the book juxtaposes beautiful photography with a comprehensive history that’s just not a dry statement of facts.

It comprises some heartwarming tales of the era, including anecdotes of the planters’ lives and episodes straight out of a wife’s diary.

It speaks of the struggle with nature and disease to set up the plantations, as well as the diversions that made life bearable.

The Calcutta chapter of Intach, with the support of the Tea Board of India, and the Intach, UK trust will formally launch the book at the Palladian Lounge, Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry at 6.30pm.

Edited by G.M. Kapur, heritage conservation activist and convener, Intach, the book tracks the industry in Assam, from managers’ bungalows, to clubs, churches and cemeteries that have became part of the history and heritage of the industry over the last century-and-a-half.

The nuggets include the story behind Curzon’s Steps, erected to aid Lord Curzon’s ascent to a tea garden bungalow in Margherita, or the sole remaining bungalow with a thatched roof in Cachar.

The document also speaks of the descendants of tea garden employees who were brought to Assam from China to help cultivate tea, way back in the 1830s.

Former chairman of the Tea Board of India, Basudeb Banerjee, had mooted the idea of the book, to ensure that the “physical remnants of the past” do not disappear.

“The planters were wedded to their tea estates and built bungalows that are of architectural significance. While some respect the importance of the heritage bungalows, others are simply unaware of their importance,” he added.

A committee of former tea planters, convened by Monojit Dasgupta, the secretary general of the Indian Tea Association, shortlisted around 150 bungalows to be showcased as part of the project, out of some 400.

“The main idea was to document those stories behind the tea industry, which make it such an integral part of the history of Assam,” Kapur said. “We also wanted to promote tea tourism and to create tourism circuits, like the Jorhat-Majuli route,” he added.

The author of 10 Walks of Calcutta, Prosenjit Dasgupta, environmentalist and member of Intach, Calcutta, provided the text and aided the research.

The grandeur of the tea gardens and bungalows are tastefully captured in photographs by Dasgupta, Kapur and Pronib Das of Dibrugarh.

The current chairman of Tea Board, M.G.V.K. Bhanu, and tea planter Hemen Barooah will also be present at the launch.

“The mystique of a bygone era would have been lost without the book. Thankfully, Intach took upon itself the onerous task of documenting an era which still has an aura of romance and intrigue,” says Bhanu in the prelude to the book.