Remember Chameli Memsaab, the 1975 Assamese drama film directed by Abdul Majid? Like that love story, set in a tea estate in Assam, between a British tea estate owner and local tea garden worker, Ann Poyser, the first lady tea planter of Assam, comes of Anglo-Indian parentage: her father was British and mother an Adivasi.
Ann has now urged women to take up tea plantation as a business and work hard to develop the industry of the state.
The 79-year-old has 30 years of experience in tea plantation. In 1990, Ann started planting tea in Poyserbari tea estate, 20km from Digboi. Poyserbari is at Dibrujan, Pengree, in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district.
Initially, she faced lots of problems in setting up a tea business, but by sheer hard work she has overcome all obstacles.
Ann told this correspondent that in 1989 she started a nursery after taking voluntary retirement from Namdang tea estate of Margherita.
“I first started tea plantation on 50 bigha of land gifted to me by my mother. Earlier, I did not know much about tea plantation, but I learnt from the tea labourers how to plant tea bushes. The work helped me a lot to learn about tea,” she said.
“My father Stuart Vanune Poyser was a British who came to Assam in 1932 and joined Badlabeta tea company the same year. He was transferred to Pengree tea garden in 1936. My father then married my mother, Monglee Kol, who was known as ‘Bogi mem’ by locals. She was an Adivasi girl. My father died in World War II. I was very close to my mother after my father’s death and I learnt many things from her. She died on March 11, 1995,” Ann added.
Tea, Love and War, written by her cousin David Mitchel, tells how Stuart Vanune Poyser fell in love with an Adivasi girl of Pengree and married her.
The Adivasis are known as tea tribes in Assam because during the East Indian Company’s rule, the British brought them from other parts of India. Since then the tea tribes have been living in Assam.
Poyserbari tea estate is one of the cleanest and well-maintained tea gardens in Pengree. It produces 1.2 lakh kg of green leaves annually.
“Earlier, there were communication hurdles in reaching the tea estate, but now things have become easier. Earlier, I worked as an adviser in the Namdang tea estate. But I had no knowledge about tea production because I did paper work. However, tea is in my blood because my father worked in a tea estate and my mother was an Adivasi. I have sown tea seeds, but now there are workers who look after my tea garden. Tea, Love and War is an autobiography that tells about our family,” Ann said.
The manager of Poyserbari tea estate, Hesam Ansari, said: “Ann Poyser is an inspiration for women who want to take up tea business. She has worked hard for the tea estate. We are a Trustea-certified tea garden. Three years back we were associated with Trustea and learnt a lot of things.”
Trustea is an organisation to improve social, economic, agronomic and environmental performance of Indian tea estates, small holders and bought-leaf factories.