With advance apologies to all & sundry.
Relax! Absolutely NO offence meant!
With this one I go back again to the late 1970s and my four year stint with Malayalam Plantations on two estates in the High Ranges.
While the High Range club was always buzzing with some activity or the other, the level of action would peak whenever the club had an inter-district meet which were held over weekends and were always looked forward to with the greatest anticipation. This was an absolutely wonderful ‘let down your hair’ creation of the Scot and Irish planters back in the day which in simple terms not only created a link between different planting communities and clubs, but were also most necessary to give the opportunity to planters to interact with others of their ilk and together with them, let off some pent-up steam. I’m not aware whether the system of the ‘club meets’ still continues in the same manner, a crying shame if it does not.
In Assam where planting districts are in relatively much closer proximity to each other, the meets were always an annual two day weekend affair with planters from other clubs within a reasonable radius gravitating towards whichever club was hosting the meet on a particular weekend. The meets were centred around sports competitions which would kick-off on Saturday afternoon to end on Sunday evening, interspersed with a dance and dinner affair on Saturday. It was not at all unusual for the Saturday night to stretch into the wee hours of Sunday. On both days, regardless of whatever be the time, we’d all get back to our respective estates and bungalows. That this in some cases meant that one would be driving a VERY long distance, more often than not in a lovely and deep alcohol induced haze, was never ever a deterrent.
In South India, where planting means not just tea but also rubber and coffee and with planting districts being spread across three states and distances between the districts being literally hundreds of miles, the club meets were a very different and a much more elaborate affair to those in Assam. Instead of one club hosting a ‘come one come all’ jamboree where planters from all other clubs would converge, in south India the meet was on the lines of a one-on-one home or away bi-annual event.
This yarn being specifically about the High Range Club (HRC) if, for instance, it was the ‘at home’ Bamboo Club meet, we’d have all the coffee planters from Coorg drive approximately 450Kms to get into the HRC on Friday evening. All the guests with or without an accompanying spouse and kids, would be met by their respective weekend host, a Manager or Assistant on one of the Tata Tea or Malayalam Plantations (those being the only two companies with properties in the High Ranges) with whom the guest(s) had been billeted. Having met up with ones guest WHENEVER one could manage to pull the person away from the bar, the guest would be driven back to the hosts bungalow. Saturday and Sunday were designed along much the same lines as the Assam meets, with the guests finally driving back the long distance usually on the ensuing Monday, more often than not dead beat and somewhat worse for wear.
While the above was the standard format for all South India Club Meets, when it came to Malayalam Plantations (MPL), since the company had 26 estates (13 Tea and 13 rubber properties) scattered across Kerala and Tamil Nadu, every other year the HRC would host a HRC/MPL do. While the programme through the long weekend was along the same lines as the inter-club jamborees, for this particular meet it was a whole bunch of MPL superintends (PDs) and assistant superintendents (SDs) from the various far flung MPL estates who would converge on to Munnar. For whatever be the reason it was an accepted fact amongst SI planting circles that the MPL executives were a VERY rough and rowdy bunch! A lovely and boisterous gang of blokes quite capable of literally driving folk up the wall! Which they did rather effectively and quite frequently.
One amongst that bunch of delightful and crazy SDs was a ‘one bottle of rum a night’ wonderful specimen whose demeanour was just short of bordering on insanity. I.P.Bopiah (Bops) was a self-inflicted accident prone wild human being who had pranged his bike more often than one could remember with quite a few of those mishaps resulting in some very serious and severe injuries so that the gentleman’s face was akin to a badly reconstructed jigsaw puzzle.
On the other side of the fence was one Tata Tea Manager who could only be described as a coconut – somewhat brown on the outside but snow white on the inside. Both Khalid Baig and his wife Poogie Baig were ardent and self proclaimed Anglophiles. Besides his many other accomplishments which he was wont to crow about, a feather in Khalid’s cap which he was very proud about was that he was the opening batsman for the HRC cricket eleven.
The club secretary, one of the Tata Tea executives, obviously a sadist who was likely not quite in love with Khalid, did the unthinkable. In drawing up the host/guest list for the MPL meet the gentleman billeted Bops with Khalid in the Nymakad bungalow. Khalid, needless to say, had no clue that he had very subtly been pushed over a precipice.
Come the Friday of the meet Bops rolled up into the HRC bike parking cage by about five in the evening and promptly made a bee line to the bar where he got down to slaking his thirst after that long ride up from venture valley to Munnar. Hours later a somewhat worried Khalid, having never before set eyes on him and having hunted high and low for his guest, was seen walking around like a headless chicken asking all and sundry whether anyone knew who this I.P.Bopiah character was and whether anyone had seen him anywhere. Having finally located his by now rather inebriated guest and the two having been introduced to each other, Khalid managed to pry Bops off the bar stool, sit him in the jeep to drive off to the bungalow for dinner.
Khalid being a very serious sportsman buttressed by the fact that he was not only the captain but also the opening bat for the HRC elevens, while they were both driving down from Nymakad to the club, had very patiently explained to his guest that it was necessary that he (Khalid) be fresh for the Sunday match scheduled to start at 10 o’clock and that could they PLEASE wind up early that evening so that they could both get a good night’s sleep. Ever the gentleman that he was, the prompt response from Bops with a hand on his heart had been a “no problem, whenever you say”!
With the Saturday sports competitions kicking off around noon, a sincere promise having been extracted from Bops, the host and his guest walked into the HRC smiling at each other. Having steered him into the club, while Khalid immediately pushed off to the men’s room to change into his soccer kit, Bops being averse to any form of physical activity other than those related to his right elbow, strolled across to his favourite room and got on with doing what he did best. Which he continued doing without a break all afternoon and into the evening which dovetailed into the dinner and dance affair. That was when the HRC bar would be thrown open to all, the damages after they had been totted up post meet, being very fairly split amongst the members of the host club with ones share appearing in the ensuing months club bill. Not that our friend Bops ever hankered for a free drink, but if that was on the cards, why would he even consider looking a gift horse in the mouth.
From all accounts from others sitting at the bar with Bops, that particular evening he had surpassed his one bottle tipple while the night was still young. Hours later having probably concluded that he MAY possibly have had enough, tottering away from all the noise and music in the main bar and hall he meandered his way into the Men’s Bar, wriggled himself into a tight little ball on one of the leather upholstered settees in a quiet corner of that unique barroom and promptly dropped off into a deep rum induced ‘coma’! Come midnight, an extremely harried Khalid could be seen peeping into every corner of the main hall and the men’s loo desperately seeking his guest. With all the club bearers having been inducted into a search party, our sleeping beauty was finally located and, with the help of a couple of his colleagues who were quite au fait with how the situation was to be handled, Bops was deposited in a muttering and red faced Khalid Baig’s car.
Sunday morning dawned with a cloudless blue sky, the optimum conditions for the much anticipated cricket match. By 9 o’clock a whole bunch of eager cricketers were on the field limbering up, trying to sweat off their respective hangovers. At ten the two white coated umpires walked up to the pitch waiting for the captains of the two teams to come in for the toss. The captain of the MPL team looking somewhat worse for wear ambled across to where the three gentlemen stood around twiddling their thumbs and all three looking expectantly towards the club entrance, waiting for Khalid to make his appearance. 15 minutes later the no-show was replaced by the vice captain so that the coin could be tossed for the game to get underway. Having won the toss and by now alive to the fact that their opening bat was AWOL, the MPL captain rather deviously opting to field, inviting the HRC team to bat first.
About an hour after the game had started, the spectators sitting on the lawn and steps leading down to the field, saw and heard a vehicle drive in at breakneck speed and come to a grinding halt with a rather unhealthy screech of tyres. Out hopped a mad as hen Khalid Baig from behind the steering wheel followed by a ‘body’ stumbling out from the other side. An obviously very severely hung-over, bloodshot eyed I.P.Bopiah was seen making a feeble attempt to look as lively as his very active host who was literally scrambling towards the field. Red faced and livid as hell, walking up to his padded-up teammates who were sitting amongst the spectators, with the white inner pulp having been discarded and with the brown outer shell of that coconut finally coming to the fore, he actually shouted out “Who the f*** billeted this crazy character with me”? The sniggers which followed were all well hidden behind hands across many mouths.
While Khalid was busy ranting and letting off steam, the interest of all the youngsters was focused elsewhere, on ‘Mr trying to stand erect’. Finding a safe spot on the grass, away from the main body of planters and sitting the gentleman down, we simply wanted to know what had transpired for his host to have gone ballistic. Bops classic response, which was mumbled out in between him, almost like a dying fish gulping mouthfuls of air, came out of him in short bursts. The story in short bursts akin to Morse code went as follows:
“That’s a crazy couple I stayed with”
“I mean what’s the big deal about a guy enjoying his drink”?
“Anyway, you guys know what ones stomach is like in the morning after having downed some rum the previous evening”
“I guess I must have overslept, but when I woke up there was a pot of tea on the bedside table which had gone cold”
“Man, I was thirsty and ended up gulping down all that tea”
“While my stomach was already feeling uneasy, that damn tea did the trick so I had to rush to the loo”
“Man, what a relief! The damn thing just kept coming out”
“Stretched on for ages”
“When I was finally done I looked around for the mug. Can you believe it, there is no mug in that damn bungalow, only unhealthy paper”
” I have never used paper in my life and have no intentions of changing. Dirty buggers”
“So I sat around wondering what to do”
“That guys loo is like a f***** hospital room, so bloody clean. There is nothing in it that I could use”
“All I could see was a tiny cabinet above the washbasin. You can imagine just how awkwardly I had to shuffle across to that damn thing”
“When I opened it, the only thing in it was an eye glass. Yup a damn EYE GLASS”
“Did I have choice? Took me all of half an hour and I don’t know how many trips to the washbasin tap”
“What a bloody tiring morning, Man!”
“But you know what has me feeling happy, that tomorrow morning that bugger Khalid will be washing his eye in that damn thing”!
Looking around, not one of us clustered around this clown literally soaking in his wise words did not have tears streaming down our faces!
Years later well after I had relocated to Assam I did get to hear that this absolutely wonderful soul had finally managed to have an accident which had him hand in his dinner pail.