Tea pickers rely on almighty rather than technology (FEATURE)

Deckiajuli (Assam), Oct 29 (IANS) Middle-aged Martha Tutii knows very little about technology - she still relies on divine blessings so as to enable her pick the best tea leaves.

Sunday, October 29, 2006 | 8:20:42 AM IST (+05:30 GMT)
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Deckiajuli (Assam), Oct 29 (IANS) Middle-aged Martha Tutii knows very little about technology - she still relies on divine blessings so as to enable her pick the best tea leaves.

Like Martha there are thousands of tea pickers in Assam - the heart of India's tea industry - whose lives are filled in myths and legends. But the hands that pick the bright leaves from the bushes and finally bring the morning cup of cheerful tea often go unnoticed.

Each morning, Martha, a chirpy tanned woman and mother of three teenagers, gets ready for her daily routine by saying a small prayer before she sets out to work at the Deckiajuli tea estate, about 140 km north of Guwahati.

'Be it Christians or Hindus or followers of any faith, all the tea pickers pray for a good day's work so that we are able to pluck the best leaves and earn more in terms of wages,' Martha says as he sets out with a bamboo basket slung across her neck.

And for the rest of the day, her nimble fingers crops through the bright flush on the tops of the bushes, milking the buds from the plants.

At 47, she is one of the most agile workers at the Deckiajuli tea estate - pursuing an art of plucking tea leaves that she inherited from her forbears dating back two generations.

'We always make it a point to pluck the right leaves so that when processed the drink has pleasant characteristics, superior appearance and aroma. It is not just that you randomly pluck the leaves,' Martha told IANS.

She is part of India's long history as a nation of tea growers, the country today being the largest producer of the beverage with Assam tea known worldwide for its rich quality.

Martha's back has been burnt in the white midday heat - sweat running off her forehead and down her arms as she flicks her wrists, shaking it off, before dropping the leaves into the bamboo basket on her back.

Like Martha, Lakshmi Boraik, another experienced picker, is equally concerned to pluck the finest leaves and to do that she also seeks spiritual help from Vishnu, the Hindu god.

'There is Vishnu with us always and hence you get the best tea produced from Assam,' she says with a hint of smile.

Both Martha and Lakshmi say the art of plucking is not as simple as it looks.

In plucking, the shoots are nipped off by catching the leaves between the forefingers and thumb, and then with a quick dexterous turn of the wrist, they are taken off quite clean.

Generally the tip and two or three leaves are taken, if fairly soft. The lowest leaf down the stem being so nipped off that its stalk is left adhering to the main stem and it is between these two that the new shoot forms, producing in 12-15 days another flush.

'This is an art in itself and many people do not know that the cup they sip involves a lot of hard work,' Martha says as she slowly trudges her way back home with the sun beginning to set.

Copyright : Indo-Asian News Service
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