I used to go to Grass Hills as often as I could with my two companions, the Raman brothers. They were cousins and had the same name. We would leave my motorcycle in the garage of the Assistant Manager of Akkamalai Estate – it didn’t matter if you knew the person or not. It was our code of hospitality that at such places your house was open to anyone who needed help. If someone wanted to park a car or motorcycle or needed some petrol or a cup of tea, he only had to ask, and it was all provided with a smile. The Raman brothers and I would start walking up. The distance to the APA Hut is about fourteen kilometers. If you don’t take the road and instead walk up the hillside it is a couple of kilometers shorter, but you need a lot of stamina for the climb. The climb is steep, the elevation (six thousand feet) takes its toll especially if you are not used to it – as I discovered when I went to the Grass Hills in 2007 after a gap of twenty years. The footing is very rough and uncertain as the tough tussocky grass grows in clumps and you must find your way between clumps. If it has been raining, then almost every single blade of grass will have a leech or two on it and you are more than likely to be viewed as manna from heaven by them. But if you can overcome the effort and the bloodshed then you are rewarded with some of the most spectacular views that you could ever imagine. The road is simpler and easier but like all simpler and easier tasks, less rewarding.
The objective of life is to achieve that which you did not know you could. To scale heights that leave you breathless with fear until you realize that it is excitement and not fear at all. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending. Short breath, dry mouth, alive senses, and joy. The objective is to see how much more you can achieve. And you never can tell that unless you try to do that which you have never done before. Safety is only one of the considerations in the strategy to achieve that. Never the objective. As they say, ‘Ships are safest in the harbor. But ships are not made to stay in the harbor.’ To live is not simply to draw breath. In this whole incident the one thing that is not logically explainable but an essential part of leadership, is the willingness to trust your inner voice. When you do that you enter a state of grace. It is a state where you do things that you did not know were possible. You will find yourself saying things that you were not aware that you knew. You will find your mind working at a heightened state of awareness. You will feel more alive and full of energy than you ever did before.
Guests were very special in the gardens. There were no guest houses or hotels, so whoever came, stayed with you. Official guests stayed with the General or Group Manager, Manager or Assistant Manager, depending on who they were in terms of their rank or significance for the Company. Your guests stayed with you or sometimes with your friends, depending on what was happening in your life at the time. We played host to a friend’s grandmother, another friend’s heavily pregnant wife as he had to travel urgently and to several others. In the plantations we treated each other as members of our family. We stood behind each other, no question about it. I have written here about a few of the guests. We had many more. Too many to name here. So, if you visited us and are not mentioned in this article, please know that you are remembered though I have not mentioned you here.
Keeping wild animals as pets is not a good idea at all. Whether that is snakes or anything else. Wild animals must be left in their natural habitat and enjoyed there, watching and photographing them. Taking them out of their environment is cruel on them and if they escape or are released in an alien environment, they can become a major problem, like all the Burmese pythons in Florida. They have no natural predators in the new place, breed unchallenged and prey on local species which have no defense against them and become a major hazard. All because someone thought the little snake was cute and wanted it as a pet and then when it grew to its normal size, they couldn’t cope with it and released it in the nearest piece of bush they could find, imagining that they were doing a good deed. The rest is painfully clear. Please don’t keep any wild animal as a pet. There was a case in South Africa where a ‘pet’ African Python killed two young boys, whose pet it was. Once again, this is not ‘proof’ that snakes are treacherous. It is proof that people are stupid. Snakes are not pets. Please don’t keep them.
The more I spent time with myself, clearer it became that it is important to be ‘friends’ with yourself. The more you are self-aware and comfortable internally, the more you can enjoy the world outside. When you are not aware of what is happening to you inside or are unhappy with decisions you have taken, or with your own internal processes, the unhappier you are likely to be with your surroundings. The normal tendency is to blame the outer world, but if one looks within, it is possible to find the solution. One rider however, that you will find only if you seek and only if you have the courage to recognize what you see. That is where sometimes the matter remains unresolved. Not because there is no solution. But because we are unwilling to accept the solution or to implement it.
Teenagers are your parent’s revenge on you. This is what they wished on you for what you did to them when you were a teenager. So, bear your own teenagers with a smile. Teenage is an affliction, like dotage. It can be borne with grace or without. But it must be borne.
Let me tell you, the joy of really having a friend you can depend on, who understands you, looks up to you and will carry forward your legacy, is something that can’t describe. Do it right and the day will come when you will hear what your teenager said about you to someone and quoted you as an example to be emulated. Then you will know that you did your job well and have left a legacy which will do you proud. That is what makes all the effort worthwhile. Do you agree?
The root of all motivation is to know what one can expect from one’s efforts. WiiFM is a station that everyone listens to. What’s in it for Me? People don’t always ask you that in so many words. But you can be certain that is what is in their minds all the time. If you can translate whatever you want them to do in language that will show them what they stand to gain, you won’t need to do any convincing. For this you need language. Speak the language and you are three-quarters of the way there. One of the things I was very proud of was my knowledge of and relationship with my workers. I knew them all by sight, most by name and of many, I knew their family connections as well. They, in turn, treated me more like a tribal chief cum family elder rather than the Manager of the estate.
Truly it is said that tea planting is not a job. It is a lifestyle and a way of life with its own norms, culture, taboos, ways, and manners. We in the hills, were a community, comprised of people from a huge diversity of backgrounds, who in the normal scheme of things would never have even known one another, let alone be friends. But in the plantations, we were not only friends but in the case of some of us, closer than family. I can say with total certainty about not one but many of my friends from tea – ranging from workers, to supervisors, staff and fellow managers – that we would have gladly given our lives for each other and feel privileged for the opportunity. We didn’t need to, but on a couple of occasions, it came close to that.
The plantation years were not all about work and unions. They were a time of great fun and fulfillment; of wonderful friendships and personal growth. During these years I was able to be in the rain forests of the Western Ghats and see in their natural habitat, animals that it had always been my desire to see. I have always had an abiding interest in ecology with specific reference to mammals and their habitat. What better place to indulge that than the Indira Gandhi National Park inside which I lived for the 7 years that I lived in the Anamallais.
What is it that drives a man to excel? What if we make that the goal of our lives? To excel. Even if you are running in the right direction, you will lose the race if you don’t run fast enough. So if you want to win the race you don’t just have to run but you must constantly improve your running; technique, speed, stamina. That comes from hitting the track every morning with the single-minded focus to improve over your past record. And you must do this as long as you live. Remember you will only be able to do this if you love doing it.