Sankos Tea Garden holds the distinction of being the last tea estate in West Bengal. It has two neighbours, Kumargram Tea Garden and Newlands Tea Garden. Commonly this region is known as the ‘Corner’ and ‘Kala Pani’, assistants and managers posted to these gardens considered it as - punishment postings.
The corner had a club ‘Newlands Club’, it had a tennis court, billiards table, table tennis table and a bar. Every Wednesday afternoon, the managerial staff from the three gardens would meet to play tennis and have tea.
The highlight of the corner in the 1980s was a perquisite which was a company owned and maintained VCR and Colour TV which was in the custody of the senior manager. I remember my father had custody of the colour TV and VCR when he was posted in Sankos Tea Garden, the funny part was that the closest place where you could get a video cassette was Alipurduar and Siliguri which were 70 km and 250 km away from the garden.
I recall the assistants had tied up with the only bus to Alipurduar and Siliguri to take the video cassettes to the video parlour, which had standing instructions ‘send two new movies with the driver’- the bill used to be settled at the end of the month when they went to collect money from the bank.
Every Saturday evening, the Manager would host the entire staff for a movie. After work, the assistants would dash off to their respective bungalows to freshen up and come to the burra khoti ‘managers bungalow’ for the movie screening.
I had the duty of setting up the TV and VCR in the drawing-room, which got converted into a mini theatre. My mom would lay out snacks for everyone and Dad would show the boys the bar, he invariably served ‘Peter Scot’ whisky and rum from Bhutan. The movie screening would end with pot luck dinner and very often singing and dancing which would end in the Burra Bungalow and continue in the Chota Kothi.
I also have fond memories of the movie screenings in the garden it used to take place outside the Sankos Tea factory.
(The venue of the movie was to the left of the signage)
During Durga Puja and the winter months, the garden would screen a movie once a month for the labour, it was an open house with labour coming from as far as Newlands, Kumargram and the basti to watch the movie. A truck used to be sent to Alipurduar to ferry the projector and reels, they would screen movies which were a few months old.
The screening would have its own share of commotion, the movie projector operator would put the wrong reel and there would be an uproar in the crowd. Movie screening meant an evening of fun and frolic, the bura sahib would grace the opening of the movie, the chairs were brought from the factory for the burra sahib, assistants and babu’s.
(Single reel projector from Alipurduar used for screening movies)
I remember there used to be a huge volleyball playground outside the Sankos factory, this is where the movies were screened. The playground was close to the homes of the non-managerial staff, the babu basa (it is to the left of the signage, on the right is the Sankos factory). The bara babu, Chota babu, factory babu, fitter babu and doctor used to stay there.
There used to be a buzz among the babu’s a day before the screening, they would clean up their homes and layout their prized crockery. The ladies would be put to test, one of them would be assigned the responsibility of serving snacks to the managerial staff, it was pakoras, cutlets, fish finger and jal muri and sharbat. Everyone would sit around and watch the movie, it was good fun.
They would use a single reel projector which meant that the reel needed to be changed every twenty minutes. It had its own share of excitement, the projector in-charge would put the wrong reel and often the climax of a scene remained unfinished as the reel would finish, imagine waiting five minutes for the villain to murder the heroine. All said and done it was entertaining for everyone present there.
The babus would continue to party among themselves after the movie, some of the inebriated labour would cycle into the khud and trudge home. The next morning, everyone in the factory and the garden spent some time analysing the movie and the arrangements. All I was interested in “When is the next movie”?