On the Ground in India (Part II)

18-Mar-2013

Yvonne Murphy continues her report on the Diaspora team's latest trip into the Scottish Diaspora...

The overnight train took us to Siliguri in the Darjeeling District of West Bengal. Ruby’s husband’s family are tea planters and her son Aditya had kindly agreed to host us for a day. We were driven to the family tea plantation. We were driven around the plantation, home to 3 000 workers. Tea cultivation from soil preparation to nursery and plucking was explained, as well as the process of tea production in the Fulma Tea Factory (est 1924). Many Scots owned tea plantations particularly in the higher and more fertile lands in the area. Tea had been known and cultivated in Assam before the East Company arrived on the scene but it was a Scot, Major Robert Bruce who was the first European to discover it in India in 1823. The afternoon was taken up by a drive on the Hill Cart road to Darjeeling 3500 feet up from the plains. Wonderful views of the tea gardens dropped below us with almost vertical paths between tea plants.  The family refuge, Gayibari (right), is a typical colonial tea planter bungalow built from stone with marble floors and beautifully full of the family antique furniture. 


Overnight and back on the train to Kolkata, to make an appointment with the Principal of the Scottish Church College (left), Dr John Abraham. Dr Abraham’s office walls are lined with previous principals but pride of place is a large painting of the college’s founder, Reverend Alexander Duff, (b. Moulin, Perthshire) behind his desk. Duff was the first missionary to India from the Church of Scotland. English was the medium of instruction and the aims of the college are those of its founder namely, building character through education based on Christian teaching. Dr Abraham hopes to encourage teachers to stitch a Scottish Church College panel.

Dr Chandan Mukherjee, the Vice Principal took us on a tour of the building and grounds and pointed out a number of representations of Swami Vivekananda, a graduate (1883) of the college and an international philosopher.  He was highly regarded as a voice for the masses and organised large scale social service. International philosopher Dr Mukherjee proudly showed us his initiative – a medicinal garden in front of Duff’s house where MSP Mr Michael Russell had planted a sapling in 2011 emphasizing contemporary links.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kyd, East India Company, was the founder and honorary superintendent of ‘Company Bagan’ in 1787, later to become The Royal Botanic Garden, Calcutta’ and today known as Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden. William Roxburgh is known as the “Father of Indian Botany”. He was appointed superintendent in 1793. He increased the plant collections significantly, had Indian artist paint beautiful images of the flora and accumulated meteorological data. The botanical gardens are no doubt a welcome relief for the Kolkata residents from the bustle of the city but they had the important function of research and collection as well as cultivation of plants economically significant to the East India Company. Roxburgh’s house (below) is in the gardens, and adjacent to it the herbarium erected in 1882, that George King was responsible for. Visitors today still enjoy King’s design and landscaping of the gardens.

We had a quick stop at the Presidency General Hospital. Sir Ronald Ross received the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1902 for his work on malaria and it formed the basis for combating the disease. He is remembered by a plaque on the western wall and there is a garden in his name. The Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases was founded in 1926.

We returned to Ruby’s house for a typical Bengali dinner. Her husband, Monoo, spoke at length about his knowledge of the tea industry and we were very kindly presented with his copy of ‘The Saga of Indian Tea’. Adrian Thomas and Ruby’s sister joined us for the evening which was a perfect end to a fascinating visit to Kolkata. Ruby was a wonderful host – her knowledge and passion for Indian culture enabled her to put us in touch with people we wouldn’t normally have been able to meet. We were made very welcome and we cannot thank her enough for her assistance.


Gillian and Yvonne returned with no shortage of images and inspiration for Andew to incorporate into his designs. We're all looking forward to seeing the India panels emerge as the project continues...