The Missing Sibling & The Saga Of Kartoo – two writings by Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna

  • The Missing Sibling

While born in Simla, the entire formative years of our son Madhav till he went off to a boarding school, were on an estate in Upper Assam. The  upshot was that Madhav naturally grew up with and  adopted the ‘garden Hindi’ as his mother tongue.
A  language which I describe as the ‘estate lingua franca’. A beautiful amalgamation of Hindi, Assamese, Bhojpuri, Bengali and a bit of ‘huh?’ to end up with the lilt and cadence of a ‘musical composition’ almost akin to the  sweet sound of Swahili.

There being no access to either a nursery or a kindergarten, as is the case on all tea estates regardless of North East or South India, home schooling was the norm. Practically 24×7 my wife Kitty would, while not educating me on what the idiot Dr Spock had to say about bringing up kids, spend her time reading fairy tales and singing nursery rhymes to Madhav. Nursery rhymes which were Madhav’s only window to the world outside the estate.

Having done the trip many times after the kinds grew up, the first time we did our five day odyssey from Delhi to Upper Assam was when Madhav was all of two years old which is when we purchased our first second hand Ambassador in Delhi. Those were the days when roads, after one had emerged out of the ‘big’ city, used to be almost like a figment of one’s imagination. In Eastern UP and extending into Bihar the ‘highway’ used to be liberally peppered with what were, for lack of a better word called ‘pot holes’, but were in fact craters from the surface of the moon magically transplanted on the highway. Pot holes so generously expansive that when one dove ones car into one (there was no way one could circumnavigate the monstrosities) the roof of the car was well below the rim of the crater. But I digress, so let me get back to the main plot. On the third day out of  Delhi as we were getting close to Siliguri, the car had a flat. Just the fact that the tyres had brought us all this way having actually survived the UP/Bihar experience was in itself a miracle. Got the car to the side of the road, emptied out the boot and pulled out the jack. Once the car was jacked up, this being a part of his ongoing education, his mother informed Madhav that what ‘Dada’ had brought out from the boot and had put under the chassis was a ‘jack’. While I was busy removing the wheel, we noticed Madhav going around the car in circles, every now and then bending down to peer underneath the car. His search having yielded no results, he finally came up to his mother and in his most educated good garden lingo and with a very serious look on his face asked ‘agar Jack waha hai, to Jill kaha hai?’ (If Jack is here under the car, where is Jill?) Took us quite some time to stop rolling around in laughter and for the tears to dry up so that I could get back to changing the wheel and put Jill’s brother back in the boot to drive on to Siliguri.

The pleasures of growing up on an estate!

Another ramble from my planting days


In 1987 when I was the manager of Limbuguri Estate(↓) in Upper Assam our docile and beautiful Labrador Lady (thats her →) probably got out of the bungalow compound one day and managed to get knocked up by one of the many dogs from the labour lines  who would hopefully be hanging around the fencing whenever Lady was on heat.

Two months later with Kitty and the kids away on holiday to Simla, preparations had been made in the kids room for the day when I was to become a grandfather. The day arrived  and our bearer Japan and I watched in wonder while Lady worked her way around delivering eight beautiful Lab pups, five of them a lovely golden colour like Lady’s and three black one. And then with a final push, out came a rather strange looking animal. My immediate reaction was that this one was a runt which we would probably have to put down, however barring the fact that he was very different from his siblings, the fellow seemed to be perfectly healthy. A couple of days later after the pups had opened their eyes and had started moving around, I had a good look at the last arrival and decided that this was the one from the litter which the children would love and the one we’d keep.

He was just about the strangest looking dog one would ever see. His coat was reddish brown. Four legs which ended in white, dappled with black spotted socked paws. A tail which was thinner than a Labs but which ended in a white speckled tuft much like a lion’s tail. One ear which stood erect while the other was lazily bent over double. A muzzle which, like his tail and paws, ended in black speckled white and eyes which had a strange and beautiful golden hue.

There simply was no way that I could have named him other than CARTOON (this fellow ← with Muskan is not Cartoon though of the same size). And to the workers he became Kartoo. Much like Jacks beanstalk, Cartoon grew by the day. He ended up a very tall and large handsome specimen, living up to his name. He loved to wander and would disappear from the bungalow compound for hours on end, likely fathering cartoons all over Limbuguri, but would always magically appear in the dining room in time for our dinner. He loved to ride in my Gypsy and would accompany me on my garden rounds sitting proud and erect on the front seat. Driving through any of the labour lines, should he spot a chicken anywhere, he’d be off the seat in a flash and then would dart off with  the bird in his mouth only to be seen in the bungalow after hours.

I of course had to pay for the victims of Cartoons hunting expeditions, not just for the bird but also for the many eggs she would have laid. In addition to the hunting on wheels, fairly regularly I’d have workers coming to my office complaining about Kartoo having visited one of the six labour lines on the estate and having made off with a chicken. Always a chicken which was supposedly the ultimate egg-layer in the lines.  Went on for ages with the hole in my pocket becoming ever deeper , but try as I might I was unable to control Cartoons hunting expeditions. In Limbuguri labour lines Cartoon became something of a legend being famously known as ‘burra sahib ka murghi chor’ (the Managers chicken thief).

And then that day while walking out of my bungalow gate next to which was the bungalow staff houses, I spotted Cartoon sitting erect and very alert in front of Gokulchand, our rather lovable and regularly drunk house boy. I was taken aback to see the gentleman busy plucking the feathers off a chicken. It being almost the fag end of a month by which time most workers would normally have exhausted their salaries and would be scrounging, that scene stopped me in my tracks. The penny having dropped, I called Gokulchand and in my most stern voice asked him how on earth at the end of the month did he have money for buying a chicken? After much humming and hawing and shuffling of feet it was explained to me that on a regular basis Kartoo would bring a chicken for Gokulchand and that the bird would be cooked and shared between the two.

Other than glaring at the duo, both looking at me most innocently, there really was not much else that I could do. The bottom line was that Gokulchand kept getting his regular supply of protein and hapless me had no option but to keep paying for it. When we finally left Limbuguri in 1990, since there was no way that we could take Cartoon with us, we very reluctantly had to leave him behind to be adopted by his hunting buddy. With Gokulchand being of a ripe age, he and Kartoo must have carried on with their expeditions long after we had left Assam and would, I am sure be still at it in their happy hunting ground wherever that may be.

2 thoughts on “The Missing Sibling & The Saga Of Kartoo – two writings by Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna

  1. Anil Prakash

    Ahh memories! Loved your post. Related to it all. Remembered my mid 70’s10 days trip/stay with a College Buddy who was one of the two tea estate assistant managers at Warren tea estate, Tinsukhia. Flew Dum Dum to Dibrogarh or was it Dum Duma on IA.

    Fetched in a jeep and transported on your kind of pot holed/cratered kuccha roads to a majestic house in a sea of tea bushes with only four twinkling lights at night. The manager, two assistant managers and a factory. All equi respectable distance from each other of half a kilometer. The Berra heating the food in the pantry before serving in the dining room as it was brought from the cook house under a covered passage a hundred meters away.

    Meets at the Digboi Golf club, boozy lunches, tall tales which got taller keeping even pace with the gin and Roses lime juice cordial gimlets flowing. The drive back with the sudden on set of the dark with no warning. The ever so often reflection of the jeeps headlights reflected in an animals eye upon a turn. The ever present threat of discovering, or horrors! Stepping onto a snake in the bathroom.

    It was fun for us batchelors, a lark , an adventure but not easy on the wives once we married. And the threat of ULFA put paid to it all. Those were the days my friend……….

    Anil Prakash
    L 1966-1970

  2. Dhiraj Berry

    Loved your post. It seems you’ve been missing Lady and Cartoon did you not check on Cartoon after you left because after reading your post I am missing him. I have two adorable labs and cannot do without them for a single day.

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