Tag Archives: Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna

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

  • THE SAGA OF KARTOO

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.

Thank you – from Mr. Ronald Goss

Dear O.Cs:  

Deepak Thakur, N.K. Akers, Gurrinder Khanna, Arvind Narula, and I am sure I came across Dan Dhanoa somewhere on this page, thank you so much for your greetings.  I wish I could have had a big party on my 91st birthday and had all of you there, but this pesky virus made that impossible.  However, I had a wonderful birthday; first of all,  the day couldn’t have started off any better than it did with that phone call from Delhi from a gentleman by the name of Vijay Khurana; it made my day. The rest of 3rd May, 2020, was spent on the phone talking to so many beautiful people and reading and responding to fifty or more messages.  You call that “isolation”?  It was very kind and thoughtful of you to remember an old teacher who has now moved into that stage so aptly described by Will Shakespeare thus:

The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. 

And Vijay (Khurana) thank you for relaying our conversation of the 3rd so brilliantly. As always, you were so generous in your remarks. Mrs. Goss and I feel so blessed if in any small way we contributed to your success in life. Congratulations to you, one and all, for your remarkable accomplishments as true ambassadors of your school and your families.  

Many thanks again. It is a privilege to have know you and had some part in who you are today.  

Ronald Goss (BCS 1956-64)  

P.S. Gurrinder Khanna, Mrs. Goss was so thrilled to read your message.  She loved you boys as your matron.

Some random thoughts – Indi Khanna

On the cusp of adding another year in my life I find myself, uncharacteristically, sitting idle at my clean-as-a-whistle office table.  With little else to do, one’s mind does tend to wander.  So today I very consciously gave it a free rein, allowing it to meander along down my 67 years, picking up little bits and pieces at random, piecing them together into a mirror for me to peer into.

The reflection I see has left me thoroughly confused, wondering whether it was my education which was flawed, or am I stuck in time while our nation has moved on?

Becoming a boarder at a tender age of 5, through my eleven years in Bishop Cotton, our universally relevant school motto, Overcome Evil With Good, was practically etched in my mind, becoming almost my middle name.  Oh yes, I’d have happily gone through life, dispensing with the “Singh” and instead being called Gurrinder Overcome Evil With Good Khanna.

The confusion now, when I am almost 67 years old, stems from me trying to once again define, identify and separate the ‘Good‘ from the ‘Evil‘.

During my formative years and all the way through to quite recently, those two characteristics were stark and easily identifiable.  Most unfortunately, not so any longer.  Our “democracy” today has brought us to the now when, I for one, am left groping in the dark, trying to understand what happened and actually questioning my own upbringing.  Am I now going to have to re-educate myself into believing that I am different to ‘them’?  Am I?  Different – how?

We need to pause.  We need to rewind and go back to thinking with our own minds.  Not with the minds of others who would try and overturn years of education and rational thought. Maybe we now need the second coming of one who was the unborn nation’s lodestar and guided the founding fathers with words which today have much more relevance then at that time when he, in Gitanjali, penned them down more than a century ago:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;

Where words come out from the depth of truth;

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;

Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Is anyone listening?

(Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna)
Rivaz 1959-69

“Chicken on the Menu” and “Angle to Angling” – by Indi [Gurrinder] Khanna

Two articles by Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna – enjoy!

Chicken on the Menu

In 1975 at a young 22 almost straight out of University and a Masters in English, I found myself up on Panniar Estate (High Ranges) having been despatched there by the Malayalam Plantations Agents in Cochin. Born and with my entire formative years having been in Simla where the only agricultural produce was apples, planting as a career had never ever crossed my mind. Providence and a long story (for another day) of how I found myself down south. Having been sent for an extension interview to a rubber estate near Trishur (Mooply), the first Tea bush I ever really saw and touched was when I arrived at Panniar, never for a moment realising that this innocuous plant is what my entire life would revolve around so that 45 years later that love affair continues. And thankfully so!

The next morning, on my first day at work, my P.D. Mr Abid Khan who over the two years I worked under him became a father figure for me, told me that for the first three/four months I was not to be given a motorcycle and that I should walk the estate with the conductor, following which words I was duly ‘handed over’ to Mr Balia. A most imposing figure replete with a pith helmet and a swagger stick, Mr Balia (never just Balia) could WALK! And so over the next four months after a very crisp ‘good morning sah’ and a tipping of the pith helmet, we walked and we walked and we walked and then we walked some more covering as much of the 320 hectares as we could.

Panniar being a good one and a half hour drive from Munnar and the High Range Club I was totally dependent upon Abid and Shamim who very kindly, every time they headed that way, would take me along for the evening. On other days, end of day, Abid would come past the muster on his bike and ask me (this was an almost daily ritual) ‘what are you doing this evening?‘ Bereft of any kind of transport there was not much that I could do and so evening after evening, straight from the muster we’d head up to Abid’s bungalow where the three of us would play badminton till it got dark after which it was scrabble while listening to BBC plays on Abid’s transistor. Abid being a rather infrequent drinker, while a drink was offered to me every now and then, Shamim always made sure that I never went back to my bungalow hungry. We followed this lovely ‘habit’ for all of four months till, having worn away three pairs of ‘Bata Hunter shoes’ (all that was available back then) trudging along behind Mr Balia, I was finally made mobile with my Bullet.

About three months into this routine in the Club, two of my senior colleagues from Surianalle Estate (the other Malalayalm’s Estate in the High Ranges) casually asked me that in the absence of a bike, what was it that I did in the evenings. Sharing my routine with them, Raghu and Appu asked me when I was planning to reciprocate and have Abid and Shamim over for a meal. Which casual remark led to my getting down to buying a dinner set, curtsey the Company’s soft furnishing allowance and our Group Doctor who was heading down to Cochin for a weekend. Finally the proud owner of a spanking new Hitkari dinner set adorned with tiny pink flowers, when Abid came past my morning muster it was my turn to ask ‘Are you and Ma’am busy this evening?‘ and so my first grand dinner party.

Arranged for our local Kadai to get me a bottle of brandy from Munnar and had my cook / bearer / gardener / man Friday – Kaliappan buy a chicken from the labour lines. The menu for the grand dinner being Chicken curry, a vegetable, daal and rice – which incidentally was the extent of Kaliappan’s culinary skills. The arrangements having been made, I headed off for the ‘Mr Balia march’ of the day. Walking back from my evening muster, just below my bungalow, I kept hearing a strange repetitive sound of ‘baak, baak, bakka…..’ which appeared to be emanating from under the bushes. Peering down through the bush frames I saw my friend Kaliappan sitting on his haunches with a palm full of rice and intently ‘baaking‘. Having been unceremoniously hauled out from under the bushes he very sheepishly and with all 32 teeth being flashed at me, informed me that just as he was about to knock off its head, our pièce de résistance had managed to wiggle out of his clutches and had disappeared through the pantry back door.

To say that I was upset would be an understatement. With no money to buy another chicken and with it, in any case, being unlikely that Kaliappan would be able to muster up a replacement at that time late in the evening I had to resign myself to that first dinner being a simple and fairly inedible veggie affair. Crestfallen and having showered, waiting for Shamim and Abid, I was thumbing through my weekly supply of Newspapers (we received our ‘daily’ newspaper in one lot, once a week) when I felt a ‘presence’. Peering over the top of my newspaper I saw our winged dinner, likely drawn in by the bungalow light, very proudly strutting across the red oxide floor. In a stage whisper I called out to Kaliappan who, peeping out from the dining room and seeing the fellow, was out like a flash of lightening. He grabbed the hapless fellow by his neck. Should anyone have seen that film, in his deft movement and sheer speed Kaliappan was the embodiment of the Bushman in ‘The God’s Must be Crazy‘. The next thing I heard was a squawk and by the time Shammim, Abid and I had done with our chit-chat, the poor escapee was in my new Hitkari serving dish on the centre of the dining table swimming in a curry!


The Periya Dorai’s (Big Boss) Angle to Angling

After two years on Panniar with my father figure P.D. (Abid), I was transferred to one of the other Malayalam’s properties in the High Ranges – Surianalle Estate.  Despite us being directly on the other side of the valley from Panniar with a clear line of sight and just a couple of kilometres away as the crow flies, most times we never really ever got to see Surianalle.  The reason for that estate being almost always invisible most times is explained by its very name – Surian (the sun) Illay (not there!).  Which is exactly what it was – almost totally bereft of any sunshine.  Every morning one went down to the muster in thick mist which hung over us heavy as a blanket, all the way through to well past noon at which time, as if by magic, the mist would dissipate to allow the sun to stream in (when the sky was clear, that is).  Conditions which allowed all of us to get our daily fix of vitamin-D till about 1500 hours at which time we went back to being Surrian-alle!

I digress, so let me wander back to the tale which needs to be told.

[click for larger view]

My P.D. (the big boss) in Surianalle was a short (all of 5′ 4″) stocky and tough as nails Scot from Aberdeen.  Clyde Lawrence despite all his bluff and bluster (and he had oodles of that to toss around) was at heart a bit of a softy.   All in all a rather delightful teddy bear package.  After a couple of months of making me run around like a trained monkey and having established that maybe I was an ‘alright type’ one day while walking through the fields he casually asked me whether I had any interest in angling.  Me – angling!!  Having arrived in South India straight out of the dry hills of Simla followed by college and university in Chandigarh was like asking me whether I had ever visited the moon since in Punjab the only angling one had ever heard about was ‘marroing angle’ on anything in a skirt or a salwar-kameez.

Being told that I was a total blank on anything to do with fishing, Clyde asked whether I might be interested to get involved.  Having heard through the grapevine that the P.D. was an avid angler (he was known to have actually said that getting a fish at the end of one’s line was much more pleasurable than having an o******) wild horses would not have held me back from grabbing the opportunity to get further into Clyde’s good books.

Having established my interest, that evening I was invited to the P.D.s bungalow for a drink and was presented with a hand-me-down rod, a spinning reel, some line and a couple of swivels and spinners.  Having been explained the basics of how one was supposed to use the tackle I was told that every evening, post work, I should drop by at Clyde’s bungalow armed with the equipment.  And so began an almost three month training session of  converting ‘young Gurrinder’ into a well rounded planter by me learning how to cast a line, the way ‘it is done in Scotland’!  The Surianalle P.D. bungalow has a huge lawn on which, armed with my ‘new’ rod, duly threaded and with a spinner at the end of the line, I was told to stand at one end of this ‘cricket field’ while a small coin was placed at the other end.  And so began my training.  Day after day, week after week, I had to keep casting to try and hit the coin.  While the new angler-in-the-making toiled away, Clyde and Winne would sit in the verandah having their evening cuppa and scones and cakes and every now and then making appreciative ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ whenever my spinner spoon actually managed to land on target and we all heard a rather satisfying ‘ping’ from that end of lawn.

Three months later as a well trained angler, though one who had never been near any water with his rod, I was asked whether I might want to accompany Clyde and Appu to Gravel Banks on Rajamallai estate.  Appu, a couple of years senior to me, had obviously already been through the grind and was accepted by the boss as being a fisherman.

Come Sunday Appu and I hopped into Clyde’s Ambassador to be driven to Rajamallai at breakneck speed totally unmindful of potholes, bumps or anything else on the road.  Clyde’s Scotsman logic being that if one sped over impediments, one felt them less and that the cars suspension was less prone to wear and tear.  The fact that his car was more often in the estate workshop for replacement of the dozens of rubber bushes (a typical feature of the Ambassador) rather than with Clyde, did not deter him from changing his mind on how that poor vehicle needed to be driven.

Two hours later, duly shaken and stirred, we arrived at Gravel Banks, on the way having been tutored by Clyde to watch out for the leeches which, in size in and around Rajamallai, were reputed to be in close competition to the trout in the stream.  After we had assembled and threaded our respective rods, in good P.D. fashion Clyde told us that he was going to head upstream from the fishing hut and that Appu and I should head downstream.  The P.D. logic being that with him being upstream from us he would be casting for fish which had not yet been spooked.  And so downstream the two of us headed with huge leeches reaching out to us on both sides of the path and even dropping down our backs from the thick overhanging branches. The only way to avoid the leeches was to walk along in the water unmindful of the rocks and suddenly finding oneself waist deep in freezing water, all the while casting out at regular intervals and every once in a while pulling in the usual 12/13oz tiddlers which is the ‘Gravel Banks standard’.  So as not to disturb each other Appu walked along one bank of the stream, me on the other.

About two hours into the pleasurable exercise, I saw Appu’s rod curved at a rather acute angle which could only mean one of two things, that either he had snagged his hook on to some rock/bush/whatever (a regular feature in Gravel Banks) and was yanking to release the hook OR that he had a big one on the end of his line.  From where I was I could see that Appu had that fisherman’s look on his face when he knows he is on to a good thing.  As well he should have because following a bit of a struggle, out came a goodish 1½ pounder which by Gravel Banks standards could only be described as a whopper.  Almost as excited as he was, I waded through to his side of the bank to look jealously at the thrashing trout in his grip.  While both of us were admiring the prize Appu casually pulls the hook out of the fellows mouth and then, horror of horrors, puts the poor sod back in the stream.  It took me a minute to realize what he’d gone and done by which time the ‘catch’ was well on its way, probably counting its blessings!

When I found my voice to ask Appu the reason for this totally inexplicable behaviour, I was given a lesson in P.D. ‘management’ which stayed with me through my planting days both in the South as well as in Assam, that for a peaceful next working week one never went back home with a bigger fish than Clyde and never with a larger total catch and that, should one end up in that situation where nature has given you the larger bounty, just let it/them go!

By 1300 hrs when we met back at the fishing hut, asked by Clyde what we had in our respective bags and shown our rather meagre harvest and not a word about the ‘one that had got away’, the P.D. with a ear to ear grin opened his bag to reveal plenty more of the 12oz wonders than the two of us collectively had. 

It worked!  Like magic it did.  Monday to Saturday while the other two assistants on Surianalle were at the receiving end of Clyde’s ‘weeds in xxx field’ and ‘signs of bad plucking in others’, messers Appaya and Khanna were only educated further on what the two of us should have been doing to ensure a bigger catch!

Gurrinder [Indi] Khanna was at BCS from 1959-1969 in Rivaz, he now runs a very successful Tea business from Conoor and a link to his company is: Tea-n-Teas