Issue Date: Dec 29, 2012
At a time when the Assam government declared its plans to develop 22 golf courses nestled in its tea estates, a gruesome incident brought forth the misplaced priorities. On the evening of December 26, an angry mob of workers set on fire the bungalow of a tea estate owner in Tinsukia district. The owner, Mridul Bhattacharya, died along with his wife. The dispute started with unpaid wages and lack of housing facilities for the workers. Tea estate workers are typically paid a portion of their wage in cash and the remaining in fringe benefits like housing, subsidised ration and medical facilities guided by the Plantation Labour Act of 1951. But in most cases, the in-kind benefits seldom reach workers—be it in the largest tea producing state of Assam or the prized gardens of Darjeeling. There is simmering discontent in the picturesque tea gardens, as Down To Earth reported last year when the demand for better wages and facilities in the Darjeeling gardens merged with the demand for a separate statehood of Gorkhaland.
When a young film-maker sets to uncover the secrets behind the famed Darjeeling tea, he chooses two abstractions to tell the story: a fictional narrative and the language of gibberish. The scriptwriter and director of ‘Six Strands’, Chaitanya Tamhane, extracts a promise from the viewer at the very beginning of his 15 minutes short film. ‘I will tell you what I know about her. But promise me you’ll keep a secret. Or else I will get in trouble.’