Tribals with almost no access to education perform the repetitive and arduous task of picking tea leaves. In order to earn a minimum wage of about Rs.80 a day, they must pluck at least 25 kg of leaves. That must take away all the time in the world to live a happy life, is what I thought. Then there’s all that walking uphill to the factory and forward home to break bread with family. Thank you is all I wanted to say but that may not have been what this man wanted.
A large part of the cumbersome work is borne by ladies. They must carry more than 25 kg on their heads after the picking exercise. It’s truly remarkable that they do this with utmost sincerity and with a sense of joy.
There are those who supervise the workers and perhaps enjoy greater benefits. This man was certainly the man in charge. He had them respond to his every command. The leaves need meticulous segregation by way of tenderness, age and color. We’re dealing with some serious business here and my word carries a lot of weight with the factory owners is what this man seemed to say to me via sign language.
During the monsoon, tea pickers are drenched each day, with self-made plastic rain coats to ward off the often-bucketing rain. Sickness through colds and flu is widespread in this industry. Pluckers also bear the hazards of insect bites and snakes, but they stay undeterred as it’s the only thing they know how to do.
Most of the women who work on the estates are from the tribal communities. I’m not quite sure if they know any aspects of the Indian Labor law. They seemed to be humming away doing their work with a sense of self-worth. Must be the pristine setting.
For a quick lesson on the various grades of tea available in the Nilgiris, there’s always a vintage tea factory willing to tour you around their old rattling machinery in weird vaguely comprehensible English.
I entered this set into the recently concluded International Photography awards and was pleased to receive an honorable mention in all the categories (Portrait, People, Culture & enviroment) entered. For me its a celebration of these honorable folk who work hard to get that morning tea at affordable prices on our breakfast tables. This set was also a finalist at the Photographers Forum magazine awards. Encouragement for me to keep going back to such stories perhaps with a sharper focus next time.
I look forward to hearing your comments.