MEMOIRS OF TISSA ATAPATTU

Tissa Atapattu (2018)

Not long after I left school (Royal College), in late February 1955, I was interviewed by the Managing Director of Bosanquet & Skrine Mr. Walter Berry and his assistant Alan Sharp Paul.

There were three other strong candidates interviewed that same afternoon, all from St. Thomas' College, two from planting families and the other the swimming champion of St. Thomas' – I was fortunate to get the job – obviously my brother’s good reputation as an established, efficient SD in the Agency of Whittals helped.

In early March, my parents equipped me with Planting gear – suitable field shoes, stockings, khaki shorts, short sleeved shirts, underwear, a field hat to shade me from the sun, and prepared me for my Planting career. The exercise was easy for them as my elder brother was one of the first recruits when the British decided to Ceylonise the industry, and he was already well-established as Assistant Superintendent on Gonapitiya Group, Kandapola, and so they were familiar with what was required to equip me for my new life.

One warm, dry afternoon in mid-March, my father drove me from Kandy to Kandaloya Estate, Dolosbage, my first appointment with the Ceylon & Indian Planters Association – a Sterling Company in the Agency of Bosanquet and Skrine.

Kandaloya Estate, that last name in the Red Book (Ferguson’s Directory) shown as YAKDESSA (Devils place) was located 16 miles off the main Nawalapitiya/Ginigathena road, a dirt road (cart road} as we called it.

We arrived at the Kandaloya Superintendent’s bungalow at 3pm as arranged. My father left after meeting the British Superintendent, a handsome man of 32 years (an ex Naval Officer) and his wife. They had two children, Angela aged 3 years and John aged 1½ years whom I got to know well, and they became very close to me.

My father said good bye and departed after tea, leaving me in the good hands of my new BOSS.

After tea, my boss (PD) showed me my room where I will stay with him during my 'creeping" period of six months. I will be paid a salary of Rs.350 during my creeping period of which my PD would be paid Rs.300 for training and for board and lodging. I was shown around the bungalow, garden, tennis court etc., and we chatted for awhile. I distinctly recall him saying

"Tissa, this weather (meaning hot and arid and windy) is driving me to drink!"

I really did not understand what he meant until I was well into the start of my career. Obviously, the weather was most unsuitable, growth was low, crop was down.

The next morning, I was out with my PD early at about 7.30 after breakfast. He drove me around the estate in his Land Rover with his dog SHANDY a golden cocker spaniel drooling all over my shoulder. He showed me my future bungalow on Upper Division being restored. There had been no SD living there for many years. There was no electricity and a Harrison Lister Lighting set was being repaired to await the new SD's occupation. There was also NO telephone and no refrigerator.

I was still a grown-up schoolboy, mostly nervous and clueless and 90% of what he told me did not mean much at that time. The next morning he introduced me to Ramiah Kangany of 90 acres division who also spoke Sinhalese. My PD was very thoughtful and Ramiah was certainly an asset to show me the "ropes" as I did not speak or understand any Tamil. I was given a copy of INGE WA ANGE PO a Tamil English plantation book which became my Bible during my creeping period.

I was out in the field thereafter for weeks with Ramiah Kangany until I got more confidence. Then I ventured on my own discovering how a Plantation operates from morning muster to evening final weighing of green leaf. Kandaloya also had a large acreage of cardamoms harvested every three weeks and dried in a cardamom drier located close to the tea factory.

Every evening after work and after my shower, my PD would come into my room and question me on what I had learned that day, including Tamil words I had learned. He also asked me general knowledge questions unrelated to Planting to find out what knowledge I had and in turn I too asked several that interested me e.g. why is one called a CREEPER? He replied that in planting jargon a creeper is the lowest form or life, lower than a cooly!

I must confess, he did take a great deal of trouble training me.

Well before the end of three months, my PD called me to his office and told me he was very happy with my progress and had recommended that my creeping be reduced to three months and that I should be confirmed in my appointment as Assistant Superintendent. I was delighted. He also got the Assistant’s bungalow completed, furnished it and got me to move in. I hired an Appu and a houseboy. As there was no refrigerator, I lived on eggs and once a week awaited a beef box from Nawalapitiya that also carried beef for my PD. My Appu roasted the beef as soon as it was received as there was no refrigerator. Occasionally, I got corned beef from Armistice Stores in Nawalapitiya with other provisions like sugar, onions potatoes etc. Fresh milk was supplied from the Lines from a labourer who owned a cow.

I was now 18 miles off the main Nawalapitiya/Ginigathena road in the middle of NOWHERE (Yakdessa).

Soon the Southwest Monsoon broke and I learned to my horror Kandaloya received a total of nearly 250 inches of rain per year, sometime15 inches in a single day! An umbrella was useless and I learned to get drenched each day. There were leeches as long as three inches everywhere and more in the cardamom fields.

Another feature of Kandaloya is that I believe it is located on LODESTONE as it attracted fearful lightning storms, so much so telephones to the office and Superintendent’s bungalow never worked and often during a storm, sparks flew out of the electric sockets (plugs). The Visiting Agent Mr. Murray Jackson refused to visit during the stormy weather as he was scared to death! No surprise it is called YAK DESSA!

My PD and his wife appeared very fond of me and so were their children, so much so that he invited me to stay in his bungalow, left his kids with the Nanny and the men servants and went on long holiday to Trincomalee for ten days. That was a HUGE compliment.

During my period as SD on Kandaloya, my PD encouraged me to play rugby when he learned I had played for Royal College, and he contacted the captain of the Dickoya team David Perkins who was Superintendent of Osborne Estate, Hatton. David included me in his team. I had no transport, I took the rice lorry that came each Saturday morning and returned to Nawalapitiya in the afternoon. From there I took the bus to Dickoya and often arrived at Darrawela Club after the game was over. This did not deter me, I was keen on rugby, having recently played school rugby and continued each Saturday traveling by rice lorry and bus. (See attached photo of the Dimbula-Dickoya 1955 team). Many of both teams have since passed on. Occasionally, my captain David Perkins and his wife Pene invited me to stay the Saturday night in their bungalow in Osborne. 1957 was a difficult year for Dimbula and Dickoya rugby and we jointly formed a Dim/Dicks team.

After I finished about a year he went home on furlough and a person who used to be SD on Kandaloya acted for him for three months.

After my regular PD returned from furlough things were different and he began to turn nasty on me, picking faults whenever he could. I had done over a year’s Planting by that time. He abused me in Tamil in the presence of the pluckers and often called me “you inefficient Ceylonese”.

I used to walk the length and breadth of the estate as I had no motorcycle nor car. I asked him to write to the Company and request a loan to buy a motor bike and in a couple of weeks he told me that they had responded in the negative saying they did not trust Ceylonese SD’s! I then bought my father’s car and repaid him in installments.

I was getting disgusted with Planting being constantly abused by my PD. I became so angry, I wanted to beat him up and leave. However, before doing so, I wrote to my brother and he came within a few days to speak with me. He advised me to be patient and tolerate the abuse, not to retaliate in any form as I would not be able to find another Planting job.

I took his advice and had to 'bite the bullet". For my good fortune, the SD on Laxapana, another estate in the company was going on furlough and I transferred temporally to St. Andrews Division as Acting SD. After about six months on Laxapana I was transferred by Bosanquet’s to Kandenuwara Estate, Elkaduwa to act for the European Superintendent who was going on furlough.

I was still young and comparatively inexperienced, I was therefore, overseen by the Superintendent of the adjoining Hunugalla Estate, also a European. I was told that at the end of six months on Kandenuwara, I would be transferred to act on Hunugalla Estate when the superintendent goes on furlough again, to be overseen now by the Superintendent of Kandenuwara when he returned from the U.K.

I continued to be interested in rugby and turned up for practice with the hope of playing for Kandy. Unfortunately for me, the PD from Hunugalla who was overlooking me was also a rugby player, and played winger, the same position as me. He too turned up for practice and the next day he told me that I cannot play as he was interested in playing the position. I did not argue.

The Visiting Agent was very pleased with my work on Kandanuwara and as my future was unsure after Hunugalla, he informed me that he knew a permanent position as Assistant Superintendent falling vacant in the prestigious Nuwara Eliya Tea Estates Company, a Sterling company for which he was the VA. I applied for the position recommended by him and was appointed Assistant on Concordia Group, Kandapola, St. Johns Division in October 1958.

I played rugby for Dimbula in 1960 and 1961 and gave up playing from 1962 onwards when I was promoted to Superintendent.

I was happy on Concordia, did well, for nearly four years. My bungalow was close to the main Kandapola-Nuwara Eliya Road and only 15 minutes to Nuwara Eliya. I had many visitors and many friends, loved the climate and everything about Nuwara Eliya and the Uda Pussellawa district. I fortunately had the nicest PD, a real gentleman, who was a third generation English Tea Planter in Ceylon.

I was given the position of Acting Manager Concordia Group from June 1962. I married in June 1962 and took over as acting Manager when my PD went on furlough.

In September, when the permanent Manager returned, I was asked to act for the Superintendent Hethersett Estate, Kandapola (the factory is now The TEA FACTORY converted into a hotel by Aitken Spense.)

I was the FIRST non-BRITISH Superintendent on Hethersett. As Superintendent Hethersett, I also had to overlook Goatfell Estate next door and St. Margaret’s Estate, Uda Pussellawa belonging to Mackwoods Ltd., again, the first non-European to be in charge.

My wife and I proceeded to the U.K on furlough in December 1962 to return to a permanent billet – Parragalla Estate, Nawalapitiya belonging to Gibson Tea Estates, the company recently purchased by The Nuwara Eliya Tea Estates Co.

Gibson’s also owned Kahagalla Estate Haputale, Meriabedde Group, Koslanda and the senior billet Needwood Group, Haldummulla which included Idalgashena Estate.

When I took over Parragalla Estate, I was told that the company had decided to sell the property as it was in neglect and that I would be moved elsewhere when sold.

In six months, the Visiting Agent reported a huge improvement in appearance and profit and they decided not to sell. The Chairman from London who was originally a Planter in the Nuwara Eliya Co., visited Parragalla and stayed three days with us and was most impressed with the improvements.

Our first child was born at the Hatton Nursing Home when we were on Parragalla.

Several months later, I had a telephone call from the Chairman in London and he asked me if I could take over Needwood in a few days to relieve the Acting Manager who was being charged with fraud. I agreed and moved within days to relieve the Acting Manager. The Auditors from Colombo were present on the estate inquiring into the fraud when I took over. Most embarrassing as the accused was a close friend.

When the permanent Manager of Needwood, a Scotsman returned from furlough, I handed over Needwood to him and transferred to Kahagalla Estate in Haputale as Superintendent. Kahagalla was a well-managed high yielding property that had a quaint Bungalow that resembled a Cottage in England.

In 1964 again, I was asked to take over Needwood from the Scotsman, a senior Planter as the staff had gone on strike as the Manager had taken the Tea Maker by his ear and rubbed his nose on the fermenting table! There were several other complaints against the Manager, and the strike spread throughout the industry! The Scotsman was dismissed, and I took over Needwood with the staff and labour on strike.

I spent the next few months in and out of labour tribunals and court attending to matters following the staff and labour disputes.

I had two SD's on Needwood, the senior SD on Idalgashena Div. and the other on Haldummulla Div.

Our second child was born in 1965 at the Kandy Nursing Home when we were on Needwood. We enjoyed our life on Needwood. After the strikes I concentrated on the plantation and two factories. The labour force was troublesome, and I had to be very firm and did not tolerate indiscipline and inefficiency. The Trade Unions were very supportive and considered my handling of labour very fair. I dismissed 150 workers and several members of staff for indiscipline and delighted that I won all the cases without any issues. Fortunately, we had a great LRO (Labour Relations Officer) Mr. Fred de Vos and retained an excellent attorney, Mr. Jack Kotelawala from Badulla.

The Needwood bungalow was beautiful, located in a spot overlooking the Hambegamuwa plains looking on to Hambantota.

The Visiting Agent was very pleased with the appearance of the estate, reduced costs and manufacture and wrote two excellent reports commending my work. Co-incidentally, again, the newly appointed Chairman from the U.K. visited and was overjoyed with the V.A.'s reports and appearance of Needwood.

However, apart from verbal compliments, he nor the company did nothing to show their appreciation except verbal praise. My pay was still thousands of rupees lower than what they paid the previous manager and my annual bonus a pittance compared with what others received!

Our elder son was now over 2 years and before long we had to consider sending him to school in Colombo. We were wondering how we would manage schooling. For our good fortune, totally unexpected, one of my previous VA's called and asked if I would be interested in joining him to run the Estate Department at Shaw Wallace & Hedges. The terms they offered were excellent and in August 1966, I tendered my resignation to Leechman & Co. who were now Agents & Secretaries for Gibson Estates and the Nuwara Eliya Tea Estates Co., and moved to Colombo.

I worked ten years in Colombo at Shaw Wallace & Hedges who were in addition to being Estate and Plantation Managers, were also manufacturers of fertilizers, agro chemicals, blenders and exporters of tea, agents for shipping companies, Pan American Airways, insurance and much more. I was given the opportunity as a Senior Executive of Shaw Wallace & Hedges Ltd., to oversee and supervise many of the company’s businesses whenever needed and learned a great deal about how businesses and corporations are managed efficiently.

I decided to emigrate to the U.S.A. in 1975.

The training experience and discipline I acquired during my Planting career and as a Senior Executive of Shaw Wallace & Hedges cannot be replicated.

Using my training, discipline and experience in Sri Lanka, I developed a very successful manufacturing and export business in Food & Ingredients in the U.S.

Single-handed with no employees I exported over U.S. Dollars 25 million per annum before I retired and sold my business.

Related links
Tissa Atapattu Planting Career Profile
The Factory – The Unique Theme Hotel
The Kahagalla Estate Photo Album (2017)

Comments

(In keeping with the objectives of this website, all COMMENTS must be made in the spirit of contributing to the history of this estate, planter or person i.e. names, dates & anecdotes. Critical evaluations or adverse comments of any sort are not acceptable and will be deleted without notice – read full Comments Policy here)