MEMOIRS OF MANILAL ABEYAWARDENA

Manilal Abeywardena (2014)

ALTON:

Geoff Middleton had fallen seriously ill and was to be sent to England for treatment, rest and recuperation.

I was therefore appointed Acting Superintendent of Alton in 1961. Peter Easteal a reputed Planter who was on Gouravilla overlooked the “rookie” Acting Superintendent. Peter and his wife Marjorie took me under their wing as there were few Ceylonese planters in Upcot at that time – Clive Meyers on Fairlawn being one of them.

There was much socializing among the planters. On alternate Sundays a service was held at the Anglican Church in Maskeliya. Most planters attended the service and then proceeded to the Maskeliya Club to worship BACCUS with Rockland Gin and Tonic being the favoured drink. Many an elbow was lifted.

Weekly Tea Days were held at the Maskeliya Club and hosted by the planters in rotation with their wives providing tasty eats. Tennis, Squash and Billiards were played with tea and drinks to follow. John Holland of Strathspey and his wife Nancy were among the regulars. Jack Armitage of Moray and his SD Duncan Kreltszheim and his wife Lorna too were regular in attendance. In fact, most planters of the district attended these weekly Tea Days with shop talk and labour problems being discussed.

Maskeliya Club also held an Annual Tennis Meet on a Friday and Saturday followed by a Dance with a Band in attendance. The SWINGING HARPS led by a Mr. La Harpe from Hatton with his group was the favoured band. The Tennis Meet comprised of Singles, Doubles and Mixed Doubles and attracted not only members of the Club but also players from Darrawella, Radella, Talawakelle, Agras and even from the Dickson’s Corner Club, Uda Pussellawa. The tennis matches were hotly contested but easy camaraderie prevailed.

Planting in those days was free and easy with little re-planting and only infilling of vacancies in pruned fields being done.

Upcot teas sought favour in the Colombo and London Auctions with the better teas sold Ex-Estate. Gouravilla obtained the best prices with other marks including Alton being not far behind.

During seasonal dry weather when only 4 to 5 days of plucking was done, the planters whose hobby was fishing went trout fishing. Only dry and wet flies were used as bait and worms strictly forbidden. There was a hatchery at Nuwara Eliya for trout and “fingerlings” released into selected streams once the season was over. Charles Bagot, a British aristocrat, was not only a keen fisherman but also a swimmer and built a dam up-stream for a swimming pool. Many a happy morning was spent there with Nuwara Eliya Beer cooled in sacks placed in the stream and then drunk.

Geoff Middleton returned fit and well and I left Alton after a successful act.

The labour on Alton and some Sinhalese Shop Keepers in Upcot Bazaar accorded me a farewell with my being taken in a procession from the Alton Office to the estate entrance.

BRUNSWICK:

I was transferred from Pita Ratmalie, Haputale in February 1976 and spent a happy ten years on Brunswick. My work was made pleasing as I had reliable first class SDs.

On my taking charge of Brunswick, the Senior SD was Melly Thangiah and the Junior SD Harin de Costa. On my recommendation, Melly was given a PDs billet and he was succeeded by Lester Seneviratne. Lester did not remain on Brunswick long and Randy Mcleod succeeded him. Randy did Brunswick well but he too left planting to join the hospitality trade and was succeeded by Devaka Wickramasuriya.

Each SD looked after 3 Divisions and was taught office routine, accounts and dealing with correspondence.

Brunswick tea prices were mediocre and I took charge of tea manufacture with the Factory Officer, Mr. T. S. Hannan. Incidentally, Mr. Hannan was the 3rd generation of Hannan’s on Brunswick – his father and grandfather having served with distinction.

The good standard of green leaf sent from the fields lent itself tonight manufacture to make quality teas. With the assistance of Mr. Hannan and his team and my expertise in tea manufacture, before long Brunswick was producing quality teas and obtaining top prices even beating Laxapana.

The Brokers Forbes & Walker gave me useful feedback and Lipton’s paid Brunswick top prices. I stopped selling in London as the Colombo Auctions and Ex Estate Sales paid better. The Whittalls Tea Department tried to put “their oar” in but I ignored them.

Harin de Costa had family ties with the Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya and he left to join the hospitality trade as General Manager, Grand Hotel, Nuwara Eliya. He was replaced first by Sanath Kularatne and thereafter by Andrew Taylor whose stays on Brunswick were not long and uneventful. On Andrew leaving Brunswick, he was replaced by Seevali Mudannayake, a young assistant in his first posting as SD.

When Mr. Ranjan Wijeratne, Chairman, Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation visited Brunswick he commented that the standard of plucking on the entire estate was the best he had seen. High praise indeed!

Devaka Wickramasuriya left Brunswick in late 1984, having been 5 years on the property, and was replaced by a demoted PD who will remain un-named.

This individual’s interest was more on the better looking female pluckers. As his family was in Kandy, I had permitted to him leave the estate after work on Saturday to return on Sunday night. However, he used to leave on Friday using the Caskieben shortcut – little did he know that I was aware of this.

Due to my experience, I was Visiting Agent for 5 estates of the Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation as well as the privately owned Gartmore Group.

In 1986, I was offered a Directorate with Gordon Frazer & Company, one of the Whittalls Group of Companies, with much higher remuneration and perks. I left Brunswick in February 1986 with much regret. The Brunswick staff accorded me a grand farewell at the Maskeliya Club.

I mention with humour that when I was on Brunswick, Dougie Lamb, then General Manager, Sri Lanka State Plantations Corporation, wrote officially to me appointing me to the post of Visiting Agent to Brunswick! As Dougie was a good sort, I made contact with him pointing out his error. Brian Ratwatte when he heard about this told me I should have written a “tongue in cheek” Visiting Report and billed him Visiting Fees!

I wish to mention a unique social event. Wally Jones of Ingestre married Anne, daughter of John and Nancy Holland. The marriage was solemnized at the picturesque Warleigh Church and the reception held at Strathspey. Drinks at the reception were drunk fast and furious and many drove home in a stupor with only “The One Above” to guide them!!

MANILAL ABEYAWARDENA

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