After deforesting miles of rolling hills, braving diseases (particularly malaria), and wild animals, early British pioneering planters successfully planted bushes of Camellia Sinensis brought over from China. They set up factories to churn out tea — the cup that cheers. In order to name these gardens they opened up their maps of England, Scotland and Ireland, and called the tea gardens they developed after their own villages, boroughs and counties back home.
There were a lot of Anglo-Saxon names given to tea estates, like Margarita, Marybong, Castleton, Glenburn, Monteviot, etc. The Darjeeling tea garden Margaret’s Hope derived its name from St Margaret’s Hope a tiny village in the Orkney Islands situated off the northeast coast of Scotland — a far cry from its green canopied Indian namesake nestling in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The procedure followed in southern India was much the same — Craigmore, Pascoe’s Woodlands, Sussex, Somerset, Nonesuch tea estates and many more.
On occasions the Poms gave Indian names to their estates for some quaint etymological reasons. There was one in Assam called Hatimara (so named because a hati was shot there) and a neighbouring estate called Hatigira (where the elephant finally fell).
Legend has it that a Buddhist sage, an itinerant traveller, came to a pristine and idyllic area of Darjeeling and was so captivated by the beauty of its landscape that he decided to stop wandering and settle down there, exclaiming runglee rungliot which in Tibetan meant — ‘thus far, no further’. The British planters decided to honour the sage and called the tea garden that they developed there — Runglee Rungliot.
In southern India a range of hills was named The Kanan Devan Tea Estate Company, after two bow-and-arrow slinging Adivasis who guided the British pioneers to the hills when they were looking to find the ideal terrain to plant tea. It was a tribute Englishmen rarely paid to the natives.
More than half a century on, India has not ceased to mimic her colonial masters. Real estate builders continue to look up maps of England, Scotland and Ireland to come up with names like Notting Hill, Beverley Park, Windsor Towers, Hampton Court and the like for their multi-storeyed buildings.
In the Indian psyche English names exude ‘Class & Style’ not associated with desi (ethnic) ones that are dismissed as being nadan (country). Indians have still not stopped naming their dogs Jackie, Jimmy, Johnny etc, and one out of five would come wagging its tail responding to either of these names.
Thankfully, what has stood the test of time, not influenced by our colonial lineage, is the giving of baby names, where we have strictly adhered to the traditional — albeit somewhat shortened and made easier on the tongue. Parents look up meaningful Sanskrit names that the builders don’t. The pet names, however, tend to veer towards Anglicising — Bobby, Pinkie, Sweetie etc, but on the whole this area has been staunchly Indian, impervious to foreign influence — thanks to which we will not, mercifully, have to rub shoulders with a few million Tom, Dick and Harrys!