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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Kaziranga Festival relives Curzon’s visit to Assam

SILCHAR, Jan 3: The three-day Kaziranga Festival which begins from today to showcase the exquisite flora and fauna of the world famous sanctuary relives the visit of Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of British India.

During the centenary celebrations two years ago, quite appropriately the two grandsons of Lord Curzon, Sir Nicholas Moseley and his wife Verity Mosely, currently the third baroness of Ravendale, attended the festival of Kaziranga National Park. It was Curzon who had declared Kaziranga a sanctuary during his tenure as Viceroy of the colonial rule from 1898 to 1905. Mosely received the Sentinel of Kaziranga tribute for the imperial Viceroy.

Lord Curzon, according to historical records, visited Tezpur and Dibrugarh in Brahmaputra Valley and Silchar in Barak Valley. It was Lady Curzon who after visiting Kaziranga in 1904 impressed upon her husband to save the great habitat of rhino and other wildlife species and birds.

Lord Curzon’s visit to this valley of green leaves is not known to many. The scenic and sprawling Dilkhush Tea Estate owned by Kolkata-based Barak Tea Company Limited located against the backdrop of hill ranges across river Barak, 40 km from here, retains certain memories that relive the Viceroy’s two-day autumnal tour on November 17 and 18, 1901.

His visit to the tea estate has still a memorable centering round Italian made marble round table which was particularly brought for the Royal guest for his dinner. It is just to rest and relax for the night in the cool and tranquil environ of the tea leaves. Scanty records reveal he was here to see his niece who was married to the manager of the garden of the time. Nothing however could be known about the name of his niece or the manager. The present management has no information on that.

His visit is remarkable for other reasons also. He addressed the assemblies of native community and tea planters here. Leafing through the scanty records, one is struck by the Viceroy’s appreciation of the scenery around, splendid promise of crops, well-to-do appearance of people and the manifest sincerity of the ovation accorded to him. “The only bitter drop in my cup of nectar”, he said “is the absence of Lady Curzon”.

His speech is replete with contemporary references. It gives glimpse of the extension of railway line from Dibrugarh to Badarpur and Silchar in order to connect it with Chittagong Port. It is referred to as extension of Assam-Bengal Railway to Surma Valley through the hills and jungles to facilitate transportation of tea and enabling the tea planters to obtain coolies at a greatly reduced cost.

The Viceroy while taking up the question of beggar or impressed labourer admitted its abuse. He at the same time announced an increase of the daily wages from six to eight annas. This increase, he hoped, would reduce the demand for beggar labourer and as the planters were brought into contact with outside labourer, beggar would cease to exist.

The increase in daily wages, he pointed out, was the result of consultation between the Government of India and Mr Cotton, Chief Commissioner of Surma Valley, following a representation to him by the mirasdars of Cachar in 1900. Lord Curzon shared the anxiety of the tea planters on the revision of land assessment leading to enhancement of land revenue, but clarified that the rates were considerably lower than they were in Assam Valley.

He however, assured them that the “matter will occupy my attention”. His speech besides being witty was also humorous. In response to the toast of his health proposed by Cathcart on behalf of the planters, Lord Curzon replied, “man may come and man may go, the generous instincts of planters go on forever”. Speaking about a planter’s obsession with tea, he observed, “tea is never out of his thought in the day time. Upon it, he flourishes or pines, but by an admissible law of reaction when the evening comes, he invites his guests to dinner and he gives them something else”.

His dinner speech was also a reflection on the status of English people of the time, “bulk of whom belong either to the army or some branches of the public service”, who after serving for stipulated period of years retire gracefully. But the tea planters of Assam work with different objectives, he said and added that they invested and produced without which the country could never be developed.

His speech is significant for another reason. He felt honoured at being escorted by a detachment of Surma Valley Light Horse, now known as Assam Rifles, and took the opportunity to recall the valiant role of some members of the force on battlefield. Lord Curz on said he would always remember his meeting with the natives and planters for all their hospitality and generosity. THE SENTINEL

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