A writer’s brew

Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, the Brahmaputra, Bihu dance and Assam. There are things that naturally belong to each other.  Tea and Dr Pradip Baruah are similarly bonded.

Dr. Pradip Baruah, author, tea enthusiast, scientist, explorer
Dr. Pradip Baruah, exploring the forest for wild tea plants. Santi Hills, Manipur. Dr. Baruah is quite the explorer and has discovered many wild tea sites in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh

Tea. It is just the one single syllable. Merely a beverage for most of us. In Jorhat, however, it is life itself. Tea gardens surround the city. More than 130 at the last count. India’s oldest tea research center – TRA Tocklai – is located right there.

And come November, the city flaunts and celebrates that connection with the Tea Festival. The grace and liveliness of Bihu dances, lilting cadences of Assamese music take over the city. It is only befitting that the drink being celebrated is tea –the earthy and nutty flavor of Assam tea seem enhanced by the melody of the music in the winter days and evenings. Even the swaying red and brown colored clothes of the Bihu dancers seem to have drawn their inspiration from of the color of local tea.

It is in this milieu that Pradip Baruah grows up. Discussions of tea thrive in school and at home. Visits to garden estates are virtually part of the curriculum. It was then only to be expected that Pradip turned towards agriculture for his undergraduate studies in Jorhat and followed that up with a Masters degree in the same subject from Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Coimbatore.

Tea Research Assocation, Tocklai, Assam
TRA Tocklai, Jorhat, Assam

He then wound his way to Tea Research Association, Tocklai where he has been since 1992 rising to his current role of Chief Advisory Officer. During his stint with TRA Tocklai, Pradip also completed his doctoral studies and obtained his PhD degree. He is today considered among the top tea experts in the country. 

Another sizeable influence on Pradip was much closer home – that of his journalist father. The influences combine to make Pradip what he is today – a tea enthusiast and scientist, a writer, explorer and above all, a chronicler of all things Assam. Pradip has written seven books, four of which are on tea and more than 30 papers or articles on this subject. A prolific writer indeed and his late father would justifiably have been proud of his achievements.

His first book was an encyclopedia about Assam “Chitro Bichitro Axom” – with information gathered over a period of 15 years of travels within Assam. Released in 2003, it has been very warmly received in the state. With children and other knowledge seekers turning to this book as a reference source about their state, the encyclopedia is now in its 4th edition.

His abiding love for Assam and as also for tea became the basis of his second book – Tea Industry of Assam: Origin and Development.

A book on the history of tea in India with a focus on Assam gardens
History of tea, Dr. Pradip Baruah

Amongst the key figures that the book credits for the establishment of tea in the region is that of Maniram Dewan. It is regarded that it was Maniram Dewan who informed Major Robert Bruce about the existence of wild tea plants and thereon it paved the way to identify Assam as the place to start tea cultivation in India by the British. The ancient wisdom of the local tribes allying with the British laid the foundation of tea in India. Maniram went on establish and successfully run two tea estates before joining the first war of independence 1857 against the British. Maniram Dewan was hung in 1858 and became a martyr to the cause of independence.  While one of Maniram’s estates – the Cinnamara estate in Jorhat – was sold and continues to be run by its owners today, the second one was lost to the vagaries of time.

In a compelling development, Dr Pradip Baruah’s connection with Maniram Dewan leaps out of the pages of his book into the real world of today where his travels led to the discovery of the long lost second estate. A truly striking coincidence indeed.

Kenya's purple tea plants
The famous Kenyan purple tea plant, rich in anthocyanins, a potent anti-oxidant. Dr Baruah found that the origin of the purple tea plant lay in Assam and can be cultivated there.

Pradip’s fascination with all things tea has resulted in three more books. Amongst them, the more serious and a well researched one was on medicinal properties of tea . One turned out to be little more light hearted – a book on tea quotes, poems and songs called the Cheering Cuppa – the Magical Brew.

We were gratified to read that tea’s medicinal properties include reducing the risk of cardio vascular diseases, combating cancer and boosting mood and improving creativity.   So now we know the drink that is the secret sauce of creativity behind Dr Baruah’s books – the ever present cup of tea in his hands.

2023 will see tea completing two centuries in India since its discovery in 1823. The upper Assam region – where the Singpho tribe held sway in the 1800s – was the region where Robert Bruce found the plant. He would go on to tell his brother Charles Bruce about it. Charles then established nurseries for the indigineous plant. He is credited with being the key figure behind the establishment of tea in Assam. This and other such stories can be found in the documentary that Dr. Baruah is working on for the bicentenary celebrations.

The opening lines from Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s poem, “At the Oceans confluence” truly embody the ever-striving, always on-the-move person that Dr. Baruah is:

At the oceans’ confluence
I’ve swum scores of times
Still I have not felt jaded
Yet in the Pacific of my mind
Are roaring the waves restless.

We would like to wish him the very best for the future and we hope to see many, many more books and captivating episodes.

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