In Search of My First Home

Ron is volunteering for three months at Chalice's Assam Sponsor Site, located in Guwahati, India. This is his third update about his experiences thus far:

March 5, 2017

Hi All,

I hope you are all well and enjoying the mild weather. The weather here in north east India is very pleasant.

I have been making some day trips into the nearby villages with Sr. Betsy, and when at the base in Guwahati I work in the office helping with some of the accounting records. I also attend Chalice Circle Group meetings which are made up of parents of sponsored children. Knowing some bizarre Hindi and Assamese helps in getting a rough understanding of what is being said. On March 10th we will be going on a 6 day trip to the North East corner of the state. It will be an overnight train ride. Sr. Sheeba [Assam Sponsor Site Director] is enduring severe back pain because of slipped discs and will be going to Leonard Hospital, Tamil Nadu for an operation on March 9th. So, Sr. Betsy has taken on some of her responsibilities.


Village School Classroom

Since my last update email, I was able to fulfill a long time desire to visit my birth place, Digboi in this state of Assam. Digboi is the oil capital of India and it is about 600 km east of Guwahati. After about 65 years I was able to find my first home thanks to my sister, Louise, for treasuring our family pictures and thanks to her son, Craig, for posting those pictures on FB. In that collection was a picture of me standing in front of the gate which showed the bungalow number (3001). I would not have been able to find this bungalow without that picture and Komal Tigga, an Indian Oil employee.

Having found the bungalow, I noticed that it was empty even though it is still in relatively good condition. On inquiring from the neighbors, I was told that no one wants to live in it as the wild elephants come into the ravine at the back and side of the house. So, I was able to stroll around the house. There is no garden at the back, in front or the side.  Initially, I did not believe the “elephant story” but when I mentioned it to Ann, the lady who runs the B&B where I was staying, she said it is possible because elephants enter the Tea Garden she owns and which is also in Muliabari, just a short distance from where the house is located. I do not recall any incidents where elephants came so close our house but Ann said elephants are a problem and they go where they want and stick to their path.

Finding this house is nothing short of Providence, God’s will. I first visited the museum which is built around Oil Well No. 1, which is the first oil well drilled in all of Asia in 1889 and one of the first oil producing wells in the world. 

Oil Well No. 1

Although it is not in production, oil still spills out of it from time to time. While in the Museum I had mentioned to Komal that I would love to take a photo of a 1950 group picture of the Telephone Exchange staff as that is where my father worked and that the Exchange was on a hillock. So he coaxed one of the attendants to take a photo. Komal is Secretary to one of the Executive Directors of Indian Oil so he appeared to be well known. We inquired as to where bungalow 3001 might be but no one knew where. So at Komal's suggestion, we went to the Telephone Exchange as it is still in the same location and had never been moved. But when we got there, it was closed but there was a man waiting for one of the employees to return from lunch. So, as we made casual conversation with him, we mentioned the purpose of my visit to Digboi from Canada. By this time I think about a 100 people knew my story. This gentleman said that most of the Exchange people lived in Mulaibari and he even gave us a general description of the area where bungalow 3001 might be located. So we drove there in about 15 minutes and found the bungalow.

Bungalow 3001 - My First Home

So, how did I meet Komal Tigga?  How did I meet Ann Poyser and stay in her house? Through Father Paul Thettayil who happened to be at the bank on Jan. 19th when Sr. Sheeba and I went there to change my US Dollars.  I was introduced to Father and as we talked he mentioned he did not belong to the Guwahati Diocese but to the Debrugarh diocese and was here on a special assignment. So I told him that my Baptism certificate was issued in Debrugarh but that I was born in Digboi. So, he tells me that he knows Digboi well as he was the parish priest there for 5 years from 1997. So, we exchanged some historical information about the parish that I had often heard my mom and dad talk about. He said that he would take me to Digboi and we said good bye and went our ways.  But I did not hear from Fr. Paul for about 3 weeks, so I thought he just forgot about me. Then one day I get a call from Father saying that he had to go Digboi for a special function at which he was to be the chief guest and offered me a ride. So, off we went on a 13 hour drive. We stayed overnight in the parish house in Debrugarh after a 10 hour drive and then we drove the next 150 km to Digboi the next morning. Father had arranged for me to stay with Ann, an Anglo-Indian Lady, as the parish house was full because of the special occasion. Father Paul also arranged for Komal to drive me around and if possible, to help me find my first home. God takes care of everything and if He wants something to happen.

Oil in Digboi was actually found by tame elephants, of sorts. Some Englishmen on an expedition on elephant back through the jungles of Assam in the 1880’s decided to rest not far from where the first Oil Well was drilled and they let the elephants roam free and graze.  When the elephants returned their legs were soaked in what looked like oil. So, they checked where the animals had roamed and found huge puddles of oil but they were not certain it was oil. So they sent some of the oil muck back to England where it was confirmed that it was high grade crude oil. The exploration for oil then went into full swing with the some Englishman shouting at local laborers “Dig Boy! Dig Boy!” and so, that jungle area got its name “Digboi”. This is not a yarn; it is true.

On this trip I also got to see a lot of huge Chai Bhagans (Tea Gardens), which range from 500 to 1000 acres each. Despite the size of these gardens, it is astonishing to see how the tea bushes are trimmed to the same level height and it is all done manually. During this trip I learned a lot about Tea planting and garden management. Fr. Paul liked to talk, so when it got too quiet in the car or I got concerned about Father dozing off, an open-ended question was good for at least a half hour talk / explanation.

Tea Garden

The opening and blessing of a new church in a Tea Garden was a big affair with the Bishop in attendance and Fr. Paul was recognized and thanked for being instrumental in obtaining the land about 15 years ago. What struck me was the way the Bishop and other celebrants were ushered in for celebrating Mass. 



Offertory Procession at Mass

There was no way anyone could doze off. Drums, singing and about 20 dancing women preceded them to the altar. Something similar to what we may do in Canada when Cardinal Collins visits a parish where he is ushered in by the somber no-smiling Knights in all their regalia and people are nudged awake with “they are here lets stand”. Not sure which I like more – the dancing women or the Knights!!!!???? The same at the time of the offertory; a long procession of baskets of fruits, vegetables, tea and rice being presented as offering, preceded by young girls dancing.

On a trip to a village last Tuesday, we drove on a badly gutted village road that is elevated about 10 feet up from the rice paddy fields. It was originally build as an embankment to control flooding but now it is a road. As in other parts of India, all sorts of animals kept crossing the road, even a hen with about 10 tiny chicks and she crossed the road like she had the right of way. But then little further down what I saw took the cake, 2 ducks mating on the road and all the traffic moving around them. All sorts of animals from dogs and cats to monkeys and elephants crossed this road but I did not see any pigs cross the road even though they grazed on either side in the fields. I guess they will never know what life is like on the other side of the road.

Once we arrived at the Morigoan, after about a 3 hour rock, bounce and roll drive, everything was great. Sister visited a school and then we attend an agricultural event promoting organic farming. We sat through a few speeches in affluent Assamese which was beyond my understanding. Then there was a cultural presentation and I tell you, singing and dancing comes quite naturally to these tribal people. We in the west may think that the “Twerk” is a new dance but I think this tribe invented it and have been doing it as a folk dance probably for many centuries.

Dancers at Village School

Observations:
1)      Just as golf is a game of inches between a good game and a bad game, driving in India is also a skill of inches. Not knowing the exact width and length of your vehicle and not being able to correctly guesstimate, in a split second, the space between the on-coming vehicle and the vehicles in front and beside you, determines whether you are a good driver or dead one. I died a few times on this trip.  
2)      Indians are very efficient in making use of space. They have taken all narrow two-lane roads and converted them into three lane roads to accommodate the traffic and animals which move in all directions simultaneously.
3)      As you can see from the attached picture taken in a major road in this city, riding on elephant back is the safest form of transportation; it might be slow but you will be safe; no one trying to run you over.

Till next time.
God bless
Ron

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