The Burden of Being the Owner

"Pay the full amount," Anwar says, "start the deductions from Friday." Dharmendra and Harish laugh. "How shall we explain that to the malik?"

Misty Dawn and Sunny Days at Lemon-Tree Coffee Plantation
Misty Dawn and Sunny Days at Lemon-Tree Coffee Plantation

I am sitting in the plantation office, in a corner. Wage payments are going on, and Dharmendra (Manager) and Harish (Supervisor) are managing the thing. This is the first time I'm present in this weekly activity. A mild dispute has come up regarding deductions. Dharmendra and Harish are defending their math, asking the workers to check the calculation done at other coffee estates. But the labourers press their point in plaintive tones. Most of the argument is coming from one man. His name is Anwar.

These are Assamese folks; the locals receive their pay in their bank accounts.

"Pay the full amount until now," Anwar says, "start the deductions from Friday (the start of the next work week)." Dharmendra and Harish laugh, saying: "How shall we explain that to the malik?" I cringe in my corner (I have no seat in this office), feeling no pride in being malik. My face is burning, and I'm unable to take my eyes off the iPad into which I'm staring with feigned concentration. The workers put forward another argument, another urging, their voices lacking strength and too painful to hear. The malik is invoked again, which appears to settle the matter. There is light laughter all around, inside and outside, which surprises me.

Time passes. Names are called out, payments are made. I recall scenes showing the poor collecting wages in the movies. I pull up an app on the iPad and begin to write this note. I haven't raised my head once, but I'm going to do it now: There are four men left before the counter. Their focus is entirely on Harish, who is disbursing the cash, and Dharmendra, recording the amounts paid. Dharmendra has thick stacks of crisp currency on the table before him. He must've carried in more money than needed this evening.