I went with my mother to the tea fields today. We got up while it was still dark and ate breakfast then packed a lunch of poitabhat—soaked rice served with mustard oil, onions, chili, and a mash of pickled bamboo shoots. I stood with my mother and the other women pickers while the kamdari told us which section of tea leaves were to be picked this day. Then we put on our baskets, our dokos, by hanging the cloth straps around our foreheads and went into the fields.
In Assam, the tea plantations have trees growing above the tea bushes, so there is plenty of shade. It is very quiet; you can hear the clicking noise as each picker breaks off two leaves and a bud, over and over, moving among the plants. Sometimes we talk in low voices. The picked tea smells a little sweet in the air. My mother is an expert picker and knows just how to choose the right types of leaves.
I watched and followed her, trying to learn—but in my heart, I was burning. I will not be a tea picker. I will not live my mother's life.