Book Review: “The Tea Industry of Assam: A 200 Year Old Legacy of Continuing Glory” by Shabnam Bormon

Shabnam Bormon’s “The Tea Industry of Assam: A 200 Year Old Legacy of Continuing Glory” is a comprehensive and engaging exploration of the history, culture, and significance of tea in Assam, India. The book offers a detailed and nuanced account of the growth and development of the Assam tea industry over the past two centuries, from its colonial roots to its current challenges and future prospects.

One of the key strengths of the book is its interdisciplinary approach, which draws on insights from history, sociology, economics, and environmental studies to provide a holistic understanding of the Assam tea industry. Bormon’s extensive research and fieldwork are evident in the rich detail and vivid examples that she provides throughout the book, from the discovery of indigenous tea plants by Robert Bruce in the 1820s to the current efforts to promote sustainable and ethical tea production.

The book is well-organized and easy to navigate, with eight chapters that cover different aspects of the Assam tea industry, including its colonial history, unique taste and production methods, social and cultural significance, and global impact. Bormon’s writing style is engaging and accessible, making the book a pleasure to read for both academic and general audiences.

One of the most impressive aspects of the book is its attention to the human dimension of the Assam tea industry. Bormon provides a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of the lives and experiences of tea garden workers, who have been the backbone of the industry for generations. She highlights the challenges and struggles that these workers have faced, from colonial exploitation to contemporary issues of low wages and poor living conditions, while also celebrating their resilience, creativity, and cultural richness.

The book also provides a balanced and critical analysis of the environmental and social impacts of the Assam tea industry. Bormon does not shy away from discussing the negative consequences of tea cultivation, such as deforestation, soil erosion, and the displacement of indigenous communities, while also highlighting the efforts of some tea companies and organisations to promote sustainable and ethical practices.

Another strength of the book is its attention to the global dimensions of the Assam tea industry. Bormon traces the journey of Assam tea from a colonial commodity to a global cultural icon, exploring the role of the tea trade in shaping global politics, economics, and culture. She also provides insights into the changing consumer preferences and market trends that are shaping the future of the industry.

The book is well-referenced and includes a comprehensive bibliography and appendix, which provide valuable resources for further research and exploration. The author’s note and acknowledgments also provide a personal and reflective touch, highlighting Bormon’s passion and commitment to the subject matter.

Overall, “The Tea Industry of Assam: A 200 Year Old Legacy of Continuing Glory” is a significant and timely contribution to the study of the Assam tea industry and its broader social, cultural, and environmental implications. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the history and future of tea, as well as for scholars and practitioners working on issues of sustainable development, social justice, and cultural heritage in India and beyond.

Bormon’s book is a testament to the enduring legacy and continuing glory of the Assam tea industry, as well as to the resilience and creativity of the people who have shaped it over the past two centuries. It is a celebration of the rich cultural heritage and natural beauty of Assam, as well as a call to action for a more sustainable and equitable future for the industry and its stakeholders.

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