Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of his humble beginnings as a tea boy (Chai Boy) when he addressed tens of thousands of tea plantation workers of recent Indian origin at Norwood in the Nuwara Eliya district Friday.
Becoming the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the tea growing central region of Sri Lanka, Modi said he and the vast majority of plantation Tamils had something in common – tea.
“You and I have something in common,” he said. “As some of you may have heard, I have a special association with tea,” he said in a clear reference to his days as a Chai Boy, or tea seller at his father’s modest tea stall at a railway station in the Gujarat state of India.
He said it was a tremendous honour to be the first Indian Prime Minister ever to visit the region which is home to nearly one million Tamils of recent Indian origin.
They are mostly descendants of indentured labour imported to the country to work in coffee, rubber and tea plantations by British colonial rulers.
“It is a greater honour to have the opportunity to speak with you,” Modi told tens of thousands of cheering people at a public park in the town of Norwood.
“People the world over are familiar with famous Ceylon Tea that originates in this fertile land. What is less known is that it is your sweat and toil that makes the Ceylon Tea the brew of choice for millions around the globe.”
“Chai pe Charcha,” or discussions over tea, is not just a slogan, he said, but rather a mark of deep respect for the dignity and integrity of honest labour.
“Today, we remember your forefathers. Those men and women of strong will and courage, who undertook the journey of their life from India to then Ceylon,” he said referring to the thousands who are said to have perished while making an arduous journey from South India to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon.
“Their journey may have been uphill and their struggles hard, but they never gave up. Today, we remember and salute that spirit,” Modi said . “Your generation also faced relentless hardships.”
He announced raising the number of houses India is gifting the plantation region by another 10,000, up from the on-going 4,000 houses being built with Indian assistance.
After addressing the crowds at Norwood and dedicating the 1,200 million rupee Indian-gifted Dickoya hospital, Modi travelled to Kandy where he received a special blessing at the temple of the Tooth before returning home on Friday evening.