Detritus: On the Decay and Afterlives of Abandoned Tea Plantations in Darjeeling, West Bengal
Tea plantations across Darjeeling, West Bengal are being abandoned by their owners, leaving workers to live amidst “capitalist ruins” (Tsing 2017). This paper explores afterlives of abandoned plantations in Darjeeling as an ongoing praxis of “becoming with” tea bushes amidst postcolonial and post-industrial ruination (Haraway 2008). This paper situates itself amidst tea plantations living remains. Developing an analytic of detritus, this paper asks what forms of afterlives are possible in the abandoned plantations even when they are spaces of “postindustrial” ruination and decay? I draw on ethnographic fieldwork in Darjeeling’s six abandoned plantations, conducted by participant observation over a period of eighteen month between 2020 and 2021. In the first section, I analyse the temporality of local politics after abandonment by documenting local communities’ struggles against the plantation companies for payment of unpaid wages and salaries. In the section, I argue in the wake of abandonment—detritus encompasses decay of infrastructures in abandoned plantations brought on by neglect, time and “salvage accumulation” (Tsing 2004). In the third section, I argue against understanding abandonment as a moment, but rather as a long-drawn out process of deindustrialization that engenders its own sets of processes affecting the bodies and lives of workers. In conclusion, I look towards a speculative future by contemplating the conversion of plantation infrastructures that have been transformed into new heritage landmarks. Despite being conceived as spaces of perceived ruination, I show how ethnographic stories inform us about life persisting in these abandoned plantations.
Keywords: Darjeeling: Tea Plantations: Ruins: Decay: Infrastructures; Afterlives
Tsing, A.L., 2004. Friction: An ethnography of global connection. Princeton University Press.
Tsing, A.L., 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World. Princeton University Press.
Haraway, D.J., 2013. When species meet. Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press.