The Singhpo Tribe Chief Bessa Gaum was utterly surprised at such a little, simple request made by the Scottish Firangi while bidding goodbye to him.
It is believed the Singhpos held him a captive and released only after receiving a ransom from the British East India Company.
The Company then was fighting wars with the Arakan King, local Rajas and different tribal groups of Assam and Manipur. The Arakanese, however, were the main headache to the Company as they were frequently foraying into Manipur and Assam.
Well, let us return to our Scottish Firangi.
When Bessa asked if he would like to have some gift from his Tribe, the Firangi made a very strange request that surprised him.
That really would have been utterly surprising for anybody!
What was that bizarre request?
Bessa asked what do you want, as a parting gift?
Two leaves and a bud……few seeds and saplings!
This request of Robert Bruce, a Scottish trader, explorer and also an officer of the Bengal Artillery of the East India Company, surprised Bessa. He granted the request but enhanced the greed of the Company.
The year was 1823!
What Robert asked for was tea saplings. This was something Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India, was after since 1774. Hastings even sent George Bogle, the British Emissary in Bhutan, to China to source the seeds of Two Leaves and a Bud but failed.
On the British growing desperate to source tea in large quantum to establish their monopoly in its trade in Europe but China was fast becoming unreliable for steady supply of tea.
The tea prices were rising in England and elsewhere in Europe making it a commodity of very high profit margin. Hastings knew if tea could be produced in the Colony India, the British could lay total monopoly on its trade.
At that very juncture, Robert drops in the scene of tea cultivation in Assam. During his days of captivity in the Singhpo Tribe’s village, he saw them grew and brew the herbs to drink its extract.
He knew it was tea. His business interest rose.
After Robert, General Maha Bandula suddenly appears in the political stage of Assam, Manipur and the Arakan Hill Tracts where the British were engaged in wars with the Burmese and local rulers and various tribal groups.
The Arakanese Army Chief Gen. Bandula was foiling all efforts of the Company to capture natural resource of Assam, Manipur and areas adjoining today’s Myanmar. This led to outbreak of the three year long First Anglo-Burmese War began in 1824.
Standing at the threshold of the 75th Year of India’s Independence, it is really interesting to know how the Northeast fell into the British hands in 1826: exactly 196 years ago.
Two Leaves & A Bud was one of the primary reasons, why the British wanted to capture Assam. Besides tea, timber and oil were two other factors that led to the fall of Assam in the hands of the British.
A daredevil, adventurer and risk taker, this man Robert was really an interesting character. Not much historical facts are available about him. Whatever scant factual details we garner about him says he was doing trading, frequently fighting in Assam against the local tribal and engaged in many illegal activities.
In 1823, he came to Rangpur: then the capital of the Ahom Kingdom in Upper Assam. Though historically unconfirmed, it is believed Robert was captured by Singhpho Tribe following a skirmish.
We will briefly pause on Robert and return to Gen. Bandula.
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