I was introduced to Clive Tissera one cold evening in Nuwara-Eliya by a mutual friend. Before the introductions were made my friend as kind of background information said out of Clive’s hearing, “He, like most of the Tisseras, was a tea planter. They were colourful and sometimes rumbustious, but none of them put their hand in to the till.”
In these times when the idea of honour seems to have lost its meaning in many professions, working in a field where the opportunity to help oneself was temptingly easy, to be spoken of in that manner is rich praise indeed.
When I met Clive his planting days were behind him. After retirement he spent most of his time at the Nuwara-Eliya Golf Club of which I believe he was Patron and sometimes Manager. It didn’t really matter what office he held in that prestigious sporting institution because in the minds of most visitors he personified the club. In aspect stern and dignified yet to his friends Clive was a paternal friend, solicitous and kind. A trip to Nuwara-Eliya was not complete without having tea with him on the spacious verandah of the golf club overlooking the breathtakingly beautiful first tee. In later years Clive preferred a cup of hot Marmite while we sipped our tea.
It was obvious that he took great pride in the delightfully landscaped golf course surrounding the impressive club house. I am sure they exist precariously, threatened by the grimy township of Nuwara- Eliya and the prevailing social attitude of indifference to anything better.
Clive had begun planting in the dying stages of the plantation Raj. Even then the native aspirants were allowed, if not tolerated, only most reluctantly in the jealously guarded sanctums of the white planters. While respecting their general integrity and the energy with which they went about their job, Clive often bristled at the slights and barbs that were frequently thrown at the brown sahibs by the all powerful European planters. “We were often made to feel small, unworthy of the profession of planting. It was often implied that the locals were shoddy, dishonest and unreliable. But there were quite a few decent guys among the European planters. They would go out of their way to welcome us to the clubs.”
Clive was intelligent enough not to let the boorishness of a few prejudiced planters to blind him to the values of a life based on sports, civil attitudes and honourable conduct. “The European planters who set up these clubs were rugged men who loved a life style based on outdoor activity and were not afraid of a bit of rain or sleet. They really appreciated the green and the scenic settings of the fields on which games like cricket, rugby and golf are played. Sporting clubs are not places where one tries to wrangle out the best possible deal. A club represents a way of life where a sporting spirit, an attitude of generosity and a commitment to a code of conduct should prevail”, Clive once said while discussing a person whose conduct obviously fell short of these values.
In my association with Clive I always found him both in letter as well as spirit to adhere to those values. Even lately, entertaining friends to dinner at the cozy dining room of the Golf Club, his poor health condition did not stop Clive from strictly following the club dress code. He believed that standards give meaning to life. If everything is judged from the point of view of expediency then nothing will have value.
There was about him an air of a man who had done much and from which experiences learnt many lessons about men and matters. If one wanted some information about Nuwara- Eliya or for that matter any other place in the tea country Clive was the man to talk to. I have often heard him giving the order of service or even the period of service of long ago planters in various estates. Many English tourists, eager to trace the estates on which their now deceased relatives had served in the colonial times would seek Clive’s assistance. He directed them most obligingly even relating unknown anecdotes about the former planter.
Clive thought that many of the fears that the original planters had when opening the doors to the locals were unfounded but some of them he acknowledged have sadly become prophetic. What saddened him most was the fact that our failings mainly stem from lack of probity in money matters. I think he was also somewhat apprehensive of the fact that in a society by and large unfamiliar with a larger sporting culture activities like golf, game fishing, canoeing , trekking, riding and even swimming can easily be termed elitist and denied patronage. To keep the Nuwara Eliya Golf Club safe in the rough seas of local politics by wise and capable navigation was the task he had undertaken. That he performed to his best till the last day.
Invariably after every holiday the last person I speak to in Nuwara Eliya was Clive. He always had the latest information about the road and weather conditions on the main roads to Colombo and directed me accordingly. Now Clive has begun a journey for which we are unsuitable to give directions, but can surely offer a blessing. “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, may the rain fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.”