Tuesday, 10 September 2019

The Tiniest calf

Saraswati and Kalavati – born just 4 days apart are almost identical – rich brown coat and a white spot on their foreheads.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart. 

Both of them had grown up into graceful young cows and seemed in pretty good health.  Kalavati had a bad bout of Foot and mouth infection and had spent several weeks in isolated quarantine.  But she had recovered her health well. 

Kalavati in isolated quarantine with all four feet bandaged.

It was Saraswati who started looking week and skinny for no apparent reason. 

  The vet was called and he prescribed some medicines and she slowly started regaining her health although she still looked thin.  Kalavati on the other hand had started looking plump and we guessed we would soon have a little calf  on the farm.  Probably Saraswati would be late in conceiving and calving due to her ill health we thought.

So it came as a complete shock when we went to the cowshed early morning and saw a teensy weensy calf lying next to Saraswati, who had a miserable dis-interested look around her and was not doing the usual nosing–nudging-cleaning routine that all cows do to their new born calves.  It is nature’s way of ensuring that the new born calf’s body temperature is maintained, the blood circulation is improved and the young calf gets perky and tries to stand up within an hour or two of its birth.  But none of that was being played out here.  Was the calf even alive?  Yes there was life in the  tiny cold limp body.  We rubbed it vigorously with gunny sacking , tried to get Saraswati to nuzzle it, but she seemed caught up in her own misery.   The usual trick of sprinkling wheat bran and maize powder onto the calf which gets the mother to lick it vigorously failed .  We tried milking her to get some precious colostrum  into the tiny calf, but her udders were dry.  We had a premie on our hands – a premature birth – Natures cycle of the full gestation which ensures an abundance of rich colostrum to protect the new born from all the vicious infections of the outside world had been cut short and the baby would have to struggle to survive now.  I held the tiny darling on my lap and rubbed its cold feet and bundled it up in layers of cloth and yet it shivered. 

I got a bottle of warm milk and tried to get the calf to drink.   Slow erratic gulps but slowly the shivering stopped.  

The vet arrived to check on Saraswati.  He confirmed that it was indeed a prematurely born calf and the chances of survival would be very slim.  The mother would need a lot of attention and some tonics and extra calcium was prescribed for her. We were to feed the calf every two hours and keep it as warm and dry as possible.  We carried the calf into the house.  The worst of the rains were lashing the whole of Karnataka at this time and the stormy damp weather was not a nice time for the little calf.

So tiny!

Her tail - smaller than our cat's tail!

Soudamini I named her. A big name for a little calf.  A musical sounding name.  But Soudamini means lightening – and indeed she came and went like a flash of lightening.  Illuminating our home for a brief period of 13 days during which her health and our hopes see-sawed.  One day she would be perky and running all over the place following me all over the house and the next day she would be lying listless, needing to be coaxed up to even drink the warm milk that she had gulped down in the previous feed.  A rash on the skin that erupted and spread all over, a runny nose that made her breathing sound laboured, the chills, the terrible stormy weather and the never ending rain and the consequent dampness all took its toll and on the 13th day I knew she had given up the battle.  It is heartbreaking to watch an animal die and specially one who had a promise of a whole life ahead, but   that is the way it is.  When I tried to coax her to drink some warm milk, she let out a terrible bleat – the first and last sound that she ever made.  I knew that I had to let her go.  We sat with her until she slipped into the other world – a world where the meadows are always sunny.

Soudamini – you will be remembered with love.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Horsegram (Kuleeth) Cultivation

Horsegram seens to be in the news these days - the almost forgotten wonder legume!

After our Rice Harvest we had been trying out various Leguminous Crops for their beneficial Nitrogen fixation ability.   For those who have forgotten the high school Biology lesson – Legumious Plants are Natures Wonder Workers – they absorb the Nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that returns back to the soil.  All this while producing the beans that provides food for humans and stalks and leaves that provide fodder for our bovine family. Amazing isn’t it?

So last year we planted 4 different legumes in each section of our land.  Each measures about 1/8th of an acre.  The cultivation manuals presume that you are a Big Time Farmer and provide the seed rate per Hectare – so after some head scratching and calculations, a Seed Rate of 2 Kgs for each section of the land was decided upon.  So we got Mung (Green Gram) , Udid (Black Gram) ,  Cowpea (White beans with a Black eye) and Horse Gram (Well – it is Reddish Brown just in case you think I am choosing based on colours!) All 4 are Legumes and promise to do the Nitrogen Fixation equally well.

To BroadCast Or Not?

Well,  in todays age of twitter and podcasting  – is Broadcasting still used ?  You bet!  We need to announce to the Soil – Look here come the seeds for you to nurture...and they in turn will nurture and enrich you. 

So after the tractor did its job of tilling the soil, we walked around the field ‘broadcasting’ the seeds.  Small portions of seeds flung evenly over the tilled land and then seeds are covered by a final run of the tractor.  And we were all set.

Now for the irrigation.  Unlike the Rice plants which are completely rain fed, we would have to run the pump in order to irrigate the fields now.  Vivek had designed a grid of removable pipelines with sprinklers.  We worked late into the evening  fixing the pipes and the sprinkler heads.  

It was a pleasure to see the warm earth soaking up the water that fell in a gentle misty spray from the sprinklers.

Very soon the sprouts were visible.  And guess who invited themselves for a nutritious breakfast of sprouts?  Well the Health Conscious Langurs would sit around the field each day at dawn and pull out the sprouts, shake the soil off it and munch them with enjoyment.   Inspite of all their feasting, the fields were covered with a green carpet (sparse though).  The langurs stopped coming when the plants grew beyond the 2 leaf stage.  

Soon the flowers started appearing and turning into interesting looking pods – sickle shaped ones of horsegram, rod like bunches of black and green gram and thin long beans of the cow pea.  Just when the pods started looking full, the peacocks started making their rounds. They feasted on the tender green pods sometimes leaving the pod shell intact but empty. In all this, we scarcely noticed that the monkeys and peacocks were partial only to the green gram, black gram and cow pea.  The Kuleeth in comparison to the other plants had been looking quite scraggly but surprisingly the pods were intact!
Soon  the green fields started turning yellow and drying up.  Time for harvest. The green and  black gram yields were not worth mentioning at all, but the horsegram yielded quite a good harvest. 

So this year we decided to grow Horsegram in the entire paddy area.   

Shortly after the rice harvest, we got the tractor to till the land.  We used the broadcasting method on all 4 sections of the fields.  The irrigation pipes were laid down again.  The irrigation needed daily monitoring.  The far corners of the fields would remain dry when strong breeze carried the fine mist of water away and we had to manually water those sections.  

Very often the sprinkler heads would stop functioning and on taking it apart we would find small stones or sometimes a dead fish that had somehow got past the filter. 

We also had to interchange the positions of the sprinkler heads depending on the throw of water from each one.  Sometimes we had to coax an unwilling frog out of the ‘Capital’ which is the holder into which the sprinkler head fits.  All in all a busy busy time.

  And soon it was time for harvest! The damage caused by the wild life  was surprisingly less than that caused to the rice harvest. 

The horsegram is harvested by pulling up the entire plant which comes up quite easily.  The plants are piled up across the field to allow them to dry out and then carried to the threshing area.

  Our front yard was all cleaned up and the harvest was spread out.  The traditional method of threshing is by beating with a flat wooden stick – a method that had worked fine the previous year when we had a very small crop of  horsegram.  But this year, looking at the humongous pile, I wasn’t sure that was a good idea.  

No one around us had any better idea – and I found the answer in some online farming videos where the horsegram is threshed by running a tractor over it!  Now our front yard is too small for a tractor to come in, but our little Alto could do the job just as well!  So here is what we did

First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn.  
First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn. 
First gear – forward, turn,
Reverse gear – backward, turn. 
and on and on in the little yard.
Then stop the car, get out and turn over the horsegram , shake it a bit and loosen the clumped up bunches.  Then  repeat!

The grains would fall to the ground while the stalks and empty pods could be bunched up and kept aside.  Not all the pods would break loose, so a second and third threshing on consecutive days was needed.
The car was covered in a thick layer of dust by the time we were done.  Then the actual winnowing and ‘separating the grain from the chaff’  was done!

And finally we have our lovely harvest of horsegram all ready!

Our meals are pepped up with Stir-fried horsegram sprouts, soup and of course the traditional  Saar-upkari! 

Come, join us for a delicious but simple meal of home grown rice and Kuleetha saar!

Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Merry Stash

Revisiting an old hobby!

I have a big stash of brightly coloured fabric pieces –some plain some printed... some large some just wee bits  each one of them interwoven with lovely memories -  tiny baby clothes, pretty frocks, summer frocks, daily wear stuff, picnic frocks, party frocks, that I had stitched over the years for my daughters when they were little.  The left over pieces would sometimes match perfectly to make embellishments onto new kurtas when they reached their college years.  And the left over pieces from the kurtas went back into the merry stash! 

For the first few years after  we moved to the farm, our trips to Bombay would always have us carrying back stuff that we felt we would need/use here. And thus my old trusted Brother Sewing machine and yes that merry stash travelled back with us on one trip.  But as luck would have it, apart from a few strange things like stitching a cloth fence and then a gunny bag fence for our rice nursery and other odd things, I never really got creative with my sewing machine.

Gunny bags stitched together for a makeshift fence for the Rice Nursery

A cover to protect the pineapples from the monkeys!

Until the day during one marathon cleaning and decluttering session I came upon the ‘Merry Stash’ again.

And then it bit me – the Quilting Bug!  Why not use these bright bits to make colourful quilts! 

So I started with making quilted tops for my Washing Machine (Really?)  and then the Dish washer (Ha!) 

Couldn't you have made the quilt  a wee bit thicker  for me? 

And then disaster struck!  I had decided to use our extra room in the outhouse as my hobby room and I was halfway thru some stitching when I heard the dogs barking outside.  I went out to check and found that our gate had been left open and 3 cows (none of ours) had wandered into the section that leads to our main plantation. The dogs recognise our cows perfectly well and do not bark at them – also our cows walk straight down the demarcated path to the cowshed and do not stray into the plantation area. 

The path that leads to the cow shed

Our cows go so obediently through this path!

It took us a while to get them out, with the dogs trying to help and causing the cows to panic. By the time we got them out, our cows had returned and it was time for their feed and then the rest of the work followed. And I totally forgot that I had left my machine uncovered in the hobby room.  That night we had a surprise unseasonal burst of rain and as you can guess, the next day when i went back to continue my stitching, I found the machine was fully drenched (courtesy – a tile broken by a group of marauding monkeys on the roof ).  

The lower box like structure which housed the motor was full of water.  

Let me take a look - Kippi is sure she can help set it right!

We tried our best to revive it, got the motor rewound on a trip to Bombay, but then sadly it was to no avail.  My machine was an ancient relic and no one had any spare parts for it. 

So then time to get a new one and get on with my hobby!  So  here I am with a brand new machine and an old, old hobby!  Let’s see what else the merry stash can conjure up!


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The Breadfruit

The breadfruit (Neer phanas or Div Kadgi) seemed to take forever to peel and cut. I had planned on making a delicious stir-fry and I was already running late. As usual when I am in a hurry, I start heating the pan and dunking in the pieces as they get chopped up.  I just put in the last batch of pieces, when the gas fluttered and gasped and went out!  The gas cylinder was nearing its Finish Time and it chose just this minute to wind up!

Well, no worries, we have a spare cylinder. I started moving out the stuff from the front of the cylinder to be able to pull it out. A spare bottle of liquid soap, a bottle of coconut water collected for the Panchagavya that I was planning on making later this week and a plastic bag filled with waste plastic bags. Oh I hate this non-biodegradable thrash – everything from wheat-flour to sugar and all essentials come wrapped/sealed in plastic and there is no way I can avoid this. I collect it in a plastic bag for disposal later. As I pulled out the bag, I noticed what looked like a  brown roll of paper just behind the cylinder.  Thinking it was the roll of postal paper in which I had received some mail, I bent down to pick it up –but  wait – did it just flinch a wee bit?  I put on my spectacles  – and yes indeed – it  had flinched at my outstretched hand .... and was now staring back at me with beady eyes.

What.......... was ...................it......... ???? 

 I needed more light and got my torch and shone it into  the shadowy part under the kitchen platform – I could now see the small head and a muscular swathe  of  brown circling behind the cylinder. I called out to Vivek and we both debated on the next course of action. It looked sluggish.  The first step was to see it properly. We pulled out the gas cylinder carefully to see this humongous guy all curled up in a perfect camouflage! 

What a perfect Camouflage!

Could it really be a python?  I quickly clicked a pic and sent it to our vet Dr. Gourish Padukone who is an expert on snakes.  “Yes, it does look like a python.  If you can – then grab it by its tail and lift it high up so that it does not get the leverage to wrap itself around your arm” he advised. “And be careful – it can whip itself around your arm or leg in an instant”  he warned.

Now the position being in that little niche under the cooking platform, it would be difficult to pull it out and up swiftly and we could not assess how long it was.  We got a big sack and a large pipe.  We closed one end of the pipe by stuffing some cloth into it. The other end, we pointed towards the snake.  Most often, the snake seeking refuge into what is most comfortable for it, slides into the pipe and then the rest is easy. All we need to do is block the other end too, cart the pipe and its occupant a safe distance away and release it.  But this guy was  too woozy after what seemed like a heavy meal – we could see the tell-tale bulge  around his middle. He kept turning away from the pipe and trying to seek an escape path into the granite of the kitchen platform.  And every minute’s delay was making the half cooked breadfruit turn into a soggier mess.

 Finally Vivek put a sack over his hands and grabbed its tail.  This jolted Mr. Py  enough and he slithered right into the awaiting pipe.  The length of the pipe seemed a wee bit shorter than its occupant and we had to tap his tail a couple of times for him to retract it completely into the pipe.   Now what next ?  Our vet had offered to release it the next day into the deep forest which he was to traverse through for a visit.  It is not advisable to release such large snakes near human inhabitation. So I quickly emptied out the box in which I store my quilting materials and the sluggish giant was unceremoniously tipped into it. We closed the lid before he could right himself and rise up. The box has a latch, but when compared to the sheer muscle power of the inhabitant, it looked really flimsy and could just snap open. So we placed some weights on it, kept it in one of the spare rooms, and closed the door and windows. 

How puny the weights look!

As you can well imagine, dinner was delayed, the breadfruit didn’t turn out to be the perfectly crisp edged stir fry that it usually does, but we were too excited to mind.  It is not everyday that your dinner gets delayed and ruined by a guest of these proportions!!!

The next day, our vet called us on his way and we handed the basket over to him.  On taking a closer look, he clarified that it was a Sand Boa. 

We were expecting human guests at home for lunch, else we would not have missed the opportunity of  a ride into the deep forest to bid adieu to this very rare visitor.

Friday, 13 July 2018

The Rains are here again!

This was an old article that I wrote when we first moved here and experienced the first monsoon at the farm!  Each year it is just as glorious as ever!  

A burst of green after the rains!

The mini waterfall near the temple is back in full force

But things change as they always will. These past seven years have brought in so many rich experiences, so many sad ones .....and so much joy too!

Today the holle near our home is flooded and I cannot – or rather do not want to move out. 

We have to cross this to get to our car which is parked beyond for the entire rainy season
Our neighbour making a valiant attempt to cross the swirling water

Back in the city  if you run out of something in the kitchen, all you do is pick up the phone and it gets delivered home.  Haha -  if you think I can do the same here!  But now I have become a ‘Mistress of Improvisation’  and there never is a dull dish at home!  From using fresh betel leaves to spice up the dal,  to making a curry using Barbados cherries instead of tomatoes...to using the core of a banana stem to pep up a simple meal of dal-rice....the trials are endlessly interesting and the outcome almost always delicious!

We had moved from Mumbai to the farm with two dogs Misty and Phoenix , and a cat Snoopy. What we got here was yet another dog- our precious Johnny, Zuki our Mudhol hound joined in a little later. Our cow shed which had 3 cows, a bull and one buffalo when we moved here, now houses 22 animals.   

When you are surrounded by so many animals you have to learn to take their loss in your stride.  But yet it hurts like crazy.  Phoenix our hound passed on to doggy heaven in December.  Misty his constant companion seemed to take it well, but all of a sudden, her age (she was 12) started showing.  It was almost as if she decided to join him and within 5 months she did.  The only consolation was that she was active until the end and did not suffer.  

Misty - constant companion even while working indoors - supervising my quilt-in-progress 

Our beloved Misty 

The most awful thing was when a week after Misty died, Johnny met with a fatal accident on the road to Kembre farms. It is quite a way off from our farm, but he was used to roaming all over the village. He would always get back home in time for his meal, so when he did not turn up for dinner I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We took a torch and walked around the farm just in case he was trapped some where, but there was no sign of him The next day some villagers mentioned about a dog being hit by a vehicle and we went to check and sadly it was Johnny. Will miss him the most. We always relied on him to warn us of poisonous snakes, and he used to be our companion when we did guard duty in the rice fields!   Sad...sad...sad...sad....

Johnny - our Hero!  

In December, shortly after Phoenix died, Zuki had a litter of the most adorable pups and we had decided to keep one.  I have named him COBOL!  He filled in the emptiness.

So now it is just Zuki and Cobol at home.  Zuki dislikes getting wet in the rain, and so she sits curled up at my feet.  Cobol in all his youthful zest runs in and out of the house leaving wet paw marks,  puddles and spraying all with his playfulness. 

His happiness is contagious and I am learning to be content with just two dogs.


Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Last Walk

It was the first week of December.  Phoenix our Mudhol hound who had been with us since way back in Bombay had been showing signs of his age.  Niggling health issues kept cropping up -  he would get disoriented, often trip and fall and would need help to get up again. Our  very able vet Dr. Gourish Padukone,  had warned us on his last visit that there wasn’t much that he could do other than keep him comfortable and out of pain.  And he indeed did a commendable job of it. 

Phoenix used to love the walks up the hillside behind Huli Devana, but he had stopped accompanying us for quite some months now.  His joints would swell up sometimes and he often needed warm oil massaged on his legs to reduce the pain.  But on the morning of the 6th, as we put on our shoes he seemed to perk up, and followed us out of the gate. I thought he would return after a few metres as he would often do, but no, he continued on.  We slowed our speed to wait for him at a couple of spots.  One particularly high rock which he would normally have leapt over nimbly proved a challenge for him and Vivek had to lift him up.   He would pause every now and then,  with his breathing sounding laboured, but there was a strange determination in him. A couple of times, out of concern I said to Vivek –‘I think we should turn back – it will be too strenuous for him’.  But when we did turn and start walking back, he refused to retrace his steps and waited until we retraced ours and moved further on. Finally we reached the very top of the hill which is flat  and has patches of wonderfully soft golden hay. 

We often sit and admire the view while the dogs love to roll in it. 

Today Phoenix let out a long sigh and turned around a couple of times before painfully sitting down. He turned his head and pushing his nose into the soft grass, closed his eyes.  

We allowed him to rest while the others played around in the grass.

When it was time to leave, I had to literally shake him awake and say “Phoenix lets go home”.  The return was slow as we waited for him to catch his breath after every few steps.  Halfway down he found another patch of similar hay and sat down for a little more time.  Back home, he fell into a deep slumber.

That was his last walk on his favourite hillside with us.

By the third week of December, his health was failing, his food intake had reduced.  On 24th he refused his favourite treat – the Chewsticks and we knew then that his time was near. That night he seemed in pain and we took turns to be with him.   At around 2 am, he started moaning,  Vivek spent the rest  of the night cradling his head on his lap.  He slept like a baby on his masters lap.

He breathed his last on the morning of 25th December.  He spent 11 years with us giving us so much joy and love.

Phoenix, you will be missed!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

A Clove Harvest.

Who would have ever thought that a bud can be more fragrant than the flower itself!  And not just that – who would have ever thought that drying the bud could make it even more fragrant! 

Well, ages back when our civilisation was still toddling along,  some one apparently did, and thanks to that, today we have cloves (the aromatic dried flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree) in our spice box, , in our tooth pastes,  in Gl├╝hwein,  in Christmassy Pomanders, in the Lavang Latika.......  and ....did someone just say ‘Chocolate?’  Oh no no no... I don’t think so.

So how exactly does the clove tree look?  How is it harvested?  Come along, lets walk out into the farm and take a look.

The Clove tree is a really tall slender tree  and if you look at its trunk near the base, you would almost mistake it for the slender Arecanut tree.  

But look up and you will see the lateral branches spreading out in all directions.  It is an evergreen tree with pale green leaves.  

The buds are borne in clusters at the very tip of the branches.  And like all delicate buds, one needs to hand pick them at harvest time. 

The pole-ladder balances delicately against the adjacent arecanut tree. You can climb up the ladder, holding your arm around the tree. Every few steps up, the ladder has a cord which you can tie securely around the tree , so if the tree sways in the gentle breeze, the ladder sways with it rather than toppling over.

 Now that you are at the very top of the ladder, hold one arm securely around the tree and then start plucking the buds. You can toss them into the basket that is strapped to your back.  Make sure you pluck only the bunches which have  a pinkish tint to it.  If many of the  flowers have already bloomed, then you know you have delayed the harvest. 

Uh-oh  these have already bloomed!

Pluck all that are within easy reach, do not lean too far.  Now that you are done, you can climb down carefully, undoing the cords that you tied on your way up.  On steady ground now?  Whats that whooshing sound I just heard?  – oh did I forgot to mention ‘Breathe while you are up there”...... did you really hold your breath all this while?

Ha ha –I think I need to look for a new volunteer for my next years clove harvest.

Now the easy part – separate the individual buds from the bunch, spread them on steel plates and let the benevolent sun do its job. 

We can go indoors for a glass of chilled starfruit  juice.

After a day of drying - see how the colour changes!

Finally Perfect Cloves!

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