Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Touch – Me – Not!

Mimosa Pudica or Touch-me-not is a small weed that grows abundantly on our farm.  Tiny compound leaves with a small lavender coloured ball like flower, this plant droops down and closes its leaves on the slightest touch!  Even a drop of water falling on it elicits the same response. 



The last few weeks of the monsoon has our farm looking lush green – some places are difficult to walk through because of the tall grass and weeds. 

A peacock strolls through the greenery


  We systematically cut patches of it for the cows for their late evening snack, but the weeds seem to grow faster than we can cut them.  One of the main tasks during this time is picking the fallen arecanuts.  The people who harvest the arecanuts cannot climb the trees during this time as the tree trunks tend to get slippery.   So we have a lot of fallen arecanuts which if  not picked and put away to dry, would sprout or rot away.  By itself picking arecanuts is a pleasant task and not as strenuous as picking coconuts.  But the nuts being small, they are difficult to pick and we have to stick our hand into the grass and weeds to reach them.  

Can you spot the fallen arecanuts...can you see the Touch-me-nots?

This is when the touch-me-not plant makes its presence felt – for you see, the plant has sharp thorns all along the stems.  The locals call it ‘Naachi-Mullu-Gida’ which translates as ‘Shy Thorny plant’.  So I have a lot of people advising me to get rid of all the naachi-mullu-gida  because it is of no use and only a trouble while working.  But on the other hand I had heard from quite a few people that it has medicinal properties – although none could specifically tell me what it was useful for.  Anyway, we were soon to find out!

Late one evening, Vivek returned home from some visit that he had gone out for.  He had used his bike and while parking it near the compound wall, the bike slipped slightly on the gravelly mud and he placed his hand on the compound wall for support.  But the rains had loosened some of the top most stones, the stone gave way and his hand rested on the next layer of stones under the fallen one.  The next thing he felt was a sharp stinging pain on his hand!  He called out to me asking me to get a torch quickly.  I rushed out with the torch –“Something has bitten me badly – shine the light here just check what it could be” he said.  Fortunately, we could spot it – it was a scorpion – with its tail still furiously upright ready to deliver another sting if necessary.  It had been disturbed out of its resting place and was obviously furious!

Tail upright - ready  to sting - pic clicked on a different day of a scorpion that we caught in a plastic box to be released far into the forest


Now What?  From what we had heard or read about scorpion stings -we knew that it could be extremely painful, with the pain lasting for over 24 hours in some cases. My maids’ mother had been bitten a few months ago and her description of her mother writhing in pain the whole night was not a pleasant one.  None of them had known any antidote or medication for it and she had suffered the agony.

We went into the house and as a first level treatment, Vivek washed the sting under running water.  I racked my brains trying to remember if I had read or heard any remedy for this.  I did the most obvious thing that came to my mind- I googled it – nothing more than what we already knew; and the detailed description of the pain – Vivek was already experiencing it.  Surely there has to be some local remedy.  I opened up my folder of Medicinal plants and Herbs -gosh when did I collect so much information – a lot of which I had still not read! Some of the valuable books on traditional remedies were scanned copies and a search would not work on it.  

A wealth of information collected over the years !




I randomly opened some files :

Medicinal Herbs of India

Traditional remedies of Kani tribes of Kottoor reserve forest, Agasthyavanam

Documentation of folk knowledge on medicinal plants of Gulbarga district

Medicinal Plants of Karnataka…….

And some more.   I raced my eyes over the pages searching for Scorpion bites.  …..and then suddenly I noticed the pdf file on Mimosa Pudica – the touch me not plant .

Mimosa Pudica A High value medicinal plant as a source of Bioactives for Pharmaceuticals.  Read the heading.  The first few pages looked like they were straight out of an Organic Chemistry text book. 

Remembered Organic Chemistry lessons when I saw this page!


But just after that was a paragraph titled Folk Medicine Use:  And here I found the precious sentence – In folk medicine various parts of the plant are used as an antidote to Scorpion and snake bites!!! Yes this was something that we could try.  It was more than half an hour since the bite and Vivek was sitting quietly with his eyes closed.  No the pain is not too much he said. 

  I called out to Yogesh and asked him to quickly get some nachi mullu plants.  It was close to 9 pm, he took his torch and went into the farm.  During the day in the bright sunshine, you can see these plants everywhere, but  at night, in the darkness?  But he was back soon holding a bunch of plants yanked out of the soil.  I quickly washed the soil off the plants, chopped them roughly with a pair of scissors and put them into the mixer.  Then  I took a big lump of the paste and applied it on the sting.  I kept the rest of the paste aside to reapply after some time.

I went back to the kitchen – I had to give Yogesh his dinner.  The dogs and the cat also had to be fed.  Normally  I call out to Vivek to help with  keeping our cat Kippi’s  food bowl with kibble in her favoured place,  she is a fussy one – she decides her eating place and refuses to come to the window sill which is the place that is easiest and out of reach from the dogs.  Today she wanted her meal upstairs!   I set out our dinner, and sat reading some more of the research paper on Mimosa Pudica, thinking that Vivek could rest a little longer before we had our dinner. 

Within a few minutes, he walked in.  “It is quite amazing” he exclaimed. “The pain is actually reducing!”  Wow, this was good indeed. A really good helpful remedy that probably has been forgotten by the locals over the ages.  By next morning the pain had completely gone.

An amazing remedy indeed!




 

 

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Holle Crossing.........At Midnight!

 Holle - is the stream that gushes past our farm during the monsoon and cuts off our access to the road.



The holle on an ordinary day.  Young kids gather here to play.





Our buffaloes Madhubala and Madhuwanti love to have a dip too


This is an episode that happened quite some years back, but I penned it down only now. 

It was just over a  year since we had moved to the farm and survived our first monsoon here.  The rains always brought on new challenges and we had been learning to deal with it.  And we always heave a sigh of relief when the rains end and we start seeing sunny days again.  But the  rain Gods do want to have the last laugh…….and what a laugh that is.  A final storm with the fireworks and that too in the last week of October after more than a month of dry weather. And that one storm is enough to get the holle flowing again.





After a slightly heavy downpour, this is how it looks - still mild and sober.


And so it was, that year - almost 4 weeks of dry hot weather and we thought we were really done with the rains.  It was Navaratri, we had a visitor whom we had to drop off at the station for the evening train and we also had to attend a night Pooja in a nearby temple.   The day had been overcast and gloomy, and as we left home for the station, the rains started.  Slow drizzle at first and then a proper downpour.  By the time we reached the station, the storm was picking up momentum. And the train was delayed by more than an hour.  We saw off our guest and then went to the temple.  By the time the Pooja and dinner ended, it was 10 pm.  We left for home.  The storm had not abated.  The roads were flooded all through, visibility was so bad that we were forced to go at a very slow pace.  In those days the double carriage roads did not exist and the single road had suddenly seemed to have gotten even more potholed than before.  Add to that the glare of the oncoming truck headlights,  the half an hour journey stretched to more than an hour and half.  By the time we turned off the highway to enter Chitrapur it was 11.45 pm. ‘ We are going to be crossing the Holle at the stroke of midnight’  I quipped.  The last stretch of the mud road that leads to our farm was like a rivulet. The holle is going to be mightily flooded I thought. I expressed my concern to Vivek.  ‘Oh it can't be that bad’ he said. 

As our car drew up to the last stretch where we park it; the downpour seemed to grow stronger. When we switched off the headlights and the engine, the darkness suddenly seemed overpowering.  Our mobiles did not have the flashlight in those days, we had one torch and one umbrella between the two of us.   The sight of the holle in the faint torchlight and the roaring sound as the waters gushed past made me feel a wee bit uneasy I must say.

‘Do you think we should spend the night elsewhere………’ I asked. 

‘Oh come on…this is no time to wake any one up, and home is just there’ he pointed into the pitch darkness. 

‘That is indeed very reassuring’ I said. 

‘Are you scared’ he asked. 

‘Scared, and me?  Oh no!’ I retorted.  ‘Lets go’ 

And we did.

We walked into the swirling waters in pitch darkness.  Strange objects brushed past my legs sometimes clinging and encircling before letting go.  I convinced myself that they must just be branches and leaves of trees  and creepers that I have often seen being washed down into the holle during day time.    The faint beam of the torch barely lit up the waters.  We had been through this path so many times we knew it perfectly well, The side of the embankment where we start walking is a slope with hard rock and no slush at all.  And if we keep to the routine path, all along, the ground is hard and gravelly, so in a  way it is safe to walk.  We trudged on, the waters rising all the way to my waist, the rain battering down on my head, I had given up trying to get under the umberella that Vivek was holding out for me.  The normally 4 to 6 meter wide holle was now more than 25 meters wide – not much really but the darkness, the swirling gushing waters and the rain made it seem like much more.

And then………….

There was a blinding flash of lightening!

 The entire earth seemed to be illuminated in the most stunningly beautiful light.

 The moment froze in our minds eye and the next instant the darkness was even more intense.

 The whole universe seemed to stop in time and the reverie was broken by the deafening sound of thunder.  

We didn’t realise that both of us had stopped in our tracks when the earth lit up for that brief second. We shook ourselves and trudged on.  The opposite bank was now just a few steps away.  There was a tricky patch of slush which we always avoided during the daytime to step directly onto some raised stones.  But tonight in the darkness we both missed the right path and stepped right into the slush.  I suddenly felt a stillness around my right ankle as the swirling waters were now only above that – my right foot had sunk into the slush.  Where do I place my left foot – I didn’t want both feet sinking in!  In the dim light of the torch I realised that Vivek was also struggling the same way.  I could see the rock on which we normally step just an arms distance away.  I bent over and reached it for support. Then I felt around with my left foot until I got a firm foothold.  Then I twisted my foot a bit to either side until I could loosen the grip of the sludge.  I had worn floaters which are strapped quite firmly and I could extricate my foot along with my footwear.  Vivek wasn’t so lucky, he had worn slip-ons and he managed to extricate his foot but not his footwear.  And there was no way that we were going to search for it… We pulled ourselves up on the firm rock, we had finally crossed the Holle.  We turned around and looked at it from this side – the foaming white water fall, the sparkling  swirls all looked magical now that we were safely on this side. And home was just a stones throw away.  We walked the last 50  meters dripping  and Vivek limping along -  the soft mud on the path had got washed away and the exposed stones really hurt your feet when you are not used to it.

It was indeed a relief to reach home.  The Copper Bhaan (the ancient wood fired copper vessel for heating our bath water)  was full of hot water and it never felt so good.  Followed by a glass of hot creamy milk. The perfect ending to an exciting day.

 Farm life does have its benefits and luxuries!!!


A picture of the copper Bhaan clicked on the eve of Diwali when we worship our water source and water storage vessels - reminding us to be thankful for this precious gift of water.



Saturday, 6 March 2021

Making of a Hemmudi.

 A couple of years back, I had visited Lalita’s mothers home – Lalita is my help who works on the farm as well as helps me in the house work.  In the front yard of their home I had noticed a beautiful structure made of hay.




 Intrigued, I had asked about it and they had explained that it was made by her brother Nagraj to store their harvest of rice paddy in it.  It is a traditional form of storing paddy and very few people make it now a days.  It seemed to be dying art.  I was keen on seeing how it is made and I asked her to inform me the next time her brother would make it.  ‘Oh it is made only once a year’ she said. ‘Doesn’t matter, let me know next year’ I told her.  

But as luck would have it, in spite of her informing me, we were unable to go and 3 years passed before we got a chance to see it actually being made.

So this year when Lalita informed me  that her brother was planning to make the Hemmudi a few days later, we decided to keep that day free.  He was to start at 2 pm after lunch, so we planned accordingly and went to their home.

Their front yard was spruced up and made spotlessly clean and a fresh layer of cowdung had been smeared on it.  Cow dung is a natural anti-microbial and has insect repelling properties – so is it any wonder that the traditional method of  layering the front yard with cowdung instead of cement  is still so popular in the villages? 

A spot was chosen and Nagaraj’s mother drew a Rangoli design with quick strokes.  Then bunches of hay were laid out systematically with the cut ends in the centre and the other end fanning out to make a large circle.  Once the first circle was complete, a second concentric, slightly smaller one was made on top of it and then another until innermost circle completely covered the ground. 


 All along Lalita’s young kids aged 8 and 11 scurried around bringing  bunches of hay from the stack that was a little distance away.  Soon the enormous circle of hay was ready.  A large plastic sheet was placed  in the centre to prevent grains from slipping thru the hay and also to prevent any moisture from seeping in, in case of any unseasonal rain.  Then Nagaraj lifted a large basket into which some paddy had been poured from  one of the sacks of rice lined up against the wall of the house.  He said a prayer and then emptied the first lot of paddy onto the sheet. 



His college going nephew joined in along with a neighbour to help lift the sacks and bring them to Nagaraj. He would tip each one and  flatten the mound  carefully within the circle.  After a sizeable mound was created, then the sides had to be raised.  The hay was bent upwards and a thick rope was wound around the base of the Hemmudi.  




Now the whole thing looked like a large grass tub filled with paddy.  Now the next layer of the Hemmudi wall had to be built.  The kids pitched in carrying the hay to Nagaraj who carefully placed each bunch vertically supported on the outside by the ring of hay and on the inside by the paddy.




  The ring was completed, secured with ropes and then the piling in of the paddy resumed.  So layer by layer, the Hemmudi was constructed, finally holding close to 30 quintals of paddy. 



 As the last circle of hay was being placed, Lalita’s nephew expertly  prepared a metal ring with ropes hanging around the sides, that was to go on top of the Hemmudi to secure the top in place. 






The 2 kids ran around busily bringing the hay bunches and passing them to Nagaraj who was on the top of the Hemmudi which was now almost 9 feet in height.  He covered the top with a generous layer of hay, then a plastic sheet was placed on top, followed by the ring.  The ropes hanging from the ring were securely fastened down to the sides of the Hemmudi.




  In the meantime, the youngsters had fetched some clayey mud and were busy mixing it with water to make a thick paste.  This was piled around the base and plastered into place with their hands to make a perfect seal.  




The ladies busied themselves cleaning out the remnants of the fallen hay, folding the emptied sacks neatly and sprucing up the place  and bringing in bunches of mango leaves and flowers for the Pooja. 

**


The Hemmudi is now finally completed, decorated with flowers and leaves.  Nagaraj’s mother brings out a platter with an oil lamp, flowers. Coconut and agarbattis.  He performs a small Pooja of the Hemmudi and then it is time for them to relax.  A feast of Chicken curry and rice has been prepared by the mother and they all troop into the house for an early dinner.  They insist on us joining them too, but it is just 6.30 pm, a bit too early for us.  So they pack  some for us to take home.  We leave for home,  happy to have been able to see the making of the Hemmudi.

And Vivek had clicked a whole bunch of videos and compiled this, click to see the video.

 




 

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Have you ever hugged a tree?

 

Have you ever hugged a tree,

An ancient one,

Felt its heartbeat,

Through the wizened bark,

Heard the soft murmur

Of its leaves

Through the wizened bark

Heard tales of yore

Of a time when

It had scores of others

Around

Standing shoulder to shoulder,

Their leaves brushing one another

In the ancient rippling breeze,

And then it stood still

Watching the others

brought down

One by one,

Making way for something

Or the other

That man felt

Was more important

Than this gnarled old tree…..

Have you ever hugged a tree

And listened to its sorrow

Through the wizened bark?

Have you ever hugged a tree?












Tuesday, 29 December 2020

And then sometimes you just get lucky!!!

 Lucky enough to be able to see Raja Ravi Verma’s Paintings in a distant city which you are visiting for just a day on work!

The year was 2009, even before we moved to the farm.  Our office work involved quite a bit of travelling.  Vivek being the seasoned traveller, always looked for flights that would minimise our time out of Mumbai, and me being the dreamer, always wanted to linger on a day or two extra and take in the sights of the cities hitherto unseen.  So when we were called upon for a meeting  in Trivandrum – Thiruvananthpuram – I jumped at the chance.  Thiruvananthapuram -  such a grand name for the capital city of Kerala – I was born in Kerala (Calicut) and hence always have a special longing to visit this state .

Now what else could we possible do in Trivandrum – ………….? 

 Visit the museum which houses the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma of course!  We could not travel all the way there and not see the paintings – that would be terrible. So I did all the research and found out all the details about the place- location, timings etc and dreamt about  spending an entire  day there.

  Ah,   but Vivek had other plans – Our meeting was scheduled for 11 am – we had a very convenient flight which would land there by 8.30 and a return flight at around 7 pm.  We need not even stay overnight he explained, while I had the most disappointed look on my face.

 But...but...Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings...I wailed!  But the flight bookings were already done.  “Don’t worry”, Vivek consoled me,  “I’m sure the meeting won’t take long - as soon as we are done, we  can go  spend all afternoon at the museum and then go directly to the airport” he said.  Meetings  getting over quickly.......I might as well sail to the moon and back....hmmmmpf!!!

All along in the flight, my thoughts were on only one thing – the museum.  Only if we finish our meeting by 1.30, we could rush to the museum .... but invariably, there would be lunch served and the prolonged discussions.   So I put away all thoughts of visiting the museum and got down to concentrating on my work.

We  hired a car for the day and as we drove out of the airport we could see people putting up flags and barricades along the roads.  When we asked, the driver informed us that there was a huge morcha/rally  in the evening and probably a lot of roads would be blocked and traffic would be diverted.  The chances of visiting the museum seemed indeed very bleak.

We reached the department at 10 am, a whole hour earlier, but  it would be better to wait there rather than some place outside.  We sat in the reception area and I got my laptop out and resumed my work  while Vivek got talking to some person who was enquiring about  our reason for being there.  There seemed so be some serious language issue and some confusion. I could hear  ‘No Meeting – …….. Sir is on leave’  

Well, well,  this kind of sounded preposterous – after having travelled all the way from Mumbai on a date and time that was conveyed to us a fortnight in advance!  The person having realised the gravity of the situation, reluctantly phoned his boss whom we had travelled to meet.  A lot of head nodding and a one sided conversation which we could not follow, the person finally turned to us and said ‘Meeting postponed to 2 pm’   

Well, well,well.......that  really sealed off any chance of visiting the museum....unless....unless ...we go right away. 

“Yes?”  I asked Vivek. 

“How far is it?”  I rattled off the exact kms – I had it down pat. 

“We’ll be back for the meeting”  he said to the person at the counter and out we rushed to the cab.  The driver not expecting us to come out so soon had wandered off , but came back as soon as we called him. He was confident that we could go to the museum and get back before 2 pm as the rally was not expected to start before 4 pm.  It was a bit risky,  but then off we went.  Half an hour later we were at the entrance of the Trivandrum Zoo. Yes the Sree Chithra Art Gallery is within the premises of the zoo.  We quickly got our tickets and went into the quaint museum.


Pic taken from the Internet  


The museum was inaugurated in 1935 by the then Maharaja of Travancore Sri Chithira Thirunal.  A beautiful bungalow built in the traditional Kerala style of architecture with sloping tile roof and polished red floor.  The masterpieces adorned the walls and I could just not have enough of looking at them.


Pic taken from the Internet  




 Two and half hours can scarcely do justice to a museum,  but still it was totally worth it. Soaked in the sight of some really marvellous Raja Ravi Varma originals and then it was time to get back to work.  We scarcely had time for a lunch so grabbed a snack at a tea stall and reached just in time for the meeting.  This time, everything was different.  The Head of the Department had arrived and a whole team was present and the meeting went off well. 

Back in the cab on the way to the airport, the diversions and road blocks made it seem that we would not reach the airport in time.  But the taxi driver sure knew the roads well and cut across through some non-existant road and got us out of the city onto a newly constructed  - or rather under construction road and raced to the airport – just in time for our return flight to Mumbai.  I leaned back into my seat my head still filled with visions of those paintings.......Just this morning I was doubtful whether I would get to see them, and in spite of all the seeming hurdles, we had still managed to visit the museum.

Sometimes, you do get lucky!

Pic taken from the Internet  

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Homes without doors!

 Our farmer friend Sonnu is by now used to our requests to take us to some relatively unknown portions of this beautiful land.  He has taken us to a Village called Hudil, yet another remote village to see Jaggery being made,  Abre whose claim to fame is the Medicine man and so on.

Recently we made yet another request to him – take us to a place where we can trek  up a hill we said.  And he happily agreed.  This time he suggested  a place called Uttara Koppa.  So on the appointed day, he came with Jaiman– the lad whose village we had visited to see jaggery being made. 

We set off in our car and a little before  Murudeshwar we turned  off the highway to travel into the interiors.  The road was – as usual – beautiful, the scenery as captivating as ever and soon  the village homes with the areca plantations gave way to dense forests on either side.  Every now and then we would see one or two homes scattered far – It is amazing how these people live so far from all the amenities  that we city people are so used to!  We surround ourselves with shops, malls, bus-stops and railway stations.  Every  advertisement for new homes in the city newspapers screams out how close everything is- 5 min walk to  xyz  Station, 2 mins from abc  Mall and so on……and not to mention a ‘Stones throw from the great Big Hosptial’ too!!!

Well here the nearest shop would be easily 15 to 20 kms away.  Are the people ever worried about running out of stuff – never.  Their homes are easily the sparsest that I have ever seen. 

So after a very pleasant ride, we reached a dead end, where we parked the car and set off walking into the forest with Sonnu leading the way. It was a beautiful walk, the silence of the forest, the ocassional call of birds, a few gurgling brooks and a small waterfall – an ambience to soak in and carry back home in your heart!




It was uphill most of the way and after about an hours trek we reached a flat level land which had a well maintained Areca plantation.  It was a surprise to see it in such a remote location.  We asked Sonnu about it and he said there are a couple of homes here and the plantations belong to those farmers.  And sure enough a little further we came upon the unmistakable signs of a village home.  A few dogs started barking to announce our arrival, a cock crowed loudly and we came upon a  mud house  with a small vegetable patch outside and a couple of coconut trees around it. 





The house seemed empty.  It had a little sheltered porch with a whole lot of hens and tiny chicks running all over the place.  The house was open, there was no door at all!   Sonnu stopped and started looking around for something – and soon spotted it -  a Sickle.  He picked it up and started towards the coconut tree.  We had a conversation like this

Me :What are you doing? 

S :  Plucking some tender coconut for you’ll. 

Me : Oh please don’t bother….and besides there is no one in the house,  won’t the owner mind?

S : Oh no he is my friend.  He must be somewhere around,  He will be back any moment.

Me : Is this the end of the trek or are we walking some more?

S :  Yes we could walk further up for a while and then return.

Me : Ok then maybe your friend will be back by the time we return and maybe he will make us some tea, I joked  - more to prevent him from plucking 2 precious tender coconuts than for the consideration of having tea!   So please don’t pluck any tender coconuts for us. 

He agreed and we set off again on the path.  Rough, uneven and uphill.  Giant towering trees, the kinds we had never seen before.  



A relatively rare fruit - White Kokum as the locals call it - Garcinia cambogia



And then another clearing and another small house.  This one too without a door.  But yes it had a bright coloured curtain and I could not resist getting a pic clicked on the doorstep.




 Finally we reached the end of the traversed path and it was time to turn back.  We reached the home of Sonnu’s friend, but he had not yet returned.  Just then there was a sudden downpour.  When it rains in these regions, it really pours!  We stood in the shelter of the porch and watched the front yard turn to slush. 



There was no point in trying to continue in the down pour and we decided to wait it out.  The chicks and the mother hen all scurried into the porch for shelter.  Sonnu went  into the house.  We could hear him rummaging around and went in to see.  He had already lit a small wood fire in the ‘choolah’ and kept a small vessel of water to boil.  He had taken my jestful mention of tea very seriously and was looking around in the dark kitchen for tea leaves!  He found it in a small tin in a a dark corner of the mud floor  next to another small tin of sugar. He found 4 steel pails and poured out the decoction.  Sweet black tea!  How refreshing.  We watched the rain sipping the tea.  

The neatly woven coconut frond sheltered us from the rain.


And then just as suddenly as it had started, the rain stopped, and the sky cleared up.  Time to leave.  We put on our shoes and just then the owner of the house returned.  At first he saw just Vivek and me as the others were sitting inside the house and I guess he was startled to see 2  strangers sitting on his porch.  Just then Sonnu came out and his face broke into a relieved smile.   We thanked him for his in-absentia hospitality and continued our down-hill trek.  The water fall which was a small one on the way up was now gushing mightily.  We refilled our bottles with the deliciously chill water and returned home.

What an amazing trek it was!

 

Monday, 23 November 2020

Hayyyyyyyyyyyy!

 

Hayyyyyyyyyyyyy………..Neelay Gagan ke Taley…..Dharti ka pyar Paley…..

 

Crooned Mahendra Kapoor in his mellifluous voice  in the 1967 movie Humraaz while Raj Kumar and his lady love struck poses against the backdrop of mountains in colour co-ordinated attire!

Amazingly blue skies  - a welcome sight after months of overcast skies and relentless rains!

I can’t help humming this song as we return back from our Hay collecting expedition.  Every year as soon as the farmers in the surrounding areas  finish harvesting their rice, they look for buyers for their Hay.  Often they get more money for the hay than they get for the rice itself – yes each precious bundle  of hay locally called a Kaat -  that is just thick enough to wrap both your hands around it costs anything between Rs. 8 and  12, depending on the variety of Rice and the quality of Hay.  You see the Red rice  that most farmers grow has shorter hay than the generic white variety.  So the longer hay amounts to more volume hence commands a higher price.  The quality depends on whether the Rain Gods showered the harvested Windrows (Rows of freshly cut Rice which is left out to dry in the fields) and  did not allow the Sun God to dry them out, or whether the Sun God won and helped the poor farmers to salvage their hay!


A Kaat of Hay


Our own hay from our half acre of paddy field is not sufficient to last the whole year for our bovine family.  So after we are done with collecting the hay from our own field and stacking it up, we have to make a couple of visits to neighbouring farms to collect hay from there.

Collecting the hay from our field.


This year, in addition to our pick-up,  we decided to hire a larger vehicle so that the entire lot could be brought in one trip. 


  Loading the bundles onto the vehicle is quite an art and probably an exacting science as well.  You see the Centre of Gravity of the loaded vehicle must be well within its Base of Support or else it may tipple over on the narrow bumpy village roads.  Besides the circumference of the mound of hay on the vehicle should not be far more than the perimeter of the vehicle, else it is difficult to manoever the vehicle when you meet an oncoming vehicle on the road.  And if the oncoming vehicle is also loaded with hay, then ….probably time to burst into another song again!

Some of the overloaded vehicles that we see on the roads!!!

The hay is loaded with one person standing on top of the vehicle and one or more on top of the hay stack.  If it is possible to get the vehicle close enough to the hay stack, then the person from the hay stack can hurl the hay directly onto the vehicle.  The stacking up has to be done carefully else the entire load can slide and collapse during the process.  Our farm hand is good with this and he stands on top of the ever increasing mound expertly catching and arranging the bundles thrown to him. 



  It takes a good hour and half to load all the hay onto the vehicles. Once the loading is done, a long thick rope is wound around the stack and under the special hooks on the sides of the vehicle of the vehicle to secure it in place. 


  Then a slow bumpy ride back to the farm.  The tempo driver is in a hurry as he has another customer who is waiting for him so he wants his vehicle to be  off loaded quickly.  .  It  will take too much  time to cart the hay to the attic above the cow shed so we off load the hay in our drive-way and  relieve  the  vehicle.   The distance from the driveway to the cow shed is not much, but it is uneven due to the heavy rain which has washed away the soil leaving stones, pebbles and rubble on the path. And one has to carry the hay up a ladder to reach the attic above the cow shed.  We are going to need 2 more people to help with this.  It is close to noon now, so we take a break and decide to call 2 additional helpers in the afternoon.  The 2 young boys come in at around 2 pm.  The bunches of hay are tied into lots that can be carried by the boys and they work like a relay carrying the load upto the top of the ladder where our farm hand is waiting to haul it up and stack it neatly in the correct place. It is almost 6 pm by the time the last lot is in place.  The drive way is strewn with bits of hay which the cows enjoy as they walk back into the cow shed. Our attic is full and the cow shed has a warm  smell of hay.


 The cows are content and you might just catch them looking upwards and sighing Hayyyyyyy!

Saturday, 17 October 2020

Counting Coconuts.

 

Our coconut harvest has been long overdue.  What with the lockdown and then the incessant rain,  the harvest got delayed way more than we expected.  The trees tiring of their burden of the older coconuts  often dropped quite a few  here and there which the ravenous boars would polish off – clean.  Yes the boars can skilfully dehusk a coconut, break it open and eat it clean. 

Finally this week one of the Coconut tree climbers  agreed to come over.   The weather  was just right.  A bit cloudy and a gentle breeze and yet dry.  It is a pleasure to work in the farm on such days  after  the wet weather when your feet go squelch and your clothes get all soggy. And counting coconuts is a very pleasant task indeed.

There are two ways in which we can sell off the harvested coconuts  - One is by weight – in which case, we have to dehusk them and then take it to the Sunday market. Here the dealer weighs them and pays as per the rate on that particular date – Yes the rate fluctuates daily – I used to think that only Gold prices do that.   The other way is to sell by count.  We do this if we run short of time or don’t get a person to do the de-husking.  This time we chose to sell it by count.

The easiest and best way to do this is to count as we collect them.  The coconuts fall to the ground from that astounding height and crash land into the grass below.  The bunch often breaks and they scatter and bounce  around a radius of almost  10 to 15 meters.  So we need to pick them up and collect them in lots of 20 or 25.  




My part-time help Lalita expertly separates the coconuts from the bunch using a sharp sickle.  


The coconuts need to be separated from the stalk with a sickle


We work together  picking  the bunches and bringing them together.  The single coconuts scatter really far and  rather than carrying one or two to the pile, it is easier to hurl it towards the pile.  I have never tried my hand at shotput,  but this is close enough.  Once the pile is sufficiently big, I pick them in twos and count them as I put them into the ‘Mankirkee’  which is the basket meant for carrying the coconuts -   25 if they are small or medium sized and just 20 if they are really large.  




Some of the coconuts are humongous and easily weigh over 2 kgs.  




Our farm hand Yogesh carries the loaded Mankirkee on his head to our Pick-up truck and empties the load into it.  I jot down the number that we had put into the basket.  He needs help to haul the basket onto his head and I realise much to my chagrin,  that I cannot manage to lift the weight  above my shoulder height. It takes two of us ( Lalita and me) on one side  and Yogesh on the other to haul the loaded Mankirkee onto his head.   He then walks with practised ease over the uneven terrain to the vehicle to empty the load. 




I barely worked for 2 hours and am already beginning to feel the drain on my energy.  Vivek had worked the whole morning until the mid day tea break and then had to attend to some urgent work and hence I had pitched in.  I took  a break before my back and headed  home.  Luckily Vivek had finished with his work and was ready to go back to  counting coconuts.  I had to catch up with the rest of the kitchen work and feed the 4 hungry dogs.  I made  a refreshing  herbal tea (Kashaya)  for all of us and then got on with the kitchen chores.

The coconut tree climber finished his work by 2 pm and headed back home. We still had another couple of hours left of collecting and counting the coconuts.

So if any of you find it difficult to get carried off into Sleepy dream land as soon as your head touches the pillow, then  try counting coconuts  instead of sheep.  It sure does work!

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