Monday 10 October 2016

Machan Musings

It is that time of the year again! The time when the lush green rice fields start flowering.....

........ and the wild boars start their nocturnal visits.  

So it is time for our ‘Watch-duty’ to guard the fields from the boars.  This time we are better prepared. Unlike last year when we pitched a tent under the arecanut  trees, this year we have constructed a proper ‘Machan’ in the centre of the fields. Our paddy area is divided into 4 sections with a narrow ridge and the machan is built right in the centre. So you can walk on the ridge and climb onto the machan.

The machan is constructed in a very simple manner. Four pillars holding up  a cement sheet, a set of slightly flexible bamboos on the top making a curved ‘tunnel-roof’.  A tarpaulin sheet tied securely over it to prevent the rain – but the sides are open and am really not sure how it will hold up if the rain gets really heavy. So far we have got good weather and clear skies.  

It is a precarious climb on the ladder and don’t you dare to drop your torch or anything else, for it will fall directly into 6 inches of slush. 

We carried a heap of blankets one on the cement sheet and the rest to layer on top as the weather gets really chill at night.  The tent used to be much warmer, but here we are more open to the elements.  And is it noisy here!  Whether it is the standing water in the fields that attract different kind of crickets or cicadas, or whether the dense canopy of trees subdued the noise last time, this time I can no longer call this noise ‘musical sounds of the night’  This is more like being surrounded by 4 television sets each one playing ‘News Hour’ in 4 different languages.  I’m convinced that in the field on my right there is a whole lot of political bickering happening.  There is a conspicuously different, loud, solo chatter, and before it stops, it gets drowned by a wave of dissenting voices that pass over the entire field. Before the wave ends, Mr. Loud-solo yells again and then the wave begins!  What a cicadian cacophony!

And as usual Johnny accompanies us. The very first night itself, we had just walked through the farm and climbed onto the machan, when we had a boar-sighting. Johnny started what we now call his ‘Be warned, there is a boar approaching’ bark. We shone the torch in the direction of Johnny’s gaze and there it was! The minute the circle of light fell on him, he started running. It was a thrill to see the boar run in full view from the safety of the machan. He seemed to have vaulted over the compound wall on our right and when we shone the torch on him, he ran straight ahead, so it was quite a run before he reached the impenetrable darkness of the forest which was on our left. Our cosy perch gave us a vantage view as he raced through the arecanut trees in a distinctly straight line.  Local wisdom says that a boar cannot change his direction easily, so, if ever chased by a boar, dodge him - left and right, side step him neatly and duck behind a tree......that is if you are nimble of foot and quick of thought.  Fortunately we did not have to do anything like that, we were lucky to have climbed onto the machan before the boar vaulted over the wall.

A day-time vantage view of the areca palms through which the boar ran!

But although we are at a height now, I had felt much more secure in our old all-weather tent. Here the wind whipped up a frenzy, the tarpaulin sheets flapped with all their might, the chill really got to me and the cicadas decided to sing with the wind.

Should we opt for the tent again? Oh no, I wouldn’t trade the thrill of sleeping on the machan. The constant fresh breeze, the sight of the swaying arecanut tree tops with the twinkling stars overhead on one side and the moon lit view of all the neighbouring fields guarded by the shadows of the distant hills on the other, continues to lure us right until harvest time!

Saturday 24 September 2016

A new Bridge.

The highway construction work on the Four-Laning of  NH 17 (now known as NH 66)  is in full swing.  Our recent installation of a Biomechanics Lab at the Department of Sports Sciences at the Manipal University, has us driving along this stretch many times. The inconveniences caused by the diversions, the pot-holed service roads all pale into insignificance when the green fields and arecanut plantations open up to show a brilliant scene of a river!  

And there are so many rivers that we cross in this 80 kms stretch.

Beginning with the Venkatapur river just before Bhatkal, the Chowtani river, the Sumna river near Byndoor, Yadamavu river just after Khambadkone, and so on.....

And then there is the breathtaking view at Trasi where the serene Souparnika river runs parallel to the  pounding Arabian sea. There is just a road separating the ocean from the river and the sight is unforgettable. It is one of our favourite tea halts.  Small tea stalls dot the stretch and you could halt at any one of them and have a cuppa, gazing at the brilliant view.

So, just the other day we were travelling yet again on this road. As we crossed the Panchagangavalli  river, Vivek noticed another bridge running almost parallel to the one we were on, but further downstream. “Hey look at that new bridge!” he exclaimed. “I wonder where it leads to”. 

Look.......a new bridge...can you really spot it?

 There was only one way to find out. Just after our bridge ended, we spotted a right turn which seemed to lead towards that bridge.  So on an impulse, we turned, and after about a km reached the brigde. It was indeed spanking new and there was no traffic on it. Just one Maruti van overtook us in a tearing hurry, stopped just as the bridge ended, dropped off a little school boy and raced past us back to the main road. 

We went at a leisurely pace and found that where the bridge ended - the road too ended. There was nothing beyond except a few houses and a mud path leading further into the greenery.  The little boy was handing over his school bag to his mother who had been waiting there for him. They both watched us as we reached the end of the road. “Is this a new bridge?” I asked her.  She nodded an affirmation. “What did you do before this was built?” I asked her.  “Used the boat of course” she smiled as she walked down the little mud path. 

A ferry for people crossing the Souparnika river.

We enjoyed the glorious scene for a while and then turned back.

Later,  I checked on Google maps and found that we had visited an island called ‘Kannada Kudru’ . Apparently the bridge was built and inaugurated just a few months ago. There are about 60 families living on this little island located in the confluence of the Panchagangavalli river and the Kollur river. Depending solely on the ferry to take them to the mainland, these locals must have had it very tough until the bridge was built.

Surely a lot of unseen good work is being done in these remote locations whose residents have silently borne their lot all these years!


Wednesday 24 August 2016

The Tallest Tree

I have no idea how and when exactly this happened. 

We were all bought from a nursery  near Kundapur and brought to this farm several years ago.  I still remember the journey.....jostling around in a bright blue pick-up vehicle, racing over rough roads, the breeze pulling back our fronds like crazy, it was the first time me and my siblings were looking at the world beyond our nursery wall.  

The last stretch of the journey was really exciting as the road dipped sharply into what looked like a gurgling brook.  Our new owner got off his two wheeler, so did the co-driver of our vehicle. They waded down into the brook and with mighty yells shepherded the vehicle carefully thru it, all of us tipping dangerously to one side.. and then we were on level ground again.

We spent the night on the porch of the farmhouse, still close together like we did in the nursery.
Next morning we were all taken into the farm and kept in our allocated spots. My favourite siblings were still within sight so I was quite happy. The black plastic casing that bound our roots was cut open and we were lowered carefully and reverently into the huge pit which was to be our home for life!  

It smelt good and the feel of the humus-rich soil was so soothing!  Freedom at last! I was raring to go and grow! My roots sucked in the sweet water and my fronds rippled in the breeze.  The tall slender arecanut trees around us looked down ‘frondly’ on us – new babes in the woods.. they seemed to whisper.

I don’t know whether it was my curiosity to look over into the neighbours land or the new diet so different from the chemicals fed to us in the nursery, or the superbly clean air of an arecanut farm, but within a few months I was several heads above my nearest siblings.  Probably some of my other siblings who were located at a distance may have grown taller, but we would never know until we towered over the dense plantation.  Soon I was looking down on the tops of the arecanut trees, but I could not see any other of my siblings yet.  Bit by bit, they started showing the tops of their heads above the areca plants, but by then I was way above the rest.

So I am indeed the tallest coconut tree on this side of the stream!  The tree climber who comes to harvest coconuts (I have heard his name is Lakshmana) makes a big fuss about climbing up my trunk, he pauses twice on his way up, and sheepishly admits that he is scared of (such) heights!

So I am the one who can catch  the first sight of every train that passes Chitrapur station, I am the one who can catch a whiff of the storm that is about to break over this beautiful landscape, I am the one the monkeys don’t bother to jump onto, I am the one the hornbills love to perch on. 

  And when my family goes up the hill with their dogs, I  can see them climbing higher and higher till they are at the very top of the hill and they never fail to turn around and let their eyes rest on me a while before walking on.  I hear them tell their friends “Can you see that tall coconut tree towering over all the others?  That patch of green surrounding it – that is our farm.”  

Friday 1 July 2016

Home Alone.... and Help at last!

Vivek managed to postpone his trip by 2 days in the hope that we could get someone to atleast milk the cows, as I found this task the most difficult. Hands used to excessive computer usage (courtesy my programming days) don’t take easily to ‘high pressure’ jobs like these!  
Coming to think about it, you don’t really need to exert very high pressure between your thumb and fingers when you are milking. If you do it right, you could be making smooth, fluid movements like a dancer and still have a steady stream of frothy, creamy milk fast filling into the milking pail. But alas, I have not yet mastered the technique! 

Luckily enough, just the day before Vivek was to leave one of  our acquaintances called up to say that he could get someone to do the milking for us. ‘Only the milking – he has no time for any other jobs’ he said. Fine, at least one task would be taken care of!

So, enter Subraya the milkman. Tall, gangly with a tooth-y smile, arms flailing about as he walked in and looked around the cow shed. We had just finished milking the cows when he came in. Only country cows, no Jersey’s or crossbred? he exclaimed.  His speech was rapid-fire kannada and I could barely follow. He saw the milk pails and asked ‘finished?’ . I pointed out to Madhubala and said ‘not her, she kicks’ 

Aaah he said and started walking towards her with his hand extended towards her udders. Madhubala rolled her eyes, snorted and started on what was surely one of her terrible tantrums.  Be careful, she kicks! ...........Do you need a rope? ....... Should I hold a feed bucket out for her?.....Subraya paid no attention to my questions. He was walking towards her slowly like a cat towards its prey, making clucking sounds, soothing sounds, undeterred by her monstrous behaviour. A couple of thwacks on her bottom when she kicked, his right hand still extended towards her udder, still making the clucking sounds, and Madhubala started calming down. He started milking her and yelled out to me ‘Patra kodee’ – hand me the vessel. I promptly did so and the comforting sound of the jets of milk falling into an empty vessel soon replaced by the sound of a frothing container were heard! Oh what a marvellous relief!  Madhubala did continue to snort a bit and moved her legs a bit as if to kick but Subraya was ready with a deft slap and a louder snort which seemed to tell her ‘Behave Yourself!’   And Madhubala did behave herself! 

My admiration for these locals grows in leaps and bounds!  

So Subraya took care of milking all the milch animals, heralding his arrival twice a day with a ting-a-ling-ting of his bicycle. He was a quick worker and finished his task in less than half an hour.

Well, about the other tasks, I managed some, left some undone, messed up some like the irrigation...... Before he left, Vivek  had tried to explain the complex irrigation system to me and after 20 minutes of his lecture, I realised I had not followed anything, So out came my note book. He patiently repeated everything and I took down notes like these:

·         Open the valve near the ‘3 bamboo’ section.
·         If you are watering the nutmeg tree section then open the valve near the Bridelia tree, else open the one near the Mango trees section
·         After you close the main hatch, don’t dawdle all the way to the pump else it will create an air-lock – which means the pump starts but no water comes out of the sprinkler system!  
·         Water this section in the morning that one in the afternoon, and next day this one.....and so on
·         Put only 12 sprinkler heads in this section, that section can handle 18...and so on...
No time to stand and stare -----race to the pump-house

The Bridelia tree - A close-up of its thorny-glory!

I thought I had understood everything.  I systematically numbered the sprinkler heads P1, P2, P3....and so on. But when I started doing it....aaarrgghhhh...Euclid’s theorem on Prime numbers seemed easier!
Is this valve open or closed ? How can a simple thing like this confuse me?

P1, P2, P3.......

But pretty soon the week was over and Vivek was back. I had managed fairly well, no burst pipelines. no ruined pump or anything major like that.

Shortly after that our farmer friend Sonnu informed us that his nephew from Hudil was willing to work on our farm. He knows this kind of work well and he is a willing worker he said. So ‘Yogesh’  joined us. True to Sonnu’s description he is a good and willing worker.

Now that the tough time has passed, looking back we realise what a fantastic learning experience it has been for us! We have the confidence that we can handle almost any task on the farm... well almost any......ahem..almost......except  probably our darling Madhubala’a milking!

Saturday 25 June 2016

A terribly sad event..........and the days that followed.

The morning that we received the news about our farm hand Manjunath’s fall, we had no idea how long he would take to recover, and also whether he would be able to work like before again.

But no matter what, the work on the farm must go on.

So we geared up to meet the situation to the best of our abilities.

 And did I mention that my trusted maid Revathi had quit a couple of months prior to this incident because she was in the family way? Her health was a bit fragile and anyway after the baby she could not continue, hence I had bid a sad farewell to her.

I had tried my best to get a suitable replacement, but had not succeeded. Most people in the village found our home too far, the dogs too scary and the sheer amount of work too daunting. So I had been managing the house work as well.  Manjunath had willingly taken on some of her tasks like washing the cow shed, mixing the cow feed, giving the cows an extra feed of dry hay etc.

Our mornings usually began with giving the cows their morning feed. Now we would have to milk the cows and Madhubala the buffalo as well. Vivek is good at it and  while I gave the cows their feed buckets, he  milked the  3 milch cows – Shabari, Shravani and Kaveri. 

Ever so gentle Shabari



All three of them docilely accepted the change and Vivek had no trouble milking them.

And then Madhubala.......Madhubala our sweet buffalo has a mind of her own. She decided that she did not want to be milked  by either of us. And how did she express it!  She threw a tantrum, the likes of which I had never seen before. She not only kicked with one powerful hoof, she could kick with both simultaneously. The result would be her 200 kgs of bulk levitating several inches off the ground and landing with a forceful thud. She could also throw her weight around- literally – although she was tethered securely to a metal frame, she could hurl her weight at you if you got too close.   After several futile attempts, we had to give up, we let her calf Madhuwanti drink as much as she wanted to. There was double risk in doing this as sometimes the calves cannot digest too much milk and get diarrhoea and not milking the animal completely can lead to a nightmare named Bovine Mastitis. The situation continued for a whole week until we got a person solely for milking the animals.

Sweet (?) Madhubala!

The next major task was irrigating the plantation.  We have a rather complex irrigation system and this task involves opening some valves, closing some others, changing the sprinkler heads criss crossing the plantation according to the combination of the valves, releasing air traps in the system and then finally switching on the pump!   Once the pump is on, ensuring that all the overhead tanks – for home use, for the cow shed, for the service shed get filled properly, closing their inlet valves as soon as they fill and then to water the few flowering plants in the area surrounding the house. Whew..! And then not to forget switching the pump off  before the water gets exhausted. Remember it is the third week of March and our water situation is quite critical.

And then the myriad other tasks like picking the fallen coconuts, clearing the fallen areca palm fronds and slicing off the sheath portion (which goes towards making the eco-friendly areca plates), chopping the fronds in the chaff-cutter to put into the compost, cleaning and washing the cow-shed, cooking the dog’s meals, feeding all the animals, letting the cows out after their milking, letting them in again when they come and tethering them back in their correct on and so forth. 

We tried hard to maintain a schedule so that we could complete all the tasks between the two of us, but it was tough. Still it wasn’t as tough as the week when Vivek had to urgently travel out on work and I had to manage the farm alone.

But more of that in my next post...

Sunday 19 June 2016

A terribly sad event......

It is the last week of March...the earth looks drier than it ever has at this time of the year. The news about the drought situation across the country is dismal.  Our own water situation looks grim.
We were discussing the situation with our farm hand Manjunath and he mentioned that the water in his well had almost completely dried up and he had initiated the work of digging it still deeper. This year he planned on putting in rings (large concrete rings that prevent the walls of the well from caving in).

The next morning at 7 am, the phone rang. It was Manjunath’s son-in-law. He had called to inform us that Manjunath had a fall.  He had fallen into his well while he was working around it!  This was terrible news!  How badly was he injured? His son-in-law could not say for sure. They were already on the way to the hospital and all we could do was pray and hope that he wasn’t badly injured.
Later on in the day his son-in-law informed us that he was admitted to a hospital in Mangalore and he had a fracture of a Lumbar vertebrae –L1. 

A  surgery, a prolonged stay in the hospital, and now a slow arduous path to recovery...

As I write this, he has recovered to a point of being able to walk around in his house, but is still pain. We hope and pray that he has a smooth recovery and we will be able to hear the calves announce his arrival as he crosses the little gate at the end of our rice fields every morning.

Saturday 23 January 2016

Doggie Treats.

Phoenix has always been a fussy eater  -  apart from his two meals of rice, milk and chicken, he does not eat any of the snacks like biscuits or toasts that the other dogs enjoy.  He looks mournfully at them crunching up the tidbits, but refuses to have them himself. 

Phoenix as a little pup

The only snack that he ever enjoys and begs for is the ‘chewstick’.   Now this is a doggie treat that all of them love, but it is something that is not available in Chitrapur or its vicinity. So our Mumbai trips always have a visit to the petshop where we buy enough to last us until our next trip.  And still sometimes that is not enough!  

No, thanks, I don't eat human-biscuits

We can never sneak one out of the packet and give only Phoenix when the others are munching their share of human-biscuits. Oh,no – for Phoenix refuses to eat one all by himself. He waits till everyone is around  and then takes his. It may seem strange especially since most dogs just grab the treats. But not Phoenix – he is the gentle one, he likes to share his treats! 

A couple of months back, we ran out of chew-sticks way before our trip to the city.  And Phoenix’s expression became so mournful, that I did not even venture near my bookshelf. The bookshelf ?   Yes, the packet of chewsticks is always kept on the top shelf of our bookshelf for easy access.  You just have to step near it and Phoenix is there right behind you looking hopefully for a treat.

We had a visitor the other day and when I went in to get some tea, he wandered around and stood in front of the bookshelf looking at the collection. Something in the top shelf caught his attention and he started taking out the book when he sensed some activity behind him. He turned around to see four dogs gathered around him watching his every move and he froze. I walked out with the tea just then and seeing his  expression burst out laughing.  “Have you trained the dogs so that no one can touch your books?”,  he asked. He had a hearty laugh too when I told him about the chewsticks!
So you can imagine how it is when we exhaust our supply of chewsticks. 

Sigh.....this is how it feels to have a chewstick-less existence
I had to do something and thought of making some doggie biscuits at home. A couple of eggs mixed directly into whole wheat flour (no unhealthy refined flour for my darlings you see), and a dough mixed together with chicken stock.  I shaped it into a log, sliced it into biscuits and baked them.  

D-shaped Doggie biscuits - just so that the humans know whom it is meant for

They were tough to break, since I had not used any baking soda. Now the real test – would Phoenix eat them?  I called out to all of them and they came obediently into the kitchen. I handed out the first one to Phoenix, he sniffed at it, thought for a moment, looked around to make sure that all the others were also there and then accepted it delicately.  

It sure smells good, guess there is no harm in tasting it.

Hurrah!  He carried it out to his favourite chair, and sat and ate it and was back for more!  Hurrah indeed! 
So now I have home-made doggie treats for our canine quartet!

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