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



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!

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Fight!


A mock bull fight in action

Two months passed after Anandi had the traumatic episode ofa prolapsed uterus  just after Somavathi’s birth.  The first few weeks were tough -  administering her medicine thrice a day with all 3 of us holding her down while one of us poured the medicine down her throat, keeping her area spotlessly clean,  applying ointment on the stitches taking care to avoid her well aimed sharp kicks  and ensuring that there was no other unwanted problem.  Slowly things came back to normal and she started looking her healthy self again.  It was time to start letting her out to graze.

Anandi eager to go  for her walk..... the large doorway behind her through which all the cows proceed towards the gate.

During the time when we were not letting her out, she would bellow her protest as the others trooped out of the cow shed each morning.  We did realise that she was extremely upset about it, but there was nothing we could do.  And how upset she was and how much pent-up anger she had was displayed only when we finally released  her one morning.

Our farm hand always releases them out in the same sequence beginning with the left most – and they all make their way  in a peaceful line, out  of the large doorway from the cow shed which leads to the gate.  This day when Anandi was released, she shoved her way   towards the exit and butted Saraswati who was walking out.  Saraswati was taken by surprise, and stumbled heavily causing a little blockade.  The ones behind halted a bit too close to them and Anandi turned around and butted the one nearest her.  The cows are generally unperturbed by a little shoving and butting, but Anandi was persistent and Kaveri got agitated and started flailing her horns menacingly.  There was a bit of a melee but with a bit of yelling and thwacking the long herding stick in the air we managed to sort it out and all of them trooped  out.  I   followed them out with the herding stick as our farm hand proceeded to clean the cow shed.  I just presumed that once out of the gate in the open air, they would all go their normal friendly shoulder brushing way in search of green pasture.  But how wrong I was! 

They walked  out of the gate  and I latched it and turned to get back when I heard a heavy thud and scuffling sound.  I turned around to see that Anandi had butted Kalavati so hard that she had fallen on her side and Anandi was repeatedly butting her as she struggled to get up.  The other cows seeing this started butting Anandi and in a  minute it looked like a free-for-all… everyone seemed to be butting and fighting with someone.  Eight or nine of the adults were raising up  a dust storm and the younger ones were running helter skelter in panic.  All my thwacking of the stick and yelling made no difference – a full-on fight was in progress.  I yelled out to Vivek and our farm hand, both of them hearing the panic in my voice rushed out.  It took a good deal of yelling and thwacking to get them sorted out. I scooped out a tub of water from the drinking watertub and hurled it at them.   Finally peace was restored, the three of us were left  a bit shaken while the cows nonchalantly went up the hill tossing their heads, swishing their tails and maintaining  a ‘I’m not speaking to you’ distance between one another.  Giving each other a  Cold shoulder of the bovine kind.  I was worried that they might get into another nasty scuffle once they were out of sight.  We watched them for a long time and it appeared as if peace was really restored.

Watched them go down this path until they were out of sight

And so it was indeed.  In the evening they were all at the gate shoulder to shoulder with happy expressions.  None of them showed any resentment towards Anandi and none of them wanted to prolong or repeat the fight. 

Cool animals indeed!

Anandi as a baby.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Inspiration for an Artist!

 "An Artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of" - Leonardo da Vinci.

Truly an artist sees beauty even in the simplest of things and then brings it alive on paper /canvas for others to see it as well!

And when a simple photo clicked on my farm inspires an artist, it brings immeasurable joy to see the paintings.  

With much thanks to Shyamsundar Savkur  and Anuradha Dhareshwar for their paintings :

Painting by Anuradha Dhareshwar

The Photo clicked just outside our farm after a day of relentless rain

Painting by Shyamsundar Savkoor - my ever-young uncle who at 90, is an inspiration to others as well!  Love the brilliance of the green and the sunshine in the painting! And even Zuki's and Johnny's expressions have been captured perfectly


The Original pic

Thursday, 10 September 2020

An emergency!


Monday morning.... I still get the Monday Morning Blues. although we have no weekends on the Farm.  I was just thinking that I really need to stick to a strict schedule  and  focus on getting the important things done on time.....such as Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner...  and of course.... all the other paper work, the bank work, replying to emails...... I seem to be running behind on everything.  So I started the day on a steely resolve .... yes today I would clear the pile of papers on my desk , clean up my PC and sort out the storeroom and make sure that All our Meals are on Time. 

I had just finished my coffee and was about to go to the Cowshed to check on Anandi (she was due to deliver a calf – her second one)  when Yogesh, our farm hand came running to call out to me. 

“What is the matter I asked him?  Has she delivered already?”  

“No  I don’t see a calf but ‘IT’ has come out” 

“What?”  I asked as I ran to the cow shed.  

Anandi was sitting morosely and behind her was a large bulbous sac streaked with blood.  It appeared to be pulsating.  

What .....in......the ....world....was this?  Was the calf still inside?  Where was the calf?   Was this a case of the ‘Prolapsed Uterus’ that I had read so often in James Herriot’s tales of veterinary practice? 

I ran back to the house and picked up my phone.  I was just 6.30 am and hopefully I would be able to catch our vet Dr. Gourish Padukone.  He is a busy doc , travelling quite a lot to remote farms and if he was already out on a case, we could do nothing but wait.  

I sent a silent prayer as the phone rang.  He answered and I described the condition  in as calm a voice as I could muster.....and ended on a panic stricken squeal ...   "Please come over soon.......”  

Thankfully he was at home and  said he would arrive within half an hour.  He instructed me to place a clean  plastic sheet under the protrusion and keep pouring cold water over it. "Don't let it dry out" he said.

I instructed Yogesh to milk the rest of the animals quickly, give them their feed and release them out of the cowshed. Vivek joined in and the three of us worked on top speed – we had to get the other cows out of the way and clean the area before the vet arrived.   In all the panic stricken activity, the new born calf was almost forgotten – she was sitting coolly in the farthest corner with her 3 aunts – Kalavati Saraswati and Purna! 

Dr.Gourish came in just as we finished washing the cow shed.  In a few minutes he assessed the situation and got down to work.  

In all these years of revolutionary advancements in science and health care, some problems of veterinary science are still dealt in the same way that James Herriot has documented in his memoirs during the pre- First world war Era.  So the Uterus had to literally shoved back in place with the 3 of us holding down the cow and  the vet using every ounce of his strength against the resisting cow.

It was a struggle. 

Anandi was obviously not happy being held down and was not too keen on receiving back what her body had just seemed to expel a few hours back.    She in turn tried her best to push it back out.  After what seemed an endless struggle, finally the uterus was pushed in all the way and positioned properly.   But we were not done yet.  Anandi had to receive stitches to prevent the problem from recurring.  She had to receive a drip and several injections.  

Finally all done!

By the time it was all over it was almost 12 noon.  The vet had to rush off to another case in a far flung village.  We got back for a much needed bath and to catch up with the rest of the work.

Well,  for the record,  we did have lunch  on time.....forget about the breakfast!

The next few days were critical for Anandi, she needed constant monitoring,  quite a few medicines to be poured down her throat and she had to be tied in such a way that she could not crane her neck and pull out her own stitches.  She also had to be tied on  a mud flooring .  So we tied her outside under the guava tree. In a weeks time everything seemed back to normal.  The little calf Somvati frolicked around and grew sturdily, little concerned about the upheaval her birth had caused.

Anandi and Somvathi under the Guava tree

We were also instructed not to let Anandi out to graze for at least 2 months.  She would bellow her protest with all her might when the others trooped out happily each morning.  She took it very badly that the others left her behind inspite of her protests, but we did not know it until the day when we decided that she was healthy enough to join the others for their daily outing.  But I leave that for another  post.

And I cannot  end this  without a Special Thanks to our vet Dr. Gourish Padukone  who incidentally, like us, moved several years ago from Mumbai (where he had a bustling small animal practice) to  rural Karnataka  to provide good veterinary care where it is needed the most!

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Of Cows and other beings.


The cows on Go Puja day.

How little do we actually know about all the animals around us! Among the creatures whom we ‘own’ as pets, the obvious things like their food-habits, their likes and dislikes are easily understood.  The intelligence of dogs, specially the ones that are working dogs,  guide dogs etc has always been acclaimed and acknowledged. But what about the multitude of other creatures around us?

When we moved to the farm, we actually knew next to nothing about cows and buffaloes. To these bovines too, we must have seemed rather strange.  Fortunately our farm-hand was the only continuing familiar link for them.  One of the first things we noticed was that the cows always greeted him with their loud ‘hummaaaaeee’. We could hear their sound all the way from the cowshed to the kitchen and little later, he would be at the kitchen door to take the milk vessels.  I realised that the bellowing would start as soon as he crossed the boundary and entered the farm.  He used to come in through a short-cut entering the rice-field beyond the arecanut plantation, so it was quite a distance away, yet the cows would know.

Can you spot the narrow Donappa or entrance at the far end?

Bit by bit we have started realising and understanding bovine behaviour and are amazed by their intelligence.

After the cows are milked, they are all left free to graze in the forest near our house. By 3 pm, they are all assembled outside the gate waiting to be let in. Do they have an inbuilt clock?  

Waiting outside the gate.

Except for the rare occurence  of Bhairav falling in a well or Kaveri playing truant in our first week at the farm and wandering far from home (was she in search of the previous owner? ), all of them wait patiently outside the gate. The gate is quite a distance from the cowshed, but the minute the older ones are at the gate, the young calves who are in the cowshed, yell out their greetings and their mothers respond.  How do they know that their mothers have returned and are waiting at a spot  almost 200 feet away and  not visible from the cowshed?  When the gate is opened, they all troop in, the mothers greet their calves with a nuzzle and then stand in their allocated spots waiting to be tied. They are always tied in the same spots and that is where they go and stand!

The fact that each animal always recognises its own young one even from a group is well known, but the fact that cows have the power to release or ‘let-down’ their milk at will is something that we experienced here. Last February, two of them – Kaveri and Shabari calved within just 10 days of each other. Little Kamini  and Shabari’s Jairam looked like identical twins and we could scarcely tell them apart. Vivek would milk the cows and then leave the calves free to drink some more and romp around in the cow shed. We would then tie them back in their spots after about an hour. That day just as I went in to tie them, I heard someone arrive at the gate. So, in a hurry, without checking which one was Jairam and which one was Kamini, I inadvertently tied them in each other’s place. That evening Vivek first took Jairam thinking it was Kaveri’s calf ‘Kamini’ and led him to Kaveri. The little one nuzzled and nudged and butted with his tiny head, tried to suckle, butted again and then turned away listlessly. Vivek was puzzled by his behaviour, but thought that maybe after he milked Kaveri, the little calf would be in a mood to drink. But when he tried to milk her, there wasn’t a drop of milk. He gave up after some attempts, and then decided to milk Shabari instead. But when the second calf- Kamini went to nuzzle Shabari, she turned around and butted the calf and stomped her feet and wouldn’t let the calf come near. This was even more puzzling, Then he looked closely  and realised that the calves had been switched. He promptly led Kamini to Kaveri, and everything was Ok then and he could milk both of them without a problem. He came back and narrated the incident and said “Did you switch their places when you tied them this morning?”.  That’s when I remembered that I had tied them in a hurry without  checking.  So that meant that Kaveri had refused to let down her milk until the right calf was brought to her and Shabari showed her displeasure when the wrong calf was brought to her!

Jairam and Kamini  - bet you can't tell us apart

 The majestic buffaloes have their quirks too!  When they are left out to graze, they are not keen on going along with the cows – they prefer to join their own kind.  We found it very amusing when Madhubala would make strange hrmfff hrmfff  sounds as she walked out of the cowshed towards the gate and each sound would be answered by a similar sound by our neighbours buffalo who would be let out at around the same time.  The hrmff’s would shuttle back and forth until the two came face to face at the corner just beyond the gate and then they would trudge ahead together.

The calves love a cuddle.....and a huddle

The dogs, apart from being able to recognise and differentiate between our cows and the neighbour’s always have a special way of greeting the new born calves.  They troop into the cowshed and ever so gently nuzzle the calf as if to say ‘Welcome to the world!’  Cobol takes it on himself to protect the young calf and you will often find him sitting next to the calf in the cowshed.

Cobol sitting with a day old Somvati

Memories of another day - Misty  and Anandi when she was just a few days old.

Kippi our cat has warned us of the presence of a snake more often than once.  She often snuggles close by at night and you can scarcely notice when she sneaks in or out of  the mosquito net.  But one night, she woke us up by jumping on Vivek and then racing to the corner of the room with a loud meowwrrrr.  And she seemed to be trying to get at something behind  a large wooden box which holds our matresses.  Vivek flashed the torch and noticed the snake.  It looked like a krait.  We would have never noticed it had it not been for kippi’s warning.   

Kippi spots something interesting on the wall.

Small incidents, but they disclose such a wealth of information about our beloved animals, all we can do is observe and learn.  

Monday, 20 July 2020

The faded photograph in the wallet.

Last year we had a visitor from Mumbai – one of Vivek’s childhood friend –AB.  He enjoyed his stay at the farm and kept reminiscing about a similar place which he had visited just once as a young kid - his father’s ancestral home near Sirsi. He had lost his father at a very young age after which he had lost all ties with his relatives in Sirsi.   He expressed a keen desire to visit his family temple to honour his fathers’ memory.  He carried a faded photo of an idol of Lord Ganesha in his wallet. This photograph used to be in his Dad’s wallet and presumably, it was a photo of the idol in the family temple. We offered to accompany him on his return journey upto Sirsi, visit the temple and then return back to the farm.

But this wasn’t as easy as we imagined it would be. For one, AB did not know the exact name of the temple or the village. And he knew no one whom he could ask. Out of the recesses of his memory, he said the name sounds like ‘Aksal –or Aksar or something like that” .

Now that was a very fine and precise way to hunt for a village with a tiny Ganapati temple in the vast hinterland of North Karnataka!.  Nevertheless I launched a Google search.  In a place where a single vowel can change the location of a village by a few hours of almost un-negotiable roads,  it was going to be a challenge. For example, Hudil and Hadil are two villages separated by 30 kms of dirt road through dense forests, Manaki and Manki are separated by 50 kms of a winding ghat road.  So how in the world was I going to find a village whose name itself we were not sure of?  

Bumpy mud roads

Winding Ghat roads

After a lot of searching I found one village called ‘Agsur’.  This was the closest to what he had pronounced.  He jumped at it and said – yeah yeah maybe it is that!!!  So I started describing the location and route – it was about 65 kms from Sirsi and down the ghat.  “Oh no!  then that is not the place - It couldn’t have been that far and I don’t think we went down a ghat” he said.
 By now I was beginning to doubt whether we would ever find the place.  Then he came up with another hint – I felt I was playing a treasure-hunt game – “I think it was on the road to Yellapur and it did not take us very long to get there from Sirsi” he said.

Ok! – So I marked  the 50 kms distance between the two towns of Sirsi and Yellapur and enlarged the Google map to its maximum so that all the smaller village names could be seen. Scanning the map inch by inch, I travelled about 10 kms when I spotted it ‘Agasal’  -  closer to his first pronunciation of ‘Aksal’!  Yes probably this is it he said but now his enthusiasm was a bit toned down.  He had realised the complexity caused by these similar sounding village names.  Nevertheless, it was the closest sounding name and the location  and distance from Sirsi held promise.
 So we decided to drive down. In the event that we don’t find his ancestral temple, we would just visit the famous Marikamba temple of Sirsi and also another place which has been on my ‘Want-to-see-in-this-lifetime’ list – the famous ‘Sahasralinga sculptures’  These are countless Shiv-lingas sculpted on the rocks in the Shalmala river, almost all the rocks in the rocky river bed have a Shiv-linga sculpted on them.  

So we set off  in two cars, AB following us.  A quick visit to the Marikamba temple, although there were very long queues,  and then we were on the Yellapur road. After the 9 kms mark we slowed down and started looking for any signs of a temple or any directions to the village.  There were none!  There was no mobile signal to enable us to check the location of the village. We travelled about 3 kms further - from my earlier checking of the map, we had already passed the village and missed it totally. Then we saw a temple on the right. It was a fairly large temple called “Batte Ganapati Devasthan”  We stopped the cars – and went into the temple.  As we offered our prayers to the beautiful idol of Ganapti, AB whispered to Vivek “This is not the one”.  Our search had not ended. Just then a couple of men walked in. We asked them about another Ganapati temple in the vicinity and also the location of Agasal village.  They weren’t too sure of a temple, but they knew about the village and gave us rough directions.  AB pulled out his wallet and showed them the photograph of the Ganapati idol, but they had no clue.

Now we set out on the road they had described. We were to travel some distance back and then return to this same spot for our onward journey to Sahasralinga, so we left AB’s car outside the temple and decided to carry on the search in just our vehicle.  I was getting intermittent signal on my mobile, but could not see a road to the village.  We spotted the turn mentioned by the men in the temple and as we turned in, we spotted a motorcycle approaching us from a distance. We stopped the car and decided to ask the rider for further directions.  The area was desolate and probably we would not meet another soul until we reached the village (if we could find it).  We got out of the car and waved down the bike.  They were two of them on the bike, we asked them whether they knew about the village. the temple and AB showed them the photograph too. After a lot of discussion between themselves (in rapid fire Kannada), they explained a route to us. I had difficulty following their dialect of Kannada, but I gathered that the tar road would end at some point and then we would have to follow a mud road that went downhill.  We set off. The tar road ended, the mud road was as bumpy and dusty as you can imagine. Not  a soul in sight, not a house or shop. The forest was dense and silent.  And then the road bifurcated into two!  Which one now?  Both went downhill, but one of them appeared to go at a sharper gradient.     So we took the steeper one.  But after about a kilometre or so, the road kept getting worse and the shrubs and trees seemed to close in on either sides.  And then a sharp bend, sounds of an approaching vehicle....and what arrives in front?  A huge JCB –an earth moving machine, blocking our entire path. We got out and asked the driver about the village.  He said there was no village down that road, only denser forests. So we had a unique experience of travelling reverse for almost a kilometre in the dense Sirsi forest with a huge JCB bearing down on us the entire path.  Our 4x wheel drive sure came in handy here and AB was glad that he had left his car behind.  We reached the bifurcation and then took the other path. Barely 100 meters away we spotted a faded weather beaten milestone. I could decipher the alphabets ‘A’ and ‘G’ in Kannada!  Yes we were finally on the right track to Agasal.

We entered the sleepy village  There were just 3 or 4 houses and the road ended abruptly.  Vivek noticed the temple just beyond where the road ended.  We parked the car and walked to the temple.  It was in fairly good condition, but locked and the interiors were pitch dark.  There was a record of  melodious shlokas playing softly from within.  We peered in through the grill, but could not see anything at all.  AB had a lost look around him as he said “I cannot remember whether this was the temple,  I wish the door was open, I wish there was a light inside” there was a break in his voice and he looked away to hide his unshed tears.   We stood in silence for a few minutes and offered our prayers and then started walking towards the car. 

Just as we neared the car, we spotted a man dressed in a traditional attire, holding a platter laden with coconuts, bananas and flowers walking in the direction of the temple.  We spoke to him and tried to explain about our search.  He was going in to perform the Puja.  He did not seem too friendly, but we  followed him as he opened the temple door and switched on the lights.  The idol was indeed of  Lord Ganesha, but not the one in the photograph.  A little while later, the man’s wife walked in with a bowl of ‘Payasam’ or kheer.  She placed it inside the Sanctum as her husband continued with the Puja.  She then turned to us to enquire about where we came from.  On hearing my broken kannada, she switched to Hindi.  That was a relief and  we could explain better as to why we came to this village in search of the temple.  AB pulled out his wallet and showed her the photo.  “Oh!  This is the photo of the idol in our ancestral home!” She exclaimed!  And then she asked AB his full name and it turned out that they shared the same surname.  Her husband had by then finished the Puja and joined us, she explained to him in Kannada and he looked at AB with surprise.  They were actually long lost cousins!!!

They invited us to their home and offered us  Prasad of the delicious Payasam.  The man pulled out some old books and looking through them  told us that years back AB’s father had deposited some money with the temple requesting that a Puja be performed every year on AB’s name.  They used to perform the Puja but they had no address to which they could send the Prasad.  AB was overcome with emotion.  He wrote down his address for them  and soon it was time for us to leave.  We thanked them immensely for their hospitality and left.

We drove on to Sahasralinga and marvelled at the sculptures on the rocks on the river bed.

Then AB drove on to Mumbai – a happy man and we returned back to the farm.

My thoughts were on the seemingly strange obstacles that came our way, that delayed us more than we expected –-  the long queues at the Marikamba temple, missing the left turn from the highway because we lost the mobile signal,  the wait at the Batte Ganapati Devasthan, the wrong turn down the mud road until we came face to face with the JCB, and then finally  waiting outside the locked temple for a long time before walking back to the car.  If none of these delays had happened, we would have not met the couple and we would have not been able to unravel the mystery of the faded photograph in AB’s wallet.

All was well and that ended well!

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