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.



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