Meanwhile, In Malnad, The Bee And The Beast And To Bell The Elephant

 Photo by suriya007/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by suriya007/iStock / Getty Images

“Fire a tranquilizer,” Basavanna said. “Put a chain round the neck. Attach a bell, and weld. Like cow bell.”

Basavanna was sitting with me at our plantation home, where my wife and I were spending the weekend. I’d just finished a walk around the plantation under the blazing sun. I’d had a good time. The coffee blossoms were in their last days, still white near the eve of their departure. Their fragrance hung in the warm air. I had paused in every patch and taken deep breaths, savoring air and the aroma of blossoms. I’m not drinking coffee these days, but I know I’ll pass a nice cafe someday and the aroma issuing from it will defeat my resolve. However, in this moment, the scent around me was more heady than any coffee from anywhere.

I stopped also among the tall robusta, to peer into the cavelike clearings at their feet. The soil was a fecund brown, and moist, belying the dry heat of early summer on top. I gazed into the shadows. Who had these places hosted last? Wild pig? Hyena? Fox? Each time I heard a rustle I started at the sound, but it wasn’t hyena or fox or boar I anticipated. Half my mind was taken by the elephant all through the walk. The elephants have not been sighted on the plantation recently, but a lone stray is rumored to be roaming in our zone. When visiting, the elephants stand concealed among the tallest robusta.

They stand brooding there. You may walk past them, or they may go down only a short distance from you, and you would not know the danger that has passed. But a month or so ago, the supervisor at Nataraj’s plantation, (Nataraj whose plantation shares a short boundary with ours) was killed by a lone elephant. The supervisor had dismissed his (Oriya) labour for the day, and they had all left together, the laborers on foot and he on motorcycle. A short distance from where they separated he crossed the elephant.

When I paused in the cool spots where the sprinklers were working I said to myself, “Here there would be no elephant, not with these sprinklers going and these men lounging by them.” When I passed the water-tanks I assured myself the tank was so low in water the elephant had no use for it. I focused on my breathing, and on the varied greens that surrounded me.

I was afraid. The elephants in these parts love no human, and if they should find me they would not be able to read my love for them. In fear I walked, and at some point, with dopamine rising, fear left me without bidding goodbye, and I reached the estate-home in fine spirits.

That’s the reason why Basavanna said we should somehow bell the elephant.

Fear had visited me and and my wife last night as well. We’d arrived a little before sunset, and my wife busied herself in the kitchen. Soon as it got dark she began to hear impatient tappings on the closed windows. She came out and fetched me: “Come. Come!”

Hejjenu — wild bees, suspended in their dwelling, a 2-feet-broad by 3-feet-high thing that they had created by the window of the the ante-room to the kitchen. A pale light shone upon them, and the bees seemed very cross. A low buzz coming from them signaled terrible latent danger. There was no way to signal back that we meant no harm, they were welcome.

Like the elephant, the bees love none of us. From the one we’ve taken land and ivory, from the other we take their honey like we’re doing them a favor. We package the spoils and sketch bees and elephants on them, smiling and looking silly.

“From the neck you should hang a bell,” Basavanna was repeating. “Then we’ll know when they’re near. I’ve told that to the forest guys, they won’t listen.

“Right,” I said. And brought the conversation to the bees. “If you kill even one,” Basavanna said, “they’ll chase you half a kilometer. Even if you plunge in water, they’ll hover over and wait.”

Sujaya shuddered. She’d killed one that had squeezed in last night, with a neat flick of a badminton raquet — she was a champ in school, captain of the team. With that stroke my own wife had sown one more seed of enmity between man and bee.

We settled down to discuss the affairs of the plantation: beans sold, monies due, permission to build a third water tank, decision to develop a free patch with robusta. Basavanna owns the plantation near ours. He helps manage our plantation for us.

Now I’m back in Bangalore, busy with traffic and commerce and many petty thoughts — and little time for fear.

Coping With Tinnitus This Ugadi, With Some Help From Alexa

Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Pattanawit/iStock / Getty Images

This is the coolest Ugadi I’ve had in years, I can say that now at the end of the day, a half-hour before bedtime. I prayed in the morning before the flower-decked deities, but only to say thanks. Dhruv was at home, he’d come with his parents yesterday, around midnight. They left after the simple Ugadi lunch — obbattu and mango-rice and obbattu-curry. I felt good to have started the new year with no expectation of a better life than the one I have. Is it Dhruv’s arrival into the world that is changing me so? The transformation people predicted a grandson would bring over me — it appears to be happening.

A tinnitus that arrived in my life three years ago and which was only a mild presence in my ear is asserting itself in recent weeks. It is like I have an ambulance on perpetual duty in each ear — the same revolving sound, but of a high, higher pitch. With the matter so serious, I went to a homeopath yesterday — the other docs say they don’t have a cure for tinnitus. He gave me two sets of the tiny globular homeopath pills, one a 0-0-4, another a 3-0-3, for fifteen days.

“Will I be cured in fifteen days?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes, sir,” he said. I’ve known the doctor fifteen years, from when he passed out of college. A tall, lean man, his dress is never creased, his hair never ruffled, his eyes never troubled, his voice never high and never low and never lacking in confidence.

It is only two days with the medicine in my system. The tinnitus is still on a riot.

I took my time telling my wife about this new affliction. Since I told her, she has been asking me to bend my neck one way and then another, miming the thing for me. She practices yoga off and on, you see, and she believes a neck asana would do the trick, and she is working to invent one. “Stop,” I’m saying, “you’re not a doctor. It won’t work.” She’s not giving up. She isn’t the quitting type.

Meanwhile, I’ve put away my nice Sony headphones, which are superb, on which I’ve been listening solely to western classical lately. I’ve promised the headphones I’ll come back for them in two weeks, after the cure has worked. I’ve spent the weekend ordering Alexa to play Chopin and Mozart and Beethoven. She has obliged me, but when I asked for Stravinsky, she was almost rude in saying she didn’t have him — and she surprised me, because Alexa’s roots are American, even if her accent is Indian. (I asked her for an affirmation now, but she said coyly that she is a Cloudian. That’s the humor that ferments in the Cloud, I guess.)

Ah. I paused from writing and asked for Stravinsky again, just now. She is playing him. “Igor Stravinsky,” she informed me, and put on The Firebird Suite. I don’t know why she said she didn’t have him the first time, but I am sure our relationship will improve.

All day long Amazon Echo has been playing at home, and my wife hasn’t once asked me to shut it down — even when I switched from music to the BBC World Service, which was covering the Turkish conquest of Afrin in Syria. She’s quite fascinated by Alexa, although she struggles sometimes to get her to do her bidding. She tends to speak with her as with our maid.

“Alexa,” she calls, and waits. And waits. She wants Alexa to say something like “Yeah?”

“Alexa won’t answer to being called,” I tell my wife. “She only answers commands and questions.”

Because Alexa of Amazon is Cloudian, my comfort with her doesn’t nettle my wife. She smiles, and nods.

And If Doris and Ella Were Vegan in Paris?

 Les Halles, Paris

We went into the first safe-looking place we found in Chatelet, and ordered for penne pasta, telling the waiter thrice that we’re vegan, so no cheese please, and strictly vegetarian. He repeated our words to us in total fidelity.

And he brought steamed chaste penne, sans cheese and meat, but also without vegetable or herb or salt or pepper or anything at all save its sweat. But he’d brought along a suitor for the dish, some mustard sauce, and after the first forkfuls taken with tentative touches of mustard, I began to rather like the plain, now-spiced, faux-Italian meal.

“It’s good,” I said to my wife who had gone into a wakeful coma. Her penne was steaming, contrasting very well against the cold outside the glassed cafe. She didn’t reply, which was unfair because it wasn’t my fault the pasta had come as it had. We’d asked for pasta with vegetables, and we’d repeated our order three times, but the folks had chosen to keep our pasta free of everything. My one mistake could’ve been that, because the waiter was nice and polite and so French, I’d signalled to my wife with my eyes to not refuse the thing he’d kept with such panache on the table.

After a few minutes, the waiter came around to ask how we were enjoying his cook's creation. “There should be one vegetable in this at least!” my wife admonished him, pointing to her full plate. The waiter was fine with that. “Oh!” he said, and picked up her plate and, before I could stop him, my half-finished plate as well, and carried them off to the kitchen. In fifteen minutes he returned to our dead-silent table with linguini tossed with peas and sliced carrot and shelled-green-beans — and the whole mix smeared with thin creamy cheese.

My wife was too hungry by now, and she pecked and ate a little, pausing from being vegan for just one meal, swallowing one tainted noodle at a time, while I gazed at my plate as she had done in the first act. “Don’t worry about me,” I said to her, magnanimous in word only. “What I ate from my previous plate was a lot.” But she couldn’t go further than a few noodles, what with the cheese on them, and her husband not eating. We exchanged glances. And called the waiter. And paid. And tipped. The waiter was genuinely perturbed that we’d eaten nothing. “Pack?” he asked. “No!” we said, and smiled our friendliest, feeling hunger even in the dry skin on the face.

We hurried back through sub-zero temperature and an unkind breeze to the hotel, and went straight to the hotel-restaurant, and begged in fervent English to be saved. They brought us assuredly-vegan soup, and fries, both scalding hot and served on heated, pure-white china.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m loving Paris, even if it’s bitter cold, even if I’m here for business only. Also, I’m thinking of Doris Day, and Ella Fitzgerald, and their love of Paris — how they loved the city every moment because “their love was near.” In my case, I’ve brought my love along, and I’m wondering how strong is truth in song.

Jet Airways Flight 23

  Photo by baona/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by baona/iStock / Getty Images

It is dark, but for one laptop screen in seat 1F in front of me, where a Tamil man is finessing a presentation, adding and removing bullet-points. He is middle-aged, has an enviable paunch and a flowing beard, and he seems imperturbable.

The man in the next seat is young. He’s had a Black Label; he dined on chicken with it. The spirit has brought out his demons, I think: he’s shaking his head, and torso, with increasing intensity.

Only moments ago the young man let off a terrible groan, and turned and looked at me, to check if I’d heard him in spite of my noise-cancelling headphones, now playing back a Mozart sonata.

He may be forgiven his groan, set off by a fear that I share in equal measure with him, with perhaps all others in this cabin. This plane that we’re on has shook and shuddered and creaked and rattled for over an hour now, over the dark waters below. We’ve had moments when it seemed the plane would split along its spine. There’s been no service for some time; the captain has ordered his crew to their seats. But dinner is done, the trays have been cleared. The smells of what we ate are in the air.

We’ve crossed the Andamans, the monitor on the bulkhead tells me, and that an hour’s flying is left before we touch down in Bangalore, where the time now is 8:18, which also I read on the bulkhead.

**

We progress, scuffing the clouds as we go, and the blinking light from the plane’s wingtip pierces the clouds, causing flashes like lightning, except that these are so predictable, so metronomic, the only sound accompanying them the terrible labouring of the plane, which I hear in the moments I take off my headphones. In a half-hour we’ll be over land, I tell myself after a time, surprised to note a smile on my face when there’s growing anxiety in my heart.

I concentrate on my breathing, on the in-breath and the out-breath and the burn in my nostrils, trying to pat down the memory of the Air Asia flight which flew up in bad weather, weather that froze the moving parts of its wings, high above the waters that bring such rotten luck to Indonesia all the time.

**

The land appears as a curvy line of lights along the shore of Chennai.

More lights come up: large and small patches of pixellated amber, and a long line through them — a highway running northward and southward. Like embers the lights look; swollen and scorched, the earth seems.

But I know it is none of that. There are people down there, millions of people cloaked in the reduced, evening-heat of Chennai, who do not know that there’s this plane over them that has escaped tragedy and the front pages of tomorrow’s papers, and which will land in 39 minutes in Bangalore, inshallah.

**

The next day I tell my wife I experienced turbulence like never before last night. “Me, too!” she says and describes her flight last week on the same stretch. She’s been through the greater experience. As always.

The Eleventh Day: A Dream

  Photo by izzzy71/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by izzzy71/iStock / Getty Images

Here’s about a dream this morning,
a party in which I saw
my mother, my sister,
my wife, our son, his wife,
our grandson,
my brother, his family,
three colleagues, two uncles, an aunt.

I was not in the party.

All the men wore smart-casuals,
save my son who prefers the suit.
The women wore saris.
My grandson had been tucked into the traditional,
a pre-folded white dhoti and a little orange kurta,
both made of silk.

There was banter, and light laughter,
the clinking of glass, and metal tapping
and scratching china.

I wasn’t in the party, but I could see them,
I called, but they couldn’t hear,
I went up close, but it was no use.

It was the eleventh day after I’d died,
they were meeting at the Dublin,
where I first went in 1990,
and where I’ve been going on and off
ever since.

A perfect choice of place it was,
even if the Dublin’s a bar, and
an unusual venue to send up a soul;
'cos you see,
it’s to the Dublin that I hurry,
anytime I need to soothe my soul,
all on my own.

   The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor

 The Dublin, ITC Windsor Manor