Getting to know…

Nandi Thota

Nandi Thota

Dharmappa found our plantation for our property agent. A powder crumb of what we paid the agent went to Dharmappa, which he knows, so he is looking for how to make more money off us. One idea has been to get labor, whom he offers to transport in his jeep, squeezing fifteen humans into an open vehicle that should take six. Our writer proved him uncompetitive by hiring hands from the next village—no cost for transportation, no commission. Dharmappa is enraged at the writer because he (Dharmappa) hired him for us. Dharmappa wants the writer out, and though the first of the events that led to the fallout between them happened many days ago, Dharmappa’s anger won’t abate, and it looks to me that an emotional eruption has to  happen for their relationship to resume.

He telephoned us to say Muthappa is not really a Coorgi. “He is a Malayalee and he is masquerading as a Coorgi.” Since it is not apparent to us how a Coorgi would manage a plantation differently than a Malayalee, we have not reacted. Dharmappa came calling last week and we asked him to be patient, that there would eventually arise some business that we could give him. He nodded sideways, fidgeted, and brought up the issue of the writer. “He is corrupt. Call the manager of his last employer, you’ll know.” “Corrupt how?” “I don’t know; something about coffee; call them; I don’t want you to blame me later, that I brought you a bad man.”

Dharmappa has full black hair and a front row of sparkling teeth but his skin holds promise: it is aged and creased and the deep lines surely hold stories from South Kanara from where he came to Sakleshpur, from his tenure in a Bangalore factory, from years as a driver in a plantation, from his present entrepreneurship, supplying labor, transporting labor, participating in real-estate deals and—as I see him building up against our writer—from his squabbles in which he’ll go to any length.

He smiles easily. His face keeps up a deference toward us while his tongue bristles at our writer. When annoyance comes up in me I remind myself that he is saving up for a heart operation at Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore.

“His hands and legs were beaten until broken. He’s fled here from his village after that happened,” he said. The writer told me such a story about himself during our very first meeting, but my mind had wandered while he spoke, and now I’m surprised I didn’t pay attention then.

Our writer, I have seen, is a fine hand; I enjoy how he cuts off thick branches and hacks them into stakes, how his lean hand clears branch and thistle that block our path with single oblique hacks; he has a fine family; he keeps neat accounts; he talks too much, but then, he is bold and he is often right. Dharmappa has his fingers deep in village affairs and I have use for him so I’m not ready to end this budding relationship with him.

I want them both.

We parted agreeing to meet next week. Dharmappa called after us: “you’re paying your writer too much; the other planters are going to be angry with you.”