“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.