Wanna Go Home…

Dear Prashanth:

I'd said I'd write a Malnad post for you. Here it is. It's not much, but…

It's for leisure that my wife and I spend an odd weekend at Nandi Thota, our coffee plantation in Malnad.

Last week we went with a troubled heart, worrying that the year's crop had perished. Four days before, in just an hour in the afternoon, four inches of rain had fallen upon the coffee belt; two inches more came down the same night. It rained the day after, and the day after that, with almost the same intensity. The report that our plantation supervisor telephoned to us in Bangalore was that coffee berries were falling to the ground wholesale.

"It's going to be a small loss," Basavanna told us when he came over to the bungalow. Basavanna is our neighbor-planter, and tends our plantation for us because we live in Bangalore. "This rain is good for the plantation. For the long run. It's been so dry these last months."

When we drove in there was no sign of all that rain that had come—the land and the coffee plants and the shade trees had dried. Basavanna had organized the extraction of weeds across the entire plantation, so it was pleasant to walk about the place, specially on the wide bund by the spacious water tank. The tank was full to the brim, and birds that inhabit overhanging boughs were in quite a celebration. A short distance from the tank a patch of marigold that none claimed they've planted had caught the sun and it shone a bright golden. Pepper vines planted over the last years had risen to a good height, and they were a pleasing bulge round the trees. I should've thrilled to these sights, but an adulteration of the beauty tugged at my spirit.

Every few steps my eyes caught emptied packets of paan ghutka soiling green grass and fecund black soil. Some places were littered with brown packets of cheap tobacco. And spent beedis. I began to curse at the recurrent sight of them. "It's the Assamese workmen," my wife informed me. "Wretched fellows," I said, and cursed myself promptly for having said that. The Assamese are new in the area, brought in to fill the vacancy created by the departure of locals to the city. In remorse I took a compassionate view of the immigrants, but that didn't diminish my vexation. In that state of mind, after we'd walked along the stream that marks our eastern boundary, and checked out the health of silver oaks planted last year on the north-eastern patch, we turned back to our plantation home. We'd passed a few patches of older, mature coffee plants when the maestri of the Assamese came up from the direction of the pump-house. My wife spotted and recognized him even when he was a dot in the distance. Soon as he reached earshot she admonished him about the litter, and asked him to tell his folks to not litter the place with the damn things.

"Understand?" I asked him, seeking change of expression on his smiling crinkled unfazed face. "Haan," he said, revealing a mouthful of red juice. Not a drop of it fell on him though it flowed across the rim of his mouth. His teeth were a black and yellow mess. Even with a maw like that, it was still an attractive face, and his long deep wrinkles had drawn a shy countenance on the poor but dignified not-so-old man. And now, listening to us, some lines of regret had also come upon it.

My wife turned to me for help, not having enough Hindi to instruct him further. The maistri didn't have much Hindi himself.

"Ask them to put back the packets in their pockets," I told him, gesturing as I spoke. "Make a pit back of the labor line. Ask them to throw the packets there when they get back home. Burn the packets there."

"Haan," he said. Yes. He broadened his smile, and the paan-juice threatened to pour forth.

"What's your name?" I asked him.

"Nooruddin." His shy lines deepened.

My anger dissolved a fair amount, and I turned homeward, noting the progress young pepper vines had made on their host trees, and the shining cherries of coffee. On an occasional plant white coffee blossoms had sprouted ahead of time, and they seemed surprised at the utter lack of company round them. The light was fading fast and a mild chill was coming over the place. The day had been warm, whereas during this time of the year Malnad should've been cold day and night.

Back in the plantation, snails had invaded the bungalow. They were everywhere: in the verandah; on the wall in the bathroom; by the carpet in the living room. They'd traced gooey arcs on the glass in the windows--round snails with shells, long snails with no shells but with taut antennae. I don't like squishy things about my feet. I don't like them in the bathroom. I like my carpets clean.

"Very easy to take them out," my wife said. "Hold a piece of paper before the head."

I gave her advise a decent pause. Then I asked her, "At what time are we leaving Monday for Bangalore?"

With best regards,
And many compliments for your nice blog,
Shashikiran