He sat down, rested his vanity bag on the shelf formed by his belly and after he’d arranged the stuff from the bag about him he considered us who were sitting before him. We’d been waiting a short while from ten-thirty, the time we'd been told he arrives for work. He raised his brow.
We told him we need help to improve our plantation which we’d bought two weeks ago.
He bent left and searched for something and bent right and didn't find it. “It is not a good time; young workers have left for BPOs; stem-bore is rampant here; in the last picking season labor was so short berries fell unpicked; fallen berries are spreading disease—why did you choose this business?” He’d been smiling through the litany; he smiled still.
“Bangalore has throttled us; the only places we can be in Bangalore are home and our factory.”
“I’m retiring, and I’ll settle in Bangalore!” he said with self-assurance and happiness and a tinge of amusement on his face.
We came to our questions.
“Can we use mechanization?”
“Not in Indian plantations. Brazilian plantations are designed for mechanization; not ours.”
“How do large planters manage labor-shortage? The Tatas? Amalgamated?”
We asked about the stem bore. We’re told they fly from plantation to plantation and cause epidemics.
“Is Ballupet threatened by it?”
He laughed a silent laugh that shook his flesh. “It is the epicenter!”
“Too! And Chikmaglur! And Coorg!”
I tried to imagine the geography of this coffee belt where, if all the region is infected, would Ballupet be epicenter? The map wouldn’t form in my mind.
High on the wall hung a chart with concentric circles and small legends. Its header said it was a plan to combat stem bore.
We changed the subject: “You must’ve had a thrilling career.”
“Yes, I’ve worked all over India, even in the North East. I have a wide jurisdiction; sixteen officers report to me.”
“We are committed to our new career as planters. What is your advice?”
That silent laugh again. A laugh children and grandchildren would love.
“You make your decision. I won’t discourage you.”
We mentioned our factory in Hassan. A shadow came upon his face and took time to leave. “Factories are why agriculture is losing labor,” he said.
His mirth returned.
“Do you have a book that teaches about growing coffee?”
He pulled one from a depth in his table and held it up and away, its cover facing us.
“It is the only copy here. We are printing an updated edition.”
“Can we take this one? Please?”
“You can get one from our office in Sakleshpur.”
He gave us addresses: of that office, and of scientists in the research centre in Chikmaglur. He gave them himself, unlike others who direct visitors to subordinate staff.
We descended one steep flight from his cool room to where his staff sat, went down a second level, and stepped into the summer blaze.