I'm puzzled at Dharmappa. His war with the writer has been about wanting to send labor to us. And, after that—so the writer says—to sell us saplings from his nursery, and to also ask for a loan to buy a second jeep. It is ten days since we relented and asked him to bring us labor, although, through him, they are expensive. We asked him not so much to help him as to help ourselves—the writer is short of help in this time of rain. His people are busy pulling out the perky shoots that have sprung from the wrong branches. Those workers that he can spare are spraying the peppers, so there are no hands to remove the broad-leaf weeds that are soaring skyward at top speed, threatening to eat away all the expensive nutrition we've fed the coffee. (The fertilizer is more expensive than the money we paid for it. It is in such short supply that last week a man was killed in Haveri rioting for it.) Every day Dharmappa telephones with a new story, and in the end brings up another matter.
He says the threatening call the writer says he got two weeks ago is a lie. He wants the exact time of the call so he can go to the telephone exchange and verify that a call was made at all. I'm intrigued by this tenacious hounding: Dharmappa is a busy man, and though when he visits us Sunday evenings at the plantation his loose white shirt appears clean and crisp, and the pleats are neat and straight on his wide trousers, one can see he's been working hard all day, lugging in his open-jeep men and women and materials from plantation to plantation and from plantations to town. A trip to the exchange costs him time he can hardly afford.
He has shriveled further and has begun to look older in spite of his jet-black hair. I couldn't look at him last Sunday, when he stood before me, arms behind, one hand clasping the elbow of the other, his body seized tight and crumpled by his years.