Yesterday, Balan called Sujaya with grave news: he’d received a call, a voice he didn’t recognize. Balan generally reports with much sound and excitement, and this time the intensity of both was twice higher. The gist is, the caller had abused him, had alleged that he was too damn tough with labor, that he ought to be giving felled branches free to laborers, and that, generally, he should stop behaving so high and mighty. He’d threatened to kill Balan.
Balan is an above-average writer; his mind is sharp, his actions quick. He’d already called a jeep to take him to the police station, and he was asking for permission only for form. Sujaya asked him to go to the police and tell them. I called our property agent, Jagganna, and told him I suspect this to be Dharmappa’s prank: Dharmappa hasn’t stopped his war with Balan, and every weekend when we go to Sakleshpur he’s offering to take us to Balan’s last employer—to prove they removed Balan for malfeasance. We know Dharmappa on account of Jagganna, so he said he’ll speak to him. “Nothing will happen sir; here’s not like Bangalore,” he added, and I snapped at him, that we’re living safe and fine in Bangalore. He began an explanation and I cut him off asking him to speak with Dharmappa forthwith.
Then I called Bhairappa who prunes the trees on the plantation. He climbs the trees with his men on one-legged ladders and they hack branches up to thirty-feet high, holding blades in both hands. They’re fifteen men and they’re a sobering sight to anyone who wants to beat up someone. “I won’t go now, I’ll go to the thota in the morning. Don’t worry, sir, there’s no one here who has the spunk to kill anyone.” Unlike Jagganna, Bhairappa hasn’t been needling Bangalore before me, so I took no offense. “I am putting Balan in your hands,” I told him.
Nandeeshanna is our neighbor, a successful planter from the old times. “There’s none here who’ll kill. Such folks left this place a long time ago,” was his view. “Don’t call the police,” he insisted. I told him I can’t ignore a death-threat to my employee. He agreed with that: “I’ll go ask a daphedar to visit your thota in the morning. You’ll have to pay him maybe a hundred rupees.”
Bhairappa called a few minutes after. He’d changed his mind and gone to the thota right after my call. And the daphedar had already arrived with Balan. Bhairappa gave the phone to the daphedar. “I’ve talked to your writer,” he said, “I’ve told him if that man calls again he should dare him to come and speak to his face if he has guts.” “You shouldn’t be afraid, sir,” he added. “I’m not afraid; I’m being cautious,” I told him. “Yes, sir, we should be cautious,” he agreed. He seemed a nice man. Balan took the phone. There was calm in his voice now. I asked him to go have a word with Nandeeshanna, for comfort.
Dharmappa called after I disconnected. “Balan is lying, sir. In Dharmasthala Manjunatha’s name, and upon the names of my three daughters, I promise you I have nothing to do with this! Balan hates me because I’m trying to supply labor to you. And I have nothing against the man, just his cheating, that’s all.”
After all the calls I thought maybe Balan is safe now. We slept. In the morning, Sujaya called Balan. “It’s all settled,” he shouted through the phone-line. “I’ve told everyone that sir is related to the Chief Minister, he has talked to the top police in Bangalore, and anyone entering this plantation better beware!” He had returned to his usual upbeat form.
We arrived in Sakleshpur an hour ago and ate dinner. I’m looking forward to see Balan in the morning.