Malnad Diary: time to stir a bit

The tree with the tresses is the bhaine tree. They make sendhi with it, which is a crude, intoxicant drink. Some nights ago, my son taught me to hold his one-kilometer-beam torch with its base to my forehead, like a miner's lamp, and look into the plantation. Quite soon, I caught a pair of gleaming green eyes from the bhaine—scared eyes, it seemed to me, eyes searching my intentions. The eyes of a dark creature like a bandicoot; it began to slither down the tree, its eyes on the torch on my brow. Then another came after it, and another, and another. Bandicoots up a tree? A crowd of them? Turned out they were civets. During the day you see their excrement on the tracks in the plantation, which you can tell is theirs because they are full of coffee beans. The beans are special when they are processed like this in the civet's bowels, and fetch a goodly sum in foreign markets. Civet coffee sells for the price of wine in gourmet cafés, starting at $30 a cup!

Hard-working Basavanna owns a model plantation neighboring ours, and another some ten kilometers away. He is a religious man gifted with abundant self-belief, which shows in the manner in which he runs his plantation. He listens to no one, and is impatient when one doesn't listen to him. No matter. The proof of his attitude is in the rich green of the leaves of his coffee, the heavy coffee-filled arms of his plants, and the yield he extracts for each acre of his—said to be the highest in our area. For over three years now, Basavanna also manages our plantation for us, on condition that we give him no instruction, ask him for no plan. We have no complaints, are just happy when he calls on us with an always-friendly half-namaste, pressing a palm to the chest, and other greetings and questions regarding our well being.

This is a new model that is working well in Malnad, with planters taking on the management of the holdings of absentee owners from Bangalore who have bought the plantation, some for the love of nature, some for a an exotic alternate location where to enjoy drink and spicy chicken.

Mornings are lovely anywhere in the world, but here on the plantation I have a greater urge to rise before dawn so as to wait for the sun's silver rim to take shape behind Parvathammana Betta, high in the distance. Goddess Parvathi's hill. The temple to Parvathi is tiny and white, and is often lost in cloud. When the sky is clear the shrine is a striking white on the hilltop, which is covered in green trees and the gray and brown of stone. The locals have been telling us the elephants that torment them walk through their plantations and climb Parvathamma's hill and then they cannot climb down. The elephants stand stranded there, until they find courage and take first steps downward. In the morning and in the evening we hear the neighboring planters setting off explosions (dadakees, which are bigger, louder patakees) in their estates to scare off the elephants. The more you scare them, the more uncertain their path. You just listen when the planters tell of their woes with the elephant. It sounds preachy to talk of the loss of the pachyderm's habitat, to ask for a concerted effort to provide it a safe corridor. If you are worried for nature, you should only begin the work for it.

It is four years since we have had our plantation, and I still haven't gone up that hill. We have planned to go there next week. I hope to experience something that I can write for you. Let me see.