malnad diary

Meanwhile, here at home …

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In Bangalore …

The honge is raining seed on the ground, and making fragrant a ten-meter circumference around it and offering a springy mat on the street when the fallen seeds dry. It’s been shedding seeds for a week now, and yet the scent surprises me every morning during my walk. I come upon it on 2nd Cross, and on the 4th and 5th. Returning from the walk, I sit at my balcony which is cased in the green of a bird-laden weeping-fig tree. End of the day, I sit there to savour the evening breeze. Memories come, which, now in summer, are all of the good and the terrible of childhood. I make an effort to come to the moment, try to focus on my breathing, and on the burn in the nostrils, but I feel the risen temperature instead. At 36º, Bangalore has been on some days warmer than Chennai, lowering by a few notches the pride of old-time Bangaloreans.

This used to be a temperate city, an envied Garden City.

In Malnad …

They’re pruning the plants, hacking such leaves that pull the nutrients but give nothing to the crop. All the plants will then have a bald crown, and long neat branches all around, the leaves large on slender limbs. In season at the end of the year, red coffee berries will sprout along the length of the branches and weigh them down.

It has not rained. Even now, the Revathi showers that come down at the time of Ugadi, falling Saturday this week, have stayed away. The plentiful clouds above have not one thin streak of grey in them. The leaves on the coffee are drooping like the Spaniel’s ears, and several of them are burned and browned in the heat. There’s dust you cannot see riding the air. The rain-loving insects have arrived, and in the evening they saw in anticipation and indignation. A light, gentle breeze plays among the leaves on the plants and in the trees, but it is not enough to take the stupor off of the workers.

By now the year’s first manuring should’ve been done. But it should rain for that, or the fertiliser will sear the plants from the inside. The white of the lime sprinkled last month still lingers at the base of the plants and shade trees and the soil around them. That lime needs rain, too — three inches at the minimum.

There’s some relief. The tanks have enough water in them for the sprinklers to bring up and rain on the entire plantation. Only, there’s no electricity, so we are using diesel. Why? We haven’t paid the bill a long time. Why not? Because it was never delivered, in spite of our reminders to the electricity department. Why? Because it’s not their practice to bill at regular intervals. Why? Because it is too much work for the meter reader to go plantation to plantation taking readings of consumption.

So how does the department earn revenue?

It waits. A lamp pole falls. A meter goes bust. A lamp burns out. It rains, and a transformer explodes. The planter calls for help. That’s when to open the planter’s account. And make a claim. “Pay first. We’ll attend to your work soon after.”

And if no incident relating to electricity happens at all? That planter never gets a bill. He has never to answer a claim.