Spotted at a traffic signal in Bangalore.
A sharp crack fills the air as if the sky is being rendered in two. A deep rolling boom follows and water starts trickling through the trees to fall on the balcony suspended above the coffee plantation.
We are in a little slice of heaven, a retreat from the chaotic madness of the Indian cities, set high on a tree-clad hillside in a 176 acre coffee estate, far from the teeming crowds, the constant honking, the diesel fumes, the dust filled air.
My wooden cottage juts out from the hillside, on stilts 20-30 feet above the coffee plants below. The French windows open wide, the fragrance from the acres of white coffee blossoms below filling the room. Honey Bees pausing from their work of pollination fly into the room , take a couple of laps, before heading back outside into the soft rain now percolating through the shade giving silver oaks, jackfruit and rosewood trees towering above.
It’s our anniversary, and to compensate The Boss for another year tolerating my foibles, my idiosyncrasies, my moods, I have taken her away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the drudgery of the daily routine, and we have come here to The Tamara Coorg.
We left Bangalore early yesterday morning in an effort to beat the traffic but it seemed like everyone had the same idea, the roads filled with cars, each crammed with extended family members, brothers, sisters, their wives and husbands, and children sitting on laps or standing in the passenger foot well clinging on to the dash-board.
As is usual in India the drivers dispensing with all safety considerations, instead focusing on beating the car in front, a subconscious urge to arrive first overriding any thoughts of self-preservation or protection of loved ones.
Seven hair-raising, butt clenching hours later we turned off the main road for a 4 km drive up a single lane concrete road winding up into the hills. We wound down the windows and turned off the a/c to allow the fresh air and bird song into the car.
Greeted with garlands of jasmine and glasses of cold coffee we were then, formalities over, transported further up the hillside by electric buggy to our room.
Each cottage is built from imported Canadian pine and stands high on stilts reminding me of my childhood in New Zealand where ‘Pole Houses‘ are common given the hilly terrain. Not a tree was cut down to build each cottage and every effort has been made to retain if not improve upon what was there before construction. This is refreshing in India where the calls of commerce usually override any concerns for the environment.
After freshening up we walked 500 meters up the hill-side to the open air restaurant called The Falls, for lunch where a lovely buffet was served. The sky opened up and rain poured from the heavens, the smell of the wet jungle wafting through the dining hall.
Retiring to our room we sat, stomachs full, and looked out over the lush green hills, listening to the rain and the distant rumbles of thunder. Reveling in the tranquility, the peace, the satisfaction, that only being in a natural environment can bring. Thoughts of the city far away, our eyelids grew heavy with sleep, as we relaxed and breathed in the pure air, gazing out on the now mist shrouded hills that form the landscape of Coorg.
As evening approached the temperature dropped and the rain eased off, the sound of falling water replaced by birdsong, the shrieks of Mynahs, the pu-cock call of the Barbet, and the musical warble of the wrens and tits flittering from tree to tree.
We headed back up to the restaurant for dinner where a candle-lit corner table awaited us, specially decorated in honor of our anniversary. A chance remark to the executive chef at lunch time regarding Coorgi food, resulted in a dish of Pandi (Pork) Curry with Akki Rotis (rice bread), a dish this region is famous for, made especially for us. What followed was a lovely meal, accompanied by the sounds of crickets in the trees nearby and the twinkling lights of fire flies, like little fairy lights in the foliage above.
Returning to our room after dinner we found another surprise. Housekeeping in our absence had decorated our bed with flowers in the shape of a heart.
Rising before dawn the next morning we hiked high into the hills, accompanied by the resort guide, a local man with an encyclopedic knowledge of birds and their calls. Climbing high into the hills, the sounds of civilization soon replaced with the staccato hammering of woodpeckers, and the strangely human tune of the Malabar whistling thrush. Flattened bamboo and piles of dung marked the path of the wild elephants that had passed through before us, and our guide stopped frequently to show footprints of deer and other wild animals.
Cresting the final ridgeline we halted in our tracks, stunned by the view that opened up before us. Jungle clad hills and valleys still shrouded in morning mist and clouds stretched out before us as we gazed awestruck at the beauty before us. Unusually for India not a sound or sign of human habitation reached us as we sat perched high on the hillside, cool breezes wafting over us, birds of prey hurtling past us in a break neck dive into the valley below.
In a grassy patch just above the tree line on the hillside below us a movement caught our eye. Looking closer we spied three Sambar deer, heads swiveling in our direction, ears erect, as our excited whispers somehow reached them. Watching as they moved gracefully across the hillside and back into the jungle we said an inward prayer of thanks to the universe for allowing us to reconnect with the natural wonder of our beautiful planet. A connection that sadly we have lost in our so-called civilized city lives.
The morning started badly. I woke still tired, with a headache and residual nausea, the after effects of the previous evening’s over indulgence.
A mild comment here, an innocent request there, became irritations, niggling away inside my head.
The morning matured into midday and the irritations became magnified, the constant churning of my mind blowing them out of all proportion. Irritation becoming frustration, frustration becoming anger, anger giving way to despair.
In an effort to dispel the black clouds inside I went for a drive, all the while, fictitious story after story unfolding in my head, fuelling my self-pity.
Pulling up at the traffic signal, I sat lost in my internal drama.
A tap on the window.
A young man stood with his hand outstretched, begging for alms. Handing him some coins, his face lit up. A beautiful smile, beaming with gratitude, eyes twinkling …………….. the smile of an angel.
My heart melted, the lights turned to green and I drove off.
Looking back in the mirror, the angel stood smiling where I left him.
The angel had only one arm.
Sometimes my sense of humour gets me into trouble.
After a wonderful lazy lunch at the Polo Club in Bangalore’s Oberoi Hotel, I handed over my docket to the Valet parking attendant, and said with a grin “mine’s the blue one over there”.
The poor chap took me seriously and rushed over to the Porsche Cayenne that I wished were mine and proceeded to try and open it with the key of my way more moderately priced SUV. I had to rush over and stop him before he damaged the lock.
What I had intended as a joke ended up embarrassing both him and I!
Yesterday while cleaning the bathroom, I underestimated the immense strength contained in my perfectly sculpted body and snapped the bathroom tap off.
Gallons of water gushed over me as I stared in horror at the hole in the wall where once a tap had been. It was only when the water had reached my ankles that I remembered a piece of folklore and like a good little Dutch boy stuck my finger in the hole.
Frantically summoning The Boss from the chaise longue on which she had been reclining, a piece of cucumber over each eye, and her feet on a silk cushion. I requested her to turn off the mains water supply so I could retrieve my finger from the hole in which it had ignominiously been thrust.
A quick phone call was made to our friendly neighborhood plumber who, it being a Sunday, was understandably reluctant to attend to our needs, busy as he was buying Dal and Rice for the week ahead. Frustrated at my inability in my limited Hindi to convey the urgency of the situation, I handed the phone over to The Boss whose persuasive and dulcet tones had the required effect. Ten minutes later he turned up on his cycle with his tools wrapped in a hessian bag.
A replacement tap was needed and as the nearest shop was closed we jumped in my car and headed over to a plumbing shop he knew would be open on a Sunday evening.
We explained what we needed to the shopkeeper and I have to admit was more than a little shocked when he immediately shouted “Big Cock, long body”
How on earth does he know” I thought to myself. I looked down at my loose shirt and baggy shorts. No nothing to give it away there. I looked at my plumber companion who seemed completely unconcerned, as if every one of his clients was told the same thing.
Perhaps the shop keeper has x-ray vision? Maybe he is an Indian superhero? Mild mannered shop keeper Kamlesh Patel by day, caped crusader by night. Rescuing those in dire in dire plumbing need, diagnosing emergencies with his x-ray vision.
“Big cock long body!” he shouted again, but this time I realized that he was directing the comment not to me but to one of his assistants. Judging by his short stature he certainly didn’t have a long body and I didn’t care to look too closely at the rest.
His assistant repeated “Big cock long body” and started rummaging around on the shelves.
Maybe they are intimately aware of each other’s anatomy and use the expression as a term of endearment, I wondered, after recovering from the initial disappointment of realizing he wasn’t describing me.
The assistant tossed a box over to the shopkeeper who promptly opened up the top flap and proudly announced “Sir. Big cock long body!”
I looked inside with trepidation wondering if I had strayed into the wrong shop, and sure enough there it was, in all it’s glory.
A shiny new tap with “Bib Cock, Long Body” written on the label
Now the tap is fixed I must clean the wax from my ears!
One thing I really appreciate in India is the way trash is recycled/repurposed. Everything has a use or a value to someone and it gives me a sense of well-being knowing that what I no longer need can be of use to someone else and not end up dumped in the landfill.
Unlike in NZ where the cost of repairs meant it was cheaper to throw things out and buy new ones, everything here can be repaired or recycled at a minimal cost and sometimes for a profit. The food processor and rice cooker in our house have been repaired more times than I can remember and I am not sure there are any original parts remaining in them by now.
A whole sector of society survives on recycling. Our newspapers for example are collected once a week by a man who comes on a bicycle with a portable scale, weighs the paper and cardboard we give him and pays us by the kilo for it. The same with any metal or plastic items.
Even old carpets can be traded in for new ones with the carpetwallah who pushes his hand-cart past the house with a surprising (and given the noise he makes banging on our gate, irritating) frequency.
Other things that we don’t want I put out on the curb as someone always seems to find a use for them. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure as they say and it is really quite amazing how quickly the items disappear, even the most innocuous or seemingly undesirable pieces.
Yesterday evening I put out an old pair of shoes which I no longer had use for, thinking that I would probably have to throw them in the trash the next morning as it would be unlikely that anyone would want them, the smell alone making passersby cross to the opposite side of the street.
Imagine my surprise when the next morning I found only the right shoe remaining on the footpath. I can only assume that a one-legged man, quite possibly (in fact almost definitely) a pirate, had come past during the night and found the shoe to his liking.
I wondered how long it would be before someone missing the opposite leg, maybe another pirate, would come along and take the remaining shoe.
I didn’t have to wait for long, my neighborhood obviously a hotbed for unshod pirates. It was gone the next morning!
Now how to get rid of that parrot I don’t need anymore?
The Toll Booth Toffee Scam.
Once prevalent in the Tollbooths around the Karnataka/Maharashtra Border, it seems to have disappeared, the original perpetrators no doubt having retired to their Chalets in Switzerland.
It was a simple scam but undoubtedly extremely profitable.
What used to happen is that when you paid your toll, always an odd amount, never a round number, the Toll Booth attendant would apologize for the lack of change and give you toffees instead. 1 toffee for every two Rupees.
At first I was quite amused and a little grateful, Tommy needing regular doses of sugar throughout the day. However there is only so much toffee a man can eat, even if he does have a tapeworm as long as your arm.
By the time I reached the 4th Toll Booth I was feeling the onset of Hyperglycemia and tried to pay the next Toll with the uneaten toffees. 22 Rupees therefore 11 toffees. He refused to accept them and asked for cash instead. I gave him 30 Rupees and he gave me 4 toffees change!
Now bear in mind the retail price for these toffees is Rs 1 each , so they are making 100% profit. Assume 20,000 vehicles a day through the Toll Booth and that is at least Rs 20,000 profit per day per Toll Booth! The bulk wholesale price is probably only around 25 paise per piece so the actual profit will be much much more. A nice little earner.
At the 5th Toll Booth, I decided to make a stand which was difficult as by now my teeth had all fallen out, saliva running unchecked over my gums and down my chin. I explained to the booth Attendant that everyone in the car had diabetes and couldn’t accept the toffees he was proffering as change.
He nodded sympathetically and swapped them immediately for cold hard cash.