Crops and robbers

You are Mallesha.

A fifty-six year old farmer. You live in Maguvinahalli, a village on the northern boundary of the famous Bandipur National Park.

Every year, at the end of summer, you till your meagre 4 acres, sow some jowar and some sunflowers. For weeks you work in the baking heat. Once the monsoons arrive, you continue working, in the pouring rains.

Once the seeds have sprouted and you have a crop, you don’t relax, no sir, you don’t. You build a thorn fence around the field. And a machan (platform) on the peepal tree in your field for you to sit up on, all night. Waiting and watching for the elephants.

Yes, the elephants. They come from the forest, to feast on your precious crop.

Last year, your brother Murthy lost everything in a single night to a herd of 9 elephants. It happened at the very end of the season, a few days before the harvest. He still owes the moneylender 14,000 rupees.

So for several weeks you get no rest at all. Night after dark night you sit up on the machan, shaking your head and muttering to yourself to keep sleep away. They are eerily silent, these elephants. You have to be alert all the time.

You look out of the machan, moonlight outlines the distant hills. The silence is broken by the roar of a speeding vehicle on the highway. It used to be a small dusty strip when you were a boy. Now it is dangerous to cross with all the tourist traffic.

You have heard the tourists pay 3000 rupees for a day at the hotel at the edge of your village. You could buy seeds for a whole season with that! Why would they spend so much just to see some elephants? They could instead sit up in your machan, for free.

The gentle breeze lulls you into a dangerous calm. Your head tilts. You sleep.

Kttrrrrck! You are suddenly wide-awake, but it is too late. You fumble for the match and light a firecracker. The wick forms an arc of light, then bursts. Your hand is shaking as you throw another. It is louder than the last. One of the elephants lets out a cry. You can feel the earth shake under you.

As quickly as they came, they are gone. But the silence is not comforting. You sit numbly, not wanting to move.

Dawn arrives and reveals the damage. In the ten minutes they spent in your field, the elephants have taken half your crop.

Lead settles in your stomach, you can’t even feel anger. Slowly, you tuck the matchbox and firecrackers into the folds of your dhoti. And walk home.

Overhead fly an early flock of parakeets.

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One response to “Crops and robbers

  1. Oh the utter irony of this piece! I have read about farmer suicides but this one did leave me wistful. Even romanticizing nature and the wild is a luxury.

    Actually the elephants aren’t to blame either – how can they resist easily-available and plentiful nutrition when it is there for the taking? And they are animals – they don’t recognise forest boundaries and other human constructs. We need better management of these places – buffer zones between reserves and villages, but well, that sort of sensible planning is never going to happen. Especially in our country where land is so scarce and rights over it so bitterly contested.

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