Our Farm at Chitrapur

Animal Tales September 03 2013

Frisky 1st Dec 2000 – 1st Aug 2006.

Frisky – a dare-devil, bundle of boundless energy,

Our constant companion on all our picnics to the most god-forsaken places

and a terrific swimmer.

A life cut short by a kidney disease which is hereditary in Dalmatians.  

When you are so used to a canine companion, it is hard to get by without one. So we decided to get another pup and thought it would be best to get a sturdy Indian breed like the Mudhol Hound. One of our friends promised us one ‘very soon’. But the days slipped by without any news from him. A whole week passed after Frisky’s death and I could scarcely bear to return home from work and not be greeted by her boisterous welcome. So when I heard about some Dalmatian pups for sale, we rushed to see them and Misty came into our lives. The same naughtiness, eagerness for walks and the boisterous greetings were back.  

When Misty was almost a year old, we found a stray kitten fallen on the road outside our office. It had not yet opened its eyes and was small enough to fit in my palm. We looked around to see if we could spot its mother, but no luck. It was in danger of being run over by the cars whizzing past and we picked it up and brought it home.  

The daughters were thrilled and took turns to feed it with an ink-dropper, took it to the vet and in general molly-coddled it to bits. Misty kept trying to get close to the kitten, but we were rather scared of letting her. Frisky was very aggressive with all other animals and would attack them. We were not too sure about Misty, but she kept begging and wagging her tail trying to nuzzle the little kitten. Finally we took a chance and let her. She nuzzled it onto its back and proceeded to give it a thorough lick. The kitten seemed to wriggle with joy. From that moment on, the two were inseparable. The kitten would crawl around searching for Misty and snuggle close to her. A few days later we were surprised to see Misty  suckling the kitten . Misty had taken her role of a foster mother very seriously! The vet explained that it is quite a common occurrence among animals when they take charge of a young one even if it is a different species.          

It was a joy to see Misty and Snoopy together – their bonding was incomparable. Snoopy thrived under her care – learned to play ‘fetch’ with a paper ball, ran to the door when the bell rang and in general, short of wagging her tail, exhibited quite a few doggie traits!   

Visitors at our Farm August 30 2013

The most glorious of all the visitors on our farm is obviously the peacock. The rains really have them dancing in full glory, but we haven’t been able to capture one on the cam as yet. They strut around delicately and can take off in a graceful flight when they hear us approaching. They make their presence know  with loud cries that are answered by their counterparts from far. The whole forest resounds with their cries cascading and falling in decibels.    

The other  feathered visitors sure make a cacophony announcing their arrival. The hornbills perch on top of the coconut trees and make loud raucous screeching sounds.

The resident snakes of our farm are indeed a fearless and curious lot. Most of them are the common rat-snakes.

An occasional poisonous snake does make an appearance.  One of them apparently is a tree-top resident. So I guess it was pretty easy for him to slide down the branch overhanging our kitchen and come into the house to escape the scorching heat. He made himself comfortable on one of the rafters. When I walked into the kitchen sweating after the farm work, the first thing I did was gulp down some water. As I raised my head to drink, I looked right into two beady eyes – probably awakened by my footsteps. But this visitor was pretty cool and did not panic, in fact he yawned and went back to snooze. I would have ignored him, but Revati our maid saw him just then and panicked. She ran out and called Manjunath (our farm-hand) and came back with a long pole. Both of them tapped the rafters and made enough noise to make him slither out of the roof.    

The Russels Viper is a sluggish one who is sighted very rarely. And when he does come near, Johnny is the only one who growls a deep warning and stays away. The other dogs, city bred as they are will want to go close and need to be restrained.   

The other day, one young snake found its way into the cool area beneath the kitchen sink. I would have never noticed it, had it not been for Posha our cat suddenly acting very strange. He fluffed up like a massive fur ball with special sound effects thrown in for a dramatic effect. I shone the torch into the area to see two beady eyes. We directed and trapped the snake in a long hollow pipe and then carried him out where he slithered away into the greenery.  

The un-welcome visitors are the silent, destructive types. Many a morning we find banana plants fallen over with the white core of the entire trunk scraped out. The heavy trampling around the plant and the huge droppings tell us that the wild boar had decided to pay a nocturnal visit to our farm.

Then there is the ‘Vanar-sena’ that leaps and bounds around at dizzying heights causing destruction in its path. Tender shoots of the bread-fruit tree, papaya plants, bananas, mangoes, all are destroyed. The dogs try to chase them frantically, but they seem least bothered by the crazed barking and continue with their antics.  

And then there are the countless curious visitors from the cities. One looked at the fresh creamy milk brought in warm from the cow shed and asked incredulously :You don’t pasteurize the milk? “No we don’t but we do ‘Pasture-ise’ the cows” I quipped, but the pun was totally lost for what sense does a cow grazing on fresh greens on the verdant slopes of Huli Devan Kodlu* make when the milk is not ... er . .. .... ‘Pasteurized, de-odorized, supplemented with vitamins and packed in a tetrapack to stay ‘fresh’ for months?      

Huli Devana Kodlu : This secluded patch of forest that we now live in is called by this name which translates in Kannada as Area of the Tiger God. Legend has it that the Durga Parmeshwari Temple which is on the edge of the forest bordering our area always had a tiger protecting it. The villagers take turns to conduct a Puja on every New moon day and on all the days of Navarati. One day (this was way back in the 60’s) the Puja was not conducted for some reason. The old-timers of Chitrapur village recollect that the tiger terrorised them by walking into the village and his roar reverberated all around. Anandashram Swamiji who was the Mathadipati at that time, personally conducted the Puja at this temple and peace was restored.  

The rains are here again. August 12 2013

After a scorching month of May, the rains have hit Chitrapur with a boom, bang and dazzle. The ‘Holle’ (stream) that flows past our home turns into a raging torrent which many a weak-heart (or weak-knees) has flatly refused to cross. 

We have to wade through this stream to get home

As for us, we wade through it at all times only taking care to get our supplies at a time when the force of the water is not much. It is a task to try and hold up your clothes (no not to save them from getting wet, but to avoid tripping over them ) and wade through with all the bags, umberella and torch –if it is dark. But it does invigorate the soul when you reach home dripping and realise what a blessing it is to have a home in such a place. And does the water dripping from the tile roof ever bother me? No, frankly no. Probably if it was our Bombay apartment, I would have been bothered. But here, we place a couple of tubs and buckets in seemingly strategic locations and walk around or over them. It is only later that we notice that the seemingly strategic location happens to be exactly at the point where the water falls on the edge of the bucket or tub. So in addition to the bucket we now have a pool around it as well.

The late night sudden showers seem to upset the assorted population of beetles in the farm. And they rush in to buzz around the lights in the house much to the delight of Posha and Kip our cats. Many of them fall dizzily into the buckets or tubs most often on their backs and swim around crazily till they right themselves and take off again. The fireflies are all abuzz lighting up the sky and the trees around.

The electricity plays truant for hours at a stretch and we always have to be our toes to get all essentials like cell phones, laptops, emergency lights and UPS recharged in the brief intervals when the current comes a-visiting. Not to mention getting the water pump, washing machine, mixer etc all done before it departs again. (Hey it is not so bad on all the days).  

And the 2000 piece Ravensburger puzzle is out of hibernation again. We had managed to complete about half of it last monsoon. You can’t really work on the farm when it is pouring and you cant work on your laptop with the last vestiges of battery left. OK, I don’t really need a reason ..but it is fun doing the puzzle.  

Just the last 100 odd pieces left

A friend of ours braved the weather to visit us last week. We had a brief respite from the rain and the sun shone down on the emerald landscape. Our 4 dogs and 2 cats lay sprawled in the frontyard on the still damp ground basking in the sun. And all of a sudden the sky darkened and a sudden outburst of rain had all the animals pouring in thru the door.   “Hey it is raining cats and dogs” he quipped as the animals shoved one another to get the warmest place to cuddle.

The work in the farm changes drastically. All the past two months we were struggling to ensure that the trees are watered sufficiently. The mountain stream which is our source of water had dried up to a trickle. Now it is a gushing waterfall. The main focus is to prevent waterlogging in the farm. So that means continuous cleaning of the water pathways, removing the fallen leaves and silt. No more sundrying of the summer surplus – banana, jackfruit, kokum. Now it is a struggle to keep the mould from getting to the nutmegs and mace that are harvested in this season. But we have learnt new methods of doing this so it is not a problem. And Vivek has designed a superb in-house dryer - a cardboard box with a 40Watts bulb in it. The heat generated inside suffices to dry the items placed in it. (After all the research into commercial agricultural dryers – each one bulkier and more expensive than the other, we finally have a ‘light-bulb’ solution).

And so the weather continues to display its amazing shades. The sight of the swaying palms bending under the onslaught of the rain, the rich green carpet of rice saplings as far as the eye can see, all in the backdrop of the mist covered hills – Chitrapur is paradise on earth in the rains! 

Bheem and Balaram March 24 2013

When we moved to our farm at Chitrapur, our extended family of 2 dogs and a cat got further extended by yet another dog and a whole lot of bovine members. Strangely the previous owner never felt the need to name his bovine clan. There were 4 cows, 1 yearling bull calf and a really feisty buffalo. One of the cows calved shortly after we came to live here. So naming them was a must – I couldn’t possibly keep referring to them as “Mother of the bull calf” and “Mother of the new calf” for long. So the new calf was “Gomati”, her mother “Godavari”. The beautiful black cow with a white star on her forehead was “Shabari”, her son “Bheem”. “Kaveri” the cow who had apparently had some health issues after her previous delivery 3 years back and hadn’t conceived, and “Nandini” the old matriarch of the clan. All this took a lot of brain-wracking, some names sounded nice but I invariably knew close friends/relatives with the same name and I wasn’t too sure if people would take it as a compliment to find a large doe eyed gentle beast sharing the same name. I barely finished naming them when Shabari delivered a female calf – surprise as none knew that she was pregnant. So “Shravani” it was. And I had not yet thought of a name for the beautiful buffalo. So when the kids were on a visit to the farm, I posed the question to them. Their answer was spontaneous and unanimous “Madhubala” they said. And yes it did suit her and always drew laughter whenever she was introduced to all our visitors.

Never having really looked after dairy animals, it took us some time to learn, adapt and also change some things that we felt needed changing. For instance, the age-old practice of layering the floor of the cowshed each day with heaps of green leaves so that it is crushed underfoot and mixed with all the dung and urine, until at the end of the week the massive pile of rotting leaves mixed with the dung would then be cleaned out and piled into the compost pit. It was the time –tested method of getting good quality farm-yard manure for the plantation. But it was far from hygienic and attracted armies of flies which also found their way into our kitchen. So this had to be changed. And we started washing the cow shed daily. The animals looked cleaner and the fly menace reduced. As we familiarised ourselves with the different varieties of cattle-feed and the benefits of each, I realised that commercial feed had its share of chemical supplements added to it. So started the quest for some home-made feed recipe. Cooking huge quantities of rice gruel was cumbersome and I was just about to going back to readymade feed when our local vet came to our rescue. A mix of wheat bran, maize powder, gram-husks and oil-cakes was recommended and so began our sojourns to the huge rice-mill where sacks of these could be procured. The attendant at the mill looked askance as I read out the strange sounding names ‘Godi Bhoosa, Kadle sippe...”, I guess he expected this city-dweller to pick up some dainty packets of Basmati rice. After a long pause he said “These are available only in sacks of 50kgs”. When I replied that I wanted one sack of each he asked “Where are you from” followed by a barrage of the usual questions.....”Farm? .. from the city?.... Cows?.... Actually living here?.......

Well back to our bovine family – they loved the new feed slurped from their buckets with delight.

The other routine was letting the cows out in the mornings. They would be let out through a narrow gate leading directly from the shed, free to roam around in the grassy hillside adjoining our farm and they would all return late in the afternoon and wait patiently for the gate to be opened. One day Kaveri and Madhubala did not return at the normal time. We waited till late but there was no sign of them. Hoping they would return the next day, we waited, but several days passed. Our farm-hand Manjunath was quite sure that Madhubala would be soaking herself in one of the numerous ponds atop the hill and Kaveri too would be roaming around. Sure enough Manjunath’s wife spotted Kaveri close to the quaint Chitrapur railway station. Not sure whether she had any intentions of travelling really far from home, but we did not take any chances and she was brought back home. We stopped letting her free from then on as she was due to calve within a couple of months. So after the birth of Kalindi, Kaveri got her freedom again and would return home promptly to be with her little calf.

Kaveri and her newborn calf Kalindi

Madhubala was still enjoying her romp on the hillside when we decided to go in search of her. Manjunath led the way like a mountain goat – sure-footed and light of step, while we had to make quite an effort to keep up. Pond after pond we scanned, each one with its own group of buffaloes wallowing with blissful expressions on their faces. Finally we came to the road that leads from Chitrapur past Kembre farm having covered almost 4 kms. As we walked back along the road, we spotted yet another pond teeming with buffaloes on the other side of the road. We went near and stood trying to spot her amongst the numerous nostrils and eyes that were the only visible things above the surface of the water. Every now and then one of them would raise their head above water and soon enough we spotted her. She glared at us balefully. Manjunath waded into the water and shepherded her out. She walked morosely down the road while we were lagging behind calling out to the dogs when she suddenly took off in a gallop in the opposite direction. Thundering hooves and grunts – it took a lot of courage to stand with outstretched arms in her path flailing my dupatta. But she did slow down when she neared and Manjunath could catch up with her and together 5 of us including Misty and Phoenix forming a semi-circle behind her, managed to get her back onto the farm.     

After this episode we did not leave her free for several weeks, but she looked so forlorn when the others left each morning that we decided to let her out too. For the first few days she would return promptly and then the temptation would be too strong and she would wander off again to be brought back after a few days of freedom.

Now as I write this, Madhubala is still on the mountain, this time she is in a pond which has a superstitious legend to it – no man who enters it has ever survived – even if he is a good swimmer. So Manjunath will not wade into it to get her and Madhubala – the minute she sees us approaching, runs into the water. We are now planning to go there late evening after sunset as the buffaloes normally come out after the heat of the sun reduces.

The other cows are content to return home at sundown. Shabari has had yet another calf – the first male calf after we came here – he is Balaram – rich brown coat with a white head and perfectly placed brown spots over both eyes like a pair of sunglasses. He is the cutest. The cows all recognise us now and allow us to milk them too.

As for Madhubala, she is still enjoying the sunshine on her back and the cool water rippling around her.