Water Buffalo

I want to be like a
Water buffalo
Soaking for hours
Happy to be wet
Eyes kinder and more
Than mine.
I want to walk slowly
Graze with keen
Thoughtfully look over
My shoulder
For my calf.
I want to deliberate
Like a water buffalo
Carefully and with some
other knowing
I cannot fathom.
Mind on some
greater good

"And when Nath Nong, who has to live
in Massachusetts now, saw a picture
of green Cambodian fields she said,
name krebey English? I told her,
Water buffalo.
She said, Very, very
good animal.
She put her finger
on the picture of the water buffalo
and spoke its Khmer name once more."
- Julie Alger

"Water buffalo, I wonder how
many more summers have I to
look at you again?"
- Toshie Nohara


Dreams, Schemes & Themes: Bob Dylan

Back at the farm again. That too, in the dryest season of the year, swiftly heading towards the hottest. The plants and trees all close up, introvert and shed all uneccessary actions, simply ravaged by thirst, not bothering to be green. A harsh, no nonsense beauty takes over. April is not the cruellest month, 'least not in Vardenahalli. March gets that honour. And February is coming up a close second.

This year, our Summer Camp theme is going to be Bob Dylan. His poetry, drawings, songs and art-making. Plus, as a tribute to his epic radio show - Theme Time Radio, we're launching the Infinite Souls Podcasts at Camp. We're listening to Theme Time Radio as I write, the "Weather" themed show with Ellen Barkin's whiskey voice talking the listener in. "It's nighttime in the Big City...somewhere a car alarm goes off. You're listening to Theme Time and here is your host, Bob Dylan." "Having fun in the old California sun..." drawls Bob, as he plays an off the cuff selection from Muddy Waters to Dean Martin, reciting poetry inbetween, evoking Chicago weather with "And the Wind Cries Mary". It's not for everyone, much like this introverted, barbaric weather, but is good for listeners who have time and the inclination for scabs and dry scrub.

Theatre Lab kids will record and broadcast live from Camp. Studio set up at our cottage. They'll use Theme Time Radio themes including "Flowers", "Mothers", "Fathers" and come up with content that feels relevant to them against the backdrop of Bangalore rural. But other themes will wash up as well, post Camp, for sure. This lot enjoy improvizing and creating new things. You can expect music for sure, but also poetry recitations, stories, discussions and interviews. These will be available as a regular feature on the Infinite Souls Farm and Artists Retreat blog.

Why are the horses circling the cottage? They're so weird, I cannoy figure Zara out in the slightest. One of the dogs is going to get kicked any minute now, probably by Anjali. The animals all hover in the shade or near water the whole time. So do we, retreating indoors to books and dreaming. Not kicking, at any rate. Kuki to his beloved Jim Corbett and me to Sue Townsend or Salim Ali or whatever is close at hand. There's wasp buzzing around with some anxiety, bashing against the white curtains, trying to find a way out.

The buffaloes look skeletal, giant hip bones pushing through through their hide. No amount of feed makes up for the loss of good grass grazing. While Kuki sat on the swing beneath the banyan on the path to the El, a black and white Holstein came running in. No idea who it belonged to. But after some chasing of it around the Gypsy, it found a gap in the fence and left. Deaf and mute Moogaiah has been hanging around near the kitchen. When he first saw me, he gestured 'moustache', 'bottle' and 'gone' to let me know that Thirpal had had a drinking jag and headed back to his village.

The only plants that get any watering this season are the vegetables as we need sackloads to see us through both April Camp & May Camp. Here's what will be ready: tomatoes, red amaranth, carrots, radish, ridge gourd, ladies finger, brinjal, green chillies, pumpkin. Drum sticks and drumstick greens are perennial. Should be enough goosberries to make some pickles. Hopefully enough sapotas, limes and mangoes to feed and water hordes of hungry children.

The rocks stand in acute relief against the leafless trees and bone dry mud. No scrub or grass to break their strong lines. There goes Zara, neighing outside my window again. It can't be water she wants...maybe Noorie and Anjali are in the paddock. That really makes her mad.

Vidu chikki's peepal tree near the Buddha has sprung new leaves, as has Sanjay Iyer's pink Tabebuia, Flo's temple flower. The banyans will soon be nothing but bare bones with carpets of crunchy leaves beneath. My one litchi tree looks a bit bereft. Maybe water here is not a bad idea. But everything else will just have to cope as this is a farm that will not pump water through the dry season. We just take it on the chin and await the rains.

I wonder what Bangalore kids today will make of Bob Dylan? The other day at class, a student was in tears because she said she felt she "just couldn't please everybody" even though she tried so hard. I played them Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 to make a point but then had to quickly put the chorus off before they got all excited about, well, you know what. And they would too, the little buggers.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only

A heap of broken images,

...where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

So long as no one plans to do any welding at Camp. I have no intentions of dealing with heat, masks and solder just so they get a taste of what Bob Dylan has recently been up to in his unending journey of creation. So, if anyone asks why Bob Dylan and not, for instance, Led Zepellein, here is why:

1. He kept jumping right out of boxes as he saw fit
2. He didn't bother justifying anything to fans or critics
3. He experimented and failed
3. His poetry is sublime
4. He ran a radio show and played other people's music
5. He has never stopped creating

Thus he is my perennial, eternal, forever-soul of choice.


Chinna Finds His Herd

Look who's got a new mommy!

We've seen it before, of course. In the wonderous case of Laddu and Kiara. 

Once upon a time, in the Old House, we heard a squeaking behind the bookshelf beneath the attic stairs. We had just returned from Kodaikanal and thought the empty house had invited in visitors. "Shoo, Laddu, shoo! Go chase away that mouse" we said. This continued for a few days. Then it was a Sunday morning and we were spacey and treading softly in our t-shirts and laziness. Again the squeaking. But this time, Laddu snuffled about the bookshelf beneath the attic stairs and returned with a tiny, wet, charcoal rag that she deposited in the middle of the hall. We, the two adults in the house, shrieked and jumped on the diwan. Zui, the child, terrified at the behaviour of her parents raced off to Geethamma's house next door. "What have you done, Laddu?" we yelled, thinking she had killed the mouse and brought it to us. Then we saw it moving... Fie! It must be half alive and dying. I'm not sure if we made a closer examination but a short while later we realized it was a kitten, was not hurt, on the contrary was very much alive and that Laddu the Saintly Labrador had in fact rescued the poor abandoned baby.

We wiped the mite dry and took her to CUPA where we were told she didn't have a fair chance without a mother to care for and nurse her. That it was best we took her home and ink-filler fed her till the inevitable. So we did, with a sense of futility. First, she lay in a box but she was fiesty and it wasn't long before she began snuggling against Laddu for warmth. And Laddu licked and licked her. Licked her so much that one day...

Again it was breakfast time and we sat at the blue wooden table in the kitchen, frying eggs and so on. Suddenly we notice the mite suckling on Laddu's teats. Unreal. We went close and saw warm pearls of milk. Laddu who had never littered, had never had her own puppies to feed had licked the mite so much that she had begun lactating. We named the mite Kiara, meaning dark and light, knowing she was now safe in Laddu's mothering. 

Kiara grew to be the Queen of St.Mark's Road, walking regally into the house through the front door. Three dogs adored her and she lorded it over them, sitting atop my computer falling on the keyboard every now and then, giving any intruding canine noses a soft whack if they woke her gentle sleep as she rumbled on the wooden table amongst the little brass Ganeshas. 

That was then. Now I see little Chinna finding his baby buffalo-self a herd among the three mares. Every morning he chooses to graze with Noorie, hiding against her brown flanks when shy. What new cross-pollinated love will you discover, Chinna, with Quiet Noorie, I wonder? Is it just instinct that draws you to this herd of female hormones? Or do you need her gentle warmth? Do you miss your biological mother, Lakshmi, who is away grazing in the hills during the day? You remind me all over again of my beloved Kiara...

2am Thoughts as Kiara Slowly Passes on

December 7, 2011 at 3:14am
How can pain be forced to move down
Away from the eyes
So that it's just a burning hole in my stomach?

How shall I stave all thoughts
of her voice
As she peremptorily
Walks in the house
Bell a-jingling
Down the spiral staircase
From the neighbour’s roofs,
the driveway
In through the gate
Rusty self glistening
in the winter sunlight
Head high
Tail high?

“Is there any good way to look at this?” 
asks the other angel of our home
And unformed words about
her good
uncompromising life
tumble out

I often said
She was an urban princess
Queen of the rooftops
Duchess of our lane
Country living
wouldn’t be her scene

But now
I ache to take her there
When she passes on
Plant her beneath 
the lemon tree
in the lap of her mother

“She was Laddu’s gift to us”
the angel, again
“How can we let her go?”
Our Kiara kitten
My eyes don’t 
handle tears 
with any skill
Tomorrow I have to perform.

Good thoughts:
She caught a mouse 
2 days ago,
And a first,
We said
“Good cat”.
She rumble-purred 
on Challam
3 days ago.
Boss-mama of the dogs
Forever and ever.
of a sainted Dog.
to the neighbour’s
Kiara, oh
my darling
Morning Cat.

“Sorry Muma...
“Cause I know
how much
you love her”
Keep the pain on simmer
I’m performing tomorrow.
There’ll be time


Ten Years After

Have you heard of a band called Ten Years After? Hmmm...That would be us this year. 2016. Ten years after we first sat on the rocks beneath the banyan tree in a faint drizzle. ten years after we hoped that this time we'd be lucky. Ten years after we sat beneath the tamarind tree with a group of farmers who managed to raise the price that we'd hoped to lower. Pattabhi was unwell by then, unconscious to what was happening. We dreamed that his eyes glimmered when we told him the land had rocks and custard apple trees. In a short while, he would leave us. May 6th 2016 was that day.

He dreamed the same dream as us for many years not caring that our dreams were usually unsucessful. The three of us would drive out of the city, constantly on the look out for that one piece of land somewhere restful, where the cow light would quiten you in the evening, the dogs could run, some vegetables could grow. We had several near misses. Once in Bannerghatta, then with Sunbeam Motha trying to figure something in Kollegal. We were so keen, we even looked at some flat and quite dull land off Sarjapur Road with a giant pylon plonked in the middle of it. We held Leila's Visharnthi Farm up as a beacon, anything we found had to have the same lovely charm.  

Then we found you. Shankar from Centre for Learning had shown us a couple places and it was nearing twilight. He said "There is one place, but it has terrible access." Sounded perfect to us. Thus we found you.

This summer, the kids had their 10th Anniversary Summer Camp. Theme Queen. Hee hee. 

"I'm burning through the sky, yeah..Two hundred degrees, that's why they all me Mr.Fahrhenheit. I'm travelling at the speed of light, I wanna make a supersonic man outta you"

Really not. More like the buffaloes slowly making their way to the water and then sloshing gently around for a while. But the kids bring the supersonic in, that's for sure.


Zara and Chand Pasha

Yesterday I found the ethereal yet crabby Zara grazing on the toor plants amongst the arecanut trees, a bleeding scratch on one knee. Then there was Anjali of the funky mane with four feet of barbed wire caught in her tail. Vineet found Noorie chewing on my script of Wolfram Höll's And Then. Basically all three behaving as if Kothaiah was nowhere around, which in fact he wasn’t, since he was in Nellore getting married. Long and the short, horsie wild times were going on. It took about an hour of running and prancing (on my part) and luring them in with words and tomatoes to get them in their paddock. And then, is right.

This morning Chand Pasha came over to check on Zara’s wound and do a general check on all hooves. Chand is a farrier and this got me to thinking about this noble craft. He lives in RT Nagar and has been working as either syce or farrier since he was a little boy. He started by helping his father who worked at the Bangalore Turf Club. Three of his nephews as well as his younger brother work with horses in Saudi Arabia. He says everyone in his family are close to horses. His assistant, Rajesh, also works in this trade but is the only one in his family to work with horses. Later I learned from Sandesh Raju of Samabhava Equine Rescue that Rajesh is only Chand Pasha's assistant on hoof care. At the Samabhava Palace Ground premises, he is Shelter Manager to 17 equines. The work is consistent though, as there are enough horse owners in Bangalore to keep them in employ but I feel Chand most likes working with Samabhava, because Sandesh genuinely loves animals and is not dazzled by much except others who care about animal welfare.

We watch Chand and Rajesh for 2 hours this morning. Their firm yet loving bilingual speech…”Kya hua Zara…baby…kaal etthu…zarra oopar karo….nahin Zara nahin…Irru, ondhu nimsha…aayathu…” The dogs are underfoot, snapping up the hoof shavings like the tastiest morsels of calcium cookie possible. We lean on the paddock watching in a soporific haze. Ultimately calming, beneath a blue, blue sky to watch as the farrier rasps and shaves and hammers and knocks. The horseshoe sits in its secure and familiar curve on a rock. Chand Pasha in his leather apron leans over and knocks it into shape, hammer and stone his tools. The sounds of the hammering and the distant rooster crows the only sounds we hear. Tuk tuk tuk, kokro koo koo, tuk, tuk, tuk. Every now and then a whinny from Zara and Rajesh soothes her.

The etymology of the word farrier is from the French ferrier, meaning blacksmith, and the Latin ferrum or iron. Traditionally, a farrier combined veterinary skills with blacksmith skills and was the person in charge of equine hoof care. While the history of farriers is apparently not easy to trace there is evidence of some ancient cultures having made use of them. For instance, military cultures with cavalry like the Roman Empire would have employed farriers. Celts and Druids perhaps used them. The Roman writer, Vegetius, writes that farriers were exempt from the battlefield.  Anyway, it is safe to say that the history of farriers is tied up with the history of the horse shoe itself. With the domestication of feral horses, came the horseshoe and the need for farriers.

Zara requires corrective shoeing (the equine equivalent of podiatric shoes) because of her poor, damaged fetlocks. The other two are easy enough to shoe. Noorie and Anjali make no fuss at all. They are checked and shoed, eat carrots from Rodney and Carolyn and go off to graze, all very rapidly. Zara has a hissy fit when they vanish and proceeds to hare up and down her paddock till Chand Pasha returns and calms her down.

Why is it that syces, largely, come from Muslim families, I wonder? Is it in their culture and tradition to look after horses? Has it to do with tanga owning? Or the armies of Tippu Sultan?  The Moghuls? Again, Sandesh to the rescue. Apparently, farriers are mostly Muslim on the Deccan Plateau thanks to the early Persian horse traders and the Bahamani Kings. In North India, however, there are entire villages in UP and Rajasthan where the farriers are all Hindu. Hmmm…the sun is warm on my face and I’m getting drowsy. Why are horseshoes lucky? This one’s easy. Firstly, because iron was said to ward off bad luck. Second and more interestingly, there was a 10th century blacksmith called Dunstan who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Apparently, one day the Devil (albeit, in disguise) walked into his smithy and asked that his horse be shod. Dunstan recognised the Devil and nailed his foot down instead of shoeing the horse. When the Devil yelped, Dunstan said “Ok, but in the future stay away from homes which have a horseshoe hanging on a wall. Now, scat!”

Rodney blows bubbles at Noorie who looks interested but would rather have a carrot, thank you very much. Chand Pasha and Rajesh have cups of coffee, get on their scooter and head back to town. We named Zara because we thought she was beautiful and the name Zara means "the pinnacle of". Noorie we named Light despite her being brown. Strange that Chand refers to the Moonlight. Zara is the pinnacle of grumpy, that's for sure. 

I will hold onto those tuk tuk tuk moments forever.

PS: Same morning, I saw a keelback come up for air and then, a Cat on the Hot Tiled Roof.