Batting Memory

They had this lady in 'Meet the Unsuing Heroes' episode on Doordarshan's Morning Show the other day. Her claim to fame was her 'batting' score-more than 1200 in the last two years alone. She shot pestilent bats at the Zoo!.

A professional hunter, she shot these large nocturnal beings and sold their meat, which she said was medicinal--especially to people with asthma, and mixed the extract in oil for massaging those with paralysis.

This chance TV viewing stirred in me memories of a glorious childhood in Mangalore amidst swaying coconut palms, the roar of waves from the Arabian Sea in the background and, of course numerous myths and beliefs.

My sister Margaret was just a babe in mother's arms then and I was not yet nine. The child took ill day and the local quack's treatment resulted in an allergic condition. She would never recover and often burst into large boils of all hues and colours over her tiny frame, which nothing no earth seemed to cure.

Those were days with little confidence in modern day allopathy, but full of wonderful Grandma's remedies for all occasions and ailments. And that's how Granny decreed that bat's blood and tortoise blood be procured to massage the little one.

This was more easily said than done. Tortoise blood wasn't too difficult to come by. There were Kachuas in our own well and being a coastal place, more could be bought at the local market. But bat's blood, proved a difficult cup of tea.

Father, in the meantime, had made his enquiries and learnt of a bat's resting ground in the forest of large banyan trees some ten miles away on the banks of Netravati river. So the next few weekends were spent accompanying father and his gun, out in our 'Singer' car, to shoot and bring home Granny's remedy for Maggie's malady.

Now, father was wonderful Shikari, and so it was great fun going shooting with him. We would set off in the morning and reach Penemangalur, a satellite-town in the suburbs, where we left the car. We then took a boat for the opposite banks of the Netravati and proceeded on the foot to the forest situated across Farangpet or "Phirangi-pete' as it was then known in local Kannada.

Being literally night birds, the bats cannot see during day and rest 'though the hours of sunlight hanging in an inverted position, with their claws clutching the branches. Real sitting ducks. And once, my thrill knew no bounds when six of them came crashing down to father's one single cartridge. With the help of the local 'mopla' the dead or screeching bats, often numbering up to a hundred, were put in gunny sacks and ferried across the river and then to the car.

Yes, the sequence of events is clear now, especially due to a misadventure on one such expedition. While jumping from the boat on to firm ground, I had missed my foothold and falled into the swirling waters of the flooded river and almost drowned, but for the mopla rescuing me. And my embarrassment thereafter, travelling all the way back home minus my wet clothes, huddled in between the front and the rear seats -- lest I be seen in my birthday suit -- smeared all over by the 'bloody' bags of bags.

Whether it was the tortoise or bat's blood, I cannot say. Thanks to grandma's remedies. Margaret did recover. And, touch wood ! Neither have we known of illness at home during our childhood, thereafter !

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