My father bought
Magadi, his first coffee estate, putting together all his life's
savings. I was natural for him to stray into planting - though late
in life - after experimenting with coffee seed export, and then
selling coffee powder, which for some hopeful reason he had named
after his son.
I recall the colorful
label with a beautiful eagle for a logo and the legend "Maxwell
Coffee". Unlike the world famous company marketing coffee with
the same brand name, dad's venture brought him losses, forced him
to wind up and try his hand at coffee growing.
For us children,
the coffee estates opened up vistas of unlimited adventure and fun.
Of myths and legends that go with jungles and forests. And an open
door into the forests. And an open door into the unknown, the chilly
nights lit with fire-flies and disturbed by the screechings of the
thousand crickets and other jungle noises.
Among the stories
of valour and courage, jungle hunts and misadventures, dad's tales
were the best. For he would relate them to the tiger skins adorning
the walls, or the bison head high above the mantel-piece, and to
the legends built around local myths or reality. The stories woven
around our own estate caught our imagination, notwithstanding the
fact that parts of it were then beyond our comprehension, at our
There was this one
about Anderson, the Britisher, who started coffee in these parts
a long time ago. The worthy soul had falled a prey to the wiles
of Manju, the comely wench at the local gadang or tavern, beside
the village waterhole. He was easily bowled over, to make her his
companion, a temporary adjustment to ward off his loneliness.
Manju begot the Saheb
his offspring Richard and Anthony, whom he packed off for schooling
in the Blighty - as would behave the ones in whose veins his blood
ran. We learned later that they were themselves doddering old planters,
somewhere in the bushlands of Australia.
And Manju, who became
the venerable Manjamma-- being the one favoured with the gora saheb's
affections - commanded respect as a very special person, with the
area around her father's tavern, named for perpetuity in local Kanarese
as Manjammana Golla or Manjamma's cove. It was whispered that her
ghost still haunted the place on dark nights, with the beckoning
light from her chimney lamp summoning her long lost sons back to
her waiting bosom.
And hence the golla
itself was held in awe, even though the village of Magadi had disappeared,
leaving behind the dilapidated ruins of its temple - a mujraiinstitution
- and a string of legends to bear witness to its one-time existence.
Forests had over-run its lands, sparing only the fertile stretches
surrounding the perennial waterhole at the golla, planted with lush
green coffee under the thick foliage of ancient trees.
But bordering so
close to the forest on one side, this water hole also rewarded those
of us who plucked courage to venture into the dark confines of the
golla, with rich glimpses of wildlife - of deer, wild boar and even
jungle cats, drawn to the place to quench their thirst. A veritable
gold mine indeed for a youngster trying his hand at shikar..
And perched atop
the branches overhanging the waters, waiting with my muzzle loader
for game to carry home. I remember trying to conjure up the tavern
on the sloping sides of the golla, of the comely Manju ministering
to her fair-skinned lord, or at times, of the forelorn Manjamma
in her twilight days waiting for the sons who were snatched form
her side at a tender age. And wondering what really happened to
Whether in their
distant lands -- wherever that be-- they remembered their days in
the Indian jungles, and the myths and legends surrounding Manjammana
golla. To reminisce in the glow of fireplaces and narrate to their
own grandchildren, of those dream days that they left behind.
Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can
interact with the author at http://
www.maxwellperira.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
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