No jam on tiger hill!

No jam on tiger hill!

  On the slopes of Tiger Hill where my parents live in Coonoor, the monkeys have a field day. When pears are in season, they swoop down on the pear trees. Peaches, plums, wild olives...all the fruit that Coonoor is famous for, is enjoyed by a now-healthy bunch of monkeys that live in the acacia grove in the valley. They even eat flowers. So just when a bunch of tea roses bloom and look inviting enough to be photographed, they’ll be plucked off and chewed on by the monkeys. They seem to like Bird of Paradise too.

The famous jam and squash makers of Tiger Hill have been forced to retire. Since the monkeys believe in a balanced diet that includes all the vitamins from A though to E, vegetables are also no longer safe. After years of nurturing her kitchen garden, my mother gave up, turning the entire area into a lawn. Naturally…who can take on the monkeys? Well, maybe Bhima can!

I met Bhima only a couple of weeks ago. He weighs about a 1200 kgs and looks like he’s got far more important business than to be fooling around with the monkeys. Yet, early one morning, when the maid stepped out to put on the motor, she came running back. “Kaat Eremay!” she gasped (literally translated, that means ‘Wild Buffalo’, in Tamil) -- not out of fear, since she walks by the forest every day on her way home, and has passed herds of gaur. Her excitement was on my behalf.

I grabbed by camera and rushed out. Sure enough, just outside the garden fence was a ‘rock’ I’d not seen before…An ENORMOUS gaur, seated in the wild grass. As I began clicking pictures (there was a fairly strong fence between us, thankfully), the magnificent animal got onto his famous socked-feet and posed for me. He gave me his best angle, pretty much like a professional model. He posed to show of his massive muscle-packed shoulders and that impressive hump on his back. Then he disappeared.

So what was this magnificent animal, who stands taller than the legendary Cape Buffalo and is known to kill a tiger with ease, doing in this neighbourhood full of quiet, retired people? Well, it turns out that this wild, terrifying beast has a weakness for mulberries. A neighbour who somehow managed to grow a patch of mulberries, away from the prying eyes of the monkeys, now finds her flower beds routinely trampled upon as this 1200 kg heavyweight goes nosing around for his daily dose of berries!

I, who had momentarily felt like a ‘wildlife’ photographer, was quickly put in my place. This ‘wild and dangerous’ animal, visited the neighbourhood so often, he’d even been named…Bhima! When Bhima forgot his road rules and walked in the middle of the road like most of us jay-walkers, those on Tiger Hill just go, “Hoy! Hoy!” and he obligingly moves on.

One night, when my parents and daughter decided to walk over to the neighbours for dinner (them with the mulberry patch), they almost walked into Bhima, placidly seated on top of the neighbours’ carefully tended lilies! His pale pink snout was what alerted my daughter.  Between the monkeys and dear Bhima, there’s now no jam being made on Tiger Hill. And last month, a herd of elephant were spotted close by…I wonder if they’re the berry-eating sort.

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