When keeper turns trapper

The grassy, biodiverse patch in and around the farm ends up drawing unwanted and often perilous attention from time to time.
Last Updated 16 April 2022, 20:15 IST

Most fields in Navilu Kaadu’s vicinity are rainfed and lie fallow in between planting seasons. Our neighbours detest weeds, grass and most trees. Tamarind trees are the only trees of value in these parts. Even the revered banyan is fast losing favour, with many a grand tree falling prey to the chainsaw for paltry sums. That is a story for another day.

At Navilu Kaadu, we interfere sparingly with the natural vegetation to the point of derision from our neighbours, for leaving our parcel unkempt! As natural farmers, chemical weedicides are off-limits, manual de-weeding is prohibitively expensive, and labour crunch is a major bugbear we contend with.

The upshot is a grassy biodiverse little patch with lizards, insects, rodents, snakes, bulbuls, larks, peafowls, mongooses, black-naped hares and many other beings making themselves at home and raising generations of young ones in nests and burrows.

Though safe within Navilu Kaadu’s perimeter, these creatures end up drawing unwanted attention from time to time and find themselves in peril.

It was a day when we had sparse hands on the farm that I walked in on a strange sight at our mango plot. Our two helpers seemed to have turned to stone. Mariyappa, our neighbour-cum-caretaker, stood frozen with his left arm outstretched and his right arm pulled back, striking a Usain Bolt pose. Kumara, his companion, stood still with a hand on either hip. I noticed something else as I tiptoed in their direction — a big stone in Mariyappa’s right hand.

The scene turned animated and Mariyappa hurled the stone with all his might. The missile appeared to have missed its mark as the grass came alive around the spot where it fell, and something scurried towards the fence.

It was possibly a black-naped hare, an Indian garden lizard, a grey francolin (a ground-dwelling bird) or even a lucky snake that narrowly missed ending up in the duo’s bellies that day.

Many locals in the region have a proclivity for wild meat, and Mariyappa had the most notoriety in this regard. Visiting farmhands had primed us about his taste for exotic meat when we hired him as Navilu Kaadu’s caretaker.

Raiding bird nests and trapping animals were no mere pastimes, but Mariyappa’s life pursuits. He was like a feral cat whose rapacious instincts got the better of him at the sight of anything that hopped, scurried, slithered or flew! There was nothing he wouldn’t devour and no animal, barring humans, whose meat he didn’t relish.

On another day, Mariyappa didn’t return for a while after I dispatched him to find wooden poles to serve as markers for our foot-high jackfruit saplings. Enquiries with other farmhands revealed that he had spotted a monitor lizard in the pit by our main gate. Sending word didn’t help since nothing could distract the man from his mission.

I finally had to haul myself towards the pit. ‘Uda, Uda’, a visibly excited Mariyappa exclaimed as I approached. The monitor lizard had by then made a providential escape into the bushes beyond our fence. ‘Ashtu maamsa haalaaythalla (so much meat just went waste) he rued wistfully.

I had to remind him that the ‘Uda’ and anything else that crossed his path at Navilu Kaadu was out of bounds and redeploy his attention towards scouting for marker poles.

Another desire of Mariyappa’s was to have a muster of peacocks strutting about his yard. He reared chickens and was actively examining ways to introduce peafowl to his flock. I was aware that he kept an eye out for peafowl nests at our farm.

Mariyappa lasted but a few months in our service. Thankfully, our present caretaker doesn’t share his predecessor’s taste for ‘bush meat’.

As for Mariyappa, he got his wish. We now see a lone domesticated peacock grazing among his chickens. Is the bird from a wild peafowl nest at Navilu Kaadu? I can’t say for sure.

Rooting For Nature is a monthly column on an off-kilter urban family’s trysts with nature on a natural farm.

The author chipped away at a software marketing career before shifting gears to communications consulting and natural farming. She blogs at www.bluejaydiaries.com and posts as @ramyacoushik on Instagram

(Published 16 April 2022, 19:55 IST)

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