CHENNAI: My father is one of those people who, the more they are thwarted, the more energetic they become — except that his nervous energy, lacking an outlet, was apt to splutter, spark and fizzle out, like a damp busvaanam. Following the fence debacle, it was my mother who stepped in, offering counsel in her calm, even voice: with a full crop of rice covering every inch of our fields, water was of perennial importance. She hadn’t forgotten KingKong’s warning that despite two wells, the possibility of water scarcity from February was very real. Baulked by the fence issue — and he was by no means reconciled to that situation — my father took her advice: our wells were to be de-silted.
This was a protracted process involving several presumably knowledgeable persons, all of whom immediately began long stories of their great-great-grandfathers digging wells in their own backyards and finding water at 10 feet — or at 1000, depending on whether they wanted to reassure or roundly terrify us. Lost in negotiations, my father swiftly joined hands with our landlord and employed a team that set up shop at once, next to our first well. Their paraphernalia resembled equipment for a complicated PSLV launch: first there was a wooden table; then an assortment of wires, machinery and ropes; two men traipsed everywhere, shouting at the tops of their voices. Jolly Giant, attracted by the hullabaloo, dropped his precious manvetti and looped in. Upon being told of the upcoming venture, he promptly tucked in his kaili and simply skittered down the uneven, rugged, stony slopes of our well! As we peered in, horrified, yelling out our concern, he poked his head out, sangfroid intact. “Lots of mud down here,” he announced, climbing back up like an experienced alpinist, finding footholds and handholds seemingly everywhere. “Good decision to de-silt.”
His approval now gained — as the onlookers commented sarcastically — the men set up a winch and cable system, dropping buckets to fill up the swampy mud within the well, while my mother and I established ourselves under a gnarled palm-tree. Around our feet were spread out packets of bio-fertilizers such as Azospirillum and Phosphobacteria, which I religiously cut open and mixed with buckets of the organic manure we’d procured. These would be strewn over the fields while another manure, Pseudomonas, would be sprayed from bottles. Hill stood watching over our backs, eyebrows quirked. His contretemps had vanished from his mind, it seemed — in fact, the recent Panchayat had almost faded from PreciousGems’ recollection. People wandered in and out of our farm these days, to take a look at our “fertiliser-less” fields; most literally “touched their nose” and shook their heads at our silly ways.
A week after manure had been added, dragonflies began to buzz around our crops, targeting the stems.
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)