Monday, December 20, 2010

A Date With Death - From The Memory Lane - 2

Having lived a checkered life with frequent change of profession, at this age of 67, perhaps I have many
interesting experiences to share with the world.

A very senior cousin of my wife's had burnt his fingers in attempting rather a large scale venture of tobacco farming in late sixties. When the company wound up within a short period incurring heavy losses, being the main promoter this old gentleman had to shoulder the burden of making good of a major portion of debts. In return he got some dry lands, which fell barren for a long period of over 15 years. It was not one single piece but small and big pieces scattered along a string of small villages by the side of dense forests. Having incurred losses, this gentleman had a wish to develop at least one piece of the lands he owned, not to make up his losses but for the pleasure of seeing at least a green garden out of the losses. Being still active in a couple of big businesses (upper middle class) along with a lot of social and community services, this fellow could not materialise his dreams himself. His age - then 60+, now nearly 90 -his search for the right man to take up the job failed. I came to know of it late in 1985. I took up the challenge in 1986 living almost alone on the lands since my children in different stages of school and college had to live in city and were taken care of by their maternal grand mother, a widow having no male children. As it necessitated, my wife was alternating between the farm and the house in the city like a visiting guest to both her husband and children.

I was reasonably successful in raising a horticulture farm. The first thing I did after constructing a small farm house was digging an open well at the lowest corner of the land. In fact, a piece of less than a quarter of an acre was bought at exorbitant cost for this very purpose of digging a well as striking water at the spot was almost certain as it was situated near a natural tank. The total acreage of the lands was 36, all dry sandy loam. There was no irrigation and agriculture was solely dependent on rain fall which was medium and erratic. So horticulture was the best option as also the land was on the slope of a hill having little or no retention of rain water. Water was struck at a depth of 30 feet and I dug the well with a diameter of 50 feet. (A swimming pool?!). In the dead of summer the water recuperation was 40,000 litres in 24 hours. With proper water management this kind of supply should be sufficient to develop the entire 36 acres into a horticulture farm, which I did in stages. At the time when the circumstances forced me to leave the farm after a ten year toil, the garden had 500 coconut plants some of which just had started yielding, 350 mango plants of four best varieties of the region, which were already in the third year of yielding, 500 pomegranates of a very successful hybrid variety of those days, seedlings of which I personally procured from Sangli, Maharashtra and there were a few dozens of other fruits such as jack fruit, sapota (chickoo) cashew etc. It was at this juncture of vacating the farm I survived a murder and decoity attempt. My wife was with me at the farm.

It so happened that rumours got spread in the surrounding villages that after leaving the farm I would start a money lending business in Shimoga city. Three of the servants who worked for me for over 3 years each, thought I had abundant cash (you see, I was going to start lending business as per the info they collected) and had kept it at the farm house! The leader of this gang of three was a very trusted servant and had free access even to my bed room where I kept my double barrel gun hanging on the wall, always loaded. In fact this gun helped all human and wild animal threats in the beginning. People of the surrounding villages thought I was a retired army man and I did not try to clear the misconception, because in rural India people generally think that army personnel have licence to kill! This misconception helped me greatly.

That evening after fixing a bigger rented house in the city, I returned to the farm in my motorcycle by nightfall with my wife. No sooner we parked the bike, a small boy came from nowhere and delivered a slip and told me that some unknown people had come to see me and delivered the slip asking him to pass it on to me on my return. I opened the door, emptied the motorcycle boxes of the goods which I had to fetch from city from time to time, went to the bath room and lighted the gober gas stove below the boiler. I used to take bath in the evening after the works were over. There was no power, a usual thing to which we were accustomed. Lighted a candle and while changing the dress I took out the slip from the pocket. It was written in a very childish language. But the text could be clearly understood. I quickly looked at the wall where the the gun was hanging. It was not there! Raised my head towards the ceiling at the corner; the open door to the attic was staring at me; a few stars in the dark sky were visible through the gap of a couple of removed tiles. Panic started to set in. The very thing that had given me enormous courage, my gun was absent and the note said if I did not send my wife with all cash and valuables at 11 o'clock to a lonely place on the top of the hillock behind the house, both of us would be shot dead. The note also warned me not to use the phone, as the decoits were hiding in the bushes very near to the house and would come to know if I talked over phone.

Even though the phone connection was given to me on priority considering my situation living alone away from any human settlement at least by 2 kilometers, the line used to remain dead most of the time. There were 27 pylons erected to lay the line to connect from the main road which was three kilometers away from the house. I had to go personally to the rural exchange at a small town 7 Kms away to complain every time when the line went off. Those days there was no cell phone and BSNL, then DoT, was monopolistic service provider for telecommunication. I don't think I need to explain the quality of DoT service in those days, but the lineman at Sowlanga, where the rural exchange stood was a nice and compassionate man.would attend my complaint at the earliest. But his availability was always a problem as he was in charge of over half a dozen villages spread over some 15 Kms area. My phone was out of order for the previous 5 days and I could not contact Puttanna, the lineman. Only that morning while going to Shimoga, I had gone to his house and told his wife to tell Puttanna to set right my telephone line. He had already gone to some other village to make a new connection.

With much fears, not because the decoits would listen but because if the line was not working at all, I lifted the receiver and to my good luck there was dial tone and the trunk call, - yes, it was STD, not a direct call to Shimoga, but got immediately connected. That much was pure, a great luck as proved later. I kept myself very calm once the line got connected and my contact in Shimoga came on line. I briefly told him that I am in extreme danger and to fetch as many people as possible as fast as he could. The next two hours were felt like a millennium! The decoits did not come to know of my calling Shimoga and were waiting for 11 o'clock, hiding in the bushes very next behind the house and they simply fled as soon as they heard the sound of the Jeep and saw the head lights directed towards the farm from a distance. This we came to know only the next day when one of the three was caught by the police.

The Jeep arrived by 10:30 with six men prepared and ready to face any situation. That kind of the contact I had in Shimoga. Four of them remained with us and two went to the police station which was at the taluk headquarters 18 Kms away. Police came at around 12 midnight, but in the pitch darkness could not make a search even though they had come equipped with arms. Next morning one fellow was caught hiding in the forests. The whereabouts of the other two were not known. The gun was recovered, cartridges intact inside the barrel, thrown in a bush on the hillock while fleeing from the scene. The one caught by the police explained later during interrogation that they, - all three were my trusted servants, - planned to murder both of us even if we had surrendered and run away to Bombay the same night with the (imagined) booty!

Preciuos power did not arrive throughout!

Without a second thought we vacated the farm and moved to Shimoga the very next day without waiting for the preplanned date; we were given the keys to the new house the previous day. I am happy to have survived to write this account today.

It took full two years for me to get back my weapon through court. I have still retained it and as always it is loaded and lying in my bedroom!

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