The Visit

As the calendar flipped into August the Covid cases started climbing down in the Nilgiris. Gradually the State government eased the restrictions and movement was permitted. 


Perhaps I could resume my morning walks soon. I so missed the morning jaunt. Saying hello to the tiny Pied Bushchat, soaking the sights of the distant Mukurthi ranges and pausing at my little coffee shop called KGK.

Early morning as I would savour the filter kaapi there would be the usual tractors parked, stray dogs wandering, horses grazing and a tired old auto rickshaw parked adjacent to the gate of a nondescript Helipad. ‘No Trespassing’ said the board but the gates were never shut nor was the guard booth ever occupied.

Then walk back home watching the play of the rising sunlight on the tea gardens and watch for any activity in the lake. And occasionally dodge the Wild Bison.

But right now I had a set of chores to accomplish. As I drove out I noticed some broken road patches were being repaired. Life is really getting back on track I thought.

I was glad to hear that all our favourite Baker’s were open again. I was already sniffing hot buns from Aazam, rich plum cake & croissants from Virtues, bagels & donuts from Smyrna and the honey cake from LakhDe.

With these dreamy thoughts I parked and got about the real business of honouring the procurement list. An hour later as I trudged back the image of bakery goodies started tantalizing my senses. Sometimes it is difficult to resist a temptation. Does anyone know a cure?

It was noon and the weather was perfect. Cool breeze flew across the market road and the clouds tempered the Sun. Maybe I can walk all the way to Virtues Bakery I thought, I’m sure there won’t be any parking available there in any case.

As I stepped close to Virtues I was surprised. Not one car was parked in the limited parking spot. Just a few busy looking policeman. Strange. From that spot I noticed the tiny Imperial Bakery was open too. 

If there is one place in Ooty where you get a perfect cup of tea then it is Imperial Bakery. Actually no outlet can make a decent cup of tea in this coffee crazy South India. Just like you never get a good cup of coffee in any joint in North India.

The promise of hot chai and their crispy samosa had me swiftly at the door of Imperial. 

“Hello Praveen, its been so long”, I greeted my friend the owner.

“Good to see you again, I noticed you were coming and I’ve already asked him to make your chai”, smiled Praveen.

“I walked all the way from Commercial road, if I had known parking was available then I would have been here sooner”, I grinned.

“Oh, but you won’t be able to park here for sometime now. The President is coming tomorrow”, he responded.

” President? Which President?”, I questioned. Our State has two key political parties who take turns to rule the State. Was one of them coming I wondered.

“The President of India”, he stated simply passing me my hot chai.

“What? Really”, I couldn’t believe it. Our little town really.

“For how long?”, I continued my naive course of interrogation.

“Four days”

“What ! Really, four days in Ooty?”. 

I was flummoxed. Busy people often wonder what one can do in this tiny town on the 3rd day and here the President of India was coming for 4. Incredible.

The hot chai helped soothe for a moment while I tried to digest this news. 

Back in the car and heading home everything was making sense on the road now. Furious paint work was on the sidewalks and even the dusty board proclaiming the Office of Superintendent of Police was now beaming a fresh life. 

Goodness even the Ooty lake and the garden next to our house was getting a fresh scrub. Like a typical Indian household all attempts were in motion to impress the big visitor.

As I shared the news of the visit at home a logistical query cropped up. How would the President arrive? It is 3 hours by road from Coimbatore our closest airport. 

Then the news flashed. The President was going to land in a Helicopter. And the Helipad was none other than the one opposite my little coffee shop – KGK.

Next morning we heard an enormous chopper landed at the once sleepy Helipad behind our house. The President had arrived.

Then our distinguished visitor did what a distinguished visitor does. Visit the Botanical garden, plant a tree, give a lecture at the Defence Services Staff College in nearby Wellington, attend a special dance performance by the Toda Tribal et all.

While the President was busy I was curious to visit my coffee shop KGK and check the activity at the Helipad. And sure enough the gate was gleaming with a rich new blue paint. Serious looking policemen and barricades manned the entrance. While a police van, fire tender and an ambulance were stationed on the heli-field above.

“Kaapi please Akka”, I requested the old lady at my coffee shop.

The owner was present too. We smiled at each other.

“Yesterday must have been quite a day with the President arriving?”, I asked holding the hot kaapi glass in my palms.

” Oh yes. Such excitement”, he concurred.

“Did the President come for a cup of coffee?”, I asked in jest.

” No ! And thank god for that. There were at least a thousand people. I don’t have so much coffee”, he replied.

We both exchanged a laugh.

While the President’s movement was causing some inconvenience there were some instant benefits too. You see the obscure Helipad was connected to the Governor’s House – Raj Bhavan by series of small roads. All these were miraculously restored to race track conditions.

Finally the day arrived for our dignitary to depart. But the Nilgiri weather God’s watching probably wanted more work done. Sometimes we humans forget who the Big Boss actually is.

The Storm clouds were building again. Saturday morning the Helicopter arrived but a landing was determined too risky. Which meant Plan B was put in motion. The President and his convoy would depart by road.

There are two roads that connect Nilgiris to the plains below. The quicker and busier Coonoor road which everyone prefers or the scenic & quiet Kotagiri road which takes 20 mins longer which I love.

On Sunday as I bought the newspaper from the market I had a smile. The President went via the Kotagiri road. Whatever patches had to be repaired there would be leveled for sure. The Visit had its gifts even while departing.
_——————.     ——-

The Helipad post “The Visit”

Sunrise over the Mukurthi Ranges

Crash ! Boom ! Bang !

” Then bang he scored the winning goal”, narrated Ayaan at the dining table, giving us a vivid description of the football match consumed the previous night. 


It is the month of July and the Euro Championship is moving to its final stages. The excitement at home is palpable with team standings and score sheets being updated daily. With the School closed for annual vacations Ayaan has permission to watch one late match a day. Fortunately his favourite footballing nation Brazil doesn’t play Euros so it’s joyful for him to keep shuffling his ‘new favourite’ team 😀.


Meanwhile outside our house the rain gods are working overtime. It is the monsoon season and it’s been a week since the Sun shone bright over Ooty. The days are cold, grey and wet.

And so gradually we arrive at the culmination of the Euro Finals with Italy playing England at Wembley. The final is scheduled to start post midnight at 12:15 am India time. We all tuck-in early to bed and set the alarm for midnight. No one wants to miss this bus, surely not Ayaan.


As we doze off the storm outside gathers speed. The winds are lashing and the rain pelts us furiously. At midnight we assemble, tucked under thick blankets. It is biting cold and the oil heater is switched on to warm the room.


The football match starts and an early goal from England sets the excitement soaring. The roaring storm outside is forgotten for now.


It is close to half time when suddenly we hear a BOOM outside. In that moment we instantly exchange glances wondering what fell to cause that sound. The next instant the power voltage fluctuates wildly and SNAP we lose power. It is pitch dark and pouring furiously making it impossible to investigate. I guess it is a branch that toppled and snapped an electricity wire.


With little choice we take the next sensible step which is to switch on the UPS and continue watching the Finals. With Italy equalizing the match duly heads to extra time and finally to penalties when Italy inch it to lift the trophy. It is close to 3:30 am and we at last shut down and groggily fall asleep.


It is a disturbed sleep as I wonder about the cause of the electricity failure. In the morning I notice the storm has reduced but as I step into the terrace the sight hits me. 


It is a massive Jacaranda branch that fell off and smashed an iron electric pole in our garden. A tall iron pole weighs close to 400 Kg and it is now bent helplessly to a V shape. So strong was the impact that there are strewn pieces of branches and dangling electric wires in the garden, the fence and even the road outside.


My heart sinks with the visuals. Being a Monday morning I wonder how many days it will take to restore power at home. We are a remote house and during stormy seasons the Electricity Department -TNEB prioritizes repair work based on the number of people impacted.


But today unknown to us the roll of dice is going in our favor. 


After a quick breakfast I take a few pictures of the carnage and head to the TNEB Sub Division office. I take a longer circuitous road just to check how many other wires or poles are damaged in our area. Incredibly there are none which means I might get the Department to attend to our problem sooner.


When I reach the office the storm has paused entirely. I lodge my complaint in the register and notice the Assistant Engineer is in. We make eye contact and he gestures at me to come over. I show him the pictures in my phone and he raises his eyebrows and immediately asks the Lineman Rammoorthy and two men to go over to our place. 


I can’t believe our luck. At best I had hoped for them to visit by afternoon but they are instantly at home to take stock.


Rammoorthy gets to work and is busy making calls in Tamil. After 15 minutes, he looks at me and our typical broken English – Tamil conversation takes place.


“Branches need to be cut, get a new pole, re-fix the wires and then we charge the lines” he puts the remedy simply.


In my head this seemed like a minimum 2-3 days at the earliest. I mean how long would it take for a pole to arrive for instance? But I mustered courage to ask the obvious question.


“Err, Sir, when do you think the power could be restored ?”Rammoorthy looks me in the eye and simply states, ” By afternoon”. I am simply bewildered to fathom a response. 


But like I shared, the roll of the dice was in our favor today. In a few minutes the Assistant Engineer arrives with a full team of 13 men from TNEB. All equipped with the necessary equipment namely ropes, axes, wires, a whole sack full of bolts, some curious looking parts and a chainsaw.


As I now understood the entire operation hinged on 3 parts being completed. First remove the fallen branches & wires, then procure a new electric pole and finally install the pole with fresh wiring. 


Unfortunately the process to chop and remove the branches was tedious. The TNEB men were putting their best but one massive large branch hunched over the pole was proving a bottleneck. Even their chainsaw wasn’t effective. Meanwhile Suresh was brewing a round of hot cup of tea with biscuits on the side for the hard working party.


Well I thought we will just see how it goes with a sense of gloom building as an hour passed by and progress moved at a crawling pace. 

And that’s when I turned my gaze to the main gate and saw him.

Just five and a half feet tall, in a worn out dark brown jacket with his bearded face holding a mighty electric chainsaw. 


Abu Wakad had arrived.


“Abu !”, I called out with my heart soaring in gratitude. Abu is the caretaker of the Kabaristan (cemetery) at the end of the Deer Park Road. He smiled back and we had a quick fluent conversation in Hindi. “TNEB informed me that help was needed, here I am”, he summarized.


And Abu got to work. For the next twenty minutes everyone, the TNEB team in the garden and Sim, Ayaan & Suresh watching from the windows stopped what they were doing and watched a master at work. He cut precise wedges at the right angles and weakened the branch at multiple places. Finally the branch was cut into three pieces and we had passed our first hurdle. 


As Abu prepared to leave, a Jeep arrived with a new pole. In a matter of half hour the mood had swung. Surely there was light at the end of the tunnel.


Installing a 400 kg pole using ropes and arm strength is quite a task. But first two pitch forks were procured. For what you may ask? Well to dig a hole deep enough to install the new pole of course! We are in a simple town in the Mountains where basic tools and human endeavour are all you have at your disposal. 


Shortly the resting ground for the new pole was prepared. Then with ropes tied on branches to form a pulley two groups were formed. One group to manually push up the pole and another group opposite them with rope to pull the electricity pole upright. There were shouts of encouragement in each attempt to balance the pole. But it was precarious as the 400 kg iron standard was tottering under its weight and was put down each time.


A moment to catch the breath and we were at it again with me desperately in the group pulling the rope. My hands were almost on fire with the heat from clutching the rope. Finally success. The pole aligned straight and quickly with stones it was supported at the base. Phase 2 was over. 


Now it was a race against time to complete the final third phase of wiring up the poles. Why a race against time you ask? Were the storm clouds approaching again you guess ? No. It was almost 1pm and I was paranoid that if the team broke for lunch they may not come back immediately. 


I sheepishly asked the Assistant Engineer,” Will they complete the wiring now?”. “Yes of course”, he reassured, then paused, “yes, it is almost lunch time but they should be able to wire the poles”.


Breathing a sigh of relief I watched a man rappel up and slung the new wires back on top of the pole. Finally in half an hour the wiring work was complete. All that had to be done was charging of the lines and power would be restored. 


As the men packed up the tools to leave I thanked them profusely. Having suffered a week’s outage in the previous year this half day turn around to normalcy was remarkable. 


“Light has come”, announced Sim. “Please put the geyser on, I so need a nice hot bath”. And surely CRASH for an afternoon nap !


—–***—–The title of this blog is a little ode to Roxette who gave us beautiful music in the 90’s and Marie the Lead singer who passed away 1.5 years back. RIP !

Wat-er issue

Its the month of March 2021. Spring is in bloom as the Sun shines beautifully each morning and the skies are clear Blue. I have been busy rapidly planting a variety of flowers and herbs. Meanwhile the town is bustling with tourist while yes there are some reports of Covid rising in Mumbai & Delhi but nothing much to worry about it seemed.


The air is fresh and you wonder what could go wrong. Well one morning we discovered there wasn’t any water in the pipes.

For our household supply we have a ten thousand litre overhead tank directly connected to the Municipal supply. And for back up another ten thousand litre tank which is an underground tank. In emergency we use a motor to pump water from below to the overhead tank and feed the house.

This was an emergency as all taps were dry, so the motor was quickly switched on to topup the main tank.

But the question remained, why was there a disruption? Was there some issue with the pumping station at the reservoir or was there a leak in one of the Municipal pipes through the woods leading to our house?

I called the Water Inspector and he promptly asked me to check with the Supervisor. The Supervisor didn’t take my call but dropped by in the evening.

The conversation was typical. I asked in English and he replied in Tamil. It seemed a bridge too far but the water broke rather the reasoning splashed on my face.

Well the Town was brimming full with tourist and the hotels needed more water. So the water was being diverted and hence the ‘pressure’ at it which it was released to our house was low. 

Simply put water pressure wouldn’t climb up 15 feet to reach the main tank. But at lower pressure it would trickle continually and fill the emergency underground tank. All I had to do was keep pumping water each day via the motor to the overhead main tank.

Well there wasn’t anything i could do but accept.

This bought one immediate change in the daily routine. There were patches of herbs, vegetables and young flowers to water. 

I had one remedy. Our house had four large drums filled with rainwater, something which we never actually used. Well now maybe I could fill the water canister and manually water the patches.

This looked simple in design but was quite an hourly exercise carrying a heavy water canister over a topsy-turvy hilly gradient. 


And so for a couple of weeks this daily watering workout continued. Usually ending with lying under my favourite fruit tree sipping a hot cuppa Ginger tea.

One morning as I sat sipping I wondered what would provide some relief, perhaps the April rains would arrive earlier ?

But the April showers were beaten by another developing phenomenon. Covid was ravaging the Metro cities and it seemed imminent that trouble would arrive in our little town soon.

And so it happened, the Administration took action and one immediate casualty was tourist traffic. The Town went eerily quiet. The boating in Ooty lake stopped.

The next morning while I was recuperating with my ginger tea I heard one of the sweetest sounds. Water ! It was gushing gleefully in the main overhead tank. Finally the ‘pressure’ was back on.

Now no more lugging the heavy canister. I could use the garden hose pipe. 

But loh I was in for more joy. A few days later the April Mango showers arrived in full glory. From now the herb – vegetable patches and the flowers would be nurtured by Nature. 

The water issue was a non issue.

Buddy

Last week at noon time the normal activities were in motion. We were closeted in our respective rooms hunched over our screens.

Occasionally I would look out to soak the greenery. A car happened to pass on the road outside and Chocolate gave a furious chase from our side of the fence. Interestingly another object was tailing Chocolate and barking along.

Well maybe Chocolate has got her friend over I thought. This had happened a couple of times in the past few months. But unlike earlier pals this one seemed a lot smaller in size.

Stepping out to check I was in for a surprise. It was a Pup.

Each morning post breakfast Chocolate would head out in the woods or to the nearby village, maybe this time she discovered a Pup and tagged it back. Well we had neutered Chocolate long back and maybe she decided to take matters in her own hands. Hmm.

Around this time Ayaan walked out of his room after his online class. “Wow, a Pup?” And in a second the Pup was in his hand which delighted both of them.

In the last two years Chocolate had grown in size and had developed her independent views. For Ayaan as he lifted and tickled the Pup it was joy unmatched. A memory reclaimed.

Meanwhile Sim got some food and the Pup gobbled it in record time.It was seeming to me that perhaps the Pup was going nowhere. It wanted a home, love and food. And Ayaan was soaking the raptures.

In between madame Chocolate trooped back to a bewildering scenario. She couldn’t believe what she was witnessing. Sure she had got the Pup home to play and all that, but watching the Pup being cuddled by Ayaan and feeding from her bowl was agony magnified. 

She growled, she snarled, she wrestled. But the pugnacious Pup was least perturbed. A punch from Chocolate was duly returned back though in smaller measure.

Gradually as the day passed Chocolate and the Pup got into a typical relationship. One minute they would play and the next squabble then play again. They even found time to wrestle and damage the coriander patch 😦

We were now faced with a big choice. Do we go to the village and inquire or do we keen the Pup at home?

And sometimes life forces take things in their own hands. The next two days it poured and there was no way I was taking the Pup out to the village to investigate.

Simultaneously the Pup was adjusting happily at home and changing a few routines.

Chocolate who would sleep in the living room shifted with Pup in the store room. Which was great for us as it ensured a quiet night for us all.

Then Ayaan asked the obvious question, “We need a name for the Pup right?”
Maybe Chocolate needed a pal so how about Buddy. A for Ayaan, B for Buddy and C for Chocolate”.
“Yes, I like it” and he put his seal of approval.

++++++++++

Late Night Encounters

Late Night Encounters::
“Tomorrow morning ill let you know how Liverpool fared”, I assured Ayaan as he tucked into bed. 

The Champions League football matches are played mid-week and our time zone ensures that its practically impossible to watch live. Because matches start at 1:30am India Time.

My own sleep ritual is to keep the BBC football page open on my phone. So that whenever I get up I can check the scores immediately. 

But tonight was going to be different as I was going to realize.

At some point in the night Chocolate started barking. Which isn’t entirely rare, but this time her bark was stronger.
Sim had sent Chocolate out of the front door. It was quite cold and misty but our warrior was out in a flash.

Grudgingly I pulled myself out of my warm blankets. 12:30am showed the clock. Woolen socks on and head & ears covered I ventured out. Something about her bark made me wonder.

I opened the door to the terrace to get a larger view of the gardens. Then I froze. On the ground below me stood a large wild bison. And a few feet away Madame Chocolate was barking furiously.

It was a strange match up. An average Wild Bison weighs 1000 kilos and is documented to cause human casualties if disturbed. On the other corner was her opponent weighing 19.3 kilos.

“Dogs don’t know their size, in their head they feel like a Lion”, a friend had shared long back.

Chocolate’s self illusion was winning the turf war. The Wild Bison now disturbed in its late night snack moved away from the garden and headed to the vegetable patch.

This solved one problem while creating another. The vegetable patch had no vegetables but lots of delicious grass as the Frosting weeks had slowed our farming activities. From the terrace I couldn’t view but only hear sounds of grass being chewed, an occasional snort and Chocolates movements.

” Come back Chocolate” I yelled. Then pleaded. But she was in no mood to leave the Bison. The Bison was in no mood to leave the lush grass. And I was desperate to get inside.

After a while with no luck in enticing Chocolate in, I went back inside and resigned myself to a long night of wait and watch. On impulse I picked the phone.

The football match was about to start. It was past 1am.

Suddenly the night and the events stopped feeling gloomy. Liverpool got on to a bright start and midway was leading 2-0. The game continued with intrigue on the football patch and the vegetable patch. Attacking gestures, deft movements and barks of encouragement.

Liverpool held on to win. As if on cue Chocolate got weary of the Bison and came back and went straight to her sack.

It was well past 3am but I thought there is always a brighter side to everything and switched off.

” Who won Dad?”quizzed Ayaan early morning.
“Liverpool won and Chocolate had a hard earned draw”, I summed up the Late Night Encounters.
–++++

On the trail of the Log Cake

Like all good tales this begins with a conversation and a cup of tea.

It’s a weekday morning and I am just back from an exploration trip, excitedly sharing my discovery with Praveen the owner of Imperial Bakery. Also the spot in town for perfect chai and Samosa’s.

“During my school days we would explore a lot more but the real treat was going over to King’s Star Bakery. They would have fresh Honey Cake, Ribbon
Cake, Japanese Cake and Log Cake”, Praveen mused

“Log Cake, what’s that?”, having sampled the first three this was new to me.

“Yeah, unfortunately its not available now. Folks of this generation only want Black Forest Cake”, he added with a shrug, “but you could try your luck at
their shop across the street, you never know”.

With the hot chai having revitalized my soul I headed across in all earnestness to King’s Star. Unfortunately the shutters were down.

But hey right next door was Virtues Bakery, a place rated highly by my friends Kris & Resa. What better time than now to make my first visit?

So in I walked and declared my request. The staff said no we don’t make it anymore. But the owner behind the counter turned his head.

He had that forlorn look before he added, “people nowadays just want Black Forest”.

Strangely Black Forest was now sounding like a Black Plague.

I came back and shared my discovery and new mission at home with Sim & Ayaan. Which turned out to be a mistake.

Next day post breakfast Ayaan asked, ” Dad will you find the Log Cake?”. I wondered if this is how Vasco da Gama, Shackleton, Christy Columbus, Magellan et all felt the same at some point.

Meanwhile a fierce storm was brewing in horizon and life’s priorities changed. Critical matters like Log Cake fell off while mundane matters like power supply – visit to Electricity Office, a charged computer for Ayaan’s mid-term assessment, heating Hot Water for Bath etc took over.

After three days the Storm finally passed. The Sun was back and on cue Ayaan inquired, “Will you find the Log Cake?”

It was time to source fresh leads. My friend Harshad who runs a flourishing textile business suggested I visit Jai’s Kings Star. An off shoot of the original King’s Star.

It was Friday evening. “Ayaan do you want to come for an adventure?”, I quizzed. I’m guessing he said Yes because in a flash he was out to open the gate.

We drove into Town and surprisingly got parking right opposite Jai’s King Star. The Town was clearly coming back to life but to my dismay the shop was shuttered.

So off we went to Willy’s to nibble into sandwiches, cookies with coffee. Strolling back we saw Jai’s King Star had opened. What luck!

In we walked and declared our request.

“Yes, right over there”, pointed the young owner.
“Wow, I thought it’s not made anymore. I had almost given up hope”, I shared.
” Well, since the tourist had disappeared the locals kept nudging me to make it” he responded.


“I’m glad, I’ll keep coming back for more”, I beamed in anticipation.
“Oh, but the tourists are coming so I won’t be making it anymore”, he shrugged, “it will be the usual stuff… Black Forest, …”

——————————————–xxxxxxxxx————–

History of the Log Cake:

Before I headed out I did a google search and came across a delightful blog – My Parisian Kitchen. Sharing the story of the Log Yule Cake.

“The tradition comes from a very long time ago, even before one started to eat log shaped cake for Christmas. Long ago, a huge log was placed in the fireplace after being blessed to protect the house and its inhabitants (and sometimes sprinkled with oil or wine as an offering) and then burned for the occasion of Christmas Eve. The log had to be big enough to smolder overnight (and even up to Epiphany day, 12 days later in some regions!). Choosing the type of wood, the log itself, and who will place it in the fireplace or light it was of greatest importance. It is even said that ashes or the firebrand who had served were supposed to protect (from thunder, devil …). Traditions varied from one region to another (and even from one family to another).

Fire places became smaller and smaller, and cities bigger and bigger, making this tradition quite unease to respect. Logs burned in fireplaces were replaced by even smaller, sometimes decorated, placed as a table centerpiece. It is then that started to appear cakes with the shape of a wood log, even imitating bark.

As for many dishes, several stories last. Was it an invention from the Parisian pastry chef Antoine Caradot located rue de Bucy in 1879? Or from another based in the city of Lyon earlier in the 1860s? Or from Prince Charles III of Monaco’s ice cream and pastry chef, Pierre Lacam in 1898?

Nevertheless, the symbolic cake substituting wood log was quickly a success and tradition changed from a real log to a fake log, our now classic Yule log. Since the beginning, Christmas yule logs were made with Genovese sponge cake (baked in a particular mold before the cake started to be rolled up) and buttercream, already with decorations (holly, leaves, mushrooms ….). The first flavors were probably chocolate or mocha.”

Light within the carnage

On Tuesday night the storm arrived. The fierce winds and pelting rains would continue for the week. Power supply in our town was an obvious casualty.

A day later I mustered courage to step out and check the damage. Bent steel electric poles and toppled trees strewn all around. The carnage was lethal unlike the one’s I had seen here.

As I passed St Thomas Church I saw a twisted steel pole and a two man TNEB team fixing a new pole with rustic tools in hand. When I came back a proud tall electric pole stood next to the previous bent pole.

Few sights of human grit have stirred my heart.

The scale of damage was still enormous and the TNEB team was stretched thin. But help was arriving from the neighboring districts.

Luckily Ayaan’s school had temporarily paused the online classes. Office work for Sim and me though was limping along aided by the UPS.

On the fourth day – Saturday I bumped into Rafeal the Senior Foreman and he said they would address our lane today. The major repairs on HT (high tension) lines were done and they would now pick the LT lines. My hopes rose.

Meanwhile Ayaan’s school announced the resumption of online classes starting Monday.

Unfortunately the same day a major snag hit the HT transformer and the entire town fell back into darkness. It would take a day for the snag to be fixed.

I was running out of time and hope.

The only option was to buy a generator. It would be an expense, a pain to maintain and add to some pollution but our life would resume.

Saturday evening I called the only large consumer electronics store in our town aptly called the Big Shop. No they didn’t stock Gensets but tipped me off about one distributor in town who could help.

Armed with a rough location map amidst pelting rain I found Devaraj. His office was a tiny room full of Genset and batteries stocked over each other and two plastic chairs.

Occupying our respective chair we discovered a new problem. Language. In broken English I explained my need and he seemed to understand.

Yes a Genset was available either for rent or purchase. And despite the next day Sunday being a complete lockdown he would come and install it.

The decision was about to be made when two men walked in. They had come to collect their UPS battery which was being recharged by Devaraj.

In that moment of shared suffering a conversation broke out between us. They were Techies from Bangalore who had temporarily shifted back to work from home because of Covid.

“Why don’t you look at Solar?” suggested Sampath who worked with Accenture. “Devaraj had recommended it to us, but we will be going back to Bangalore so I didn’t consider it”.

Solar seemed like an exotic remedy. A step in the unknown. And I had no knowledge about its effectiveness in the hills.

Sampath sensed the situation and stepped in as a translator. A cost benefit comparison with a Genset indicated a clear preference towards Solar.

” No running cost or maintenance and a 20 year warranty” added Devaraj.

And so in that moment a decision that I had always dreamt of was made.

Was it providence that someone walked in right then in that small shop and decided to help, I would never know.

The next day Devaraj arrived with his nephew and two kids aged 6 & 11. The sharp boys bridged the communication gap between Devaraj and me moving from Tamil to English.

The installation was swift. In an hour it was done. Solar was activated.

” Are you sure it will work?”, asked Abhimanyu aged 44 ever again anxiously.

” It has a 20 year warranty”, assured Sherwin aged 11.

Meanwhile the main power was back at home. The TNEB team had set up a parallel connection and our lane was lit up again.

But the doubt still stirred in my head. How effectively would the solar panels charge the UPS? And in ambient light how reliable was Solar?

I had even bought a MultiMeter to check the battery.

And then it happened.

The next day a truck overfilled with logs disturbed the electricity lines opposite our house. Sparks flew, the truck screeched, the voltage fluctuated all evening and at night power went kaput.

The next day I got off the bed at 6:30:am and checked the Battery health. 12.9 volt responded to the MultiMeter.

‘Well now’s the test. By half day I will know if the Solar panels will charge the UPS”, I muttered.

At 8:45:am with the mountain sun still ambient I went out to check the level. It had moved up to 13.9 volt. I was delighted.

At 10:am I tested the level and it was hitting 14.9 volt. Almost full power.

Solar had truly delivered.

Let the storms come now, the Sun will always shine behind the clouds

 

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Typical scenes across town

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New Pole to replace the Bent one

Wedding & a sense of Duty

As our vast and populous country was battling Covid our tiny little hill town was doing fine. Sure we had a few cases spring up but by and large Nilgiris was Green zoned and Covid free.
But a false sense of security can have consequences. And the folks of Nilgiri’s were going to discover soon.
There are but a fistful of large private firms in the hills. One such firm is the Needle Factory in Khetti valley. Its Public Relation Officer – PRO role is to visit surrounding villages and develop business and probably good cheer.
In May the situation seemed to be in control in the hills.
Armed with a sense of Duty and unfortunately Covid 19 the PRO wanted to make up for lost time. In a short span he completed his traveling assignment and also notched up 100 cases.
The town went in a spin. Restrictions were imposed on shops, the inter district Bus was shut and so was the Ooty Bus Stand.
As the town was recovering from the first blow a second jab was brewing.
A wedding was planned in a nearby village. Unfortunately no one wanted to miss out including Covid 19.
By the time the wedding hangover drowned and the Collector frowned, Nilgiris was playing like a Cricketer on song. Smashing half century new cases a day.
Soon Brian Lara’s epic score was surpassed. The local Covaipost stated 621 as of Friday yesterday.
” How did this happen?”, I asked amidst a conversation with my local friend Rajesh.
” Well Abhi, weddings are a community affair and unfortunately the Block Officer did not prevent it”, he elaborated, ” Infact he went for the wedding”.
” Really ! The Collector must be fuming mad”,
” Yes, he has been suspended. But he said he’s anyways in Quarantine “.

A piece of Land

“So where are you from?”, asked the dapper Mr Sajnani.

We were dining at Sunnys, Bangalore’s chic European restaurant a couple of years ago.

” Oh, we just shifted to Ooty recently”, I blubbered.

” Really”, he continued, ” you know all my vegetables come from Ooty”.

To me Ooty, rather the Nilgiri’s thrived on two prominent activities – Schools and Tourism.

This conversation planted the seeds for the third discovery.

” Tarragon, see if you can grow that”, was his passing tip.

Of course the first step for me to was to Google and know what Tarragon was? Aah a Herb I noted.

Gradually our new life settled in the mountains.

Nilgiris is blessed with spring weather through the year. Lakes abound the green hills and fresh air fills your lungs.

Tucked behind the daily signs of tourists and school busses whizzing by there seemed to a bit of farming happening in every nook and cranny.

A few months later I was to meet Mr Babu an Agent to help get the transfer paper for our car. His small office was in the heart of Ooty town.

I had to wait as he wasn’t back from lunch. As I looked around I saw an inspiring sight. Amidst the nearby commercial buildings there was a small open patch. And a man was doggedly working his mini tractor on it.

The contrast hit me hard.

In Mumbai there would be an earthmover working to create the space into a High-rise structure. Here his endeavour was to create carrots and potatoes.

Slowly we managed to get our vegetable patch in shape.

Overtime we had turnips, potatoes, beans, peas, carrots, radish, coriander booming in our garden.

But for me it was more of a Zamindar approach to farming. Help was available and my role was to limited to procuring material. I wasn’t actually dirtying my hands.

Once while driving a large bend I saw a Truck zip past in high speed. I noticed two large words on the front window – Vegetable Express.

I thought it was cute. Considering the speed at which he was flying. Or perhaps an urgent delivery for Sunnys in Bangalore.

Sometimes if you see something different you wonder if there is a pattern. I seemed to be seeing plenty of Vegetable Express in town.

” Abu how many Vegetable Express trucks are there in town?”, I quizzed at our favourite fruit store.

” I think more than 3000, why do you ask?” he wondered.

” Just curious”, I replied. A bit like Ayaan’s Secret Seven the pieces seem to be falling in place.

Meanwhile Life continued.

And then Covid happened.

As I adjusted to a new daily rhythm my eyes opened to fresh avenues.

Time was available in plenty. And with work shut down there was no excuse of being busy. Why not pick the pitchfork and start?

The mind of course had lots of rational doubts. Why dig if there aren’t any Seeds available in the lockdown. Where would i source the vermi composte from..

But I decided. Dig first and figure out everything else along the way.

And like they say if you walk along a cool path the path will support you.

Working the pitchfork for an hour I discovered was a terrific exercise. Over a few weeks I was fitter. On cue Ayaan was pottering around too.

” If you dig a little every day you can’t have a bad thought in your head” shared Kris from his experience in Sweden.

With the vegetable patch getting ready i felt why not work the flowers too. So on a hunch I went to check if the Blue Mountain Nursery was open.

What luck.

And the normally busy owner had all the time to chat. He helped get Hydrangea, Dianthus, Sedum. While i was billing i noticed packets of Herb seeds.

Wow I wondered. Maybe the Tarragon prophecy comes true. Maybe i can try Herbs next.

The typical mind flashed – But Abhi you don’t know basil from parsley, rosemary from thyme.

Who cares ..we will dig and figure it out.

 

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Boardgames & Rations

Boardgames have been a super hit last few months. And since May with the resumption of delivery services iv been ordering new games at the rate of ordering take aways.

Despite a growing number of Boardgames the top game for Ayaan had always been King of Tokyo. A fun game where powerful figures compete to rule Tokyo. On each turn you have multiple choices to attack, heal or build which makes the game fascinating.

The pattern though was getting set. A new game would arrive, Id learn the rules and we would play. A few hours later Ayaan would invariably come back and say, ” but we have to play King of Tokyo also ?”.

Then Forbidden Desert arrived. This game flipped everything. To begin with its a collaborative game. A space craft has crashed in the Desert. You have to find the missing parts – engine, propeller, solar capsule, et and flee before the Desert gets you. You choose a role between a set of adventurers – Archaeologist, Water Carrier, Navigator, Explorer, Meteorologist each with unique abilities and start your Adventures.

Ayaan’s been hooked. So far we have had a 50% survival rate as we all have to get out together. Key is to plan Water rationing very carefully.

While we were practicing rationing in the imaginary world the real world caught up with us.

This week I woke up to no power. Which seemed unusual as heavy rains hadn’t arrived yet.

After a while I called Ramamoorthy the Linesman to check.

“We have some painting to finish so as a precautionary measure we have shut it for now”, he explained.

Temporary lack of power is not an issue in the hills. At 7200 feet height no one needs a Fan here. And the daylight takes care of internal lighting. Its the night that becomes an issue. But hey I have a UPS and that can take care for a while.

The power didn’t arrive in the night and Ramamoorthy said he would check the next day. We switched to UPS rationing mode.

Morning I went to the Sub Station office 500 meters from home.

I walked to the Assistant Engineer who was standing outside and inquired.

He had an annoyed look, ” The road department was trimming the shrubs and dead branches. They weren’t careful and they have short circuited the supply lines at multiple places”.

The entire team was heading out to find specific fault lines and fix. A painstaking activity.

The team would cater to the populated parts first before coming to the quiet Deer Park Road. Minority last on priority. Which makes sense in this case.

Meanwhile more rationing time.

The next day UPS was on its last leg. And I was back in the sub station. Ramamoorthy the Linesman is out working on it they said.

I didn’t have much to do. So I went looking to check where he was working.

I found Ramamoorthy and his young assistant in a discussion. They had found the faulty pole. The young lad was about to rappel up using his arms and legs.

On cue the neighbouring Farmer and the Caretaker from the Forest Department Guest House walked up. And so did Chocolate’s pals the three stray dogs of Deer Park Road.

No one wanted to miss the late afternoon show.

The young man was now up and Ramamoorthy was firing rapid instructions in Tamil. After a while it was discovered that the problem was more complex.

Ramamoorthy decided to rappel up. I was surprised, he was probably 50 and plumpish to my eye. But lo behold, he seemed to roll back the decades and was up in a flash. I was full of respect and wonder.

It was getting late evening but luckily the rain clouds stayed away. Atlast the glitch was finally fixed and the two star acts rappelled down to our gratitude.

Back home we finally had Power and the starved UPS could happily recharge itself.

“Dad now lets play some Boardgames”, chirped Ayaan, ‘Im getting Forbidden Desert”.

“Of course, makes sense, bring it on !”.

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