It was one of those working days at the farm. My uncle would bring down their workers from Granny’s place. Farm works would usually be scheduled on the Sundays, or it was just that Sunil and I would be home on those days and it appeared to be so. Because there used to be some other days as well, when we’d meet them in the evening while back from school. They’d be washing the dirt off their hands and legs at the sink beside the cowshed after work. We had known the workers well, since they had been working for us from my grandfather’s time. The relationship we shared with them was more than a ‘owner – woker’. They had respect for my mother and showed affection towards us kids. Of all, Seeta, Itara and Naran were like the family members. They’d come over for every little chore at home, some that couldn’t be handled by mom, she’d just call them over when seen passing by or have any of them know about it. For which they would accept no wage and do it as a favour. Sometimes they’d be home for a coffee or an evening conversation.
Today it was another such day. They arrived in group with my uncle and went to change their clothes in an empty cowshed next to the house. The cows were sold by my uncle when we lived in Bangalore. I remember my mother saying we had about two cows when I was just born. One given by my mother’s mother and another by father’s mother. Both my grandmothers had given one each. Wonder if it was a tradition!
The men had put on their dirt smeared clothes, which they called as their work uniforms. A while after they left to the farms, along with my uncle, I climbed down too, Sunil behind me. The areca trees had been of same height since the time I was seeing them and never seemed to have grown furthermore taller. We walked through it’s rows, to the adjoining farm, glaring and airy, finishing to the paddy field above. Both of us hurdled a small passing stream. The men were at the lake smaller than the one in the farm next. When we had reached, a few of them were down already, stumbling in the paste of mud. The morning sunlight on their bodies as they worked their way all over in the soft watery mud. One or two remained at the top, to help them out with things if required. In sometime the work underwent, all of them on the narrow ascending path, edged with steps that had been formed by foot steps and hops while carrying water to and fro, for basic purposes – drinking, bathing, washing dishes and clothes, anything and everything to do with water by Naran’s family who lived in the bite of mound from my grandfather’s property above the farms. Amid the thick woods and small plants, their house was visible from the paddy field.
We stood by the mango tree whose shade would fall over the lake when rised with waters. The talking began. One of those would start. And whenever we were seen watching them work, we were turned out to be the clowns. They’d tease us, my dad, family, all in all and had us in laughter until our stomachs hurt.
After the day throughout at the farm, before leaving, one of the workers climbed the coconut tree. We got three coconuts exactly – for mom, Sunil and I, as always. And mom would have to mumble over it, that he, my uncle, gave just enough for the three of us, as though if he gave more we wouldn’t accept them. He had always been like that. He’s the only weird man of my dad’s three brothers. He’s very calculative, my mom would say while dad simply ignored his brother’s foolish acts by concluding that he’s a knucklehead.
We got two extra coconuts to eat right there, with it’s outer skin segmented as spoons. Nothing could beat a healthy tender coconut in the scorching sunlight. I quickly gathered the white flesh from all the ends into middle with the green spoon and gobbled down, my mouth filled and satisfied in delight as they moved down the throat.
I watched the men drink their share of coconuts, their body sweating. The eaten shells were supposed to be trashed down at the roots of the coconut trees, they were considered as proteins for the trees. And we did so, one by one.
As we reached the backyard of the home, they went towards the cowshed, to wash their hands and feet from the tap water beside, and spent some time talking to mom and cracking jokes with us. My uncle had a good sense of humour.