High jinks in Munnar hills

High jinks in Munnar hills

George N Netto

Growing up in a remote tea estate near Munnar in the 1950s, we boys loved nothing better than to ramble through its lush tea fields and forests. This brought us close to nature in all its varied aspects, making our outings an educative and fun-filled part of our formative years.

My brothers and I tramped a lot, lugging a Diana air rifle that had certainly seen better days and was no more lethal than a pea-shooter thanks to gross overuse. No wonder the jungle fowl and wood pigeons we potted at sometimes stood their ground literally, emboldened by their apparent non-vulnerability and our poor marksmanship.

Often we would mimic, quite realistically, the eerie whooping of black monkeys swinging through the trees; they probably assumed we were distant cousins, less advanced and non-arboreal to boot! On one memorable occasion, a friend inserted a leaf in his mouth and aped the staccato crowing of a jungle rooster so well that he actually lured a curious hen out of the undergrowth!

Once, I clambered up a ledge to check out a whistling thrush’s nest, only to find a large rat snake sunning itself there. I slid down hastily and mischievously asked a younger sibling to take a look. Up he went, only to scream his head off, lose his balance and crash to the ground, spraining his ankle. My prank having backfired, I had to carry him, piggyback, all the way home.

To boys famished and thirsty after a long trek, the luscious pears hanging tantalisingly out of reach in the Scottish manager’s garden were irresistible. A flurry of furtive shots from our catapults would fell a few. Then came the tricky task of retrieving them. While the rest kept cave, one of us would slip through the fence, fervently praying that the Scot’s Alsatian didn’t sniff him out and come after him. That it did so only once was a tribute to our prowling skills honed to near perfection. Despite the risks involved, somehow the pears seemed to taste better when pilfered.

Hitchhiking back home in the trailer of the estate tractor was another strictly forbidden pleasure that we couldn’t resist, more so after a tiring trek. Jouncing along cushioned by coir sacks filled with tea leaves was an adventure we got to enjoy now and then, with the connivance of an indulgent driver. The rutted and potholed tracks saw us being tossed around and sorely tested the ‘resilience’ of one’s posterior as we doggedly clung on, our faces reflecting our thrill.

Once, horror of horrors, we espied the surly manager approaching on his motorcycle. Desperately burrowing deep among the sacks, we concealed ourselves so well that he passed by without smelling a rat. After he had gone, a visibly shaken driver Mookiah stopped the tractor and profoundly thanked us for our presence of mind. For, had we been discovered, he could have lost his job.

Those were glorious days indeed.

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