Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
* WARNING Several Graphic Images*
Goa is one of the regions that is blessed with fertile forests. And a result of (or perhaps cause of) this is the large variety of creatures living alongside humans. I’ve heard stories of leopards losing their way and crossing highways. And over the years I myself have frightened many peacocks, hard-shelled spiders, mongoose & snakes in my village (and vice versa).
In the city of Panaji I remember shooing away a bunch of bees that were building a hive outside my bathroom window a few years ago. I do deserve a medal for protecting my home & family from these dangerous creatures!
But today I saw these dangerous creatures rendered totally vulnerable by a group of honey harvesters. Watching the men deal with the bees & extracting honey from the hive so effortlessly, was the most charming part of my day today!
Here is the story:
I had just returned to my apartment building and I noticed these men sitting at the steps.
The ‘Kay-Poh’ that I am, (Singlish term for those who poke their nose into other people’s business) I stopped to discuss their green bucket, its contents and what brought their little troupe to my apartment building.
All three of them spoke at once and explained that they had been called by the management of my colony to get rid of the bee hive that hung from THAT building there!
The three men had come all the way from another town that was about 30 km away as they were specialists at this honey / beehive work. Tribal migrants from Odisha, when there were no such honey-projects they worked as day-laborers on construction on ad-hoc or daily-wage basis. When they were called for bee / hive work they were paid a nominal sum in cash and the rest in kind i.e. the honey was theirs to sell.
I had been duped a few years ago …. in the same building … so I was cautious and asked many questions before making up my mind about buying. That fateful day I was conned into buying 5 kilograms of jaggery-solution for the price of honey. I was elated as I was planning to gift this ‘straight-from-the-hive’ honey to my friends in the metro – this would naturally confer upon me bragging rights at having found such a treasure! So after having invested in the large quantity of honey, I spent an equal amount on a few dozen small jars with perfect yellow lids. To help with this project I called my man Friday, a forest tribal who knows everything about everything foresty. The moment he entered my kitchen and saw my large pot of “honey” he asked bewildered ‘why did you make so much jaggery water’…….
After stupefied explanations and unconcealable chuckles and disgust at my ignorance, the man gave me a lecture and admonished me for throwing away good money.
Those little yellow jars still stand on my kitchen shelf – hoping to find their purpose in life.
So the scarred soul that I am, but still ever ready to believe in the magic of life, I chose to ignore the little inner voice of caution and indulged the stories the men were telling me.
They told me that they had come from the next town only because they had been called. This I verified with the watchman who had joined our little party.
They told me that they had borrowed the bucket from the watchman. This too the watchman verified. After all if they intended to dupe people, would they not have their own bucket and jaggery as well? Sounded logical!
Their bucket full of honey+bees looked very different this time compared to the one I’d been duped with earlier.It had much more hive and many many more bees than the one I’d seen previously. That in itself is no proof of purity – because as Tolstoy said – or rather almost said –
“All PURE HONEYS (happy families) are alike; each IMPURE HONEY (unhappy family) is IMPURE (unhappy) in its own way.”
[Actually he said “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” in Anna Karenina. Sorry Tolstoy for misquoting – but no one could have said it better]
As I assessed the situation I was clicking pictures & judging the men. In my opinion, these were very poor men and they HAD, by all verified accounts, taken down the beehive. If I were duped again, the most I would lose is Rs.1000 – which I could afford to give away as charity.
Further, the honey was not the only value they offered. The ‘magic’ of this fascinating event happening right at my doorstep, held more value for me than the honey itself.
And so I agreed to buy some honey, stopped evaluating and began enjoying the process.
The sight of a beehive with its colors & geometry is quite arresting! And then to find little larva wriggling their bottoms …. I could watch this for hours!
I asked why it is that the bees were not biting the men. The bees were certainly not behaving as expected. They weren’t inducing fear in me – instead I felt pity for their broken home.
The man explained that the queen bee had been captured and that capture rendered all the other bees helpless … ! Really?! What an inbuilt vulnerability built into nature’s plan?
I asked where the Queen Bee was? How did they know which one it is? How did they capture her singularly?
They pointed to the metal can on the side where a large number of bees were trapped and covered by newspaper. They said she was in there and lifted the papers briefly for me to view.
They said that later they would let her free in the forest and then she would establish a whole new colony. Tribal logic is always so integrated with nature and always so ecologically responsible! Am full of respect for these men and their idea!
I ran out of questions and asked them to complete the sale.
An old discarded mulmul cloth from my wardrobe was cut into a square and placed above a steel pot.
The hive+bee+honey mix was poured onto it.
And the bees were strained out! Yuck!
Even with the yuck- factor, the thick golden liquid dripping from the beeswax looked so tempting!
We filled out some of the yellow jars.
The men were paid & then also overpaid for providing me with such an enjoyable experience. The bees who were THE real heroes of this story, sadly succumbed.
I came home, checked the internet for some tests for checking purity – did the experiments but wasn’t sure of my observations.
And so now the honey jars sit in my refrigerator waiting for some learned man to come along and prove me wrong or right.
And the end-note to this tale- the honey trappers final words to me were : “You can have the honey every day with lemon memsaab – it will help you to lose weight!”
I love the astute-no-nonsense-directness of the village-folk!
What a fun day it has been!