Book Excerpt

It was at a roadside coffee shop here that they encountered the strange elderly lady. It seemed, as she approached, that she had a million wrinkles on her face. She wore a brown, nondescript saree. A little bent, but walking quite firmly, she held a packet wrapped in a local Kannada newspaper.

She came up to them, offered the packet to Rahul and said something long and involved. The driver was nice enough to translate. ‘She wants to sell you this packet for a hundred rupees.
She says it contains magical coffee beans from deep inside the forests. She also added that only she knows where these special beans of magic can be procured, and they are available only for a few weeks during the misty winter.’
The old woman piped up once again. They waited for her to finish and then the driver began to translate. ‘She says that when you drink coffee brewed from these beans, magical things happen, experiences that money cannot buy. She knows this because she has seen such wondrous happenings. She is offering these beans to you for a highly discounted price because she likes both of you.
She says that as soon as she saw you here, she knew that you were made for each other—both your bodies and minds. For each other and forever, she says.’
The last and somewhat intimate observation provoked Neha. ‘How does she know when we don’t know yet?’ she asked Rahul. But before Rahul could respond, the old woman launched into another long story that the driver happily narrated.
‘The last time she found these magical beans, deep inside the forest, was more than three years ago. She can spot them immediately, she says, because of their peculiar pink and purple shade. That is not the normal colour of ripe coffee beans, you know? The ripe beans are generally deep red and sometimes a nice shade of yellow but never pink and purple. She says she gifted these special beans to a plantation owner called Kariappa, who lives very close to this town. He was huge, a very large man who, the locals said, ate a lot of pork and drank copious amounts of brandy every day. But he was also an unhappy man because the coffee bushes on his plantation were constantly under attack from all sorts of pests, including a nasty borer. It didn’t help that this married life wasn’t in its best phase either, given his wife’s depression.
‘Kariappa paid this old woman two hundred rupees for these magical coffee beans. That’s what she claims, but I think it is very unlikely. I can tell you that people in these parts are very careful about their money. I doubt she got more than fifty rupees.
Anyway, she says he made coffee from these special beans. He roasted and ground them, brewed the coffee and drank a big mugful one morning, hoping it would get rid of a particularly bad hangover. He also gave a cup to his wife and threw away the used coffee grounds on his plantations. Do you know what happened next?’
The driver paused here for effect. He looked at the old lady, then at Rahul and Neha, and resumed, ‘What happened was totally unexpected, totally. His wife, that very evening, began dancing in the courtyard, full of joy and happiness, singing an old Hindi film song. Imagine this! Word got around quickly that Big Sir’s madam had recovered from her sadness. The old woman here says that Kariappa’s wife continues to be a very happy lady till this day. Apparently, at the last New Year’s dance at Planters’ Club, she danced the night away.’
Neha was now engrossed in the story and bubbling with questions, ‘Did anything happen to the coffee bushes, the ones that weren’t flourishing, on Kariappa’s estate? I am sure something must have happened there.’
‘Yes’, said the driver, ‘something magical happened there too. The old lady is about to narrate this part of the story.’
And so the story continued. ‘As you know, Kariappa had thrown out the used coffee grounds on his plantation, after making the coffee that his wife and he had consumed. That night, he saw two foxes at the very spot where the grounds had been discarded. He saw them licking the grounds and then running wild around the plantation. The next morning, the borer disease that had infested his coffee bushes had vanished. Totally out of sight. The workers who were asked to keep an eye out came up to Kariappa and told him that they were amazed at the miracle that had happened overnight.