Every bit of land that can be farmed, is -- mostly with tea. Only rocky outcroppings and the steepest slopes are forested.
An elderly lady, staying with her children in America: "In America, nothing has any taste - fruits, vegetables, even chicken. They grow everything with chemicals. I come here, and I can taste everything."
Sunday morning, 8:30: I walked behind All Saints Church and down Figure of Eight Road. All the shops were closed -- most of them connected to the tea industry. A group of ten young men trooped into a shopfront marked BAR, then immediately backed out again and sat on the curb laughing, to wait (I assume) for 9:00 a.m. opening time.
Birds: bulbuls, sparrows, flowerpeckers, pigeons, mynahs, seven rishis
What soft names: Coonoor. Ooty. A signboard for Oopoottil Trading Co.
We visited Beulah Farm, which grows herbs and fruits, and sells its own fruit jam. The road went up and up, over a steep hump, and then down, down down, until R asked if we were going to end up in Mettupalayam, on the plain. When we reached the place I went in alone; R stayed in the car, not interested. It was Sunday, and a small village church nearby - gaudy, decked with pennants - was broadcasting loud recorded hymns.
I walked down a flight of steps to a small house, or rather a series of huts, I think - it was hard to make it out - facing a very small open area of dirt. In that area were several birdhouses crowded with gorgeous white fantail pigeons, who perched there or hopped down to walk around on the ground; a couple of muscovy ducks; a sleepy dog.
The owner was Eapen Jacob, 81 years old, a Syrian Christian from Kerala -- tall, thin, with a long pale face, thin white hair, smiling. Or rather, "God is the owner - I'm only in charge." E welcomed me, and showed me around the rows of herbs, plucked sprigs for me - thyme, chives, lemon balm, lad's-love. There was rhubarb, and strawberries, and some fruit trees, on about 2 acres of land. He doesn't use pesticides, or chemical fertilisers; he keeps a few bees to pollinate the flowers. He told me twice that 'Beulah' means god's gift, and that he treats it as such. He behaved as though I were a welcome guest, not an idle tourist seeking diversion.
I was impressed with his sincerity and openness. I felt that he should meet R, so I said that I would call him in. E immediately went with me to invite him. We sat down in one of the small rooms and chatted. Then E said something about God - that everything is in His hands, perhaps. R said that there is no god, or if there is, he's absconding. E became very interested, and the two of them got into an intense conversation. I sat on the doorstep, sketching and listening.
Several children stopped to look at what I was drawing. I asked the dog's name - Jimmy. They laughed to see that I had drawn him, and that I wrote his name over the drawing.
E and R talked for about an hour, E insisting that there must be an intelligence behind the universe - but mildly. He paid close attention to R's arguments, in spite of their opposition to his own beliefs. He was looking for answers. And he was a little confused, because he was old.
Eventually we had to go. I bought some jam: Rhubarb, rhubarb-strawberry, orange marmalade; and E gave me plants as a gift to take back: chives, thyme, lads-love, spearmint. He was reluctant to take money for the jam - later, at the hotel, someone told me, "Eapen doesn't care for money - when you pay him for his jams he doesn't even take the money with his right hand. He takes it in his left hand and just throws it aside."
As he walked us back to the car, E was emotional, hugged R, said that he was an exceptional person. We all had tears in our eyes. I'm not explaining properly why he impressed me so much. I think he seemed to be a kind of holy innocent, with his beliefs, and his herbs, and his birds…
I said to him, inanely, "You seem to be a happy man." He opened his eyes wide in surprise, and said, "No! I have a question mark rising behind my head, not an exclamation mark - I am searching in the wilderness."
But R was making him laugh, too - he had a sense of humour. As R was getting in the car he said, "You have touched my heart. It is rare to meet such a good and decent person. I feel sorry for you - you need someone to protect you. Good luck." Then when we sat in the car, E tapped on R's window. When R opened it he said, grinning, "You mean you do believe in something? There is such a thing as luck?" R said, "No! You caught me! As soon as I said it I realised it was a mistake. I was hoping you hadn't heard me, but you did - it was the only lie of the day." Then they clasped hands, and we drove away.