For over 15 years, Laxman Dessai has spent every morning of the torrential five-month monsoon, recording data from a rain gauge in the forest near his village in Kuveshi. He puts this data on a postcard and sends it off to the meteorological station in Joida, which analyses it to track monsoon patterns, rainfall and wind velocity in the Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve landscape. In this way, this 85-year-old farmer contributes to our weather reports. But here’s the thing: He has no idea what he is reading. He doesn’t understand these numbers; for him this is a job that fetches him a couple of hundreds. Yet, by the sheer knowledge that working on the land has given him, by his awareness of recent changes in flowering patterns and unseasonal rains in winter, he has reached the same conclusions about the environment that some of the most learned climate change experts in the world have. Except he calls it “kalyug” (the dark age).
The Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve region is one of the most important indicators of monsoon patterns. Access to that data would be so helpful to someone who grows crops for a living. It is then incredibly ironic that Laxman, who has no use for any of that data, is credited with the most luscious vegetable and pineapple patch, the best paddy field and the largest cucumber crop in the area. The man is a local legend because for him, weather patterns present themselves in the forests around him, not in a gauge with numbers. His expertise comes from having lived his land. Kuveshi is a hamlet of 30 kitchen fires (the local method of tallying houses) in Karnataka, situated deep inside evergreen and moist, mixed deciduous forests. Ask any villager about retrieving cattle that have strayed into the forest, and they will point to Laxman’s bottle-green coloured home. Though he maintains he is younger than his 85 years, he puts down his excellent health nonetheless to the fresh forest air, and the waters of the Dudhsagar, India’s fourth-highest waterfall that originates near the village. Laxman’s last dream is to see that his little village gets electricity before he travels to the next world, partly because of his love for cricket. On match days when there is no electricity, the villagers pool batteries and solar panels to feed one unit, and gather around a television while the rest of the area is in darkness for the night. But, he adds with a smile, if India is playing, the temple generator is also put on duty so nothing is left to chance.
is a naturalist, herpetologist and wildlife photographer.
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