Story 4: Grapes of Rot
The air was fragrant with promise. Like a pregnant woman in her final days, the grapes on the vine were oh-so-plump. In a day or two, they would be ready to harvest.
At this time of the year, Dhondu would be in seventh heaven. Ever since he switched to growing grapes, his fortunes had skyrocketed. It wasn’t easy in the beginning, but once he got the hang of it, there was no looking back. From a modest 1 acre, his farm had expanded to 10. Ghar pe aaya television, 2 motorcycles, solar panel, and the latest addition – a computer.
“Kaytari naveen karnaar faydecha aahe,” he would boast to his friends and relatives, who were still cultivating jowari or wheat.
But this year, he sat on the charpoy in his verandah, with his head in his hands. Some strange disease called corona had gripped the country. The mandi was shut, transport suspended, and all the workers had disappeared. So how was he going to harvest the grapes, and where the hell would he sell them? The future was indeed looking bleak…
In despair, Dhondu summoned his 3 sons and said, “Do you have some new idea… something that can get us out of this mess?”
The oldest of the three, Vilas, was a hefty young man with a bit of a swagger. He had heard of something called ‘wine’ made from grapes.
“Baba, aamhi try karto, angooracha daru tayar karto…”
At any other time, Dhondu would have rapped the boy’s knuckles. But desperate times call for desperate measures. He gave the green signal.
“Take 3 acres of grapes… but do something!”
The second son Ulhas was a more practical chap. He knew of someone with a chikoo farm, who had loaded a tempo and sold his harvest in Mumbai. Not in the wholesale market but direct to customers. The chikoo farmer sent out a Whatsapp message, offering the fruit at an attractive price, to any housing society which was willing to place a bulk order.
And this way, he had sold over 600 kgs of chikoo, in a single day. Dhondu was not fully convinced but he gave the green signal.
“Take 6 acres of grapes…. but do it quickly!”
Ulhas was a clever chap and even came up with a scheme to get labour. He called the district collector and got information on the nearest migrant workers camp. As harvesting is an ‘essential service’, he managed to get 8 labourers to pick the grapes. They were housed in a makeshift tent under the shade of a banyan tree, with aai’s kitchen supplying bajre ki roti, poli, and chaha.
Thanks to the wonders of Whatsapp, orders started coming in. Hiring a tempo at double the price, Ulhas made a dash to Mumbai and managed to sell most of the grapes. It didn’t yield a huge profit but enough to lift Dhondu’s spirits. He would not have to worry about money, for the next few months.
The only thing that worried him was the youngest son, Ninad. An acre of grapes remained to be picked. But when he tried to get Ninad to take responsibility, the boy was indifferent.
“Baba, majhi online class madhe disturb nako kara. Let the grapes be as they are.”
Ever since Ninad had enrolled in the agricultural university in Nagpur, his head was in the clouds. He kept talking about strange new things he had learnt, which made no sense. And now that he was back home from the hostel, all he did was talk to the computer. Who talks to a computer!
Why, even that useless Vilas, at least he had tried!
Wine bana nahi… because it was not that easy. But it had been enjoyable to jump on all those grapes. Thoda tension body se nikal gaya.
If only Ninad would realise, a farmer’s son must think like a farmer. Damn this education!
Six weeks later, the grapes had transformed into ‘raisins on the vine’. Plump, juicy and sold for 5 times the price of ordinary grapes.
“Baba, my professor was guiding me step-by-step. Thank him! And thank the computer…”
Now all the farmers in the area are queuing up at Dhondu’s door, to learn how to make raisins on the vine. Kaytari naveen shiknaar faydecha hote!