Life at a coffee plantation can be arduous, laid back, dangerous and at the same time fulfilling. I haven’t lived at a coffee plantation but we got an opportunity to glimpse at this slice of life by visiting and staying at plantations in Coorg, Chikmanglur and in Bali (Indonesia). Most coffee plantations are situated remotely with coffee shrubs interspersed by tall silver oak trees. It is not unusual for the plantation to be visited by elephants, tigers and wild boars. The coffee planter would ideally have his bungalow in the middle of the plantation with the next neighbor about 30 kms away.
But if you look carefully, a plantation is not just the coffee planter and his wife and kids its a micro community of sorts with staff at the bungalow, permanent workers at the plantation, drivers, people at the plant, migrant workers, coffee pickers, people working at processing. If it is a large enough plantation then there would also be schools, creches, co operative shops and a whole gamut of people and services that running a plantation involves.
The stories that the people whose life revolves around coffee tell is very interesting. Living at a plantation is a different experience entirely as you get to immerse yourself in their world for a short while and see the world from their eyes. You would hear stories of being scared when confronted by a lone tusker, stories of catching a majestic tiger, coffee flowers blooming early or about coffee planters awaiting spring showers.
Stories by migrant workers from Bengal who would leave after the harvesting season is over to some other part of the country where work would be available. Childhood memories of helping one’s mother at coffee picking as wages are determined by weight and then skipping off to play once snacks had been brought for the workers. About the rare bird sightings and the excitement of that conjures. Greetings from a post master from the nearby town who connects the people tucked away at the plantation to the rest of the world.
School going children who are accompanied by their parents going to work for coffee picking or any of the other tasks that forms the life line of coffee. Younger children running amok among the rows of coffee shrubs lined with tall trees with their parents on the look out for a wild boar or a herd of elephants crossing their paths. People always on the look out for each other as life is tough and a friendly greeting or a timely warning can make a big difference in an otherwise simple life.
The life at a plantation rises with the sun and sets with it and follows a lifestyle hidden to the city dweller . The conversations revolve around coffee amidst the fragrance of coffee blooms while sipping a cup of the heady brew. Visiting a plantation is great for the body and soul with the fresh mountain air, wholesome food and friendly faces and smiles that one can earn just by being present in the moment.