Reading Between the Lines
Second Chance House at Selim Hill Tea Estate is a typical Darjeeling house. The pine wood ceiling of the ground floor and the wooden floor of the next level typically have a 6 to 8 inches gap between them. This allows the wood to breathe and last for a very long time.
Sometimes there can be some loose floorboards under which forbidden pleasures could have been stored. Movies have shown valuables being stored in such places. When we started living at Second Chance House, this gap was the perfect place for all kinds of pests and rodents. We could hear rats squeaking and running all around playing invisible kabbaddi. For the life of me I could not see the romance in this particular architectural style.
One sunny summer day, a strange thing happened. Exactly at noon, I heard a loud machine whirring sound. When I say loud, I mean loud! I rushed out to the front of the house where we have a hanging deck. Pradip, our Sardaar was already there. He cautioned me to be quiet and careful. Anxiously, I asked him what was happening. He pointed out the source of the noise. There were at least a thousand bees that were buzzing together. I had never seen anything like it. Although apprehensive at first, I soon realised that they meant no harm. However, now my question was a more practical one – where was the hive?
Pradip answered my query and informed me that bees had built their house between the wooden ceiling of the porch and the wooden floor of the jutting out upper deck. Pine wood being a favourite for bees to build a hive in, they seemed to have found the perfect place. The greatest folly of human beings is to meddle and try to make things better. I was no different.
Pradip was asked to make a new bee house out of pine wood. A specific sunny spot, near fragrant, nectar bearing flowers was chosen. The bee house would be perched on a stand. It was all perfect! The beekeeper was called for and the process of relocating the bees, from their chosen house to my chosen house for them, started.
The beekeeper knew exactly what he had to do. The ceiling board was prised open. He showed me the wondrous hive. I had never seen one at such close quarters. Though unafraid, he put on some kind of netted head gear to protect himself in case of an unforeseen accident.
Very deftly, he managed to identify and catch the queen bee. Don’t ask me how! The queen bee was put inside the brand new house. It was a marvel of nature to see how her subjects dutifully and loyally followed her.
Clear instructions were given to us to not go near the old or the new bee house.
The idea was that by the next morning the transfer would have taken place. Morning came and lo and behold, there were no bees to be found anywhere – both the houses stood empty! Quite disappointed, I blamed Pradip and the beekeeper. They sure did not know their job.
A couple of days later, just as they had disappeared, they came back to their house inside our house.
Pradip delicately told me to let them be. By now I had realised how arrogant I had been. I listened to his good advice and the bees remained where they wanted.
In return, every sunny day, exactly at noon I hear their loud, busy buzzing which lasts for around 40 minutes. We do not interfere in each other’s lives. During winter, the beekeeper was called back and he extracted some of their fine honey which we all enjoyed.
I added some honey to my cup of Roasted Dorje Tea and realised that I had found my treasure among the floorboards of my house!
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