MORE than 15 years ago, Saajan Mani, a businessman and agriculturalist based in Thodupuzha, Kerala, bought a coffee plantation in the Wayanad district of the state where he employed local tribals, some of whom had crossed 80 years of age. Mani was impressed with their physique and hard work despite their incorrigible alcoholism, but he never showed any displeasure for a variety of reasons. One, they always showed up for work at dawn. Second, they had the strength and skills required to handle coffee plants at every stage of their growth. He also didn’t want to interfere with the ‘local ways’ of life, their customs and traditions. Their brawny bodies were capable of hard labour. One morning, he was shocked to receive news of the 90-year-old ‘mooppan ’ or chieftain of the Paniyar caste who never worked, but controlled the villagers who worked under him. He thought the workers had come to him with word of his death, which meant a few days of mourning and no work in that period.
Mani listened closely and then realised with a start that the villagers had just announced that a baby boy had been born to the mooppan from his 18-year-old fifth wife. Speechless, Mani decided to visit this man in the evening with a bottle of imported brandy. The chieftain immediately invited him to a chat over the local brew. Mani became a frequent visitor to the mooppan’s place who offered him a chair while sitting on the floor himself, and addressed him as Mani Thambran. After a few months, Mani asked the old man the secret of his virility. He laughed loudly and asked him to return the next day. The next day, the chief took out of a small sack a beetle that he called ‘otturumaal’. As Mani watched, the mooppan held the insect tightly and brought it close to his nostrils and inhaled its scent with athletic finesse and declared, “This is the secret. The scent of this is not very pleasant. But you have to inhale very deeply.” Mani experimented with it a few times, only to realise that the elderly chief was right about the scent being a powerful aphrodisiac.
“Our forests are full of secrets. You have to experience it to believe it,” says this businessman who has sold off his plantation business since....Read more
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