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The mango tree in my neighbors house has mangoes dangling from its branches. It is a local variety quite popular here called the Kottukonam varikka. Not too big in size, it turns a reddish yellow when ripe. Trivia: Though considered local, it is supposedly from the village of Kottukonam in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, brought as gifts for the Travancore King every year by the villagers. Eventually the seeds from those mangoes started growing and proliferating here and people started thinking of them as ‘local’.

The mango tree has many interesting visitors. The other morning while out for my morning walk, I saw a couple of White-cheeked Barbets on the tree looking at fruits on the top most branches. Well, what I actually saw was some uncharacteristic movement of leaves. So I stopped to check and found it was barbets, not leaves doing the moving. Squirrels run up and down the branches. Crows and Rufous Treepies are some of the other visitors.

None of these visitors are aware they don’t stand a chance against my industrious neighbor when it comes to the mangoes. Every morning, afternoons and evenings too, she is out there with her thotta, a long stick with a sharp curved knife tied to its edge, a home-sourced fruit-picker. She promptly, and expertly, plucks mangoes that are ready, off the tree.

Every time my neighbor plucks a mango, it falls on to the metal roof of her garage with a loud sound and Luci jumps up, barking. Luci considers it an affront to her sensibilities, this noise, in her otherwise silent neighborhood. “How dare you?!!!” she barks. “How dare you make that racket in MY territory?!!!!” Theoretically, the mango tree stands in the neighbor’s yard and also belongs to her. But such matters are irrelevant and don’t carry much weight with Luci. Especially so when she considers ‘as far as my doggy eyes can see and my doggy ears can hear‘ as the criterion defining her territory.

When my neighbor comes up to the wall to hand over some of the mangoes, and some times to talk to me, Luci goes ballistic. “No. No. NO! NOOOOOO!!!” she barks. “Don’t you dare give anything to my mother!” or “Don’t talk to my mother!!!” and “Go away! GO AWAY!” are her responses. Her animosity is such that when she hears the neighbor talk to her husband or daughters, or even on phone, Luci immediately pricks up her ears and goes, ‘Shut up! Shut up!’ till we shush her. And then she grumbles before subsiding.

My neighbor though, laughs at Luci’s antics, running up and down the boundary wall barking up at her. You have been seeing me for how long, now?” she asks Luci. “Isn’t it time to stop barking?” In reply, Luci barks some more. The funny thing is, whenever the neighbor opens the gate and walks into our home, Luci runs over to smell her, then gives her a couple of tail wags. “So what happened?” my neighbor asks, “You don’t want to bark at me now?” Luci pretends not to have heard the question. As long as you are in my house, you are a guest and will be treated accordingly, seems to be her unspoken and dignified response. After all, athithi devo bhava (A guest is God), is the way of the ancestors of the land she lives in. 😉

© Shail Mohan 2019

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