The Day the Hunter became the Hunted – The Way of the Farmer
October 8, 2012
On her third visit to the oil palm estate of the farmer who lived on the hill. The only daughter of the one million hectare landowner did not approach the plantation house of the farmer through the main road – instead she took the less travelled and much longer Southern access road that was seldom used that day.
As the ivory white Landcruiser driven by the sikh chauffeur came into full view of the farmer’s 70 year old Hainanese man servant – he had absolutely no reason not to let the only daughter of the one million hectare landowner stroll into the plantation mansion – that day the daughter of the one million hectare landowner was dressed as if she had just toured the plantation with her flared ridding breeches, knee high boots, creme straw hat complete with white gloves. She had behaved exactly like a plantation madam. The man servant of the farmer was pleasantly surprised when the sikh handed him his sidearm.
Somewhere in the murky memories of the man servant. Something had jolted. He remembered the first rule of plantation protocol: All firearms must be surrendered to the owner of the lands.
Something whirled to life in the 70 year old Hainanese man servant who lived in house on the hill that day – he had after all recalled a custom that harks back at least 300 hundred over years and originated during the Imperial days – the 70 year old had previously worked for four plantation masters stretching all the way back to the glory days of the British Empire – so that day as the Hainanese man servant rushed into the house to grab a stool for the woman who waited impatiently tapping her fingers on her knees – he felt it necessary to flash her an apologetic look. She had after all behave impeccably as a plantation madam and it was he who had been scattered brained and kept her waiting for someone to take her gloves, hat and provide her a stool to take off her ridding boots.
The second rule of plantation guest protocol: Take the hat and gloves of the guest and make sure you provide them a chair or a boy to take off their boots.
When the plantation ma’am stepped into the high ceiling plantation house – the 70 year old felt compelled to go through the third, fourth and fifth rule of receiving a lady guest. Perhaps the man servant had been caught off guard or maybe he was simply trying to convey to the Madam that he was definitely no sloucher – he asked the lady politely, “would Madam wish to inspect the house?” The male servant of the farmer had started off the tour with the living room – it looked austered and spacious like a waiting room in a monastery – this opened out into the spacious grounds sorrounded by a five hundred feet high fence that ran and length and breadth of parameter of the plantation house. when the plantation ma’am noticed that the 70 year old had skirted the kitchen area – she looked expectantly at the man servant who seemed to relent somewhat as he stepped aside to allow her to stroll into the vast kitchen – she noticed the young village girl who usually did the laundry sitting indolently listening to pop music. While the cook was busy chatting with the gardener through the window as she diced onions – the plantation ma’am flashed the 70 year old a look of disapproval as if saying to herself,
“I see there is much room for improvement here.”
The 70 year old man servant looked down and silently acknowledged her rebuke – she had after all behaved impeccably as a plantation Ma’am. By this time even the rest of the farmer’s servants had began to snap out from their usual litany and change into their black and white formal tunics – there was after all a plantation ma’am in the house!
Perhaps it was the way the plantation Ma’am had carried herself that day. Or maybe it had more to do with the remembrance of a passing age that had unfurl somewhere like a flag in the mind of the 70 year old man servant who felt deeply and profoundly – that he had fallen woefully short of running an estate mansion in the way that would have done justice to the whole idea of country living – but that day as the plantation ma’am stood erect on the verandah with her cup of tea and had taken a sweep of the grounds of the mansion – she looked to all, as if she was always meant to be here to play the part that she played that afternoon. Even the man’s tribal guards who were usually invisible had quickly changed into T shirts and jeans.
As the afternoon heat began to stir up the dust – the farmer’s man servant vexed. He knew the fifth rule of plantation protocol. But since the guestroom was really quite inappropriate for such a lady – despite his initial reluctance, he felt compelled to ask the ma’am whether she would like to refresh herself – normally he would have shown her to the guest room. But after the embarrassing incident in the kitchen even the 70 year old had shied away from that ridicolous idea of offering this magnificent specimen who he knew to be none other than a traditional plantation Madam. As the guestroom was really in a right mess – since the farmer had few visitors, he had recently turned it into his private workshop.
So that day the 70 year old man servant led her instead to the man’s chambers to refresh herself – when the door shut with a click, the only daughter of the one million hectare landowner paused momentarily; she had her back to the door. She was pensive like someone who had just managed to gain entry into a bank vault. And as she looked at the opposite wall at the strange arrangement of the large rectangular window and the two slightly smaller openings on the wall of the man’s room – it made a menacing face at her. As if it could even read what was in her mind that day – as she walked around the man’s room – she said to herself,
“Now where would this man hide his most private things.”
Even after the grandfather clock in the living room had chimed four times – the woman had not emerged from the room. The 70 year old man servant surmised the plantation Ma’am had decided to take a siesta – this he considered quite normal, as that was the sixth protocol in a plantation. He had even told the cooks,
“The madam is resting, so please don’t bang your pots and pans.”
By late afternoon as the sun begun to set, the 70 year old man servant had changed into his white high collar tunic. The man had meticolously laid out the dining table with the finest China that he had taken out carefully from the cabinet which he personally arranged. He had even instructed the gardener to gather flowers that he placed in a tall crystal vase – and when the plantation Ma’am remerged looking refreshed and resplendent in her vermillion cotton dress and saw all this – the 70 year old man servant could see that the woman approved. This was after all the first time she had smiled approvingly at him – thought the man servant had suggested that the lady wait in the verandah for his master who will be returning from the field very soon – the woman had instead walked towards a promontory at the edge of the well manicured lawn of the plantation that had a commanding view of the oil palm estate – this was after all the same place where the farmer had the strange habit of standing for hours as he watched his fine feather friends during the lingering light every dying afternoon – that afternoon as the passing farmhands walked by and saw the magnificent sight of this lone woman as she stood on the high plate in her vermillion cotton plantation ladies dress – many of the farm hands stopped took off their hats and bowed respectfully. The daughter of the one million hectare landowner had after all played her role to perfection – so well that no one, not even the 70 year old Hainanese man servant of the farmer, not even the two kitchen cooks, the laundry girl, the gardener, the driver, the errand boy or for that matter the doberman pitchers who were unusually well behaved that evening ever doubted that this was how life should be in a plantation house – that day the daughter of the one million hectare landowner had behaved like a thorough breed planter’s ma’am. So well that even as she stood on the promontory that evening – even the 70 year old Hainanese man servant approved of her, she had after all brought him the gift of sweet and distant memories of a bygone age of white linen, silver cutlery, fine bone China along with all the affectations which came along with Straits Country living that gave meaning to his life – a life that he knew only too well his current master did not care very much for .
By evening as the farmer pulled into the plantation house and he saw the woman standing on the promontory. He knew exactly what was going on and though his features hardly betrayed even the slightest hint of anxiety when he had taken the lady’s hand and kissed it. As if this was how he came home every evening from the fields – that evening as the light waxed and waned and finally bowed out to darkness – he realized only to well, the hunter had become the hunted.
The woman resplendent in vermillion dress smiled and said, “I hope you like surprises…..”.