Chapter 4: Landour Life, 1932-1937
The monsoon beetles of Landour were the product of Nature at her most imaginative.
There were the hyperactive bamboo beetles, with long antennae, ready to do battle with anything within reach. The grey-green stonecarriers were bigger and slower than the bamboos, but were equipped with similar antennae, and mandibles capable of snipping off a leg or antenna quickly.
The lumbering rhinos and their females, the “swearers,” so named because of the creaking noise they generated with their legs, were easier to handle. The male stag beetles, both the reindeer and Chinese, were handsome feisty creatures which would rear up and stand with widespread mandibles for minutes on end when touched on their backs. Very dangerous was the shiny black “dumpy” with its short curved pinchers. Its reputation was that, once fastened to your finger, it would never let go! I didn’t test it. On every collector’s list, but seen only once in my days at Woodstock, was the elephant beetle, three inches long and an iridescent green and black. It’s much smaller and commoner cousins were the greengages. And at the very bottom of the beetle caste hierarchy, but deified in ancient Egypt, were the busy dung rollers, which could be found hard at work along the cow paths. These little guys were strong enough to pry your clenched fingers apart with their spiny legs and little flat heads!
One of the best ways to attract beetles was with ripe mango skins, and that brings up the subject of the summer fruit. What a wonderful array we had! In addition to mangoes there were papayas, guavas, litchis, apricots, custard apples (sharifas), loose-skin oranges (narangis), gooseberries (tiparis), along with bananas, peaches and pears. The king of fruit was clearly the mango. It came in a variety of types, sizes and flavors, from the big, delicious, spoonable langaras to the small soft choosnewalas, “suckers,” which we squeezed and sucked dry through a hole cut in one end. The local canning industry kept some of the fruit available the year around in the form of tinned fruit jam. The best of these definitely were the apricot and the gooseberry preserves!