Every connoisseur knows that the flavour of honey varies with its geographical location

I’ve lost my heart to a dark, sweet forest-dweller. But let not this confession combined with the headline mislead you into imagining that I’ve been seduced into selling national secrets to the enemy. I am speaking quite literally of the product of the bee factory and the power it has over me. Do you suppose I was a bear in my previous life? I don’t need the excuse of a cough to have a go at the bottle, and if you (or the price tag) don’t stop me I could drain it out in a week, tops. Honey traps me into buying it whenever and wherever I see it.

Many of us who live in the city are attracted by the “tribal, organic” label. We picture the noble adivasi gathering honeycombs in the jungle and squeezing out the pristine, unfiltered nectar directly into 200 gm jars. We smack our lips and think, “Mm, can’t imagine anything more wholesome than that.” Would you feel the same if you saw a pendulous hive amid the cobwebs on the grimy wall of a tall building? Let me assure you that city bees are just as capable as their forest counterparts of providing tasty honey that is, indeed, often superior in flavour.

Every connoisseur knows that the flavour of honey varies with its geographical location. I personally favour the bees who labour in the forests of Thalli, but you may vote for Wayanad, Kodagu or Kumaon. My main grouse, though, is that we’re overlooking the fragrance of the jasmine in our backyard, to translate an old proverb. No study has been done on the subtle variations in the apian produce of Bangalore’s different neighbourhoods. A friend of mine in Jayanagar 8th Block gave me a bottle of the finest harvested from a tree on 10th Cross, and it was clearly distinguishable from the equally scrumptious honey extracted from a commercial building next to ours earlier this year. A man had knocked on my door and asked me, in what appeared to be some dialect of Hindi, whether I was interested in honey (he used the English word). A small crowd stood at a safe distance to watch the shrouded figure clamber up a ladder towards the two large hives and create a miasma of smoke around them. The man reappeared at my front door a little later, collected an empty glass jar with a screw top, and returned it full. I accepted, at face value, the weight he mentioned, and paid him the rate he asked for; the same volume would have cost a bomb in an organic store. In hindsight I wonder about his methods, and whether the dead bees I saw strewn on the pavement were merely collateral damage or whether he had used (horrors!) pesticide to decimate the entire swarm. Even when there are no hives in sight, though, I’ve seen random dead bees, which is perhaps an indication of the mysterious wave of casualties among the global bee population.

Last month I saw two men sitting on the pavement along Ulsoor Lake with a cloth spread out before them, on which stood two liquor bottles of cloudy liquid. Purveyors of fresh honey generally use empty booze bottles (that Honeybee is actually a brand of brandy is perhaps a coincidence), because they are readily available at the nearest raddiwala. The lakeside hawkers reminded me of many a trip to bosky regions. We were knocking about Coorg a couple of decades ago, driving aimlessly in the rain. Our wheels took us to Talacauvery. A man who looked as if he’d freshly emerged from the forest thrust two bottles of kaadu honey at our windshield. We stopped instantly and bought both. As the windswept rain forced its way into our cheap hotel room I developed a sore throat of sorts, which made me reach for the honey and take frequent swigs. That’s when I discovered the pleasures of knocking it back straight from the bottle. (Maybe I was not a bear but a drunkard in my previous life.)

Every time we cross the Karnataka-Kerala border in the Western Ghats, we look out for ‘small honey’ and ‘big honey’; this refers to the size of the bees, by the way. The tribal welfare outlet sells the stuff, rather inappropriately, in white plastic jerry-cans and it is up to us city-bred greens to transfer it into environmentally-friendly containers. A more recent experience, or should I say misadventure, of mine was in Munnar. A fast-talking hard-selling local was giving travellers a spiel about the nutritional value of natural honey. He displayed a row of filled-up bottles but refused to part with them, insisting instead on squeezing out a honeycomb right there and then, giving us the impression that it would be doubly fresh. He must have already filled part of the bucket with jaggery syrup concealed beneath chunks of comb. His successful sales pitch depleted our wallets by several hundred, and the honey I brought home hardened into crystals after a few days. Now I know that perfectly good honey might crystallise, too, and melts if you immerse the bottle in warm water. But these crystals were evidently signs of adulteration.

I had fallen into his trap all right, the always irresistible, sometimes deceptive, honey trap.

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