By J Chacko
There is a strange and detested animal in Kerala known as marapatti, meaning tree dog. The elusive, nocturnal animal, mostly herbivorous, grey/black with a face like a rat’s, found in the wild, can also look for other shelters. If they can locate access to attics, they will take up residence there and then problems would start. The stink of their urine, dung, vomits etc. is unbearable and compel guests and visitors to make a quick exit. Their nocturnal activities and fights give sleepless nights to the occupants.
It is difficult to evict them as they are ferocious. Capture or killing would also invite legal problems as it is endangered.
Recently a house in our neighbourhood was host to this dog-sized animal whose meat is supposed to be delicious. Fruits and vegetables in the compound were all eaten up. Faeces littered were washed away in heavy rain. But tiny solids were left behind, which were soon found to be coffee seeds! Coffee plants grow in some houses in the area. The marapattis were gorging on them.
As is the wont these days, immediate Google search was resorted to know all about the creature and steps to keep it at bay. The search findings were mind boggling. The marapatti is the celebrated Asian Palm Civet! It is the most important link to produce the most expensive coffee in the world—the kopi luwak which sells $ 150 a cup, naturally meant only for the ultra rich!
The making of this coffee is peculiar. Civet cats eat ripe coffee berries, the fleshy part of which would get digested in the stomach and the undigested seeds are collected from the faeces. These are cleaned, processed, roasted and ground to get the prized coffee. Chemical reaction with the enzymes in the stomach of the civet gives the coffee a unique flavour. This coffee is mostly brewed in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. Collection of coffee seeds and steps for producing the expensive end product go on as a gainful business in these countries.
Nobody in our neighbourhood, however, was impressed by all of this. The process brought disgust to all. If someone somewhere wants to forage marapatti faeces for undigested coffee seeds and if someone else wants to pay astronomical sums to drink it, let them do so, but leave us alone. Please suggest some ways to get rid of these—this was the reaction of all.
No wonder, though a major coffee producer and also home to civet cats, it seems there is only one producer of this coffee in India and the annual output is a measly 100kg. The fancy price it can fetch has not worked well, at least, in India.
A strange form of socialism, however, emerged from this. In some parts of India, the destitute look for undigested grains in cattle dung for food, a much lamented, sad reality. What an irony—the poorest and the richest in the world consume something similar!