Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Unusual Occupations - Queen Bee baiter

Queen bee baiter

Our neighbour’s at 203 have got a call from someone whose name they searched on the internet and got in touch with him two weeks ago. He is at the main entrance gate of our apartment and wants to call on them. The security guard would not let him in.  The man hands him over a business card and yet the Security guard is suspicious of him. Perhaps his rustic looks arouse that kind of a suspicion in people. 

 'One has to be careful, we have a job to do and tricksters are abound all over the city’ says our Security guard in charge that morning at the main gate of our apartment.

Unfazed Karthik  along with two young boys sit at the pavement on the hunches and dial our neighbour’s number on the mobile phone  to call on them.  

Our neighbours have a bee hive on their balcony that seems to be growing geometrically in size with each passing day. Every time they have tried shooing away the bees from the beehive they keep coming back. They came across Karthik’ s profile through a google search and saw him on YouTube.  They picked up his number and he gave them a time and date when he said he would visit the area.  Not quite believing his professionalism they did not bother that morning to wait for him and busied themselves like any other middle class family getting the children ready to school and getting ready for work. 

Karthik and the two boys that accompanied him were let into the gate after the neighbours verified  their credentials . They had  arrived with a bunch of twigs and a large aluminum drum the size of a bucket. Our neighbours keen to get rid of the Beehive asked him if he could indeed get rid of them and he thrust  his business card, and a laminated news article written about him in the local newspaper and explained how he would go about his job.

 As he explained we understood, there were  two different types of service offerings in his trade.  He could get rid of the worker bees, cut the honey comb and get the honey out.  In about 3-6 months the honey comb will be back to its original size as the bees would go about building the honey comb once again.  He could then pencil in a visit and do the job all over again. It was pretty much like summoning a barber for haircut.

He would alternately capture the queen bee in a gunny sack and then the worker bees would disappear altogether. 

‘Would they not sting’ , we ask ?

He holds up a handful of bees and thrust them forward at us, when we shriek out of horror and fear.
Clearly we are biased.  In a moment they are buzzing all around us and we, although petrified, are actually unstung and safe .I pull out my camera and click away with  a bee that is actually swarming right over  my camera lens.

‘The worker bees would never harm you as long as they do not receive orders from the queen bee. If the queen bee is unperturbed, they would just swarm about the place and then get back to the bee hive and go about their job of collecting nectar from the flowers nearby. They have the power of smelling their hive and their clan ( one queen bee per clan) for about a five kilometer radius and could come back from anywhere any time.’ explains Karthik  in a way that leaves us in awe of his knowledge about bee psychology.  

Today he has been commissioned  by our neighbours to capture the queen bee.  They have moved in recently and unlike the previous occupants who believed bee hive to be a sign of prosperity, they are horrified by the sight of some seven thousand bees swarming around their bedroom balcony.

Karthik promises that he would capture the Queen bee and let her out into a forest.  The Queen bee, contrary to our imagination is not a big one but rather small one but with distinct yellow wings. 

 He could also sell her to the professional hive keepers in Coorg and nearby places where the hive would start attracting worker bees and go about the job of building the bee hive all over again. He tells us that he and his brothers are visiting our area at the behest of two callers.  

The other caller lives on he other side of the road  in yet another apartment and is their regular customer. 

At their place, they believe that destroying the bee hive could bring about misfortunes and they have taken a conscious decision of never harming the Queen bee from the hive. Instead they call him regularly to have the bee hive trimmed and extract the honey. 

By now Karthik has cut part of the honey comb and stuffed it inside the aluminium drum that he had brought along. The honey bees that were swarming all over place are now settling down  around the queen bee, sans the huge honey comb, getting ready to protect her.

This is break time for Karthik. In about an hour they would all settle down around the queen bee. In the colony of honey bees this is like the after math of a disaster when they are assessing the damage and the time it would take to rebuild it all over again. Little do they know that Karthik has other plans.

As I get talking to Karthik, he opens up talks about how he became a honey bee baiter. Karthik came to Bangalore around the time Veerappan had kidnapped Rajkumar in the forests of Sathyamangalam. The two have no connection whatsoever, but that is how he remembers timelines. It gives us an idea about  how long he has been around in the city. ( November 2000 for those uninitiated into the glorious history and legend of our very own Robinhood and the magnificient kidnap of the tinsel town hero of sandalwood) .  Back then it  was still a garden city full of trees, flowers and plenty of bee hives.  A lot of ‘development’ has happened since then, Karthik bemoans.

In the dense forests in Khatiyan, near Jalpaiguri in the Jharkhand state( erstwhile Bihar) where he grew up , he once watched someone accidentally throw a lighted Beedi ( rustic cigarette ) over a bee hive which then caught fire and the bees moved away.  His father then cut the bee hive and extracted honey out of it.  Karthik was barely four at that time. He learnt the tricks of his trade from his father and other Mandal tribals in the area. 

When he was a grown up man in Khatiyan,  a chance acquaintance from a small town in Bengal who had migrated to Bangalore in search of work  once mentioned to him that he could make a lot of money if he came down to Bangalore and cleared the bee hives in office complexes and apartments that were springing all over the city.

It was a city undergoing a drastic metamorphosis when karthik landed here.  Veerappan kidnapping the actor Rajkumar may have blurred in the memories of many people, except for Karthik, because it was during those momentous days that he arrived in Bangalore .  Since then he has been a regular at apartments , office complexes and areas where there are bee hives.  His brothers, cousins and distant cousins from his clan have since then been called to come to the city after being trained as bee hive baiters.  An occupation for which there seems to be a great demand even in the urban jungle. 

Karthik established his base at a small place that was then a village near Nagawara around Yelahanka a fast developing suburb in bangalore .  Word spread about his honey bee baiting skills to nearby cities to where he has been summoned. He now spends time in other cities in south India like Chennai and Hyderabad where he is expanding his business.  When he gets a text message or a call on his mobile, he forwards it to the cousin who is currently in that town to attend to the caller if he happens to be out of town.

When he has a mandate to capture the queen bee ( for which the charges are higher as there would be no repeat business and the risks are substantially high)  he treats his assignment with utmost reverence.  Bees, he says are highly misunderstood  creatures. Unless you tease them or harm them they do not do you any harm. It is when their queen bee is provoked that she sends her  orders to the worker bees to attack the invader. 

He uses chemicals ( he calls them medicines) to sedate the worker bees, cover the entire hive and capture them along with the queen bee in a gunny sack and tie it up. Karthik says he would then travel into forests or an area where there are  dense trees and release them. 

He has been stung  many times by the bees. Over the years his capacity to feel the pain has substantially diminished.  A bee sting could be painful and could lead to a bout of fever for about 24-48 hours in a normal human being. Karthik, like many from his clan eats the paste of neem leaves every morning to ensure that there is enough anti-bacterial, anti-fungus  immunity in his body to withstand an accidental Bee sting. 

It is that time of the year when Diwali is round the corner and Chatt Pooja follows immediately after. It is time for him to go home for Chatt pooja every year .  Back home in Khatiyan he would spend two to three months with his extended family before he returns to Bangalore.  It would take them  3 days and 4 change of trains to reach Jalpaiguri from where he would take another vehicle to Khatiyan and then walk home. 

While he is back home, his clan members take turns and ensure business continuity while he is away. 

Karthik’ s boys ( one of his own and the other one his brother’s) go about extracting the honey from the honey comb and aggressively marketing it to the residents of the apartment who are now near the main entrance waiting to drop off the children to  the school bus before they themselves would leave for work.

They are persuasive salesmen but the apartment dwellers are bigger skeptics.

‘Is it pure’  one of them asks ? ‘They normally mix glucose in it’, she tells another onlooker in english.

‘It was extracted right in front of you. Taste it if you want – aunty’, the boy offers a few drops squeezing it out of the hive.

‘Aren’t the bees and their eggs dead inside the honey’ asks another lady, petrified at the sight of the huge honey comb lying right in front of her.  

‘Is it safe to drink this honey ? ‘ asks a young man on his way, leaving  for work.

Clearly Karthik and the boys are used to these volley of these FAQs.

He asks us to bring in a bottle of drinking water and two glasses.  In them he pours out some water and then the honey from the comb and the one from the leading brand. ( no prizes for guessing J)

Clearly the one extracted from the honey comb settles down densely while the branded one is partially dissolved in water suggesting the presence of artificial sugar in the branded honey.

He offers to sell the honey for about 10% lesser than the market price adding that we should pay him a premium for what is from our own front yard.
‘Would you not value the home cooked food to what you get from the hotel,’?  he tries to reason out. 

The hardnosed bargainers that we are , we settle for a 20% discount from the branded one and the word is out to everyone while they come along with their jars and bottles. 
By the time Karthik is ready to leave, his boys have sold around 10-12 kgs of honey to the apartment dwellers extracted from their own apartment complex.

 They still have about 2-3 kgs left unsold.

Karthik’s son is doing brisk business having enticed the apartment residents to buy pure honey from him for a discount.  I can already see he has sold about 10-12 kilograms of honey.  I can see his son handling the bees swarming around the honey without any fear.  He even asks us to hold them to prove that they could be harmless.

Karthik hopes his son would go to school and make a living in any other conventional way.  He does not want him to be a Honey bee baiter like him.  

It is yet another occupation that may become extinct as the number of bee hives dwindle in number but also when honey bee baiters  get the mandate to destroy or relocate the queen bees.
Such is the cost we pay for ‘development’.


  1. Daddy would bring home honey comb and sugar cane from time to time when I was a child. I remember so well, chewing on it and savoring the sweetness! Very good article! This guy knew his stuff. Happy AtoZing!
    Revisit the Tender Years with me during the #AtoZChallenge at Life & Faith in Caneyhead!

  2. Oh, I would have bought the honey happily :-) must be my nickname :-). Blessed those who still have many bees


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