When my dad called me to a kuladeiva pooja (a ceremony in our native village) last week, I readily agreed. One, because it was a weekend getaway, more like a mini holiday after a long time. Two, because I wanted to understand my roots, and know more about this ritual which I attended once before, when I was 11.
The turn from the Thiruvannamalai-Thirukoviloor highway is not easily recognisable, and we’d miss it every time if not for our landmarks – the Ayyanar idol having a couple of bodyguards’ statues for company and a dried up temple tank. A few hundred metres in and we reach the village, which is characteristic of a Shiva temple at the start of the concretised road and a Vishnu temple at the end of it. Closer attention to the Shiva temple reveals that it’s got extremely thick walls – about one metre. The entire settlement is made up of two parallel roads.
On reaching Agaram, which is what this settlement is called, the first striking difference is the lack of technology. Also, curse that ever-present Airtel advertisement woman who claims that there’s 4G in every corner of our country. There’s no signal at all here. But I eventually take it in my stride. We’ve been slaves of electronic gadgets for way too long, that we fail to see and acknowledge those around us. People watching is a very important component of travel.
The next thing I notice is the style of construction of the houses. It is built in the form of single rooms, one behind the other as a long passage, which terminates in a backyard having a very deep well and Indian toilets which my counterparts from the US would revolt against. To take bath, you have to tie a towel and strip down to your undies in the backyard drawing water using buckets tied to a rope from the well. Very old school. Though the temperature outside is sizzling, the house gives away no signs of letting the heat in. Also, the houses are touching each other with no concept of a compound wall. Naturally, no side windows either.
I greet my relatives, septuagenarians who’ve lived here since birth but making the occasional visit to the cities where their kith and kin now live. Their faces light up, as not everyday do they see around 15 people making their way to their home. They outdo themselves with the food. The kind of food which gives you tremendous satisfaction. I think it’s to do with the quality of ingredients more than anything else.
They lament at the state of affairs of the village now. At one point of time, 60 families lived here, all related to each other in some way, if you look at the family tree seven generations up till the root. Now, only four still remain, while the rest of them have sold their houses and moved to the bigger cities or affluent towns nearby. There would be so much activity, interaction between people and lots of gossip. Evenings would be when the men gather around, sit and play cards outside the houses while the women do the cooking. I am starting to envy those days at this point.
My mother tells me about the politics that used to exist back then. Husbands were controlled by their wives when it came to the household related affairs, and sisters in law wouldn’t engage in much conversations while mothers and daughters in law held grudges and had a mighty ego. And here I was wondering about feminism and how women in the villages were oppressed by the men of the house.
They see people from the city with sort of an aura, like we’re from a place that’s richer and better. But they also know that they’re happier. They are laid back, helpful, they talk to people not via gadgets and are completely aware of what goes on in which household. They’re content and yet proud of their place. I could kind of draw similarities to people who look at settling abroad, comparing it to life in India. We wouldn’t give up our country while we still live here.
A few hundred yards down the road takes us to the huge Thenpennai river, which the people living here claim to have more water now than ever. It is as big as Cauvery in its mightiest form, except with knee deep water, spanning 20% the width of the river. So much build up for this? When I ask them more about it, they say there have been times in the past when they had to use a JCB digger to make bunds and form small pools and take bath. There was an interesting story about my dad’s white clothes which refused to get back to its original colour till date after having one dip in that pool. But now, thanks to the rains in December there is flowing water, and as Thenpennai is never known for flowing water, that too in peak summer, this is kind of a big deal.
For someone who went with the expectation of a breath of fresh air, what I got was a lot more than that. While returning, my dad suggested buying a piece of land and settling down here post retirement for good. His generation might still be able to do that, but I realised it could be a little too much for mine.
This is a travelogue. There is likely to be a part 2 for this entry. Stay tuned.