CHENNAI: Spiro’s comment about dropping acid was like a bomb falling from the heavens. For a moment, there was a hushed silence — and then, pandemonium broke. Gethu jumped up, screeching her innocence, Spiro’s cunning; her husband’s unimpeachable character and other irrelevancies (“My daughter never recharges my cellphone!”) while we all tried to speak in turn, Spiro uttering staccato sentences with a smirk. In the distance, the JCB we’d hired to clear the ground promptly moved off course and flattened an empty tiffin box. The driver had been so engrossed in our discussion, you see.
The upshot of all this was that my father decided to raise a fence around the borders of our farm as soon as possible. What surprised us, however, was Spiro’s reaction. “But why?” He demanded on a visit to our tiny home in Indra’sGift, early one morning. “Fence and all …” he paused, physically wincing. “So unnecessary. The people of PreciousGems are sworn to keep their word and honour. Not one will touch what is not theirs.”
We stared at him, perplexed at this remarkable statement. My father reminded him gently of the verbal fracas just the day before, and Spiro shook his head again. “Just words. Even if KingKong and Gethu are worshtu …” And he embarked on an involved diatribe that seemed to mark them as out-and-out villains one moment and merely bumbling idiots, the next. During the succeeding months, we’d discover the existence of a most tenacious feud between the families of Spiro and KingKong dating from the time of the Imperial Chozhas, judging by taunts and terrible retaliation in the times of their ancestors. “They are bad people, very bad,” Spiro insisted, once again. “But no need for fence.”
Time and again we came across this peculiar contradiction in PreciousGems. Our new neighbours were satisfied with talking endlessly; agreed with our estimate of people and concurred on the vagaries of the Agri Department — but when it came to actually implementing anything, we ran against a brick wall. By now used to this, my father and I embarked on several journeys over the next few days to find posts for our fence: would stone do, or reinforced concrete? How many would be needed, and what about the length of wire? Ordinary or barbed?
My mother, meantime, was enmeshed in the nittygritties of crop maintenance; the first ever dose of jeevamirtham was up for distribution: 10 kilos of cowdung; 10 litres of komiyam; 2 litres of jaggery-waste; 2 kilos of flour and a handful of mud, the whole to be the fertilizer for an acre.
The day of our first journey to WashingWands for posts, by mother phoned me from the farm. “Something’s wrong with Victory.”
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)