CHENNAI: You’d think sourcing fence-posts wouldn’t be complicated, wouldn’t you? Wrong. Since we’d decided on cement posts, our first pit-stop was WashingWands, where we were directed towards what seemed like an enormous public toilet (we later discovered that this was the town’s lake) that rejoiced in the name of GarlandChetty’s Pond — a very pretty name to what may have once been the site of flower-decorators, but was now a seedy street liberally decorated with sewage canals. Our destination was a semi-open enclosure full of cement jaalies: window embrasures with simple geometric designs. We waited for half-an-hour before the owner put in an entrance; he quoted such an exorbitant amount that we were stunned.
“It can’t be that expensive,” my father protested in high dungeon to a couple of his acquaintances, who’d accompanied us. “There must be some other option.”
“Stone it is.” One of our acquaintances, a lawyer (whom I’d nicknamed Panneer Soda because of his obsession with this drink). “I know a wonderful place that’s renowned for this sort of thing.”
However, he was blankly ignorant of the location or even name of said village and finally, we took the road towards Thiruvannamalai, driving through chaotic MudTown; picturesque hillocks, one of which held the famed Lourdes Matha Church; past rambling temples and on towards Polur, when I shrieked “Stop!”
The car screeched to a halt so suddenly that we were thrown forward in our seats, and my father was justifiably incensed. “What on earth are you —?” Then he stopped, following the direction of my finger. His jaw dropped.
In front of our eyes, on both sides of the narrow tar road spread out a village that seemed to be composed almost entirely of ramshackle huts — but what caught our attention was a strange sound: Tap–tap–tap. It went on and on, following its own rhythm and we stared around puzzled.
Suddenly, something struck me: I bent and peered inside the hut — to see a man dressed in a simple lungi, liberally covered in grey powder … chiseling at a large idol. We’d stumbled into a sculpture settlement. Here was a sculptor working on the gorgeous ornaments of Goddess Lakshmi; there was another, chiseling away at Lord Nataraja’s delicate nose and a third was putting in the finishing touches to Jesus Christ’s robes.
Just as we prepared to immerse ourselves into a splendid stone fairy land, my mother’s call arrived. My first suspicion — and my father’s — was that this was somehow connected to KingKong and his intended acid attack; secretly, we were all terrified that this might actually happen. “Is Victory — is he in cahoots with KingKong?” My father demanded.
“I don’t know,” my mother sounded flustered. “He’s just standing in the middle of the corner field like a statue …”
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)