CHENNAI: It was around the time when we were preparing to check out our call-taxi driver Biriyani and his friend KingKong’s land proposal, that my father decided to check the prospective land on his own. “We’ve been doing this together for a while and each time, we keep hoping that this one will be ours — or that one — but that never happens,” he said heavily. “This time, maybe I’ll check it on my own. That way, if it doesn’t work out…”
We nodded, steeling ourselves for disappointment. What will happen will happen, we told ourselves often. If it’s meant to be, it will be. And yet, I asked myself, what if it wasn’t? Would it be the right thing to just settle for nothing if it didn’t work out? What about my mother’s 35-year-long dream? Was that to be nothing just because we couldn’t find the right farm in two years? But despite our best efforts, our spirits were flagging.
My father duly went on his solitary trip with Biriyani while we waited at home, with bated breath. When he finally returned that evening, we pelted him with questions, but received nothing except half-hearted grunts. Dinner was spent in almost complete silence. When I looked up at my father’s face, I saw that his eyes were lit with suppressed excitement — the kind you get when you’ve dug up treasure under your own front door, but you’re worried the neighbours might have seen it.
“So?” asked my mother, unable to bear it any longer.
“Let’s see,” Dad grunted. “We’ll go again this weekend.”
We couldn’t get anything more out of him. Our supposedly random queries, asked with a purposely unstudied air brought no replies; he’d just smile and leave for work. The week rolled away, and that Saturday, we bundled ourselves into Biriyani’s car and trundled towards Thiruvannamalai.
Of all the districts of Tamil Nadu, this was perhaps the most unfamiliar to me. My travels towards the south rarely led me through the north-west, or even slightly west of the state; our paths simply didn’t cross. There was another factor too: obsessed as I was with Chozha history, its famous temple-towns, sites, and historical associations, I didn’t credit Thiruvannamalai with many attractions. A vastly mistaken assumption as I later discovered — but my reading, until that point, hadn’t really glorified Thiruvannamalai. The district’s biggest attraction was the humongous, and immensely renowned Arunachaleswarar Temple (which I’d visited), complete with the Ramanashramam, ardent devotees who made giri valams all around the hill, and all the usual elaborate protocols and legends surrounding such a grand institution.
I’d read about the Pallavas, Nayaks and later, the British Raj, but somehow, these didn’t have the impact the Chozhas or Pandiyas did. Where were the adventures, the fantastic rulers, the wonderful stories? Thiruvannamalai district seemed deadly dull, to me. And when we finally reached the farm my disappointment was complete.
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)