CHENNAI: 95% of PreciousGems being composed at farms, most of the village spent its time there too — and conversations were apt to go something like this:
Hill Mudaliar: See, I was in the Lower Acre this morning so I could not answer your call.
Us: Why not? You said you would, if you were there.
HM: But I was not. I mentioned that I would be checking the Lake’s Canal
Us: Isn’t that adjacent to the Lower Acre?
HM: You city people have no sense of direction. How could I be in the Lower Acre when I specifically told you I was in the Lower Acre?
You could be forgiven if this made you tear your hair out (trust me, we were severely afflicted, at first) but it turned out that Hill was talking about “our” Lower Acre and not “his” Lower Acre ... and you get the picture: everyone spoke of Upper or Lower Fields; Middle Canals; Mottu Kazhani (slang, again, for Upper Kazhani); The Field-Below; North-Eastern-Kazhani-At-The-End-Of-Murugan’s Field (and there were at least 15 Murugans in the village); Corner-Plot-Where-A-Dog-Drowned or even the Field-Where-Nothing-Grows... so references to kazhanis often made little sense unless you knew exactly what you were talking about, at precisely that point of time. It was like conducting a mundane conversation on WhatsApp; a few days later, you’ve no idea what you were talking about.
To combat what seemed like a very legitimate problem to us at least, we decided that our fields should have names and history nut that I am, I named them thus: Rajarajan Kollai; Maamallan Kollai; Asoka, Samudhra Gupta, Krishnadeva Raya, Edhirili Perumal (Emperors, all); Munro (a Madras Governor from Scotland who loved India); Vandhiyathevan and Kundhavai (characters from my favourite novel, Ponniyin Selvan), Pallavarayan (after a noble Thamizh chieftain) and Tenali Raman (because this patch happened to fall below Krishnadeva Raya) — all this, much to the amusement of our Man Friday Vic, and our neighbours, who insisted on getting the names mixed up (“So, you have named your Kollai after Kundhiyamma from Mahabharatham” — “No, no, it’s Kundhavai!”) and yet, miraculously, after a few days, people actually put in an effort to remember
Now that we’d arranged for rice saplings, we had to prepare for the next step of farming: parambadithal. This was a process by which the field, after having been thoroughly ploughed and the earth turned over, needed to be flattened before planting, so water would be distributed evenly. This involved attaching a special, flat plank to the tractor and making repeated circuits (rather like a cement-paver) until the field looked like it was covered in smooth, dark chocolate without a single crease or ripple. It was around this time that our driver PrettyMan’s wife suddenly doused herself with kerosene and set herself alight; we made the acquaintance of a brand-new character in our village named Bottle — and KingKong returned to our lives with a vengeance.
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)