CHENNAI: One of these days,” Sakku stood up to her full height in the swampy mud, sari tucked into her waist. “One of these days, I’ll get you. We’re all part of the same village. Think I wouldn’t know who did it? You think I would just let it go?” She drew a deep breath. “I’ll find out who stole my ull-pavadai!”
Gathered there for the second day of weeding, all of us broke into laughter, while a half-tearful Sakku railed against undergarment thieves who ripped off her brand new purchase just the day after she’d bought it from MudTown. I remonstrated with her; surely it couldn’t be any of her own friends? “You look at them, Akka,” Sakku hissed and pointed to her mates. A once, every one of the ladies industriously bent in weeding let their saris down so they sank in the mud! “It’s one of them,” she growled and Mottai Smitha broke into a subdued chuckle.
Although I grinned even I knew, by then, that theft was no laughing matter; it was a raging problem in PreciousGems; so much so that my father renamed our village StolenGems. Everything that could be stolen did get stolen: from shovels and cell-phone chargers to pens and even water-bottles, nothing was safe. We lost all our brand-new farm implements the very first day after we’d signed the sale deed, while water-theft was so much a part of everyday farm life that practically every one of our neighbours warned us about it — while continuing to surreptitiously irrigate their fields with water from our wells.
“But this is atrocious,” I objected to the Jolly Giant, Bottle’s son, who was now a regular fixture on our farm, while Victory, our manager, stood by the well, picking his nose. “How can you just take something that doesn’t belong to you?”
“Oh, there’s no trust in these parts,” Giant genially, as he shored up the banks with practiced strokes of a manvetti. “You can’t trust even me.”
The very weird sequel to this conversation was that Giant simply took home our manvetti and had to be persuaded to return it. He was apologetic about it of course, but offered an explanation: it was a very good manvetti and he couldn’t help himself.
The message was clear: we needed to have the fences raised as soon as possible. The stone posts were swiftly ordered and within the time they took to arrive, the farm had to be re-measured and the boundaries marked out.
This was a protracted process; a friend of our lawyer offered to take on the job and ambled along the fields all day with a tape measure, finally setting a few boulders as markers. At sunset we retired, to resume planting posts the next day. When we arrived in the morning, the boulders were gone.
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)