CHENNAI: Our new friend Spiro had proven to be right when it came to jaggery wastes: there wasn’t any to be had for either love or money, in the surrounding areas. We’d tried the usual suspects: Indra’sGift, TownOfConfusion, MudTown and even WashingWands but to our dismay, their shops possessed only jaggery, which was too expensive in bulk. “You have to have something sweet in the mixture, or jeevamirtham will have no effect,” my mother insisted.
It was around this time that cabin fever bug bit me, seriously. For days I’d either stayed at our new little flat in Indra’sGift, setting up the paraphernalia that a household commands, or ridden over to the farm, watching the slow process of bringing 6 odd acres into form. I needed — no, desperately craved a change. And made a petition to my father: how about halting jaggery-hunting for one brief afternoon, and setting off to explore a historical site?
This proposal was not without its dangers, for my father had a certain quirk in his personality: he instantly vetoed anything that anybody (especially family) suggested, until he was somehow convinced that it had been his idea in the first place. My tentative plan to explore Kappalur, a temple-town some 50 kms from where we lived, met with several objections:
“It’s a long drive.” (We’ve been trundling 120-130 kms each week, not to mention all the numerous trips we’ve made in-between)
“Do we really need to visit crumbling old temples?” (Yes, because our past is as important as our present.)
“What about hunting for jaggery?” (Wish for it hard enough, and maybe the entire Cosmos will provide it, like some great Saint said — or maybe Shah Rukh Khan.)
In the end, my father ran out of objections, quite possibly because he, like me, loved choosing a direction and just going wherever the road led. These were splendid adventures: we never knew what the next turn would bring; what natural wonder Thiruvannamalai would provide. For this was a land, I was beginning to discover, of wild, untamed forests that hosted brilliant plant and bird life.
We set off on the long, rumbling road towards MudTown (which possessed several lovely churches, including one on a hill) and beyond, cutting across National Highways and whizzing past towering hills, for Thiruvannamalai was the land of craggy mountains as well. The sun sank in a dazzling blaze of pink, purple and golden yellow. Beyond Polur, in the direction of Chengam, a long, high range of hills appeared to our right, bathed in the light of the setting sun. “So how do we get to this precious village of yours?” he demanded. Our driver pointed to a signboard almost buried under a canal, by the side of the road. “Kappalur — 3 kms,” he read out. “And look what’s behind the board,” I grinned. A vast, high field of … sugarcanes.
(The writer is a journalist, artist, translator, historian and editor but not necessarily in that order)