Watching Ric Savage and his family dig up earth and stumble upon precious artefacts in an episode of the reality show Savage Family Diggers on Discovery Channel excited me in no small measure. What galvanised me all the more was the way Ric was able to relate the teams’ finds to a piece of American history or heritage in double quick time. In the show, the former heavyweight wrestling champion along with his wife and two sons select spots that could land them possible windfalls, seek permission from landowners for ground digging, press into service detectors and machinery and leave no stone unturned, literally. If they locate historic objects, they will sell them through professional collectors and share the spoils with the landowners. When Ric hits upon a prized piece, he shouts “boom baby”, throwing his hands up in ecstasy.
Inspired by the show, our own land/house owners may be tempted to go beneath their grounds to unearth historic materials like a Robert Clive coat button or Pulikesi II’s sword handle. But, of what use? However trivial the find may be, our archeological department may swoop down on the owners. As a Class VI boy in the 1970s, hardly did I know about government regulations and ventured to part with a treasure my team of four classmates chanced upon. In today’s context, the piece would have become a subject of rage, a topic of high-decibel debate on prime-time channels.
Four of us boys used to sit on the dune sands close to Kamaraj college in the southern port town of Thoothukudi during weekend evenings for a chat. I’d narrate a story or an episode of a serial spun out of my imagination and my friends would listen spellbound. One day, as I generated some fictitious stuff out of the Ramayan without either reading or listening to it properly, the other boys were aimlessly digging in the sand with their hands. It was then that Kumar said, “Hey, I’m hitting something in the ground.” We all helped him and, lo and behold, a giant left-handed shank (conch) emerged out of the sand. Boom baby? Nay, I shouted “Rama, Rama!” Being a coastal town, tiny natural shanks could be seen in the area but never one of this size. Immediately, I changed gears and said, “Friends. Listen. This is not an ordinary conch, but the one used by Lord Rama. You know, he went to Lanka and had crossed this terrain. Deliberately, he’d dropped it here and it’s our blessing that we got it today.” Now, the three friends wanted to seize it. I declared that Kumar had the first right to possession but he should maintain it religiously in the puja room.
What followed was a huge embarrassment to me. Like a boomerang, within 24 hours, the conch was in my home and I was summoned by my dad for an enquiry. It turned out that Kumar had carried the hefty conch to his home and with a heave, placed it in the puja shelf. The (Late) Prof K N Sivaramakrishnan, an eminent Tamil professor, quizzed his son on what he’d brought home. Kumar explained it was a gift from Lord Rama. I didn’t know then that the Professor was an expert on the Ramayan and he spoke on the epic with absolute authority and a delectable mastery in several literary stages. Trembling, I went to the room and saw the Professor seated in our hall beside my dad and the controversial conch resting silently on a stool. I deflected my dad’s stare and looked at the Professor, who spoke softly and with a twinkle in his eyes, “Just wanted to tell you that you are very creative. I give discourse on Ramayan to so many people. Never did I know Rama visited Kamaraj college. I’ve to get update from you.” As I moved away blushing, the two fathers broke into rapturous laughter.