Thekambattu thoddara kadhai

The universe is made up of not only atoms, but also stories. And, so here is one more, for some of you who have been asking; “for those who came in late”. It will be a thoddara kadhai (serialised story, in Tamil), and go back and forth in time, spawning more stories as it goes along. So, if you would like to read more, keep the feedback coming.

This story begins with a view; well it begins with climbing up; slipping, sliding, scratched to the view; but one has to start somewhere:
It sounds ridiculous (or does it?) that both Sonati and I would decide to buy this land because of the view; but that decided it.
And perhaps that ensured that the land was bought, for otherwise, given the difficulties with water, the barrenness, the rockiness, no-one may have bought this piece of land.
And since we did, the land has now become green, and treed-up. Various birds have moved in which we never saw here earlier. And Varun, too moved in!
Various neighbours steal various things: Jackfruit, Guavas (though of late we have had a relentless stream of kids who actually come and ask for Guavas), Firewood, Timber wood, the land itself by pushing boundaries.

I seem to have moved to the end of the story so far, skipping over various intermediate stories. But that is just like a story; it takes on a life of its own.

When we moved on to the land, we could count the native trees on it: A couple of Karaya Gum Trees-the wood is very light and does not make good firewood because it smokes too much-, the Nerli because it was a shrine, and the trees adjoining it, the Banyan at the corner of the land because it was a Banyan, though even that did not prevent its branches from being hacked, and a couple of Alinjis -I don’t know why they were spared. The rest of the trees were hacked for firewood, and the land grazed to death by the cattle of all the surrounding villages. (Our land has eleven neighbours from three villages: Thekambattu, Valagapattu and Gundiyapattu; a situation ripe for conflict as we would soon learn)

Well, we moved on to the land on 12 March 2000 (having bought it a few weeks before that, on 17 Feb), into an 8′ by 10′ mud and thatch “keethu kottai” which was in the process of being finished as we showed up (Sonati, Badri, my parents and I) in a hired jeep with all our worldly goods and a rather grumpy driver. Who became even grumpier when “on the home stretch”, 100 m short of our land, the jeep got stuck thanks to a combination of slush and a rock embedded in the road. Which, for those who came in late, was not tarred: It was a otha adi padhai (a footpath) which had been broadened where possible to become a maatu paadhai (a cow track). A minor glitch, soon fixed…

We reached to find that the roof was still not done, and the walls were being poosified (smoothened) one last time. We pitched our tent (borrowed for any eventualities from the MMs), and unloaded our things. One clear image that stays with me till today is that of Terthan, single-handedly, or rather single-headedly carrying our small Godrej cupboard from the jeep down to the hut.


The workers pushed off for lunch, and we ate our idlis and lay down for a while in the cool of the hut. Soon, Amma and Appa were ready to head back to Salem, with a driver who was now markedly less grumpy, having had idlis and a nap. When Voila! Potti arrived, blustering and threatening, “This bit of land (where the hut was), I haven’t been paid for. I will fence it off tomorrow. You can’t use the hut until I have been paid” Sending up a silent prayer of thanks for having brought along the tent, I calmed him down, and a rather worried Amma and Appa headed back to Salem. (Things worked out well eventually, but they were not to know that for a few days, since the nearest phone was in Karumandurai, 6 km away; and it meant booking a trunk call to Sona College: No phone at home, No STD to Salem: Imagine!)
We cooked our dinner and slept very early indeed, and like logs.


Next morning, we woke to dappled sunlight, and were slowly doing things until we heard the sound of Parman’s pump start. Then it was half an hour of helter-skelter action: gathering water for the day, Badri and I washing clothes and having the first of many “Pump baths”. Then things slowed down again. We decided to sun our mattresses. and found to our horror that termites had eaten through the mats and had made inroads into the mattresses themselves. Immediate Action. And then a system had to be devised to tackle this until we could get some cots, and the mattresses needn’t be on the ground. I seem to remember that though the termites would attack (reed) mats with gusto; carry-mats were exempt from their depredations.

I guess that was the sign of things to come: There would be periods of an easy slowness and wham! something completely unforeseen would have to be tackled; and NOW! And then a system invented to prevent recurrence.

16 Responses to “Thekambattu thoddara kadhai”

  1. Rangarajan Says:

    Remarkable Suandar and Sonati and kinds.
    Congrats! on yet another anniversary.
    Keep the stories coming.
    It is nice to read.
    best wishes

  2. Prabhakar R Says:

    Nice story. We want more!!

  3. Prabhakar R Says:

    Did the termites consume the mattress over night?? Or time expands and contracts at will!!

  4. sunder and sonati Says:

    The termites made great inroads into the (reed) mats (Paais). And they had started on the mattresses: Holes in the brand new mattresses, overnight; yes.

  5. gaurav1729 Says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  6. anand patwardhan Says:

    cant wait to read more…

  7. T.S.Ananthu Says:

    It is impossible for a reader who has never made rural life his home to understand what Sunder and Sonati went through. But it is good they are sharing all this, for it might inspire some to follow on their footsteps. Obviously, only the very brave ones will do so!!


  8. Godfrey Says:

    a history no less wonderful than scripture

  9. rittika Says:

    Great story. I think many people secretly wish to do it but few have the conviction and courage to follow their heart. Wish you every joy and keep writing

  10. Suseela Says:

    14 years have gone by. Can’t believe it. I am trying very hard to remember whether Clive and I made our first visit when you were in the ‘Keethu Kotahai’. I love the way you write, Sunder and would love to read many more stories.

  11. sunder and sonati Says:

    Yes, Suseela; you and Clive were among the lucky ones who visited when we were in the keethu kottai. Everyone had to bend to get in at the door, but poor Clive; the image is imprinted in my mind of his having to crawl through the door 🙂

  12. Damayanti Says:

    Someday , surely Chat Dhruba and I will show up, just like that when you guys least expect it. I was wondering can I get you guys to share some of your experience for Fundamatics?

  13. Gautam Doshi Says:

    Always fascinating to hear of your experiences – Sunder/Sonati – please keep them coming! (14yrs! Wow!)

  14. anu Says:

    Congrats S,S,B And V! Wow, 14 years! can’t believe it. It seems like yesterday when the 6 of us first visited you on two bikes and had to remove all your possessions from the keethu kottai and leave them outside so that we could sleep inside! I think it was in July 2000, isn;t it?

    By the way you write so beautifully that it is a pleasure to read.

    Wish you many many more years and experiences and of course stories!

    Anu and krishna.

  15. sunder and sonati Says:

    Yes, Anu/Krishna; of course, we remember that visit. You were among our earliest visitors. It was 7 of you on two bikes by the way: 4 of you and Mehrab and her parents. 7 of us in the keethu kottai, and the three of them in the tent.

    Architect friends coming too late to help with our house 🙂

    And, now having to drop Sonati and Varun separately to Karumandurai, one realises that Gone are the days of 4-of-us+luggage on the TVS travelling to Sittilingi…

  16. Bindu Says:

    much love to you all. i can relate to a lot of what you share, but still hats off for pioneering on your own as a couple with a kid . . .

    for all the urban dwellers, i think there is nothing more b’ful than walking on earth barefoot and feeling home with the stars, the capricious moon, the birds, the snakes (we are resigned now to the old cobra that has taken up residence on our roof) and even the porcupines that persist in tasting all the fruits and veggies we plant . . . nothing more beautiful than watching seeds sprout up, esp. if one didn’t plant them in the first place. . . . nothing more b’ful, I 🙂 could go on and on

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