Apna nimbu: Kahaan pahunchega?

December 16, 2014

Since there has been a lot of back and forth about our lemons, on Facebook, on our blog and in e-mails to us, we thought we should clarify/consolidate, and carry on the conversation.

If a solution was required to our personal lemon problem, then e-commerce or organic marmalade would have provided one. Even so, we strongly feel that surely these lemons should be consumed locally, by our neighbours and others from nearby who need lemons to pickle or juice or…

But the problem is not a personal one but rather a systemic one: which is that primary producers of all hues seem to be trapped by a broker mafia into becoming sweat shops for faraway customers who outsource their every requirement (and responsibility).

So perhaps, I need to say, with Wendell Berry, All you who eat; eat thoughtfully. Eating is a political act. Where you get your food, where it is cooked and who cooks it, and how you eat it: all of this contributes to the solution.

Farmers need every encouragement to grow food, not cash. As things stand, what Wendell Berry writes about 60’s America is true for India now: If you can get into a profession; why, then you must not be a farmer. If you can move to the city, why,then you must leave the country. If you can work the “miracle” of industrial progress, then you must do so, even if it means the theft of energy from posterity. (Posterity can’t complain!)

The countryside is no longer a place to come home to; it is a place to leave. That needs to be turned around.

landscape card


Apna nimbu bazaar bech nahin saka

December 14, 2014

To take it to the limit, Sonati and I decided to try and hawk our lemons in the shandy at Karumandurai. So we set off on the TVS with our bagful of lemons (and some lemon juice to drink), found a corner of the road, and set up the bag on the seat of the TVS. I started calling out “Paththu rubai-ku naalu” (Ten rupees for four).

In the hour that we spent there, we didn’t sell a single lemon.

The only ones who made a foray in our direction were the brokers. The garlic-man and his wife were also discouraging: “No-one will buy lemons; just give it to that broker…”. Raja came by for a chat and said that we should definitely not sell for 40 paise a lemon, but take them to Salem where “they don’t cheat so much”.

Was it a broker nexus that ensured that no-one bought from us? I wonder.
In the end, we unloaded our entire stock on Jothi and returned home. The Net-net for the day was a sketch by Sonati of me hawking (read trying to hawk) lemons off the TVS.

hawking lemons

The Fire

November 22, 2014

This happened at the height of the drought (Varun’s diary entry is for 25 March), and it still gives me the heebie-jeebies to think about it; but here is Varun’s Stream-of-Consciousness:

Varun's "The Fire"

I was in the Hippo Rock. I thought I saw smoke on the south-east corner of the bore-well tier.
I went down and told Appa.We went up. He said that they must just be burning stuff in the next kaad. Appa went back.
I noticed that it was on our land. A fire had started.
We went to the bore-well tier.

We went down into Doriswumi’s well tier. Ananda was starting the pump in Parman’s well. Appa started talking to him. Ananda said Shanti was burning the field where the well is and it must have spread.
I saw someone walking in the path in between the fields. He said something to Appa.
You couldn’t go straight from where we were standing to our land because there were too many plants in the way. We went to Doriswumis well, and then to another field and then in to our land. I noticed that there was diesel on my legs and on the slippers that I was wearing which were Appa’s.
The strap of one of my slippers broke. Appa was wearing them.

Appa told Ananda to get a knife. After some time he told me to get a knife. I think he said it because Ananda was taking too long.
I ran up and asked S’na for a knife. While she was getting it I quickly washed off the diesel from my legs.
I went down. Ananda had brought a knife and Appa was beating the fire down with a stick.
I said, “Should we get water?” We were wondering.

Appa said, “Just hang on to these,” and gave me two sticks which he had used to beat down the fire, and our knife and went away.I didn’t know where he went. I didn’t know where he went. I heard him shouting at someone and she was saying something. The fire had spread to one place were I thought I could put it out. I put it out. I thought I could put it out a little more. I did. That kept happening until the whole south-east corner was put out. While I was putting it out, Ananda came from a path that the fire had made. He said something to me and went.
The fire was spreading north. I had been using a stick to put out the fire. I was wondering whether to start cutting with the knife. I didn’t because it looked quite difficult, so I just kept beating it if it started coming west. I throw a few stones at it and it went off a little bit, and I was putting out fire on the east of the path to go down. When I was throwing stones, then I had to aim properly. The fire on the tier east of the bore-well tier had become big.
Someone came from the same path as Ananda had come. I wasn’t sure who it was, but I thought I had seen her before. She came with a “jarmenybon”  (eupatorium) stick so I thought she must be coming to put out the fire. She was. She put out the fire in the south-east corner of the bore-well tier which was spreading north. She had to go underneath some plants to put it out. There was a small fire on one of the leaves above her wile she was putting it out. I was just going to tell her, but she came out of the plants and it went off. She started putting out the fire on the edge of the tier below the bore-well tier. It kept suddenly becoming big even if it was small because it was quite dry.

There was one place which I thought I could put it out. She told me to check if everything was put out up. Maybe she wasn’t sure if I could put it out.
She put out the fire down.
We were looking at the fire which was spreading east. I heard Appa call me. I guessed that he was coming from Parman’s kaad. I told him him that we were putting out the fire. He said, “Who’s we? Thenan’s wife?”. I said, “I’m not sure who. Maybe” He told me that he had gone to Parman’s kaad to get water but when he reached he had noticed that there wasn’t much fire on the bore-well tier.
Appa told me that he had shouted at Thenan’s wife, Shanti. That’s who I must have heard him shouting at.

We went to the bore-well tier. She was Shanti. She was wondering what to do about the fire that was spreading east. Appa said you won’t be able to put it out. I heard him telling her that if it happens again it’ll be better if she tells him as soon as it happens.
I put on my t-shirt. I had kept it on top of the bore-well while putting out the fire. There were a lot of sacks and one of my old sleevelesses on it to cover the pipe, so that it was camouflaged.

I went to the Hippo rock after lunch. The fire had stopped. But I could see burnt stuff on the patch south-east of the one next to the road and Potti’s kaad.

We saw a plane flying very high in the evening.You could only see it because of its smoke trail.

Apna Nimbu Bazaar Becha

November 20, 2014

The title credit for this post goes to Pankaj, who has made a great film on much the same issues called Apna Aloo Bazaar Becha. The rant credits go to me and the insight credits to Sonati. 

Yesterday, it came viscerally home to Sonati and me that the Economy Rules OK! 

We have always sympathised with our farmer neighbours about their being trapped in the brokers’ clutches. One memory that stays is Govindraj and his young machan (brother-in-law), barely bigger than Badri Baba at that time, some 12 years ago: he was hawking tomatoes door-to-door at ₹3 a kg; the retail price in Karumandurai was ₹15; and he said that he was not going to get more than ₹1 a kg in Karumandurai. So he spent about three hours a day carrying his day’s pickings around the villages for some six or seven weeks!

I remember Unnamalai from Gundiyapattu pleading with a broker to give her 5 paise per lemon more than he was willing to give: eventually she had to take the offer of ₹20 for 100 lemons. 

Yesterday, I sold lemons for a rupee a piece, and I suspect I got a “good rate” because the broker was Jothi, my vegetable-wallah. Just last week I had heard him say that there was no way he could charge less than ₹5 a lemon because he was buying them for ₹4. 

Till this year we have never sold lemons: We have pickled them, gifted plenty (once even carting a couple of hundred to Bombay to gift away: half my luggage), and generally made merry with Nimbu pani, Lemon cakes and what-not. This year, too, we have gifted lots: it was a real pleasure to see the usually zombie-like Easparan’s face beam when, just as he was diffidently asking me for a few lemons (“My wife told me to ask you”), Sonati emerged with a bagful! 

And of course we have received gifts aplenty throughout our stay here of a variety of things. Pumpkins, coconuts, rice, what-have-you. In fact all these lemons are from trees grown from seed of lemons gifted to us by “Lemon” Annamalai. 

But this year it became a problem of plenty. Brokers started accosting me with offers of 50 paise per lemon (Just imagine, saar: ₹50 for 100). They would of course strip the trees if we let them and then we, who haven’t bought a lemon for many years may have been reduced to even that! A certain sense of entitlement also crept into those who received our lemons: “Anyway, if they are free, why not ask for more?” 

The long and the short of it was that there were a bit too many to handle, so yesterday, when I was going shopping I carried 100 lemons and asked Jothi if he wanted them for his shop. He enthusiastically took them and after having made out my vegetable bill, he finessed any attempt at bargaining (which in any case I never indulge in with him), by saying “It’s OK Anna, the lemons have paid your bill”. 

And it came home to me that I had sold our lemons at ₹1 apiece. Which was quite appalling. 

(An aside: Amma in Salem says that the shop makes more out of her coconuts than she does; Aseem says that Penguin makes more out of his book than he does; Russell says that an agent would make more out of his paintings than he does; only he doesn’t use an agent; and hence makes less money than he would otherwise. But I digress)

 And this is the trap that the farmer falls into. Moreso, if it is a cash crop. I mean, I can gift lemons away almost indefinitely, but any takers for Sugarcane? Tapioca? The system ensures that the buyer calls the shots and the seller has no choice but not to grow Tapioca for the market.

 But that too is a phantom choice. If you grow Ragi for a few years in fields surrounded by tapioca, you will find that all the neighbours’ rats migrate to your ragi-field. And to add insult to injury, when you do finally harvest whatever Ragi the rats have spared, your neigbours will say, “Saar, your rats have come to our fields”. 

Been there, Done that. 

We have seen the landscape change in front of our eyes, literally. When we came here, 14 years ago, 80% of the rainfed fields we saw were food crops: ragi, samai, kambu, nellu…Now no-one grows rainfed food crops. Farmers have moved to the cultivation of Tapioca to the exclusion of virtually everything else. 

The upshot is that since the aim is to make money, all our neighbours’ kids have turned to some form of brokering to add to their income. If you look at the statistics, India’s pulse production is steadily declining (Sunny: Numbers please). Not surprising at all. Anything which requires care throughout the year, is given up for low-maintenance tapioca. The menfolk can then go earn money in Tiruppur, Coimbatore, Kerala (or of course for the gamblers, there is Red-Sanders smuggling in Andhra).

 I can say that here in Thekambattu, at any rate, most of the younger generation have stopped thinking like farmers. And who can blame them? And it is likely that “No longer farmers in the mind” is the rule rather than the exception all over the country. And if we lose our farmers, who will feed us? 

I will end this with a quote from Oliver Goldsmith’s Deserted Village: 

“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;
Princes and lords may flourish or may fade;
A breath can make them as a breath has made.
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.”

…and an invitation to drop in for some Nimbu paani.

Lime Shot

November 20, 2014

lemon tree

The decision was final. The die was cast. We were going to sell some of our lemons. And today is the day.

After finishing some of the morning’s work, with a bag slung on my shoulder, I purposefully headed towards the lemon trees.

First uphill, to those newly fruiting ones, near the machang. All standing cheek by jowl, growing where the soil is now soft and spongy. Where my step bounces when I walk. Not only because of the soft, spongy terrain, but also because I fear I might tread too hard. They are, of course, not alone. With them are the towering acacias, colourful jacks, short dark coffee bushes, beginning to put out a few berries, a Salem gundu, a few oranges, rosewoods, avocados, tall pilla maradas, etc. A tall, shady grove.

From there, I move down, towards the back verandah of our house. There grows the matriarch. The first one, who gave us our first fruit; from whom we learnt our first lesson in harvesting them. That one doesn’t pluck lemons, but waits for them to ripen and fall off the tree. We had learnt the hard way. Trying to pluck them when they were green. It’s a very thorny tree.

Next to her is a particularly tall one, who is next to a chikoo, who is next to a twice-born Persian Lilac, who is…, where I also have a small kitchen garden.

I skirt round the beds of tum-tum kaai (sword-bean), mesta, onthhai bajep (a bodo herb), and reach the kallu kattu which is on the way to the Nesting Grounds. There, right at the edge, is another lemon tree. Always a bit tricky, collecting the fruits from this one.

Finally, I arrived in front of our house. Adjoining Varun’s garden stands a tall, spreading tree. Forever in our view, and in the view of those who visit us.

During the rounds, I picked up all the fallen ones first. But since we were going to sell them, they looked too few. I look up and see quite a few yellowish ones. In a few days’ time, they’ll surely fall. I tug and twist and pluck them. Then, I see some nice big light-green ones, tinged with yellow here and there. With few more twists and tugs and a few scratches on my arms I get them also. If we are going to sell them, then we might as well get as many as possible. All along I was most amused at myself, and the workings of my mind. How little it took to changing my attitude in response to wanting to sell. For all that, the price we got upon selling them is simply atrocious. It just doesn’t make sense. What makes more sense is really more sharing—nimbu pani, pickles, lemon cakes…. And, I do want to do a painting of a fruiting lemon-tree at night. Lit up by fireflies. Golden orbs, glowing in the magical night.

A week in the life of…

August 17, 2014

In a sort of Future Shock mode, stories tumbled over one another, around Aadi 18, a couple of weeks ago.

On Friday morning, Perumal came for work, and said that he would have to visit his kaadu, once in a while during the day. Shanthi had gone off to Melthukuli: A relative of hers, a boy studying in Class 10 at the Manniarpalayam school had been found dead in some bushes. The parents and other ooru-kara had blamed the schoolmaster, beaten him up, and called in the police.

Later, when Perumal went off for lunch, he told me about a Gundiyapattu boy who was hacking our trees, “down below”. I went down, saw someone up a silver oak, and yelled out. He immediately yelled out,”I am just trimming your branches, saar“. It turned out to be Murugan, son of Saamikannu, whom I have seen since he was a baby. I brought him up to take a photo to mark the occasion (How do we respond, is the eternal question Sonati and I ask ourselves).


It transpired that he, too, studies at the Manniarpalayam school in Class 9. He had seen the body and said that it had Knife marks and nails hammered in. He said that it was the handiwork of classmates of the victim. Gruesome in the extreme.

I extracted a promise from him (for whatever that is worth) not to trespass on our land, and sent him off.

Post lunch, Rasiamma came by to see if Perumal had had his lunch. Her story (heard in Karumandurai, where she had gone for work) was that the murdered boy was a very good student, and that the others (who were from Kallakurichi, not Malaivasis) had killed him out of envy: “Poraamai” she said.

Horrifying. The acme of competition: eliminate all competitors.

On Sunday, Aadi 18, I go to Karumandurai to pick up Badri who was returning from his Bangalore trip on the Kariakovil ATC. I sat at the bus stand and watched boys as young as or younger than Badri Baba step behind to the TASMAC shop and buy themselves a couple of bottles of booze, emerge and roar off three-on-a-bike. I heard someone come by and ask,”Yenna da? Beer-a, quarter-a, Oine-a?” A great line, that. It is incredibly scary to think that these young kids have money to burn, and that they are going to be drunk-driving.

When I returned with Badri Baba, I saw evidence of “meeting-u“s all over the place, complete with (cell phone or car-stereo) music blaring. There was an enormous pile of (broken and unbroken) bottles outside Perumal’s shop, and what seemed to be a meeting-u in progress at our corner-kaadu.

When we got home, Sonati told me she had heard what seemed to have been a bike accident at the turn. We later found out that Mylesaami s/o (Rogue) Ramasaami had dislocated his knee while speeding at the turn and not quite making it (the turn). I said, He broke his own leg, bloody, but what if he had taken a couple of others to hospital with him? To which everyone agreed with much shaking of heads about the younger generation. The only one who spoke up for him was Perumal, who came for work the next day. He said that Mylesaami’s in-law’s had extracted a promise from him before marriage, and that he never drank. As far as I am concerned, the jury is out on that one. And, in any case, rash driving while not drunk is as bad in my book as drunk-driving. I said that they should also have extracted a promise from him not to speed on bikes.

So, I ask, where do these youngsters get the money from? Well, some get it from pulling kuchchi (and it is kuchchi season now, though there is no rain); but many get it from Sandalwood smuggling (and now that all the sandalwood has been smuggled, from Red Sanders-smuggling). Gangs of youngsters go from our villages to the Tirupati forests. Last year, Perumal himself was in jail in Andhra Pradesh for 3 or 4 weeks, and Shanthi had to up-down to-from foreign Police stations. He came back after his sojourn, not chastened at all. He told us that the “owner-u” (a catch-all word meaning the boss of the operation) had paid Rs 30,000 per person to secure their release.

For those who want the details, you can smuggle Red Sanders for an owner-u or as a freelancer. And much as anywhere else, the rewards are greater for freelancers, but so are the risks. The “owner-u“s have contacts with the local Forest Departments, Police stations and so on. If you go as freelancer, then not only are the Foresters and Police pitted against you, so is the conglomerate of “owner-u“s! A racket well run.

Anyway, Perumal came back, but the lure of the lottery proved too much, and he was back to the Forests pretty soon. This time he came back and described in great detail how he had got away by leaping over some logs and running in an unexpected direction and making it out of the immediate vicinity on a bus.

All this was too much for Shanthi, and Sonati and I blame her subsequent miscarriage on this physical and psychological stress during her pregnancy. She is pregnant again now, and Perumal hasn’t gone this year to the forests. Thankfully. He claims that a shooting order is in effect. There is a smuggler’s grapevine which knows about such things. I have read on and off about Red Sanders in the Hindu, and one article was a particularly gory one about a Forest Guard being stoned to death. When I tell Perumal about this, he says that the smugglers had probably taken fright, and in their trying to get away, they must have thrown rocks at the Foresters. Which is probably true, but the situation is fraught with violent possibilities. As we find out the next day itself:

Monday morning, Arunachalam does not come for work, and I assume that it is a post-pathinettu hangover.
However when he comes for work on Tuesday morning, he tells me that Chinnamma and others in the family have gone off to Velanur because a relative has been shot by Forest Guards while caught stealing Red sanders near Tirupati. A large gang had gone from the Sittilingi valley; and five are dead and some thirty under arrest. The stories are hearsay from those that got away. There is no body for closure, and there may never be.
Arunachalam says that if the shooting happens in Tamil Nadu, then the body is returned but not if it happens in Andhra Pradesh. But the lure of the lottery continues to draw youngsters to this “trade”.

In all this, I wonder if you have realised that Arunachalam got away without explaining his absence by spinning out this story 🙂

So there it is. The lure of the lottery, be it the school lottery or the Red Sanders lottery drives the youth away from their responsibilities to their families and communities.

Writing about Urban America in the early 60’s, Paul Goodman wrote, “We can hardly expect a youth to have a sense of responsibility to his community when every force in modern urban life tends to destroy community sentiment and community functioning”. This is so true about rural India today as to be uncanny. For example, (and each of the examples merits its own blog post), walking and talking has disappeared with the advent of roads, bikes and vandis of all sorts. It is only when Sonati and I are walking on paths, and meet others doing the same, do we realise that something so elementary has all but disappeared.

Old age, from being a stage of life has become a condition: The very old are referred to as OAP (Old Age Pension) cases. Disputes which can easily be settled in the village community by the elders are no longer resolved that way. Disputes travel to the Police station and the Law courts.

Mechanisation means that bullocks are no longer a part of the family. Youngsters are not needed at home to graze them. So they are sent off to Boarding schools in the hope that they will “crack” the school lottery. But for every one who does, a hundred become misfits in their own culture, unwilling and unable to farm their land.

And Monetisation of the economy means that what were Gender Differences have become Gender Inequalities, for the young man of the house is the one who has the cash and calls the shots. It is he who will have the cell phone and ride the bike.

However you look at it, there has been an Urbanisation of the mind. And any solution to any problem is acceptable only if it is acceptable to this Urbanised Mindset.

Oldies here talk about their youth when they used to walk down to Pappanaickenpatti, about 15 km away, with sacks of their cash crop (kaddukai) on their backs, and return with salt and matches, once in six months. Everything else was locally produced.
From this degree of self-sufficiency, the culture here has changed to one of cash-based mini-towns in the 40 years since the road from Salem was built. And it continues to change dramatically in front of our eyes.

Furture Shock indeed!

Our Dersu Uzala moment

June 14, 2014


Some scenes stick in our minds long after they have happened. For Sonati and me, one such is what happened one night in June or July 2000. It is as if we are outside somewhere looking on at Sunder and Sonati doing something in a frenzy. And if you ask me how long this “moment” lasted, I would only be able to say, “Somewhere between ten minutes and an hour”.

In the couple of months after we moved into our keethu kottai, we got some more infrastructure built: a pit latrine, a bathroom, and another (slightly larger) keethu kottai.We moved into this larger kottai, and the first one became a storeroom

The moutu (ridge) of the storeroom leaked: that is a story by itself; the lack of pride in workmanship; the easy-to-build (by someone else though) tarsi(concrete)-roofed houses; the loss of knowledge of how to build your own house among the younger generation; the change from a self-sufficient culture to a cash economy.

Anyway, I had scheduled some oldies to come and patch the roof with rice-straw, which I had bought and stacked nearby. But some weddings and funerals intervened and our hundred sacks of cement had arrived and been stacked without the roof having been repaired.

We prayed for No Rain that night, and went to sleep. In the middle of the night we were woken up by thunder, lightning and RAIN! Both of us leapt out of bed and started throwing the rice-straw onto the roof. Luckily Badri Baba slept through it all.

The frenzy is all we remember, lit by flashes of lightning. We were completely soaked at the end of it, but the patch worked. Not a drop leaked onto the cement sacks.


A Blast from the Past

April 30, 2014

This is a story where one needs a few photos or a video clip or better still, the boys doing it in mime, but my writing and a drawing by Sonati will have to suffice. I was telling Kumar and Rajeshwari this story in Madras, when I realised that many of you would not have heard it.

When we moved to the land, there was no road to Valagapattu, just an otha adi paathai (footpath). In fact, ridiculous thought now, but we were thinking of fencing off that part of our land and leaving two gates for people going to and from Valagapattu.
Anyway, we knew that a road was on the cards and it did come through, but after many battles, throwing stones at the JCB, inter-village fights.
The contract for the road was given to “Contractor” Shanmugam from Omalur.

What follows took place at a time when we did not have electricity or a phone and so, of course, no computer and no Internet. It was early 2003 and Varun was a toddler.

It was getting to be dark, Sonati had lit the lanterns, when I saw four fat men in white (Imagine Tamil politicians, well endowed paunches, all, white veshtis, white shirts) climbing our slope. They came, and without a by-your-leave plonked themselves on our camp-cots which were in the Front Verandah. The cots creaked ominously, but, thankfully, nothing gave.
The boss-man was reclining on one cot, head on hand, elbow on cot, like in a Roman Orgy. The other three were squeezed together on the other cot, which was therefore full to carrying capacity.
I sat on one of the ledges waiting for them to begin.


The boss-man started off, “I have spoken to the thalaivar, and he has said that it is OK, so now I have come to ask you (the sub-text is tell you). I need to blast your rock for making jalli for the road”.
I am more than a bit taken aback, since this was quite out of the blue, and stammer, “No, No, can’t you find some other rock?”.

He says that he is making the road to help me, so I have to help him in this way.
I say that I have come here to get away from roads.

Looking around, as if changing the subject, he asked if I was not afraid of living alone. “No-one is close by”.
I said, “No, I know all my neighbours, I have been here for a few years and what do I have to be scared of anyway?”

He says that he is always careful and produces a pistol from the recesses of his veshti. He says that I, too, should keep one, perhaps, for “Who knows?”

I realise that I am seeing a pistol for the first time in my life. And I realise that I am being threatened, also for the first time in my life.
Luckily, I also realise that the answer has presented itself in the question, as it were.

I say that I don’t need a gun, I have Aandavan (God) looking after me. I also said that my grandfather has said that the Hippo Rock has a lot of “Power”. And in fact my eventual game plan is to carve a statue on the rock when I am able to.

This, thankfully seems to be a clinching argument, and thanking me, and calling off his lackeys he left. He never did come back with that “request” again, possibly because he found other rocks to quarry. But we would like to think that it was a case of God saves the Hippo Rock.

Two bits on this election

April 26, 2014

Since this Lok Sabha election has generated so much heat, so many posts, so much debate, here is our two bits’ worth:

Today, when I went shopping to Karumandurai, I could feel the holiday; or rather the morning after. Very few bikes, almost no men around, none of the tea shops making tea, let alone vadas. All the men were nursing their hangovers. At the Rice mill, for the first time, it was Palni’s wife who ground the wheat for me.

Yesterday was voting day. In the morning, Govindraj delivered our voting slips which he had picked up from the Thekambattu school headmaster a few days ago. He told us that our Ward 1 voting machine was “repair-u” and had gone to Valapady to be fixed. So he said that no voting was going on at the moment, and that we should go to vote in the evening after the rush was over. Which is what we usually do. And which is what we did.

So, at around 4.30, Sonati and I walked down to Thekambattu to vote.The voting itself was done in moments. On the way there and back, however, we saw that almost all the men, young and old, that we saw, were smiling beatifically, talking garrulously, “vanakkam”ing exaggeratedly. We have never seen so much drunkenness in any other election. It seems that though the cash-for-votes didn’t come through, the booze definitely did.

One great image that will stay with me is of four Valagapattu men on a bike. The driver was smiling broadly, and waved at me spaciously, completely unfocussed on the road. Whereas the three pillion riders were grimly staring at the road as if in order to make up for the driver’s lack of focus.

Some cash-for-votes did come through though.The day before, on the 23rd, Rathinam and two other Valagapattu men came by to offer us Rs 200/- each for our votes. As usual, I said that they should put the money in the Temple Hundi. As usual, they embarrassedly asked us to vote for Two Leaves and left.The DMK contingent didn’t show up.

Sonati and I were talking about the situation: Bribes, Corruption and so on. We said that of course, we would never complain about Rathinam whom we have known since he was a boy/ young man. And surely this feeling would be shared by all the villagers. Distributing cash is not perceived as a crime. In fact quite the contrary: the ones who don’t distribute the cash but keep a cut for themselves from every share are the ones who are considered criminal.

In fact, since I didn’t take the money from Rathinam, he would have boozed it away (So was it right for us not to have taken the money and encouraged his boozing ?:-)

To those who debate about these things, we ask you to reflect on the difference in culture.

Corruption is pervasive. Villagers have to shell out money for the simplest of things (An ST Certificate for their children’s concessions in school fees, A transfer of land from Father to sons), so the one time they are being offered money, they are not about to refuse on moral grounds. No question of it.

People like us talk on Facebook, and write posts about “each vote counts” and “do your duty”, but for the villagers, the Lok Sabha and even the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections are not grounded in any sort of reality. (And, to be honest, neither Sonati nor I feel that we are electing our representatives)

The Panchayat elections are an altogether different ball-game. Since they (and we) know the candidates personally, they (and we) can vote for a person — a representative. Not a symbol.
Is Representative Democracy really representative? Sunny had done some back-of-an-envelope calculation on Facebook and came up with a figure of some 30 political warlords, at the maximum, controlling Parliament. 30 people representing 1 billion!
How many of those reading this know the names of 10 MLAs in their state? 30 MPs in parliament? Not I.

By contrast, I know (not just the names but the people) half the members of the Karumandurai Panchayat (Well, actually, their husbands, but that is another story by itself). Political power must devolve “downwards”.

Having said that, we feel heartened by the fact that many people who have been apolitical and apathetic so far, have been galvanised into some action in this election. BUT this story BEGINS with the vote. We must involve ourselves with the political process wherever we can. We must hold our representatives accountable: They must represent us.

Otherwise we, too, are in the same league as the gang, which, as Sonati and I sat and watched from the Hippo Rock on Election night, drove an SUV into a field, switched on green flashing lights and had their “Meeting-u“: “Vote-u potaachu, Oru quarter podalaam

Thekambattu thoddara kadhai

March 12, 2014

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.