Posts Tagged ‘villagers’

Many a Slip

August 27, 2016

last jack hanging

This year, our jackfruits have been ripening rather late… about a month later than in other years.
Someone got impatient a month ago and stole one of the low-hanging fruit. This roused Arunachalam, who is working for us at the moment, to a fury and he barricaded some of the gaps in the fence, through which people can get in.
And all of us (including Arunachalam, of course) enjoyed a run of 5 superb jackfruit. Till yesterday.

In the evening, I noticed one of the lower-hanging fruit was missing. Since I have passed the baton to the boys wrt checking—plucking at the right time—sharpening the knives—dressing the jackfruit and so on, I had to call Varun to confirm that the fruit was not one that we had eaten.

He came and immediately said that it was stolen, and raced off, me following, in the direction we thought that the thieves would have taken.
At some point, he told me that I could return home—nobody to catch—and that he would return a different way.

A short while later, he was shouting out to me. I stopped. He returned to say that he had seen two boys, likely eating the jackfruit, further down and would I come fast.

I slithered and skidded down the path that he negotiated surefooted as a goat. But too late. The thieves had gone.

We returned in the twilight, by a path unknown to me, and reached the place in our fence which had been breached. I struggled over it courtesy a (literal) helping hand from Varun and realised that my chasing days were over. I passed the baton, telling the boys that henceforth in such situations they should carry on and confront the people; shouting out for me whether I was at hand or not.

Varun asked me if my wish for the last jackfruit was to be able to eat it peacefully, or to have the thieves try again and catch them red-handed this time.

This morning, Arunachalam was really furious, and said that we should have given chase with a stick. Had we caught them, we could have had a “nyayam pechu” in the village and claimed to have had 10 jackfruit stolen (instead of the two that have actually been stolen)

I said that the only thing to do was to plant more jackfruit trees so that there would be enough for us, for orombarai (kith and kin), and for the thieves. He was not amused and said, “Oru tharavai pal-la vodaicha, marubidium pala-va thirudi thinga maataanga.” (If you break their teeth once, they won’t steal and eat jackfruit next time)

The score for this season is 2 stolen, 5 eaten, 1 hanging.
Dekha jayega, uska kya hoga...


May 3, 2016

One day, last month, Govindraj came with the afternoon milk and said that there were policemen at the turn-u who were checking Driver’s licences and RC books.
Govindraj didn’t know the details, but apparently the previous evening, either Terthagiri had attacked his cousin Devendran or the other way around. The assailant had fled and was in hiding and the assailed was in hospital.
Since there was no villain (as yet), Govindraj was circumspect in his judgement, but said (neutrally), “Why can’t they just beat each other up? Why knives?”

The next day, Sonati and I went to the shandy and got the story on the way, in many versions and with much embellishment, depending on the teller.
It was Devendran who had hidden in the bushes and leapt out, unprovoked (at that moment, anyway) and hacked Terthaagiri’s neck and fled.

That evening, Govindraj had a villain to rail against: “I never did like that Devendran; who will marry his son, now? Where will they find grooms for his daughters?”
When Sonati and I went to Terthagiri’s kottai, his mother and daughters and daughters-in-law were there. He had been alone with his wife and mother; the sons and daughters had been away working in Mysore, but had now returned: Murugesh was in hospital, and Sathyaraj at the police station.

Their story was that Devendran had been drunk, and had hacked Terthagiri at dusk; and had then inflicted some injuries on himself and had been admitted to hospital.
His father, (Foxy) Aandi was in the lock-up and was the brains behind this attack.

The trouble with this sort of story is that it could well have panned out symmetrically and oppositely with the victim and assailant exchanging roles.
Kaatu prachanai (Land trouble) is ever present, particularly amongst brothers and cousins (whose are the adjoining lands, generally), and perhaps this April’s heat played a catalytic role. There is a Ray Bradbury story called Touched by Fire which is based on this violence-during-the-heat theme. The tragedy is that the feud will pass down over the generations a la Asterix in Corsica even when the protagonists have forgotten the original cause of the trouble. The evil that men do is visited upon their children.
The police and the lawyers make a packet. So both the assailant and the victim are losers.

The only thing to be thankful about is that we haven’t reached the level of the American Dream: A gun under every pillow.
A month on: The situation hasn’t changed. Terthagiri hasn’t returned from hospital. He hasn’t really recovered full consciousness. Devendran and his dad are in jail. Devendran’s wife and children have to cope with the farm work without him. As do Terthagiri’s wife and children.

The difficulty of doing

July 3, 2012

The elephants brought home to us the fact that to actually do something on the ground is indeed very difficult.

A quick update: After the baby elephant died in childbirth, the herd stayed on for a while and then moved (minus one elephant) away to other Forest divisions. Now, after two months roaming (being driven around?) the Salem area, they are back in the Vellalapatti-Kathiripatti area near the Kalrayan Hills.
It also seems that the mother did not move away with the rest of the herd, and died subsequently. She is buried near Erivalavu.

We need collaboration between those who now seem antagonistic towards one another.

The “Elephant People” who can advise, should have effective channels of communication. If e-mail IDs are defunct, they should be shut down: one needs to know that no-one is listening. If the experts are busy, surely they can pass the query on to a colleague or a student.
I must also say that there were some who were extremely prompt in replying to e-mails from a complete stranger; they probably get many such e-mails ; and replying takes some doing.

The activists who work towards helping villagers get compensation for crop losses or house damage need to see that attacking the Forest Department gets one nowhere. In the end, it is the Forest Department who finally ACT on the ground.

The much-maligned Forest Department needs training, motivation and wherewithal to tackle the problem; ideally to see that a problem does not arise in the first place.There needs to be Department-Public interactions at multiple levels. An active web presence would help. Otherwise, the image of the Forest guard as a corrupt person who makes a quick buck out of others’ (people or elephants) troubles is going to persist.

As a person on Ground Zero, as it were, my sentiments will be “It’s OK, let the elephants eat a bit; let them damage a few trees” until they head for my house, when I shall have no recourse but to burst crackers, especially since that is what the Forest Department is doing.

For us and many of the villagers, there is no antagonism towards the elephants at the moment; in fact there is a sense of being enriched by their presence. But it will not take much for the situation to degenerate and become a “man-elephant” conflict.

It behooves us all to use the existing “goodwill” to save the situation. Trained koonkies to move the herd back where they belong? (though it is by no means clear where they belong). Or a long and arduous but necessary program of educating the villagers in what can be done; what must be done; if the elephants are to co-exist with them here.

Please, everyone, feel free to comment (again) on the blog. The elephants are here (again). Time is running out.

Deepa’s Holiday

June 11, 2012

Govindraj is our milkman and neighbour. His daughter Deepa lives and studies at a school near Valapady. This summer, he was very upset because she had failed in English. He wanted us to give her “tuition” (That’s a Tamil word now) in English.

Our usual “solution” to this request is to convert the tuition into a drama, a story-telling, a story-reading or a drawing class.

In Deepa’s case, in addition to story-reading, we got her to make a page of a book, every day that she came to us. On the day we stapled the pages together and bound it into a book, she was really thrilled. It was her book in more ways than one, and she has taken it to school to show her teachers and friends.

Luckily I scanned it before I gave it to her, for these things have a way of returning to us very well-thumbed and dog-eared. So, you can flip through it here.



April 5, 2012

A couple of days ago, when Sonati and I were walking back through the fields, from Ramsub and Rama’s place, we were struck by the fact that walking, too, is part of the culture of the place that is fast disappearing.

When we moved here, 12 years ago, there was one bike in Valagapattu (which has about 60-70 houses), apart from mine. Now, Valagapattu boasts more bikes than houses! People ride their bikes from their home to their fields. They even ride their bikes to the ration shop to get their monthly 3 litres of kerosene. And good (relatively speaking) roads have inexorably divided the have-bikes from the have-nots. That many youngsters are putting on weight, is something that will have an impact on public health issues 20 years down the line.

What is lost is the slow exchange of How are you? Nalla irrukengala? No rain whatsoever… Suthamma mazhai-ey illai … What have you planted this season? Kaatu-le ennai irukku?


A lovely old couple, whom I don’t remember ever having met before, stopped when they saw us, unloaded their head-loads and presented us with freshly harvested tender cucumber. And told us that they taste lovely with salt and  chili powder.

“Where do all these cucumbers go?”

“Who knows? The company people come every evening and collect it, and pay us by the kilo: ₹5 for mature stuff and ₹20 per kilo of tender cucumber. They say it goes to some foreign country”

A little further on, we met Mukkuthian and Unnamalai, winding up at the end of the day, cows into cowshed, and heading for home. Mukkuthian’s first impulse when he saw us was to, literally, leap up a jackfruit tree:

“Take one home for the boys”.

He dropped a few onto a stack of sugarcane leaves; Unnamalai having refused to catch them. She then chose the best and gave it for us to carry home.

“Where are the boys?”

“Oh, they have each gone to work somewhere, leaving the two of us to look after all this…”

Thanking them for the jackfruit, we moved on.

This sort of exchange is obviously impossible on a bike, where one just about manages perfunctory hellos or nods of the head to people passing by on their bikes in the opposite direction.

And, of course, the walk stays with us for  a much longer time, through the various meals: the tiffin where we demolished the jackfruit, the boys doing much of the demolition; the cucumber salads at the various “Torte and Thayir” dinners and the delicious smell of fried jackfruit seeds which drags me from this blog to the back verandah for lunch.

The Reappearance of Duraisamy

February 2, 2012
Duraisamy's lock and key trick

Duraisamy's lock and key trick

Many of you have heard about the Disappearance of Duraisamy from us: I never got around to writing about it because it was so depressing. At first his decline was harmless. Once, when he was giving me stuff for safekeeping, he brought a key and asked me to keep it safe. I refused to take it, saying that he should give it to his son or someone else. He then said, “Oh, you don’t want to keep it for me; OK, actually you don’t have to, because…”,  and he fished out the lock from a trouser pocket.

His decline got worse, and the villagers tied his hands behind his back to prevent him from stealing things. (He was stealing coconuts and bananas “for the Gods”). In a spirit of  “Karke dikhayenge“, Duraisamy set fire to some dry fencing while thus tied! We, too lost a couple of our largest Silver Oaks which were near the fire, which went out of control. That was the last we saw of him.

Then he disappeared for close to five months. There were rumours (from progressively farther afield) that he had been beaten up for stealing in Thumbal; that he had been seen on the streets of Valapadi; that he had been killed and his kidneys stolen in Attur… But, no definite news from anyone.

Then last week, Thenan came by to say that a relative had “found” him in Attur and had brought him back (to Pudur). And a few days ago, the man himself visited us. He looked quite cared-for; he was plumper than we have ever seen him. But he was a little unsteady on his legs, as if he were drugged. He did not answer questions directly; his responses were, to coin a phrase, semi sequiturs.

When I said that he had really given everyone a hard time by disappearing, he told me, “But I did tell you that I am going to make a tour of all the temples”. This, he had said, many months earlier, and in a different context.

When I asked him where he had been, and who had looked after him, he responded by saying that his father-in-law had told him where to go. (His father-in-law is dead, and Duraisamy did not make it clear whether this direction from the old man was in the present or in the past).

Then I said I hoped that his wandering days were over, and that he wasn’t going to disappear again. To which he said (and this sounds better in Tamil, or any other Indian language), “My work down is over; now all my work is up“, leaving ambiguous whether he meant up in the hills or up in heaven!

He said Hello to Varuna, and asked about Badri Baba , who came out to greet him. When we asked if he remembered Bagli, he replied, “Where I have been in the last few months, there were many dogs; bigger dogs, better dogs, Muslim dogs and Christian dogs…”

And with a sense of the dramatic, knowing an exit line when he utters one, he left.

The decline of Duraisamy

May 26, 2011

"Duraisamy propitiating the Gods" caught by Varuna

Nearly all of you who have visited us here would have met Duraisamy, our neighbour, who used to help us on our land. Over the years the love-hate relationship (We have had tremendous fights about his cows grazing on our land, his son stealing one of our trees and so on) settled into one of amicable tolerance. in fact, Duraisamy used to look after our house, dog, cats, cow when all four of us were away.

Since when we first knew him, he was always a good worker: The kallukattus which he has made are noticeable for their “cleanness”. He was also quick to grasp ideas and it was he for instance who built our cuddapah-kal benches on mud pillars. Since we first knew him, he has also nursed a grudge against his pangaalis (cousin-neighbours): “How come they have so much land whereas I don’t even have half the amount?”

This grudge slowly ripened into an obsession, and he even blamed his cousins for casting the evil eye which killed his wife (Pottiamma died of renal failure following acute diabetes). After the death of his wife, he got his only son, Thenan, married and started the process of transferring the patta of his lands from his father’s name to his son’s.

“Those whom the Gods curse, they grant them their wishes”. So says an old Persian proverb.

When the land was measured, it showed that Duraisamy’s patta extended beyond his land to some part of his cousins’ land as well. He stood vindicated. But it’s not so easy when possession is nine-tenths the law. Everyone concerned was bribing everyone: the police, the VAO’s office, the surveyors…  And Duraisamy’s obsession teetered into madness.

Now he roams around the various temples, praying, and doing little else. He has chased his son away from home (for being willing to negotiate a compromise with the cousins). He has been picking fights with everyone and his brother and has also started stealing coconuts (“for the Gods”). The villagers have labelled him “kanian” (madman) and it is but a step to children throwing stones at him. When Sonati or I talk to him, he is not so much mad as obsessed (but teetering nonetheless). We (and his family) are at a loss about what is to be done. He however seems to have reached “the field beyond good and evil” and is asking everyone to meet him there.

Pushing Boundaries

May 26, 2011

Yesterday (Rogue) Annamalai and co. were building the kallukattu (stone wall) separating our land from his. I have been aware that they have been pushing their boundary outwards into our land for a while now,  and this was an attempt to stop the attrition.

Our case was being made by a solitary bamboo plant without which I would not have been able to argue my case. As it transpired, Annamalai tried to will it out of existence: the kallukattu would veer drunkenly, I would holler and it would straighten out for  awhile. Eventually all I was able to achieve was the entombing of the bamboo in the kallukattu. And I was really worn out by the end of it.


The trouble is that these people are masters in the art of pushing boundaries (I think they start as infants rolling pebbles into the neighbour’s field) and fighting with their neighbours. So much so, that if we start ranting and fighting, the battle is lost before it is begun. When one is polite (and once in a while invokes the Gods as witness), their guns are spiked. To find the balance between being overwhelmed and exploited by them, and getting angry and being rude is no easy task.

Land issues are always a bit fuzzy. For instance on our top tier towards the west, our patta shows 30 cents as belonging to us which the villagers said had  always been “run” by their forefathers (and four generations of that family were present on that occasion: Rogue Annamalai, his father, his grandfather and his son). I had acquiesced to this 11 years ago, but now, seeing how boundary-pushing is a fine art here, the four generations could have done the boundary-pushing overnight!

The VAO’s office is corrupt and is willing to adjudicate in favour of the highest bidder. So the people become corrupt as well. If you don’t indulge in boundary-pushing, then your neghbour will take advantage of your “cissy-ness” and push his boundary. A battle between brothers is the norm when the father “retires” and the land is partitioned. There is always ranting and raving, and sometimes physical violence, even bloodshed. When the ambience is like this it becomes all the more necessary for us not to “join in this game”.

But the boundaries of our being are sometimes pushed to snapping point. And one has to indulge in the catharsis of blogging it out of our system 🙂

Another Election Day

April 14, 2011

Two years ago, Chandran had come by on Election morning, with the “voting slips” and rather awkwardly offered me Rs.50 per vote. This year, he offered Rs.150 per vote. (The voting slips this time were distributed by the schoolmaster, and had no party affiliation). I refused once again, asking him to put it in the hundi at the temple on my behalf. But the amount -Rs.150- here, in the back of beyond, gives one a handle on the scale of the “money for vote” transaction: Staggering!

Of course, I heard from disgruntled people later on, that Chandran gave them only Rs.100 per vote, and that he was given Rs.250, no Rs.300 per person to distribute. God, too is part of this deal: the temples in the villages get the first “money for vote”,  Rs.2500/-.

This time around, Sonati was also at home, and the two of us set off at about 8.30 am and were surprised at the length of the queue already formed. Sonati joined the ladies’ and I joined the gents’ queue. In spite of the hottest summer in 10 years, and perhaps the hottest day this summer, the carnival atmosphere was great to see.

Old people and mothers with infant children were allowed to jump the queue; this led to a few comic interludes: Young boys and girls who could by no stretch of the imagination claim that status became, for the day, babes-in-arms. There was also an alleged traffic in babies, which led one wag to comment that the babies, too, should have their index fingers marked with indelible ink.

One (not very) old woman -a friend of ours and a rogue- was bent over, and staggered in following a bent old man into the polling booth. On the way out she was magically erect and much younger than when she went in.

Most of this queue-jumping was taken in good part. In fact, Sonati, too was being exhorted by the women in the queue to jump the queue: “You are not used to the sun, we are; go on, go ahead”. But Sonati didn’t.

We had to wait for close to two hours, and since I did not have a cell phone, I had to borrow one and call Badri Baba at home to do the re-kneading and second rise of the bread that I had started in the morning. The actual vote-casting was pretty smooth and when we emerged, we hailed all the people we knew in the queue and moved out.

At Gopal’s kadai, Gopal’s wife ushered us indoors because her shop was in the 200m “no gathering” zone, and she had already been warned by the police not to let people hang around. We ate a banana each, and left for home, flashing our index fingers at whoever we passed by: “Vote potaachu“.

Murder at Maniargundam or Dasarathan Dies

May 1, 2010

Dasarathan was shot dead at the doorstep of his house, as he stepped out for a pee, on the night of February 11th. The “bullets” were 4″ kambi (iron rod) pieces cut and sharpened.

I have met him a few times; “Hello”, “Nalla irrukengela?”… the last time in the Gas queue at Karumandurai, the Saturday before his death.

His father had come up to the hills, many years ago; Dasarathan was “born and brought up” here; and father and son farmed 40 acres of land now, intensively, with many wells and much water usage.

One explanation of his death was that the neighbours’ wells were drying up as he drew more and more water. Another is sheer envy that “they” had so much land, all of which used to belong to “us”.

There are also murmurings of misbehaviour with local women. but whoever suggests this also adds a codicil to the effect that if you want to attack someone, then this is the best peg to hang your grievances on.

Half a  dozen villagers were rounded up by the police, beaten up, and the “culprits” identified and locked up.

The situation is now ripe for politicians of all hues to jump into the fray and create a Tribal vs Non-Tribal ‘situation’.

And all this has happened because victim and murderer have different labels. Had they both had the same label, the case would not have been so ‘situation’-worthy.

Perhaps this is more often the case than we realise. Policeman vs Naxalite. Innocent Civilian vs Encounter Specialist. The very labels we use betray our sympathies. Perhaps it is time to realise that in every case it is a human being who kills and another human being who dies. And this inhumanity : where does it come from?

Ponder what Primo Levi writes in his book “The Drowned and the Saved” about the guards at Auschwitz:

” They were made of the same cloth as us; they were average human beings and save for exceptions, they were not monsters. They had our faces but they had been reared badly–many (of them) indifferent, fearful of punishment, desirous of a good career or too obedient. All of them had been subject to a terrifying miseducation provided and imposed by school and youth groups.”