Friday, March 5, 2010

The Village

Mahatma Gandhi said “India lives in its villages”. I have never really spent much time in a village. I want to do that some time in my life – spend a few days in a remote, unknown village, preferably away from even small towns and observe the lifestyle of people there. I don’t know whether my wife would join me – she likes crowded places with scope for shopping, but then she also likes to travel and see people of different traditions and cultures, so it is 50-50. Anyway, I think I will cross the (remote village) bridge when I actually get to it.

In the meantime, I got a preview opportunity last week. My daughter’s father-in-law (what is the English word for ‘Sammandhi’?), who was all along working in convenient city branches of his bank, was shunted out to a remote village as part of a cranky policy that banks have for employees who have served a certain number of years. He landed up at a place called Thirumalpur, some 15 km away from Kanchipuram which is well known for its temples and silk sarees. The commute takes precious 6 hours of his time every day. Fortunately, there is a railway station for the place, up to which he can comfortably travel, and from there he goes a further 5 km by a moped on mud and sandy path. Poor man, he has to catch train at 7 in the morning and is back home around 9 in the evening. The only comfort is he can go 10-15 minutes late to work and likewise, leave 10-15 early, in order not to miss the bus – er, train and customers don’t mind that.

At first, he was cursing himself for his fate. As days went by, he says he started to see the beauty, the quietness, the pure air and the open and friendly people of the village. As days went by, he has now begun to like the place and it is on his invitation and insistence that I got this opportunity to see a village.

I took my car and we went right up to the railway station, some 75 km from my place. I parked my car in the open outside his two-wheeler parking shed and from there we took off on his moped.

The first thing that strikes you is the cool, pure breeze. After you cross the track and go half a kilometer down on the mud path, the next thing that strikes you is the silence of the place. Absolutely quiet. So quiet that you can hear the wind, the buzz of bees and insects and the occasional chirp of small birds and the flutter of the wings large birds.

We stopped many times on the way, to catch eyeful of greenery – paddy fields with different shades of green according to the growth stage of the crop; beautiful, lush trees with canopy arching like a big green umbrella, clear streams of irrigation water running across on the side, children making use of the water to take a fresh bath – everything was so heartening and nostalgic too, bringing back memories of my childhood days when we used to go on bullock carts along such scenic routes.

Birds are another thing that attracts you in the village. There are so many small, cute, colourful birds that you think will fill your camera, but they are shy and always hide among bushes when they know you are watching them. See the kingfisher for example.

Or entirely invisible. You think you are watching a beautiful bed of green paddy. As you step in close to check the grain, a few birds emerge from the middle of the thick crop and fly away. You never realize they were there all along!  Some birds, however, dare you and go on with their business, like this one:

The centre of the village, consisting of one main road stretch and a few lanes branching on both sides, is active. You can hear the mechanical, repetitive sound of the silk looms in activity all through the village. We halted at a small medical shop. Who I thought was a chemist, I realized soon, was the village doctor, consulting and dispensing medicine right from the shop desk. For the occasional patient who needs personal investigation, there is a small room inside.

We went to a temple nearby, a temple lost in history. They say this is more than 1,500 years old. The main deity, Lord Shiva, is in the form Lingam shaped out of sand by none other than His wife Parvati. As the Lingam is made of sand, no abishekam (anointment) is directly performed on that here. Instead, the Lingam is covered with a larger silver shell, on which all poojas are performed. The legend goes that Parvati made a Lingam of sand and went to bathe in the river. A sudden flood arose and in order to protect the Lingam, she embraced it thereby diverting the water and her bead-necklace crowned the Lingam. Hence the name Manikandeshwar. (Mani in Tamil means beads.) The goddess is Anjanaakshi. Anjanam means eyes, and so the name means one with beautiful eyes. May be because the village is remote and not popular, there is no appreciable income for this temple and the lack of funds reflects in the poor maintenance of the temple and its surroundings. The pillars both inside and outside the temple carry excellent carvings, which I was able to capture with their permission. A few are given here.

We visited the house of his colleague, a part-time woman employee at his bank. Her husband is a weaver, making beautiful silk sarees at home. I learnt it takes anything from 7 to 10 days to make a silk saree! And that all patterns and designs are controlled by computer printed, Braille-like cards, though the loom is very much mechanical.

As it started getting real hot after noon, we had to wind up and return, but not before catching lungful of pure and fragrant air off the paddy fields and banyan trees again.

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