Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seeing the country on LTC, and almost getting to meet Binayak Sen

Vellore 5th June 2009
We arrive early. My father's sister and her husband have not yet begun their day. We call at the gate, and at last they emerge: an old couple, they remind me of Ovid's  poem about the old couple who feed the Gods, and whose wish at the last is to be turned into two old trees. My aunt gets us tea and breakfast. My uncle says he has 18 different trees in his garden. He begins to list them, bannanas, 3 types of mangaos, chikkus, papayas, guavas, lemons coconut and so on! He is on the phone half the morning because Binayak Sen, the radical village doctor who is an alumni of Vellore Christian Medical College is coming for lunch with the clan and study circle members. The clan consists of my father's sister and her husband Mathai Zachariah, and the the other Zachariahs, who are my grandfather's sister's daughter and her husband with their two sons. One of the sons had spear headed the campaign asking for support to Dr Binayak Sen.  (Typing up my notes two years later, I can only say, we too teach anyone who come to us, right wing students and left wing students and the secular sit side by side in class, surely the medical oath in modern India, or anywhere in the world,  is similar: "Turn no one away")

My cousin Gita and her husband have a farm at the edge of the dusty nondescript town. It is pretty, and while they are extremely succesful farmers, Gita's story is laughingly full of woes. In the beginning, they discovered they had a glut of tomatos, so Gita would take them to market before reporting for work at Christian Missionary College. They had tough busy lives as doctors  at the hospital, so the farming was therapeutic. But then the bull gored their employee, and he had to have stitches. The farm produced generously. Gita had enough rice and oil from what they grew. This year, they harvested 650 kilogrammes of mangos, and  1300 kilos of rice. They got Rs 5  per kilo for the rice, and sold 650 kgs of mangos for Rs 5000. Their disappointment was palpable - the poor farmer receiving nothing for his/her labour, not even covering costs. Their produce is organic but not having an outlet, they are forced to lose profits.

6th June 2009
We leave for Bangalore early in the morning by taxi, The driver has overslept, and Gita cannot go to work without seeing to our comfort and safety. She helps everyone of the clan members who come to Vellore, though she is a perfectionist, and at work Professor of Neuropathology, as well as a  celebrated reseacher in her field.
The drive down is lovely, the hills and fields skim past rapidly, and then we are in Bangalore, in the drizzle, the traffic jams, the BPOs, the malls. From an old colonial cantonment it is now a city of glass and  cardboard. Everything seems larger than life. I cannot quite get used to it.
My sister lives in a village called Horamavu. The village as it stood five years ago has gone. There used to be a row of Banyan trees, older than memory  and a typically idyllic village scene of elders sitting under it, as well as the serpent stones, so familiar to travellers in India. Now everything has diminished in a cloud of dust and construction. The malls of the builders and contractors (tiles, bathroom  fittings, furniture, carpenters and upholsterers) give way to more dust and high rise buildings, a Gandhi statue in the middle of a new paved road stands for the honourable past - the future is without the village or agriculturists. Fields still rich in gras, trees, orchards have been cut like pieces of cloth. Each will have an urban owner and a bungalow. Nandi hills can be seen on clear days.(Again as footnote to notes typed up two years after writing them, I mourn the loss of boulders and rocks in rivers in Kashmir due to exploitative mining.)
8th June 2009
We hired a taxi, my sister and I, and went through the crowded city to my grandfather's brother's son's house.He is a famous economist, Samuel Paul, who runs a Consumer Rights Centre in Bangalore, for which work he got the Padma Shri. His wife, Lily is a very clever artist, working with glass, metal, fabric, thread. With the author Shinie Antony, who lives in the vicinity, we go to the Library in HSR Layout, where I am to meet some writers who meet once a month. I enjoy the event, and there are lots of questions. How do I balance my work? What are the tensions involved in doing so? Is there any money in writing? Does writing about the tragedies of peasants seem like something writers do for a foreign audience? There is a journalist from the Hindu, Nikhil Varma, who covers the event in a short succinct paragraph.
10th June, 2009
We catch the night train, Island Express. After one of these  trains tragically, fell into a river, it is no longer called Island, but is the Kanyakumari Express. We sleep well, hardly remembering the nerve racking ride through traffic jams in Bangalore the night before.
In the morning, we find we are in Kerala. The train inches past all that well remembered scenery, hills, water, fields, tiled houses, water lilies, farmers and labourers knee deep in rice fields, rain, (its endless,) but four hour later, after entry in Pallakad, we are in Chenganoor.

12 June 2009
Molly, my cousin Sam's wife, takes me to Paramala on her scooter. Paramala Tirumeni is one of the most saintly of the Orthodox priests. Molly is a nervous rider. Every time she sees a truck, she stops her two wheeler and pedals with her feet."Yeshue, yeshue!" I can hear her praying desperately. She is terrified of the traffic and keeps referring to me as "load". Its the first time she is driving on the main road with a "load".
We drive through the most beautiful country. Chenganoor is "Gulf country diaspora" inhabited: fields are few and the tiled bungalows of the rich are many. The flowers are of the most brilliant hues, reds, oranges, purples. I have never seen flowers of such colors, ordinary flowers, which have grown to larger than life proportions.
We reach the church. (I look for old buildings. there are none. Where is the old church?)  Molly likes its largeness, its newness, its blazoning quality. It is huge, it is white. Its mammoth. Inside the church the stained glass is modern art. A fish. In blues and greens. There are three sets of altars. Its airy, sunny, empty, open. A few dozen people are sitting on the benches or talking to priests, or praying.
We step outside into the bright sunshine. There is a memorial to the man who had donated land to the church in the early 20th century. And then Molly shows me what I had come all the way to see. It is the tiny house which Parimala Tirumeni had lived in. It is so tiny. Its now a chapel, empty but for the sweeper cleaning it. Its the size of a twelve feet by ten feet room, and though it is a tiled room,  it has the sense of austerity and bareness - the ideal of a simple frugal disposition.

1 comment:

  1. reads like a part taken from a novel...lovely!

    ReplyDelete