Tuesday, July 8, 2008
BABUJI'S EZHARAI SANI – Part II
We were in Chingleput for only six months - June to November 1956. Here Babuji’s designation was RDO (Regional Development Officer). This was a very coveted and much envied posting. Babuji was very busy and mostly on tour here. He had Kanchipuram, Thirukazhukunram, Mahabalipuram and Madurantakam under his jurisdiction. He was away from home almost three or four days every week. He also had to act as District Magistrate. He enjoyed his work so much, when the six months were over, we felt we had been there for only six weeks.
The bungalow we lived in was away from the town, and on a small hillock, surrounded by hills on three sides. It was very peaceful and quiet. Like all bungalows built by the British in the colonial days, this too was very big with five or six rooms in a row – huge and airy rooms, and with very high ceilings, and tall doors, the top halves of which were shuttered, and the bolts were almost four feet long. The verandah in the front was very big and wide, and extended from one end of the house to the other, and leading to every room. The kitchen, storeroom and work areas were at the back.
The teagarden bungalows of West Bengal, (which I was to see later whenever I visited my daughter near Siliguri) and the Traveller's Bungalow in the districts were all built in this style.
In this bungalow there was only drawback – there was no loo in the bathroom. It was away from the main house, but not open or exposed to weather – or pigs. Babuji wanted to rectify this defect before we left the place. He managed to get the Central Government permission to have the bathrooms provided with this facility too, so that future occupants could have this convenience. There was no running water either. A water tank used to come and fill the storage tanks with water daily. This was more than enough for our needs. And there was a retinue of servants to take care of all the carrying and distribution of water.
Babuji’s sense of humour made him very popular here, too. Once in court in his role as a magistrate, he was listening to the argument of the petitioner’s lawyer. He claimed that the guilty party had raided his client’s orchard. His statement was that the defendant had stolen tamarind, coconuts and mangoes. ‘Puli kili adicchu, manga thenga thirudi’ was how he put it. Babuji in response said, “I understand ‘puli adikkarathu and manga thengai adikkarathu’ but how can he adikki a kili?” This generated laughter in the courtroom with the advocates’ remark “Your Honour is very humorous.”
Another event I remember. Babuji had this habit of playing with his glass paperweight while listening to the proceedings in court. Once the paperweight slipped form his hand and fell on his foot. The advocates showed much concern, and one of them asked, “Is your Honour hurt?” Prompt came the reply from Babuji, “My foot”.
It was during this time, the Chinese Prime minister Chou En Lai visited India. One could hear the slogan “Hindi-Cheeni bhai bhai” all over India. The Chinese Premier’s itinerary included a visit to Mahabalipuram also. Babuji was asked to make the necessary arrangements for the visit and also to treat the Chinese Premier to some tender coconut water. That put Babuji in a dilemma – how to offer the tender coconut water to the VIP. Pour in a glass ? No that would take away the natural charm and ruin the taste. One can’t just ask the head of another country, a VIP guest, just to tilt back his head and pour the contents down his throat. Even if so, his face and upper garments would also get a taste of the ‘ilaneer’. This was not possible. All of a sudden Babuji hit upon the idea of inserting a straw into the coconut. This was well applauded and commented upon, for this was a new idea then. The Chinese Premier’s visit went off well and Babuji was really happy.
In those days, Mahabalipuram could be reached only through Chingleput and Thirukazhukunram from Madras. It was really a beautiful place, with no crowds, and not at all commercialized. Not many people around, so peaceful and untouched by what one calls civilisation. We were able to spend very quiet and peaceful evenings, sitting on the beach and watching the ever moving sea. Tourist attractions had not started yet, but for VIPs. Two years ago, when the whole family was there for a night’s stay for a get-together, I could see the difference – five star hotels, swimming pools and lots and lots of shops. I felt the beauty of this place was really mutilated.
In the picture, Babuji with the baby, Raja, and below, Bala, the gatekeeper
In Thirukazhukundram, at the temple on top of a hill, two eagles made regular flights to this temple to partake of the morsel of rice that was given by the priest of the temple. They flew down from the north and after eating the rice used to fly south. The legend is that that these two eagles were cursed souls, who had to visit Kasi and Rameswaram every day for 10,000 years to be redeemed from their curse and resume their original form. From Rameswaram they would fly to Kasi for the morning pooja, after a bath in the Ganges and flew to Rameswaram for the evening pooja. They were treated to their food at Thirukazhukundram everyday, and they would regularly turn up at the same time. We have watched the birds on several occasions. Now I hear the birds are no longer seen for the last ten years. Maybe the period of the curse came to an end by the 20th century.
Kanchipuram was a very small township then, mostly occupied by temples and their priests, the weaver of silk saris, and nothing much more. We were able to pray in the temples in peace, because there were no crowds. Once on a tour to Kanchipuram, Babuji was introduced to the musician M. D. Ramanathan. They were standing by the roadside, when Babuji expressed his desire to listen to MD’s singing. Without a second thought the musician sat upon the verandah of a nearby house and sang two songs. Babuji never forgot the spontaneity of the young singer, who later became very famous.
It was while we were here that Babuji came to know Miss George. Anna Rajam George was the first woman IAS officer. She was a very strict officer who followed the rules to the very last letter. Officially Babuji had trouble with her - whatever Babuji wanted to be done, she would object to by pointing to the rules and regulations. Babuji had to meet her in the Saidapet office at least once a month and he used to dread these visits. But believe it or not, back in Delhi Babuji and Miss George became the best of friends – she also became a part of the family, for we both got along very well, too.
Maiji and Miss George at Viji's wedding in 1974, New Delhi
In 1975, she married R.N. Malhotra, her long time friend from their training days, then moved out of our orbit. I met her only once after Babuji passed away, when I was staying with Viji in Bombay. Miss G, as we called her, and her husband were working in Bombay then He was the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, and Miss G as the Chairman, Port Trust of India. They came to pay their condolences, and spent some time with me.
Babuji’s presence of mind and quick action saved my life when I was stung by a black scorpion one night. Babuji immediately removed his ‘poonal’(sacred thread), not from his shoulder, but from its normal resting place – a nail on the bedroom wall. He tied the 'poonal' tightly around the big toe where I had been stung, and drove me straight to the doctor. I was given anti-venom injection, and asked to drink plenty of water. The saying goes that the black scorpion’s venom is much more powerful than a black cobra’s. Next morning, the doctor was really surprised to see me alive. On being told that I had taken gallons and gallons of water during the night, he said that was what had saved my life. The scorpion’s venom dehydrates the victim to death.
The children Raji , Bala and Viji had a wonderful time attending Tamil medium school. A horse-driven carriage was arranged to take them to school and back. The kids enjoyed these rides more than the school lessons. In their spare time they used to roam all over the hills, and collected seeds like kunthumani (black-eyed red seeds)- very attractive to look at and manjadi – red seeds.
Our stay in this place though very short is very well etched in my memory. We had a lot of guests here, mostly Babuji’s relatives from both his parents’ side, and me meeting them for the first time. A few of our friends from Delhi also dropped by en route to Delhi after their holiday at home down south. All said it was an enjoyable six months we had. After six months of this wonderful life Babuji was posted in Saidapet Collectorate and we moved over to Madras.
The picture below and those of the children above were all taken by my brother Moorthy who visited us.