|Santhakumari Teacher with her husband and grandson|
This again is an interim chapter; I tend to move away from the narrative around Thiruvannamalai for the time being and narrate another part of my journey for the sheer sense of awe that I have felt about it. Whenever I am in my village, Vakkom (about which I have written in detail in my series titled ‘To My Children’ which too is available in this blog, if interested you may read it) my young friend Dr.Amritjude Vijayan comes to meet and takes me to the places that I have not visited or rather visited long back but have forgotten. Interestingly, like many other people who come to life, make an impact, remain there or go, I was absolutely unaware of Amritjude living in my village though I had seen him as a very small child in school uniform. As he was growing up, I left my village and since then I have been a migratory bird here, a special one that does not keep any particular time to pass by. Amritjude is the son of my high school teacher, Santhakumari. She had a strong presence in school for several reasons; first of all she came from the next door. She lived and still lives in a house just outside the boundary wall of the school ground. Second thing is that she was the most beautiful teacher in our school (she still remains beautiful). Another thing that impressed us about her was the round shaped gold frames of her spectacles. Generally, it is a universal phenomenon that while school everyone has a nickname; teachers are no exception to this rule. (Forgive me Amritjude and Santhakumari teacher) We never dared to call Santhakumari teacher by any nick name though we had given her one: Vattakkanni, means Round Eyed, referring to the round golden frames of her specs. She taught us science and was extremely strict with the students irrespective of gender. I never remember her using the cane though she carried one. As she was young and beautiful, she knew the boys would be nasty in their behavior, so she always kept a very strict face, which made us nervous. She rarely smiled in the class as well as outside. With or without smile we all liked Santhakumari teacher; when I look back, I believe we never hated any of our school teachers. They were like mothers and fathers to us (unlike these days).
I never knew that Santhakumari teacher had told her son about me. Amritjude (later on he told me) grew up listening stories told to him by his mother and grandmother, who he thinks as his early spiritual guide. In many of the stories related to the high school where Santhakumari teacher taught, I was one of the characters. She had even recorded my first Doordarshan appearance as a poet in the year 1989 (or 1990?) in her Video Recorder, which was a rarity then. According to Amritjude, once teacher played the video tape for him and my image (a hopelessly romantic poet singing out the anxieties of a bachelor) got etched in his mind. Amritjude went on to become a Siddha doctor and he does not like to be called a doctor for he says that the image of a doctor these days gives out wrong signals. His practice is different. He makes his own medicine, using the ancient Siddha texts in Tamil and closely follows a spiritual life. He get so many lucrative offers to partner with entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry where Siddha treatment could be made into a package plan. Amritjude resists all those offers and leads a very simple life with is Siddha practitioner wife, Divya and two small boys. Amritjude moves around with a pious group of people who are involved in spiritual studies and archiving. Sreekandakumar Pillai is one such young person who left his job in the IT industry in the US, came and started an online portal for archiving spiritual and religious texts from the ancient times (you could learn more about this site from Sreyas.in and if you want to know more about Sreekandakumar Pillai please visit my article on him in this link http://johnyml.blogspot.in/2014/08/people-who-leave-things-behind-for.html). With the advent of facebook, Amritjude got an opportunity to look out for me and soon we became friends there. He says that it was difficult for him to connect the image that he had in his mind about me and the one he saw in the facebook. Then one day he came to meet me and ever since we remain friends and Amritjude takes me to such places which he thinks as meditative. He has never disappointed me in this case.
This time Amritjude messages me and the name of the place that he has suggested for the day sounds very unfamiliar to me. As I know that he cannot be wrong about the places of calmness and meditation I immediately agree to go with him. By five in the evening he comes with his new Enfield Bullet (generally he comes by his car and this time he chooses to ride the bike because he wants to give me the experience of his new bike. And while riding he constantly compares this Bullet to the old Ambassador car which he likes a lot with all its imperfections and the imprecision of its gear box). I am in my saffron dhoti and a khadi shirt; riding pillion wearing a dhoti is a task that a Malayali finds a pleasurable one but myself with no practice of sitting pillion on a bike wearing a dhoti finds it difficult to adjust for a few minutes. Wearing dhoti is an art and depending on the way it is worn, one could understand the health, wealth, educational qualification, social status, etiquette and so on. There are different levels of wearing a dhoti. I belong to that type of dhoti wearers who wear it for a purpose of being comfortable in it but remain uncomfortable for various other reasons. Carrying a purse and mobile is very difficult when you wear dhoti. In those good old days people used to use the lose end on the left side around the waist as a purse, which is as secure as a locked vault so long as you are not drunk. But today we carry a purse with all kinds of identification cards and plastic money and so on and it is difficult to put it inside this particular area of dhoti called ‘konthala’ (konthala, which means kon-thala which means angle (kon), head (thala) for the loose end on the left around the waist could be pulled out like a triangle to make a bundle out of it). Even today there are people who use a particular sort of underwear with a pocket to keep their valuables. Using it often creates some social embarrassment as you have to lift your dhoti in order to take out the purse. While Malayalis are wary of doing it the Tamilians do it so happily and liberally for them dhoti is a necessary evil around their underwear which is their real pride.
|Dr Amritjude Vijayan|
Amritjude rides the bike with a lot of care but my hands are firmly gripped at the small back support additionally fitted there. Alamcode is a place that we consider as the territorial limit that we could call as ours. The places beyond that are foreign lands not only because the highway NH 47 cuts across the place diving the familiar land and the foreign land beyond but also because the planes end there; across the road you start climbing to a different terrain with paddy fields, coconut groves, hillocks, estates and real rocky hills. Today’s destination is ‘Kadalukaani Para’, which means the Rock from where one could see the Sea. Generally sea and hills are separated by at least fifty kilometers. The Kerala landscape is divided into three vertically namely, Mala naadu, Ida naadu and Theera Pradesham (Mountain land, In between Land and Coastal Region). We live in coastal region and we could reach the sea with ten minutes. The in between land is the arable land where mostly one sees paddy fields. This in between land has mostly planes than undulating areas. Mountain region in fact begins as an extension of the in between land and then it becomes the boundary between two states (either Tamil Nadu or Karnataka). In Sangham literature too the land is clearly divided in to five namely Kurinji (Mountain region), Mullai (forests), Marutham (paddy fields), Neithal (sea shore) and Palai (desert). Hence seeing sea from a rock emphasizes the height of the rock/hill; it could cover a neat fifty kilometer direct in vision. We cross Kilimanoor, which is famous for Raja Ravi Varma (http://johnyml.blogspot.in/2015/05/foouckling-raja-ravi-varma-and-art.html ) and then pass by Nagaroor. With Nagaroor the climbing starts. Nagaroor means the land of hills. And in a few kilometers we reach Karette and we hit a small road on our left. It looks like an apparently small climb and we reach at the foot of a hill with huge boulders jutting out to welcome us. A small tea shop at the edge of shows some kind of human activity there. Besides there are some motor bikes parked. From the size and shape of it I could make out that they belong to some young boys who have come either for some thrills or for taking selfies. Confirming my ideas I could see a few boys taking selfies and groupies at a lower cliff. They do not seem to be interested in climbing the hill. We start our climbing after putting the bike on its stand.
By the time we reach the top of the hill, both of us are panting and heaving. It is a steep climb and the moment we are on the top of it, we keep our foot wear aside and settle down on the rock. From here we see the horizon line in a distance and between the undulating line just before it (this must be the tree tops) and the actual line of sky touching the imaginary line of earth we see a straight line of a solid grey, which Amritjude says is the Arabian Sea. If you try to train your eyes you will see the solid grey line. It stands still because we cannot see the waves. Amritjude mentions that people hardly see that line even if they know that somewhere there is the sea beyond that undulating line of tree tops. The vision from this hill top is exhilarating and awe-inspiring. If we are very familiar with the terrains that we have crossed by now, we could easily identify the places. But unfortunately both of us are not from this part. Still using our rudimentary understanding of the locale and geography we start identifying places. We hear the devotional songs coming from various levels. At times we feel that is coming right from inside the gorge down there. At times it comes from some far off places. Sometimes the voice of the singer is so clear that we think that there are some loudspeakers fitted at the nearby trees. There is a tree growing from down and reaching further above the hill top and as I raise my head I see three loudspeakers perched on the branches of it. They are silent and the very look of them tells me that they have been dysfunctional for quite some time. Darkness falls slowly. As the bluish misty blanket spreads over the valleys we see lights coming out from various sources. The areas which have been a blanket green, now surprisingly in the darkness comes distinctively alive through the mist and we see a galaxy down there; a galaxy of a different kind in which the beings are no longer alien but could turn into alien at any given time. They just need to be given some reason to fight with each other. There in the sky, at the clear patches of deep blue and grey with red borders stars try to flicker as if they were seeking out attention. We sit there still, silently for a long time. And then we start climbing down; slowly, step by step. I feel less daring these days and I ask for help from Amritjude. Finally we are down here. Behind us like the ancient giants the granite boulders stand still as if they were the externalization of the minds of yogis who are unmoved by happiness or sorrow, day or night and summer or rain. Amritjude’s Bullet drills a tunnel into the darkness ahead of us with its powerful headlight and the engine makes the rhythmic voice of machine heart. And Kadalkaani Para becomes a silhouette behind us as we wind the road down.