Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z -Zephyrs of change -2014

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   

The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Click here for the prelude A - Agaramangudi 2009 

Zephyrs of change -2014


S P Thenmozhi – Panchayat President, Agaramangudi, announced the shining brass name plate at the immaculately arranged table behind which was a rotating leather chair. This was the office of the Panchayat President of Agaramangudi. 

A little Less than a century earlier the centre of action was the other end of the Agraharam where the upper caste Brahmins lived, and this place was the cattle shed where a certain Padayachi woman and her children toiled and reared the cows, buffaloes and worked on the vast cotton and paddy fields that stretched beyond the cattle shed. There was a mango orchard and a pond where the Brahmin women came to bathe and wash clothes.

At the turn of the century  or perhaps gradually, over the years, the Agraharam turned into a ghost settlement, with all the Brahmins selling off their lands and emigrating to the cities all over the world. 

While thorny wild bushes were growing on the remnants of what was once the Flamboyant  Sri Lakshmi Nivas, its cattle shed was now the office cum residence of the most powerful citizen of Agaramangudi.

In 2009 S P Thenmozhi, was a middle aged woman with strands of grey sprouting at the sides of her temples.  A well built woman, she inherited her father’s light skin colour and a sharp nose, slightly bent at the tip which flared up the nostrils when she smiled.  Flamboyance and a sense of confidence that skirted  on the signs of arrogance was certainly  a dormant gene in her father that she inherited.  
The Dravidian revolution that had steadily gained political power since the 1930’s through the 1970’s eradicated all references in names of people’s caste in TamilNadu and some other regions in the south of India.  The caste name that erstwhile signified one's social standing by way of the caste one came from was no more required to be mentioned as one’s last name.  No one was referred  anymore as an Iyer, Naicker, Naidu, Mudaliar , Chettiar,  Vanniar or a Padayachi as the last name.

You were simply known by your first name with your father’s  name and the village name forming the initials. With the change in nomenclature Sivachami  Padayachi ‘s daughter now hid her caste in her middle name and she never needed to expand the initials.

She was a woman who had come into wealth and power. The political clout of the lower caste labourers and the increased migration of the upper caste Brahmins were the catalyst for the changes. 

Thenmozhi was born and raised at a place and time which saw the radical change unfold over the years. When the nine year old Thenmozhi, perched on her uncle Palaniselvam’s shoulders   on the streets of Nidamangalam in 1960 listened to E V R Periyar’s passionate speech beckoning all lower caste labourers to revolt and claim their self respect,  little did that motherless child fathom  that she would be the product of that change almost half a century from then on.

The air conditioned out-house, which was  the office of the Panchayat President was immaculately done. Framed pictures of E V R Periyar and Annadurai hung aesthetically over the walls. On the table besides a desktop computer was a framed black and  white photograph of her Father and Mother. Sivachami and Nagammai Padayachi. What once was a cattle shed, was now a plush bungalow that belonged to S P Thenmozhi, the Panchayat President.

The Zephyrs of change had swept away the old social order and the new seeds that were pollinated   many years ago were now the dominant power structures  that ruled the landscape across the fertile Cauvery Delta.   


Jaanu, weary with travel and excited with her find of the remains of Sri Lakshmi Nivas was curious to visit the mango orchard and the pond where she had spent many a summer vacation during her childhood days in her grandfather’s farm estate.  

There was very little left off the pond. There were mounds of Garbage strewn across the periphery of the pond and the pond itself was choking in plastic. It certianly was not shocking compared to what she witnessed while on the road for nearly 100 miles alongside the banks of the Cauvery river. For miles and miles, the river was now bone dry.  

Along the river banks, massive trucks carrying loads of river sand, illegally from the dry Cauvery along the Tiruchy- Thanjavur state highway were raking money by supplying them to feed the insatiable demand to the construction sites in big metropolis cities of Chennai and Bengaluru.

Acres and acres of what once were paddy fields were now converted to residential plots. Over the years the land had turned barren with increased use of pesticides and the multicrop cultivation of the hybrid varieties of high yielding seeds. The water table had drastically dropped ever since the dams built on the Cauvery river had rendered the downstream bone dry even in the best of monsoons.       



Govindaraju Padayachi, one of the few surviving farm labourers from the 1970's was showing her around that afternoon of all that was left of the agraharam.  Govindaraju was now an old man in his late eighties, frail and a little senile with old age.  He walked her down to the out-house which was now the office of the Panchayat President, Agaramangudi. 

As Thenmozhi entered her office, he unfolded his lungi and folded his hands and slightly bent forward out of respect for the high ranking public official.

‘Maalu’s daughter...’, he attempted to introduce Jaanu to the Panchayat President .

Perhaps because she was lost in her own thoughts or perhaps because it was a busy day, she said she could not recollect who Maalu was.     

‘She has come from abroad to see our village....’ the old man continued...

Meanwhile Thenmozhi’s  iphone rang. Almost as if she was expecting it, she excused herself, swung around to the other side in her rotating leather chair  and spoke to the person over  the phone. From what Jaanu gathered from the conversation on the mobile phone, the national highway department was building the highway that would cut across the outskirts of Agaramangudi village to Kumbakonam , Mannargudi  and up until Kanyakumari connecting the southernmost  tip of the country with all the major metropolis. The farmers who owned lands on the fringes of the proposed National highway were being asked to sell their lands to the government.  Some parts of Agaramangudi fell on the proposed site for the construction of the National highway.  Their Panchayat President seemed to be busy brokering the deal between the  farmers  and the government.

It was perhaps too busy a day for her to host  a jobless Non resident Indian wandering aimlessly in her village, photographing the ruins of an erstwhile Agraharam as well as the cows shitting by the road side.

Jaanu sensed the disinterest and decided to cut short the conversation.  Hours of back breaking travel and the mosquito infested lodge in kumbakonam where she spent the sleepless night  were now showing on her. She wanted to take leave and call it a day. She asked if she may use the wash room. 

Sure, gestured Thenmozhi, non-verbally  and generously opened the door to the washroom while she was still busy listening to the conversation on her iphone.  

It must be difficult for you westerners to adjust here isn’t it., she said, as she finished her call.  There is nothing much left off the old legacy over here anyways, she added by way of commiseration.

It dawned on Jaanu that some time ago she perhaps was feigning loss of memory. There was an unusual sense of discomfort in her body language. She did remember Maalu. After all it was with Maalu and Neelu  that she learnt to swim in the temple pond when she was barely eight. It was after her mother died an year later that she went to live with her uncle and maternal grandmother.  Perhaps it was a painful phase of her life that she was trying to forget.


The wash room was spanking clean. The tiles and the fittings in the western style toilet  were all immaculately done and seemed to be of a quality found in five star hotels. They spoke of new money and flamboyance. It was a stark contrast  amidst all the ruins of an erstwhile Agraharam just 200 meters from where the plush out-house of the bungalow and its immaculately done washroom  were located. 

Jaanu took in the cooling comfort, luxury and flamboyance of the washroom.  As she washed her hands and splashed cold water on her face, draining all the sweat and salt after the hot and humid day in the sun, she felt refreshed. She looked up the massive Oval  shaped mirror above the wash basin as she soaped her face to wash out the grime out of her face. As she scrubbed her face, she smiled.

She smiled and she noticed.

She smiled again and she noticed. 

She noticed her light skin and her sharp nose, slightly bent at the tip which flared up the nostrils when she smiled.  It was her face.  Perhaps she had not observed it from the perspective that she was observing it today.  

It struck her like thunderbolt. It connected the dots. It felt like the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle.

She dried herself with the clean white towel and opened the door to the office room .

She took a deep look at Thenmozhi and the photograph of her father besides the desktop computer.

'Listen, we have something in common', she wanted to tell the Panchayat president of Agaramangudi.

But she let it go. She was not sure she should trust her instincts. Besides, who would believe such a bizarre story.  To explain was difficult and perhaps scandalous.
To explain would have been an attempt that would be complicated, vast,  long drawn and better forgotten.
It would have been complicated because it was something that spanned atleast four generations.
It was vast because it spread across atleast three continents.
It was long drawn because it traced back atleast a 100 years interspersed with two world wars.
It was better forgotten, because all it involved was scattered as ruins and buried in one village.    

But SHE WANTED TO TELL.  
She could not let it go.  That was in 2009.

In 2015 she wrote this for the A to Z challenge.



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