I think I can share something about the place I visit. Nope, I should keep some record of things before I forget...like I've been doing with the books I read. Even if they're not book reviews, at least as reader's appreciation these posts in my blogs remind me about the books I read and relished. So is about places I visit. Hence I'll write about places as and when time permits. I want to build up that tag.
Coimbatore—as of today it is no longer a new place to me. An experience of a whole month makes me say so. I have seen the quiet campus of Indian Forest Research Institute and the crowded pavement of Gandhi Park in R. S. Puram as well as tree-lined walking circus of Race Course Road as I trod upon them as a morning walker; seen the water treatment plant at the foothills of Sirovani, a plant that is said to be supplying world’s second purest water to the city, and a grizzled squirrel(?) there too!, Isha Yoga Centre at Vellingiri foothills and Shiva temple of Perur, the Chennai Silks and Pothys, the newly-opened mall of Brookfield, the circuitous fly-over in the middle of the city, the Airport and Bharat Gas, the Head Post Office et cetera. Looking back, a thought comes to me: what was that I thought of the place before I came here? Well, I cannot recall. Did I actually think of anything? Probably not! Otherwise one month is not so long as to inject oblivion into me. Similar mixup had happened to me in the past when I went to the Andamans, some sixteen years ago. Now, howsoever I try to recall, I cannot say how I felt about the place before I reached there; what sort of mental picture I had drawn ahead of reaching there; what I had expected and what I had feared. It is an altogether different matter when I’m called upon to narrate about the place, but everything has to be reproduced ex post facto…everything has to do something that I saw physically. I can be loquacious about that. In fact a whole book I wrote whose setting is the archipelago.
Coimbatore would turn out to be good place for me—that was what I was told by many. ‘It’s a cool place,’ my son’s friend told him and he in turn relayed it to me, and what should have I understood out of that expression, ‘cool place’? It is like a similar modern expression ‘cool guy’ or what? My father-in-law had this information to share: ‘In Coimbatore, people change cars as a matter of course.’ And I knew this was hearsay too. What should have I grasped out of that? With the automobile boom and road-widening, with easy financing and liberalization, with fancy designs and tempting frills, with India shining, every qasba and every rurban landscape has acquired cars and cars and nothing but cars to flaunt these days. So what was there to understand about that information except that the city could be another crowded spot in India map? And what about Ooty, the ace hill station of South India? Yes, I had had the people to tell me about that: that’s only too close by and a near analogy I could have made taking the example of Dehradun-Mussorie or of Jammu-Srinagar. I was not serious about doing that, or should I say I was too lazy to imagine. A writer cannot afford to be a lazy person when it comes to imagine. So that’s that. Be it as it may, I just came to this place with a mind that was open—a clean slate, as it were, for the Kovai ambience to write as it would think fit.
Let me start with what I didn’t find. A man wearing dhoti walking on the road while hitching the bottom of his dhoti and trying to tuck but indecisively so and allowing it to fall till he decides to hitch it again, all these activities happening as he strides—aha! I would have enjoyed the humour latent in the scene happening on the road and remembered my Kozhikode days had I come across this in the city. At Coimbatore, as I came to find it, more people wear European dress and probably have realized how inconvenient it is to hitch up and manage their dhotis. It’s okay, they have realized it: better late than never!
And what about ladies? Well, don’t expect me to praise their beauty; I’ve no words to express that. Oh yes, they are cool, as verdant as the foliage of Nilgiris. But then they, like their men folk, love to wear a little extra—an extra dab of sandal paste on their forehead, just above their bindi/kunkum. I’m not sure if it enhances their appeal, but then again they might be convinced about that.
And food? It’s good, it’s what-d’you-call-it, yes, cool too. Look, how people mislead—Bengali Shukto has chilies in it too, at least five times more than Sambar of South India. Yet we just spread the rumour: South Indian dishes are hot! I’m not talking of the side items of Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, which will be one of the hottest food items ever prepared in the sub-continent. They say Goans are fond of chilies—anyway, I’ve not gone there: so no comments. Coming back to the point, the preparations at this town, say at Annapurna of Kovai, or for that matter at Shravan Bhawan in Chennai are only moderately hot. Moderately hot, so what? I used to be a lover of chilly, especially the green ones, but that was donkey’s years ago. Now even black pepper and ginger threaten to do harm to my belly. So I’ve made my arrangements. I’ve made a Southey cook to cook without chilly—should I highlight it as an achievement?
Coming to achievements, let me think aloud. I should learn a bit of Tamil, or else how long can I manage with body language? What about English? Forget it. I should warn those who expect some compensatory English, I mean some extra English from them as a compensation for their lack of knowledge in Hindi. I would rather say: Do take care of your English, you may lose it too! Let me say it aloud what happened at Nilgiris Departmental store where I went to buy a fork the other day. I had to say this: fork…you know fork….that steel thing like spoon, the four pointed projections you poke on idli and eat. My body language and my English were of no help until a customer, an empathetic lady I should have thanked then, came to my rescue. So air-conditioned malls have not come to the city riding piggyback on English. So, here is the need for learning Tamil, a working knowledge, so to say. Am I really thinking aloud? Oh no, as of today I’ve gained some familiarity with Tamil alphabets. Don’t ask me how easy it is. Look, they are so economical here that they have one letter “ka” to manage all the sounds of “ka, kha, ga, gha” and one letter “ta” to magae a whole range of sounds “ta, tha, da, dha”. Can you beat it? Unless you are familiar with “Gandhi” you’ll read it “kanti”. So, what is the great use of economy, if it keeps Gandhi so poor?
A. N. Nanda