Friday, March 14, 2014

Village Views from Tamilnadu

Well, it is a temple door, intricately carved and at least fifteen feet tall. These are unique to south India where palaces and temples had such big doors. No human effort in those days would have opened it, save a push by elephants, perhaps why these metal projections are there. Dating from an age before the modern wars, when making war was no sin, next door enemies fought for cattle, paddy and gold it was all necessary. The images carved are all from myriad shapes, very often these may have some sweet erotic postures hidden in between. These are relics from a past when love making was no big sin. The rural areas of Tamilnadu, just across the hills that separate the two states, have their subdued charm. It is far removed from the mad rush that over populated Kerala carry and its values of fake western adaptations.
The little girl who watched as I clicked a picture of the village ambiance was amused, more, was curious who this is. Perhaps she could make out that this man is from the other side of the hills, Malayalathan some of them call it. Every house has its 'kolam' a ritual drawing done in front, every morning, it is part of Tamil culture since ages. Perhaps Kerala had this too at some point in time but has since lost to western cultural homogenization. And the series of houses had the bicycles kept ready, that is the major means of transport among these unassuming people. Majority are farmers and the river nearby makes the region fertile, an ancient canal winds through the paddy fields and hillocks. The fields are all rich with various crops and paddy is a major crop.  

Come evening and the shop keepers and vendors line up on both sides with with a profusion of eatables, drinks. They sell ginger coffee, boiled peas, tender root of palm trees, so on. The towns and villages here always have the ubiquitous vendor of palm drinks, padhani they call it. This is sold in leaf made cups and if one takes a over doze it may cause a amount of intoxication. One can devour fresh fish caught from the river fried on make shift hearths and also a series of meat shops who sell soup. It is all priced at reasonable rates and the people crowd around. It is also an occasion for socializing. The shops selling alcoholic drinks, written in big letters 'Bar' sell choice drinks and one can have an assorted variety of items to go with. From eggs, fish, lever, mixtures, friend nuts of an immense variety, and here too the difference is indeed big. In Kerala usually there
shall not be any variety of food in bars, they just gulp down the hard drink and run away, like having a quickie.  By the road sides you get fruits of various hues and also egg preparations. The shops offer poratta - sett a mix of chicken with gravy and wheat bread called paratta. Some of the shops offer biryani, a rice and meat dish popular and mostly sold by Muslim community shops. But history says that the chief local deity several centuries back used to love the very same dish, rice with meat. Who knows about what all happened interim, as beliefs came and left and many got mixed up and assimilated. Here the soup is sold in bowls and one can also have a plate of fried lever to go with. The people who throng the place are occasionally  coming out from the bar and it is only proper that one takes care. For these are regions where people a get fierce and fight for what to others look silly. A politically volatile community they can get inflamed if the leader is ridiculed. And the response shall not be the one expects in such cases.

It is majority Hindus here, only a very small portion are converted to Christianity, again unlike Kerala where a huge population did and they have their own subculture. The gods are not all vegetarian and up in the hills there are temples where they offer meat and drinks as offerings. For a people who partake meat and drinks it is only proper that they offer their gods the same.Though there are strictly vegetarian Gods, where the Brahmin priests alone are allowed to enter. The other temples have more freedom and one can do the rituals oneself, the untouchability is not there, all castes are welcome. Of course the vegetarian Brahmin caste seldom come here as they consider it polluting and keep a safe distance. Even if they come for festivals they keep away from the meat and drinks ass they are consider it low in status, so also the gods. With all due honor for vegetarianism and the health benefits, spiritual benefits, one cannot also make it an obsession driving people to guilt for what is their traditional diet. The notions that only vegetarian gods are good as some powerful groups  maintain and the meat eaters are frowned upon is unhealthy. It is all in the mind, and it is also a dynamics of social power politics.   Poor folks majority shift to less menacing gods. How the conversions take place, when one's  Gods are captured, as some of them think, the people flock elsewhere.