Mama Machan Maapilai no longer

This fellow texted me out of the blue.

“You’re hearing this Kaballa news?”
“Utterly Ridiculous!”

I do not know what he is talking about.


He replies.

“Passed away of leukemia. 30 years of age.”

The “whatitees” seemed utterly frivolous. Utterly.

In all honesty, I thought that he, Kaballa, had won some international quiz or was on the verge of selling his company because, well, in my mind, he is that kind of guy.

The last time I spoke to Kaballa was, say, five years ago, the last time I went to a Landmark Quiz (the first time in quite a few years I was going there.) Spoke, would be an overstatement. I waved to him. He nodded his head. Acknowledgement of the someone from some time in the past who, perhaps, was a peer. Or hovering somewhere around that. Well, that’s what I considered myself. I knew I was kidding myself, of course. He was streets ahead. Always.

Kaballa was this kid you hated. By you, I mean, you who always came up against the chap in the finals of any inter-school culturals. The chap who, like the United sides of yore, had you beat even before you stepped foot into the game. In the mental arithmetic that was “points” and “points remaining”, in a quiz that involved him, it was, in all likelihood, the race to second. Every answer he gave, as expected as it was, was still irritating, unbelievably so. You knew that he would, of course, get it, but that did not diminish the irritation when it happened.

When the finals were announced and there were 6 finalists, there were, realistically, only five. There would be these two, who would always strut about in their checked PSBB shirts. Vasanth, the mild-mannered, nice-talking chap who was always good for a few words before the final. And Kaballa, the chap with the small mop of goofy hair, those dorky glasses, that square jaw, and that sneer that people have — those people who knew they had the beating of you. Arrogant orifice-in-the-backside, one would be inclined to think. Then again, he was that good.

He would maul you. Over and over. And then again. You would be elated when the quizmaster starts off with a question and you know that you are clever enough to have worked it out without even hearing the rest of it. You would excitedly whisper in your partner’s ear. You would look around — proud face et al — to gloat. And then you would realize that it was a counter-clockwise round and that it had to pass through them before coming to you. And you would know that that question was never coming to you. And you would add to your imaginary points tally of how much you would have gotten if only those chaps were not there. There was, of course, the stray question that passed through them and you answered. It was one of those meaningless derby victories when you knew that your rival had romped home with the title and this was the highlight of your season. Those with nothing else derive meaning from these. Small joys.

You just knew that he knew all the answers. And when he did not, you knew that he would keep on shooting random wiki-based trivia about every image in the connect until he worked out the answer. All the while, not in his head but out loud with an impatient “wait da” aimed at the quizmaster when he dared interrupt the flow. You knew that he was making sh*t up as he went along and you would get most annoyed but then again, he got it right. He always did.

I do not confess to know him well. I do not confess to have been in touch with him. Until I got that text today, I do not confess to have even thought about him for years. The last I remember was hearing that he had joined Ramanan in doing something related to quizzing. I was not surprised. This was years ago. Years. Come to think of it, a decade now. I learnt today that he had leukemia. A very aggressive form. I learnt that he was in CMC, Vellore, undergoing chemo. I heard that they stopped the chemo for a day to give his body a rest. I learnt that that was one day too much without the chemo. I do not know much more. I do not know if I want to.

My memory of Kaballa is not of Kaballa. Kaballa, he became. Post school. My memory of him is, well, getting beat, and, striving to beat him, which did not happen, of course, except for the one time when it did. Then again, maybe that never did. I want to believe that we did beat him and Vasanth once. I have a vague recollection, nothing more. My everlasting memory of him would always be the DAV culturals that we hosted when in class XII.

Bounce (my long suffering quiz partner) and I hosted the quiz. We, of course, were determined to put up a terrific show, with some of the best questions the city had seen that year in the quizzing circle. We researched and dug deep. We created 20 questions in the prelims and another 32 (spread over 4 rounds) in the final. We divvied up the questions amongst ourselves. Bounce took one half, I took the other. In the final review, we sat together and went through the question. At the end of every question, we would have one pass criterion for it :

“Would Ramkumar and Vasanth get this?”

Such was the reverence.

Needless to say, the bastards never showed up.

P.S “Mama Machan Maapilai” is the legendary quiz team that was ever-present in the final few of the Landmark, and Odyssey, and the whatnot quizzes that Ramkumar was a part of. I do not, to this day, know if he is the uncle, the brother-in-law, or the groom.

The Largesse of King King Chozhan

[This is a part 4 (or is it 3? Or 3.5?) of the series. Parts 1, 2 (1.5?), and 3 (2.5?) can be read (not that you necessarily want to read it) herehere and here]

Moving on from the short pitstop that was, the own town, the brave contingent of two (and the trusted Sopana Sundaran) moved valiantly on towards the final stop in what we can now call the the Grand Chozha (not the hotel in Madras) triathlon. Not that we did any running, cycling, or indeed swimming (though there was to be a bit of floating in water later on — translate into tamil to completely capture the essence of that; but, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves) but still, this was quite the achievement. Not merely ticking things off the list but actually spending a decent amount of time at the three temples. Not three yet, however. Two were down. Number three beckoned.

The time was around 4 and we had an hour to go before reaching Thanjavur. That quintessential existential question that strikes many a traveling soul right around tea time struck us:

To tea or not to tea?

Well, to tea, of course, but to tea would involve the following sequence of actions:

  • Sequence
    1. Getting out of car
    2. Locking said car
    3. Entering tea kadai
    4. Drinking tea
      • Contemplating eating of biscuit
      • Settling for (settling for, it seems!) bajji
    5. Stepping back into car (after unlocking, of course)
    6. Motoring on.

We decided against it. God was more important (read: laziness) and we motored on. Onward ho, and all that. The big temple, was, soon, upon us. The steed was holstered, so to speak, and the road was crossed. The car park was left behind and the temple was proceeded towards.

At first glance, the temple does not seem to befit its name. There is one arch / doorway in sight and, honestly, it is not all that imposing.


This person (below) and this person’s friend seemed to welcome you.


You enter the double gateway and, well, you are transported. Into another era. Immediately, the mind boggles, about how life might have been, or indeed probably was.
Red stone. Calm. Pious. Religious, even. Straight lines. Straightforward. Simple.
The area is so damn (blasphemous, I know, but still) crowded but the sheer vast expanse of the scale of it all just makes the populace melt away. Literally. It is hard not to just be intimidated by the scale of the thing.
Officially called the Brihadeeshwarar Temple, most people, simply call it the “Big Temple” or “Periya Kovil.” While I can see why, I still think there is merit in replacing ‘big’ with something along the lines of ‘ginormous.’ It really is that majestic.


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Once you are mentally past the vastness and the expanse, and the straight lines, and the general sepia tint, you start looking at the intricacies. Now, building a monument on scale, with architecturally precise rendering is a feat in itself. However, adorning it with carvings and sculpting intricacies out of solid rock is just something else. The mind never ceases to be blown.

Drawing water from wells without electrical assistance in today’s world seems to be neigh on impossible (not that there are many wells or indeed much water in the few wells that exist but you get the point). Imagine then,  the painstaking efforts and years of excruciating work that must have gone into every single one of these pieces of art. There simply is no other way to put it. Art. Words shall now stop. Below, are a few thousands of them — words, I mean — to behold (picture = 1000 words and all that).


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Gods. Demons. Apsaras. Elephants. Rings (replete with the small gap that lets the light through). Pillars. Pillars in said pillars. War scenes. Elephants caught in the act of tossing human bodies nestled in their trunks. Genius. Just. Pure. Genius.

And then there is the Caucasian in the bowler. I can see you eh-what-ing. Understandable. Eh, what? was indeed my reaction as well, the first time I heard / read about this somewhere.
I do not know where, or indeed when, but I heard about this one carving that is most out of place in this most carefully crafted premises. Amongst the elephants and the apsaras and the gods and the demons and the pillars (including those within other pillars), and the horses,  is a caucasian. Not just any caucasian but one who has, on his person, some fancy headgear. A bowler hat, to be more precise.


The caucasian’s origin is most interesting. The romantic explanation — and one that I believe should be true — is that the Chozha trade reached such outposts in the far west that they interacted with the velaikaarargal, so to speak, and this was, essentially, nothing more than a real-life depiction of one of those white men. While this is not outside the realms of possibility, it does seem as unlikely as there being a carving of Raja Raja Chozhan in a church somewhere in middle England.


What seems the more likely  and (unfortunately) less interesting (read: more boring) explanation is that in the early 19th century, there was a sculpture that fell off a Gopuram when struck by a survey instrument. It was around that time that Colonel William Lambton was entrusted with mapping British India, so to speak. When mapping Thanjavur, in 1808, he had, apparently, remarked that the land being as flat as it was, he used the Gopurams of the temples that adorned most villages to complete this land survey. Apparently, on an occasion, the theodolite that he was using fell onto a lower level of the Gopuram and damaged it, necessitating a re-scuplting. Perhaps he undertook it upon himself to get the repair done out of a sense of moral responsibility. Perhaps, he was held by the locals at, er, gunpoint (metaphorically, of course for the locals in all likelihood did not wield guns) until they restored their beloved temple. One way or another, he seems to have carved out a niche for himself. Literally and figuratively.


(Completely off-topic but incredibly succinct: Colonel Lambton. Wrongs the sensibilities of the village. Villagers rebel. Hold him until completion. Only thing missing seems to be Muniskanth. Thanjavur might well have been Mudasupatti.)


This has been one of the most fascinating mysteries of the temple that I had always heard of but never seen. This had to be seen this time. And it duly was. Behold. Below.




After all of this, and the whole lot of admiring the architecture and the whatnot, our man — my dearest co-conspirator and generally nonsense fellow — thus far surprisingly well-behaved on the trip saw something. Rather, someone. Just one look at that face, and I knew. That scene in Sivaji where Thalaivar sees Shreya for the first time in that temple and that “thaaye mani vannam….” background music. (When a draft of this post was shared with above-mentioned co-conspirator, all he had to say was this: ” ‘Thaave mani vannam? I fully expected the ‘Sivaji, close the mouth waterfall.’ ” Good man.) That. I could hear that. Our man was smitten. And, of course, architecture, what? Raja Raja Chozhan, who?


She walked across (well, glided, he would say) and we walked across. She rounded a pillar; we rounded a pillar. She went into the sanctum sanctorum; we went into the sanctum sanctorum. She quickly did a U-turn and went out without seeing the some 30-foot long Shiva Lingam; we… no. no. Pillars are one thing, blasphemy, entirely, another. I would not have that. I put my foot down (best foot forward and all that) and we went into see the 30 (or is it 40?) foot high manifestation of the, er, human body part. (Code of the Woosters and all that.) The black guard reluctantly came along (but only after issuing death threats in case she was gone by the time we had come out.) The line was not all that long and we were out in almost no time, and sure enough. She was still there. Our man went and settled at a vantage point not afar her (and her entire clan, it seemed like) and we simply sat there for a bit. I, drinking in the onset of the dusk and the wonderful play of colours that it brought, he, er, sight seeing.


It was time to leave. It might have been slightly difficult to tear our man away but the departure of she helped raise his planted bottom from the spot. Onward ho. And thus, the triathlon was done. The tape was, in a manner of speaking, chested.


As if on cue, serial lamps. Sound checks. Thavil. Mridangam. Saxaphone. Maha Ganapatim. Good exit music, one would think.


Back in the hotel, it was time for the, ahem, uncorking of the proverbial champagne, so to speak. Only, in this case, we were being a whole lot more modest and were looking at simply un-lidding a few beers brfore comprehensively downing them. I have always remembered Pl.A  as being one of the few places that had a decent bar. With that in mind (outdated, yes but one does not expect things like this to change in a town like Thanjavur), we walked up to the reception and asked the chap there. Duly, we were notified that the bar was closed. What?! No. Way.

“Why, sir? How?”
My incredulity was betrayed by my tone.
“Sir, neenah foreign ah?”
His nakkal was betrayed by his tone.
“Dai,” was what I wanted to say. “Sir, please tell me” was what I said.
“Sir, you are from foreign?”
Again. This time, my fact contorted. Not the restricted upper lip twitch as exhibited by Jeeves but the entire facial contortion as expressed by Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.
“Ille sir”, he continued, “only people in foreign don’t know this rule. There is no liquor allowed 500 meters from a National Highway.”
The pride was well and truly wounded. After the travails of the closed bars on Madras’ Mount Road (Anna Salai, if you will) there was a thing or two that I knew about the Highway Rule.
“Sir!” The tone was curt.
“Of course I know that. But where is there a national highway here?”
“Sir, this is a state national highway.”

Wait, what? A state national highway? What the hell was that? A state highway that was a wannabe national highway? I did not know. Honestly, I did not care. The mind was exhausted and the walls seemed to be closing.
He then proceeded on giving me a 101 of how they had tried putting the entrance at the back so that the 500 meter rule could, by the letter of the law, be followed. By the spirit of the law, you ask? Ha! I see what you did there. Pun indeed intended.
While this primer on highways and entrances to bars was being dished out, the mind was already racking the old memory cells trying to ascertain the presence of a TASMAC in the vicinity. This train of thought, however, was suddenly interrupted.

“But sir, you want what?”
“Beer.” Still preoccupied with mental maps.
“Beer only, no? We have stock sir!”

Dai! Rascal. If only that had been said at first, much Va Quarter Cutting / Idharku dhAnE aasapattai Balakumara level emotional turmoil might have been avoided. However, now was not the time for outrage Now was the time for the stiff upper lip.

“Two Carlsberg, Sir. Super cooling.”
The command was issued and the march towards the room was put.Calm was kept, and Carrying On was done.




That having brought back the Ganges

[This is a part 3 (or is it 2?) of the series. Parts 1 and 2 (1.5?) can be read (not that you necessarily want to read it) here and here]

Rose water (generously) sprinkled, seat belt fastened, (polarized) sunglasses donned (we are definitely cool like that) the drive began. It was not really a long one but since it was the first time that our chariot was being helmed by self, the first few minutes seemed jittery. However – and in hindsight, I am happy to report that the stallion performed admirably – not one hiccup. Or should that be stutter? The point, either way, is made. It was smooth sailing, sailing analogy notwithstanding.
Now, of the three Chola temples, I had visited two already. The one we were going to now was the only one that I had not, and, truth be told, was the one I wanted to the most. Why? This.

I had already alluded to that being-mesmerized-by-the-expanse-of-the-Chozha-empire (wikipedia map) and that was precisely why. Gangai Konda Chozhapuram: that-Chozha-City-that-had-been-made-with-the-Ganges-that-had-been-brought-back. Imagine that. An army marches on. It conquers all in its wake. It marches and marches. And Aprils and Mays (ha ha! Sorry.)

It marches and marches. It starts at the Kaveri. It reaches the Ganges. It has conquered rivers in between but this one, this river, is something else altogether. The motherlode, so to speak. And just as nonchalantly, this has been captured as well. Well, not as a well, in the sense of the word that alludes to a watering hole (not the TASMAC variety). I digress.

The magnificence of the Ganges has been all but made insignificant. Because, it has been captured, so to speak. But now that the river has been captured, what does one do? How does one let the mothership know? This was, after all, about a millennium before the advent of the whatsapps and the iMessages of the world. Instant communication happened only within earshot. Everything else took time.

And thus was the quandary of the marching army. Now that this mother River has been conquered, what does the army do? Then, one could scarcely call one of the all-too-ubiquitous water lorries of Madras to transport the water along the Golden Quadrilateral back to Thanjai, no? What then? Well, the next best thing. Take a bit, despatch a few, and proclaim victory. And in proclaiming victory, build a city in its honour. That’s what!

And so a contingent was sent back. They traveled all the way back. There was much what-ho-ing on their return, and many a back was slapped.The Emperor was hailed as the conquerer of the Ganga and a city was sanctioned. There is, of course, the other thing about the king, having received the news and sanctioned the new city, sending the envoy back (in the days before frequent flyer miles were a thing, unfortunately) and asking them to build a city there in honor of the capture. This, of course, is Gangai Kanda Chozhapuram: the-Chozha-city-that-has-been-built-on-the-Ganges’-capture.
(I have heard that there is a city or a semi-city of sorts that exists somewhere in the North Eastern part of India. I have never looked it up for, if it were untrue, I would be disappointed. Perhaps I shall look it up one day, and it will indeed be there, and I will indeed visit it. Until that happens, though, onward with our current story)

Now, all of this is, of course, entirely made up. Some of it might even be true. I know what you are saying. I could have googled or wiki-ed this quite simply. I could have but then again, this is my story, no? Plus where is fun in that, what?

After that long-winded detour that I just took (see, what I did there?), I will get back to the present day. We went to GKC. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, after all. And it is ruins. The mind boggled. We got there. But first, a word on the road. Awesome. There. That one word is out of the way.

There was a small sign that asked us to turn off the road for the temple and we did. First hurdle, parking lot. Scarcely had we turned the engine off and gotten off the car that we had a chap in our face waving a parking ticket.  ₹30. We looked up. No shade. Nonsense! What are we paying for? We routinely shoo-ed the chap away and mumbled something about paying once we were ready to leave.

And with that, we left our footwear in the car, put our best foot forward and stepped on to the stones. And almost immediately, we jumped. Now, with all the description and the build-up that has preceded this bit, you might think that that particular leap was with joy. Not. It was with heat and good God was it hot! There was a carpet (red, indeed — well, brownish but was perhaps red once upon a time) but that seemed scarcely to be of any help. We motored along (on foot, of course) nicely and nipped and tucked into the grass like a cat on a hot tin roof.wherever we could to reach the gates, so to speak.  (I always wondered what business the said cat had on a tin roof, let alone one that is hot but that thought is for another time.)
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That first view. Magnificent. As soon as you enter, there is this expanse of grass that just stretches all around. And then there is this wonderful temple at the centre.
It does take the breath away.

It also leads one to wonder: ruins? Where? 

It is then that one has had the time to drink in the expanse and let that settle in does one start noticing the devil. Well, not to be blasphemous and suggest that the devil resides in the house of God, as it were, but I merely mean the devil that lies in the details. One starts peering into what appear to be oddities. Now, the Chozhas were master builders. They had impeccable senses of proportion and symmetry. One glance at the Periya Kovil (or Dharasuram, for that matter) is all that it takes to know that. With that cognitive bias, when one views the temple here, something most definitely seems off. Initially, it does not seem apparent what is (blame the sheer dwarfing scale of the thing for this) but one gets that nagging feeling of something being off.

As one walks around, the signs are everywhere. Half built arches here, randomly discoloured murals there, and unfinished statues everywhere. When one completes a lap, so to speak, one understands why they are indeed ruins. It was almost like someone took up this task and said, right, let’s get a move on, lads, we haven’t got all day. And then the clock struck 4 whereupon he remarked, right then lads, let’s have ’em structured finished. Never mind the edges or the half done ones. We drop arms at sundown. And sure enough, sundown came and arms were dropped (apparently, from some of the half-finished statues as well.)
Hence, Ruins.
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When one is done, one only wonders … what if.
I guess this is indeed what one must wonder for, well, what if, indeed. For, ruins, they are, ruinous, certainly not.

On our way out, we were met with some fauna (both herbivorous and carnivorous) and were led out in a rather sedate manner.
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An incredible (and incredibly refreshing) couple of lime sodas (salt only) were downed and heading out was done. The car was approached. The parking lad was talking to his friends a bit away. Glances were exchanged. A run for it was made. The car was started rather quickly and the ol’ heave-ho was given to the place. 30 bucks saved. Mildly cheap but, well, cheap thrills.

It was almost lunch time and we headed towards Kumbakonnam and Sathar’s for lunch. After an excellent (the true effects of which would be felt the next day) lunch was demolished, we headed to the big one (literally). Thanjai. This would complete the triumvirate. The focal point (well, triangle) of the trip would be ticked off the proverbial list.
But as we mounted the steed and chugged along, on the way, Google Maps threw up one most familiar and absolutely unavoidable town that we would quite simply have to pass through. It would require a small diversion by then again, missing this was simply NOT an option. And thus, we made one pitstop en route Thanjai.

Two words: Sondha ooru…


The watch tower and the fallen empire

On exiting the Darasuram temple, we walked back to the car. A note on the car. It was our own Sopanasundari. It was a Figo. Not the Luis variety but one of the Ford ilk. Back to the story. It was a sweltering day.
This is a time for a bit of a rewind. When we wanted to park the car, we went all around the temple (thank you, Google Maps) searching for parking. When no obvious spot was forthwith in its appearance,  we just figured that we’d just put it under some random tree on the side of the road. It was right in front of a small shop of some sort but they old lady sitting in the shop did not look one bit bothered so, well, we did not, either. Bother, that is.


As we finished this parking expedition (by this, I mean, of course, the hitching of our steed, not the expedition in the park that said friend undertook in the park-esque lawns of the temple) and started walking towards the temple, we saw something that looked like what was once something that was not ruined. We decided to visit it on the way back.


Back to the present. We visited it. It was a gateway of some sort. Or so it seemed.
I’m sure that Blue Bell spoken English was not what this was a gateway to but looks like it seems to be now. The British did indeed invade India and were quite zealous in their spreading of the English and the whatnot but I doubt that even they used a crumbling gateway to lead the locals toward an English education. Replete with a blue bell, of course.


We entered and looked around. It seemed to be a temple of sorts. By ‘of sorts’ I mean, it was a temple. There was a large-ish patch of grass all around and the wall on the left was a new cement one. The one on the right, however, was straight out of a post-war-view-of-the-city scene of a movie. It was all over the place. Bricks strewn around. We looked at it and wondered what this could have been. We wondered for a bit and then made our way back. After all, GKC awaited.


When walking out, however, something was odd. I looked to the left and saw something. Something that looked like a staircase. Only, it was not a staircase in the conventional sense of the word. It was more of a few bricks jutting out of the wall, forming a staircase moving up.



This certainly was a watch tower of some sort. Being opposite the temple, this was probably the tower that was the entrance to the city of Darasuram (?). Or perhaps it was where the guards of Darasuram were on the lookout for messengers — both friends and foes — who came carrying news, Naturally, curiosity was piqued. Climbing was done. What awaited us was nothing short of spectacular.
I will tell you, nay, show you what we saw. But first, a bit of a history lesson.
Chozhas — circa 1100 AD.
British — circa 1900 AD.
British Empire — circa 2017 AD.
A wise man once remarked:
show a man a TASMAC and he shall find his beer bottles. Show a man a ruined spot and you shall find his empty beer bottles.
Truer words have seldom been spoken


It is, of course, most ironic that in these most Chozha of ruins, it is the British Empire that appears to have fallen.


On that ironical note, Paneer soda was put. Sopanasundari was started. Self driving — by that I mean that I was driving, not that the car was driving itself — was done. Ruins awaited.

When the seagull follows the trawler….

Ever since I saw the wiki article on the Chozha dynasty, I was mesmerised. The map on that page — which shows the extent of the conquest — is beyond belief. This, my seeing the article, and not the conquest, was about five years ago. It must, of course, be noted that this was past my stint of 4 years in Thanjavur (if you would call 17 KM away from Thanjavur, Thanjavur, that is). Nevertheless, I did rue, instantly, not visiting the temple more often (I daresay I visited it a grand total of 3 times in four years during those years of intense study (ha!) at the not-so-Thanjavur-based Thanjavur college). But, more importantly, I was determined to do the triumvirate — Thanjavur, Darasuram, Ganaga Konda Chozhapuram (henceforth referred to as GKC, because, laziness).

So, when friend finally confirmed India trip (after struggle of job hunt in the yoo yess) and plans were put and then re-put and then re-re-put, tatkal ticket was put (we are last minute, like that).

Train arrived. Early morning. Prodigal son returned (Thoo!.) Thanjavur was upon self. Outcoming from the station happened. One number of tea (standard fair tea-kadai-based tea — no sugar, double strong. Always.) was put. Google Maps (unthinkable in previous stint) pointed 300m in one direction. Pl. A hotel was reached. Said friend was woken up — at 5 AM. Pleasantries exchanged. Dress changed. Sleep was done. Then get up, get ready, and the sundry.


Breakfast was had. You might wonder why breakfast gets its own mention here. Because, we are pakki like that. Also, the breakfast was not half bad, I tell you! Not half bad.

Car started, Said friend driver. This fellow navigator + iPod operator. Go.

First stop, Darasuram. An hour and a bit’s drive. Superb roads. Reached well in time. In time for what, you might ask. Well, you should not. Well in time. It is rhetorical. Take it. Don’t question it.d1

As I had mentioned (Actually, upon further reading, I see I have not) I happened to go to Darasuram earlier in the year — in January. A friend — not the aforementioned one but one from the aforementioned stint in the not-quite-Thanjavur-but-Thanjavur University (ha!) — was getting married in Kumbakonam. Darasuram was the highlight of the trip. That and a bar called soma banam but that is not for this story.

Now the. Darasuram. Phenomenal. The scale is not massive. It does not dwarf you like the Periya Kovil does but my does it wow you. There are two shrines, essentially. The main one of Lord Shiva, in the avatar of Airavateeswarar and the adjunct one of Periya Nayaki Amman. The pictures speak for themselves but the majesty of the temple is just something else. Right from the beautifully manicured lawns to the impeccably maintained temple premises, the temple really is a gem. Add to that, the fact that there is hardly anyone there and it is just the perfect start to exploring the Chozha architecture, without getting overwhelmed by the massiveness of the Periya Kovil or getting saddened by and wondering of the what-ifs of the ruins of GKC.

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After a whole lot of mind-wow-ing and the whatnot, we were ready to leave when we met this most enterprising of tour guides. A boy all of 10. A little bit of recent history. Right when we entered, and said friend was off wandering the manicured lawns, this boy walked up to me as I was observing the caged steps and said “this musical steps. You put coin and it roll and all different music. It came in sixth book.” That last sentence did catch my attention but I though nought of it since said friend had returned from stroll and we were ready to enter the temple. Once we had done an entire round (clockwise, mind you — we are religious like that) this boy approached us again.

“Did you see the elephant and cow?”

“Elephant yes (see picture above; in the mind, careful scrutiny is happening: lion, horse-like creature with lion-like head, even crocodile-like creature, yes), cow?”

“Yes, elephant and cow. One side elephant, one side cow.”

Now is the time to look all cool.

“Of course! But which one are you talking about?”

“This one here, near this pillar?”

“There’s one here? I saw that other one”

Dodged a bullet. The boy knew I was full of it but his enthusiasm overwhelmed his cynicism and he took us to this carving and we finally saw it.
Looked at from one side, it is an elephant, and from the other, a cow.


He was not done, of course. He took us to another. “See this, goat fight. This one has one and that one has lost. See this fellow? He has won and so he is celebrating. See the fellow? He has lost so has his head in his hands. This also is in sixth book”

First thing’s first. Incredible craftsmanship. The boy described it succinctly. The carving was exquisite. In spite of the centuries of wear, the story was there for all to see. If, of course, you are looking for it. We looked at it because this boy asked us to.

Next, I just had to ask, “dai! what is this sixth book?”
“Sixth class book, anna!”
So, that was the sixth book. At least one mystery was resolved there. I now know what a “sixth book” is.
“So, who are you and what do you do?”
“My grandmother works in that shop at the entrance and when I am off school, I come here to mind the shoes”, he said.
“School, ille?”
“Inikku Saturday, anna!”

We stepped out to see that our footwear had been moved to the safe confines of the territory of the young man’s undertaking. We rewarded the young man with a few rupees that made him most excited. Surely, such entrepreneurship must be encouraged. Such enterprise. I would like to believe that the boy really was that enthused to share his knowledge and did not really do it for the money but when money is indeed given, he has the right to feel elated and maybe he will look for more people to tell stories to and if they do give him money, great but if they don’t, he is not really going to hold anything against them because, you know what, he is a child. He is not yet cynical.


We saw the young lad’s elation and were happy to leave on a good note when we overheard the two idlers — who seem to be minding whatever rubbish they were peddling as wares : “see, man! the boy has gone and gotten money from them!!! Periya aal” The snark in that voice. Sigh. Not for nothing did Naipaul name the book — India: a million mutinies now.