Family Fortunes (Sunday April 30th)

When Mood Music
2006-04-30 23:00:00

Somehow I found time to write an (annotated) diary entry
On bus to Rasipuram (met Selvam, Suriya’s distant cousin [Suriya and his grandfathers were brothers], who gave us a lift to the main road).

MDMK(?) propaganda in abundance.

"" MDMK(?) poster

Last night phone was f***** – bad news because I really wanted to call home. In my absence, dad calls me at Nitya and Balaji’s house.

I’d been missing contact with home so Priya, Rajesh and Nitya took me to an international phone booth, even though it was late at night. Earlier Bobby had given me the addresses [and phone numbers where available] of all the places I’d be staying for the wedding and I’d emailed them to my parents. The international phone didn’t work and there was a brief discussion over whether I was dialling my parents’ number correctly. I kept my cool, despite feeling slightly insulted. My parents have had the same number for at least 20 years and I’d been calling them regularly from India.

TV/DVD-equipped bus, Tamil/Bollywood/disco music

This is probably a contradiction. Tamil Nadu has a large cinema industry centred on Chennai.

Then meet David Padmanaban and his orphanage/bus/church.

David and his wife Shakila (Suriya’s neice) are (Protestant?) Christians whose house in the in the compound of the orphanage they own(?) and run. They also have property (a single-story apartment building and possibly a tea plantation) in the Nilgiris, some farmland in the outskirts of Rasipuram and a bus service.

"" David and Shakila Padmanaban

He showed me around the orphanage. I couldn’t help cringing when he asked them to line up and then come forward in turn to shake my hand. I wonder if this was as embarrassing for them as it was for me? I don’t fault David and Shakila’s aims or kindness and given the chance, I would like to support this work: these kids would probably have been on the streets or dead without this place.

"" some of the orphans – the rest were on holiday with distant relatives

There seemed also to be a disparity between the orphanage quarters and its owners’ house which seemed to tacitly say “I’m rich: you’re not”. I’m well aware that this disparity is nothing compared to the disparity between the orphans’ apparent lives and the cost of the camera slung around my waist or the amount of money I’m spending on what’s basically a holiday.

I was also curious why Suriya lives in a tiny rented house in Goa and has serious financial difficulties (she’d shown me her bank book) when David and Shakila were well off in Tamil Nadu. I did ask Suriya about this later: if I put her answer here, I might be libelling David and Shakila. This would be totally out of order: they fed and watered me, treated me kindly and I’m just a random stranger who can’t (currently) do anything for them except advertise their help for kids who otherwise have nothing while I’m (currently) doing nothing at all for anyone.

David then took me on the back of his scooter to his church, his school and to the bus station to show me (one of?) his bus(es?).

"" David Padmanaban’s church
"" David Padmanaban’s school
"" David Padmanban’s bus

He also took me to his nearby farmland where his staff grow bananas, coconuts and sugar-cane. The land is separated from a lake by a dyke that carries a main road. David told me that this had leaked, ruining half of this year’s sugar-cane crop. He also offered me coconut milk. This was another cringe-making event: one of his staff walked barefoot through ankle-deep, dirty-looking puddles puddles to a tree, climbed it and cut down two coconuts. He brought them back to the verandah where David and I were sitting (while the staff stood, almost to attention, around us), chopped off some of the husk and pierced the nut with a lethal-looking machete. After all this, the milk was watery and unpleasant, not a patch on how I believe the coconut flesh would have tasted.

"" I say bananas, you say baneenas

After this, David took me back to his house where I met Venkatesh (his father-in-law and Suriya’s brother-in-law) and Tukin, David and Shakila’s son. I doubt you’ll really want to know this but it was about now that I noticed I was constipated!

All this time Rajesh had been at the house. This was also embarrassing: obviously I didn’t know that much about the relationships but I did know that Rajesh was from north-east Karnataka but worked as a waiter in Goa and had been friends with Suriya and Raju for much, much longer than I. He had also never been to Tamil Nadu before. This preferential treatment continued during the week and at least twice I mentioned to Rajesh and Suriya that I hadn’t asked for and didn’t want it. I also tried to make it plain to everyone that I appreciated what they were doing for me but that there was an imbalance because I couldn’t return the favours unless any of them ever visited the UK and that I didn’t want to be even an unwilling cause of upset for Rajesh. All through this trip, he was generous and perfectly decent.


Onwards to nuptiality
Suriya, Rajesh and I then bussed back to Salem where we were joined by Laxmi and Priya. We then all bussed to Mettur Dam, where I managed to photograph poorly a ‘khala sanyassin’, then another bus to Kholetur and finally, as night fell, bussed to within 10 minutes’ walk of Savaryapalyam, Raju’s home village. During the walk, we met a wedding guest (probably a relative) who was an english and maths teacher. He took me on the back of his motorbike to the house where Raju was staying, then went back to collect others.

"" khala sanyassin (black-clothed mendicant priest)

At the house, I met Raju (the groom) for the second ever time and was also was introduced to more of his and Suriya’s friends and relations, including:

  • Lily and Sakya-Raj (who live in Mettur Dam but are originally, I believe, from Suriya’s home village) and their children Leonie (aged 14) and Lizzie (aged 11)
  • Leema (Suriya’s ‘best friend’ from her home village) and her daughter Selma.

I asked if there was an international phone-booth in the village (they seem to be incredibly common) but was told that the nearest was in Kholetur. I was taken by bike back to Kholetur (3 km in the dark at around 30 km/h was fine – until the driver answered his cellphone without stopping). After returning from this and getting grounded, we were given our evening meal. I have to say that until you’ve eaten real south Indian food with your fingers from a banana leaf you’ve missed one of the world’s best treats.

"" Leema and Suriya
"" Rajesh, Priya, Laxmi, Sakya-Raj,
Raju, Suriya and Lily

Rajesh, Suriya and I were put up in a house belonging to Raju’s grand-parents. Rajesh and I were indoors on metal beds, while other folk slept on the verandah on wood-and-string beds or on mats.

"" Priya and Lizzie sharing a wood-and-string bed

We also got to watch a bit of cricket (I think highlights of the recent one-day series between India and Pakistan) while the family-folk were chatting out on the verandah. I was kept awake by this for a while and eventually went out to join them. Leema, a woman was smoking a cigar. She offered me one and I tried it: she must have lungs of cast iron to smoke these things! Finally I got to sleep around midnight – not too soon because the wedding was due to kick off at 8 am the next day.


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