Monday, February 19, 2007

Coming home

Windchill woke me up. The knotted hair flying all over the place, pain in the back of the head reminding me of the iron bar on which I rested my head to sleep slipped away from occupying my mind in just a few minutes. It is the green paddy fields. Early morning wind fast by my face, farmers and crows.. I am suddenly alerted by the need to realise the town the bus is heading to or the towns the bus has passed. I try to jag my memory to recognise the place. It is the paddy fields again. I have to wait until the next stop. Hope I have not missed Palayam yet. Not a big deal though. I might end up reaching Cumbum. I can always come back. Bus stops. I wagely recognise and I believe that it is one stop before Chinnammanoore. Hmm, I have missed Veerapaandi then. It is the river and the temple by the river I like to give a passing look. It has been a long time since I have been to the festival in Veerapaandi. It is a blurry memory I have of the place and the festival. The village looks totally different during non-festival days. It makes it difficult to recognise the fig tree under which we cooked pongal for the festival. There was a lane of palmfruit (Nongu) vendors, I remember. I guess it was just the festival shop and the lane. That would explain why nothing is recognisable in Veerapaandi anymore. But the place always interests me. All the movie personalities from my area either write about Veerapaandi in their songs or they come here and shoot their movies. Again it looks different in movies too. It is not the same Veerapaandi I remember. But then it was a long time ago, and my memory is blurry too. It is Chinnammanoore now. I look for my periyamma's lane. I also look around in the bus stand to see if my periyappa is there by any chance buying anything at all at this time. I smile. The Jackfruit vendors have not started their business yet. I won't miss them tomorrow when I will be coming here to see my periyamma and periyappa. I may come today afternoon itself. I smile again. The bus moves. I look for my bag and suitcase. I have to collect them and get ready to leave the bus. It won't take long to reach Palayam. I don't know whether the river is running full or is it dry at this time of the year. I like the sight of the river in Palayam and in Veerapaandi. There look, it is full. It brings a smile on my face automatically. It is Palayam. I collect my things in a hurry to leave the bus. I forgot that it is not the city buses I am used to these days. The driver will wait, I remembered. I leave the bus, smile at the driver and conductor.

Kombai bus came after a few minutes wait. I boarded it, took a window seat. An old lady comes and sits next to me. The conductor is asking for us to buy tickets. Old lady asks for Pannaippuram. I ask for Kombai. The conductor and the old lady both looked at me at once, the conductor recognised me immediately. "Vaappa Latha". "Are you coming just now? Does your family know? Will they be waiting for you at the bus stand, how are you going to manage the suitcase and the bag. Don't worry. I will get it sorted for you"... I smile. He is a chithappa (uncle) and a far relative. The old lady wants to know a lot. Chithappa helps there. I look outside. Paddy fields disappear and dry lands start. Red soil. Seenithai aachchi's kaadu (unirrigated rainfed land) is somewhere here. They don't have a well. When I went with her to her kaadu, we had to hunt for surface springs for drinking water. Luckily there was one. We go past the Palayam college. There is a temple before entering Kombai. I don't know if anyone has ever done any prayer here. I have never been to this temple. I don't think anyone has ever been either. It is an abandoned temple. Coconut orchards change the scenary for me. My place has got so good water you know. I smile with pride. There is my school. Changed. They have got new entrance now. They don't have to cross the gully water when it rains. Then, no holidays after heavy rains then. Children of these days miss the village life. pchch. It's all too modernised now. hmmm. There is the board welcoming to Kombai. They don't change the dump-yard location or the location of the board. They do not seem to care what an outsider coming to Kombai for the first time would think. che che. I look away. The other side of the road is nice. It is the coconut orchards. Kombai is full of coconut orchards you know. We used to have one ourselves. I smile.

It is the theradi bus stop. I smile again. Whosoever coming to Kombai for the first time would get down at this stop. Conductor would always stop them to ensure that this is the stop the passenger wants. That would always confuse any new comer. Does that mean Kombai has more than one stop? Is it so big? yes dear. Kombai is not as small as you might think. It is big enough to be a town. I smile again. Not so long after, the next stop, the main stop, the bus stand, the one I want, comes. I collect my luggage. Coductor chithappa comes to help. He calls out loud for Muragan mama who is always there in the bus stand. I am unlucky today that he is not there. "No problem chithappa. I can leave luggage in Subbiah mama's shop and father can come and get it later". I convince conductor chiththappa that I can manage the luggage to the shop myself. He whistles. Bus leaves.

I look around. Kombai is fully awake. Early morning sun is catching up with its potential heat. I pick up my suitcase and bag and start walking. I am weak and hungry. It must be the travel. I have not brushed my teeth yet. I did goggle and washed my face too while I was waiting for bus in the Palaym bus stand. Mama's shop is not too far. "Vaamma Latha". Are you coming just now?" "Does your family know?" I tried refusing the coffee he offered, but failed. It is a coffee shop after all, although named “tea-stall” and he is the owner after all. Mama sends one of his assistants to my house to let them know that I will be there in a few minutes and they should send someone to come and collect the luggage. I can never keep my visit to my house a surprise.

Ok then. I take leave from him and start walking. It is the communal well. It is not a well first of all, neither small like you would imagine something similar to the one shown in movies, but it is a big water tank that supplies water to every lane and street in north and east streets. I don't know about other streets and their source of supply of water. It looks like water has been on for sometime. The crowd in every communal tap is less than normal. The vaasals are all wet. True that it is just morning and the sun hasn't dried up the water sprinkled on vaasals yet, but it also shows the trails of water being carried from taps to houses. Cows and bulls walk past me. Some carts too. Paper periyappa (paper delivery man) cycles past me. He never shows the kind of smile others in my village show. I guess it is just that that he is not my relative. I guess. But he does show a sign of recognition. I smile at him.

"Latha, is that you? vaa Latha. are you coming just now? where is your luggage? Is it there at mama's shop?" Akka asks. "Yes akka. Are you fine?" “I am fine. How are you? Come and have some breakfast and go”. “It is alright akka. I haven't brushed my teeth yet”. “So what?. Brush it at our place”. “It is alright akka. I will come later. See you”. Akka sends her son to let my family know that it won't be long before I reach home. He runs like a bullet.

Few more welcomes, few more breakfast offers and few more "later" replies delayed me a little. I enter our lane. I can see all my family members standing outside my house. Our house is on the left at the corner of the lane where it bends left and has a side branch to the right. We get a good view up to the end of the street, where it meets the main street. I walk towards my house. "Why so late? The boy from mama's shop came a while ago". I just smile. "ha?, why late?". Gawd. I can't shout from here. I walk closer. "Is it Latha?" Ennaappa, Are you comping just now?" another stop. I smile and reply and then I continue my walk towards home.

"Why so late. Why are you answering to all those stoppers?" - Chithi
"Have you fetched water for our house?" - me
"Why, are you going to help us?" - Amma
"Why so late? Lathappillai, you have gone thinner. You get thinner and thinner every time, do they give you food at all? What do you eat every day?" - Aachchi
"Look at her hair. She has cut it again. She has ruined her hair. She uses shampoo. Thickness has gone less too. She cuts it you see". - Amma
"Amma, I just cut some length that is all. Hair with split ends does not look nice. Anyway, cutting the length cannot make the thickness go less amma.".
"how" - amma
I just failed explaining.
"You use shampoo don't you?"
"No I don't. I still have the arappu you gave me last time".
"It is because you have not used it at all. You use shampoo". - amma
"adadada. Leave her to brush her teeth. Get her some coffee, akka. One cup for me too. Yes, your hair does look thin. What shampoo do you use?" - chithi
"Lathapillai, do you want iddly? I can get from our thaththa's shop. Give me a thukku, let me get some iddlies for lathappillai" - Thaaththa. (iddly is not a regular breakfast item in our household, particularly if I or senthil is not around).
"Where is Senthil? He told he was going to come one day before me.
“He is sleeping, see”.
“Wake him up. He shouldn’t sleep this late”.
“You just mind your business ok. Don’t start fighting with him already”.
“I am going to sleep for sometime".
"What, eat first and then you can sleep".
"Amma, I need to brush my teeth" .
"Use water from this thotti It is fresh water, I just filled one extra thotti for today. Use less water. We don’t get water in taps here remember?".
“Lathappillai, use less water. Just throwing water away is not a good habit for a girl. It brings you bad luck”.
“She never listens. She has emptied one full thotti for brushing her teeth”.
“It is not empty”.
“What is there in those teeth to grind it with your brush like this?. You are going to lose all your teeth and gums if you brush it like this. Is this how you brush nowadays?"
"Latha, are you coming just now? Why so late? Did you not get ticket in the previous bus?” Velthai chithi comes in. "What happened to your hair? Have you cut all your hair? It looks so thin. You don't seem to be eating anything either. Chuppakka, Did you not fill up this thotti? It is half empty"….…..


Vi said...

Sounds like what my grandmother would say when I visit her in her agragharam.

ammani said...

Fantastic. You have captured it all so well.

Anonymous said...

Premalatha, Hello! Nice to read your articles.
The temple that is located before entering Kombai, is the Chikkajjiamman temple. I know well because I was told that she is my ancestor. Centuries ago when Kombai was the headquarters of the kombai Zamindars, the wife of the Zamindar in fit of anger after fighting with her husband, left home discreetly to her mom's home in Pudupatty. On the way, in the location of the temple, she was chased by thieves for the jewels she was wearing. She found the same old tree found in the temple even today, to hide. She prayed God to let her enter the tree and hide from the thieves. The tree gave her shelter, she entered the tree. The witness to this episode was a lonely dumb drum-beater (urumi). He dashed to the Zamindar's palace (it exists even now), and conveyed the incident by beating the urumi. Shocked, the Zamindar and his folks went there to the tree and prayed to the lady to show herself. Suddenly, the lady showed her leg from within the tree, identified by the jewel on her leg. Then she took her leg in. She never came out later. Then people started worshipping her as Goddess Chikkajji amma. There are annual festivities conducted by the people of Kombai. ---My name is Subhakar, my periappa (Appaji Rajkumar, about 80 years old, lives in the Kombai Palace) is the erstwhile Zamindar of Kombai. The story runs in the family and the worshippers of the Goddess.

Premalatha said...

@ Vi and Ammani, thanks.


I am sorry I didn't know about your Chikkajjiamman story. Thanks for letting me know. I will try to visit the temple next time I go there. Thanks for dropping by.
I know the palace. I have never been inside. I have seen it from the main road. It is nice to have you read my blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Premalatha, That was very nice of you. You really write well. I m happy to have read your articles. By the way, Kombai Palace is in the Aranmanai Theru, on the way to the hills. Many times, the Manikoondu mahal on the Thevaram Road is mistaken for the kombai Palace. But Manikoondu Mahal is really majestic in appearance with its large clock tower, garden and beautiful moghul type construction. I think you must also write about the anthropological background of Kombai, the famous characters in Kombai - Dr BBS (Sunderesan), Kombai-Kavi T. Samaandidoss, RR Balasubramanian Chettiyar, Vishawanathan Chettiyar etc, the dual annual life of many Kombaites (most of them live in Kerala cardomom plantations half of the year, because they either work there or own lands there), more about the Ther thiruvizha, Arulmigu Ranganathaswami temple, Kanyaparameshwari school, etc. I am only a visitor to Kombai now, but I love the place and the memories of the village. Do you know that an anglo-indian family lived in Kombai. Mrs Joane Mani by name, taught nursery kids in Kombai RRB school decades ago? The Alla-kovil ie the mosque - whose prayer calls are the alarm-bells for the agricultural community to start work. The local church and the annual christmas coirs. Hmm I need more time.... I now live in Bangalore and miss Kombai very much, more the nature than its people. Never-the-less, people there, are most tolerant of each others' religion, respectable about the each others' castes, respect for women etc.

Premalatha said...

// By the way, Kombai Palace is in the Aranmanai Theru, on the way to the hills.//

I know. :)) I have seen the palace from aranmanaitheru main st. I haven't been any closer.

//Many times, the Manikoondu mahal on the Thevaram Road is mistaken for the kombai Palace.//

Manikoondu Mahal is one of my fav places in kombai. It was the only place that used to have roses when I was small. Later we had in our house and I got to cross-breed them as my hobby, but Manikoondu Mahal was the place where roses were there.

//But Manikoondu Mahal is really majestic in appearance with its large clock tower, garden and beautiful moghul type construction.//

Do people live there now? I have heard it is deserted now.

// I think you must also write about the anthropological background of Kombai//

I have mentioned about dogs etc sometime ago. One guy is doing MPhil in that subject, it was really very pleasing to know that.

//the famous characters in Kombai - Dr BBS (Sunderesan), //
don't know who he is (was)

//Kombai-Kavi T. Samaandidoss//,

what? he was my tamil teacher. That is all I know about him. When did he become kavi?

//RR Balasubramanian Chettiyar, Vishawanathan Chettiyar etc, //

Don't know much about them (RRB school I know. Is it taken over by Theni Nadars now?).

//the dual annual life of many Kombaites (most of them live in Kerala cardomom plantations half of the year, because they either work there or own lands there), //

My mother and my thatha have lived like that.

//more about the Ther thiruvizha//

Everyone wants that. Me too. sure, one day. :) I have written about Pangunip pongal though. Take your time to go through those pages when you have time. There are links at right hand side.

// I am only a visitor to Kombai now,//

Me too.

//but I love the place and the memories of the village.//

Me too.

//Do you know that an anglo-indian family lived in Kombai. Mrs Joane Mani by name, taught nursery kids in Kombai RRB school decades ago?//

She was my brother's teacher. He studied in RRB for a short time.

//The Alla-kovil ie the mosque - whose prayer calls are the alarm-bells for the agricultural community to start work. The local church and the annual christmas coirs. Hmm I need more time.... //

There is this whole life ahead of us to write all these things. :))

//I now live in Bangalore and miss Kombai very much,//

I live farther than you do. :)

//more the nature than its people. Never-the-less, people there, are most tolerant of each others' religion, respectable about the each others' castes, respect for women etc. //

You are very proud of your place aren'tya? :))

Come back again.

Balachandhran said...

Hello Premalatha,

That was a wonderfully matter-of-fact but tellingly moving piece of writing.

I am really a city slicker though i have visited our home village - Thiruvenkadu - many times. After a 2.5 year stay in the US, i have started appreciating these essentially Indian experiences. And it is my fortune that i am now back at Chennai.

Being an avid dog lover, one of my greatest regrets is the apathy towards our native Indian dogs. After searching high and low for purebred Rajapalayams, i got a male from a small village near Kanchipuram called Padappai. I have also been keeping my eyes open for a purebred Kombai, but in this i have not met with much success. Last week, i visited Kombai - enroute from Thekkady going on towards Madurai - and greatly enjoyed the small town ambience. We stopped near the 'gramachavadi' and asked for some contacts about Kombai dog breeders and were told about a person called Ravi who deals with dogs in the town.

We met with this person and had a good meeting for much of the afternoon. This gentleman seems to procure pups from various sources and sends them on their way throughout Tamil Nadu. I was wondering if you happen to know anybody who rears purebred Kombais from whom i can get a pup or two. My objective in doing this would be to let the Kennel Club of India know that these Indian breeds still exist and are every bit as good as the other ones. More than this though, i am greatly enjoying living with our own native dog breeds. It is a fascinating experience. I do say this after having reared a German Shepherd, Doberman and a Great Dane.

Any information that you can give me on this would be greatly appreciated.

And last but not the least, please do continue with your wonderful rustic blogs - they transport people to a different time, age and place. This is even better than a time machine, because we can always slip back to our present!

Hansa said...

Manickoondu Mahal,Kombai
I am very happy to see Manickoondu Mahal got mention in your blog.
It was a dream of my father in law U.M.Chinna Mohideen Rawuthar-
He wanted his sons to live together!
and it took 8 years for him to build 1948 - 1956.Yes, people do live there - It is not deserted.Many of the family members live elsewhere but return to the roots at least once a year- Hansa Jamal

Premalatha said...

Hi Hansa,

my my, what a small world.
Thanks for dropping by.

Hansa said...

hi Premalatha
The world has become smaller - now it I could contribute to your blog by writing about some of the important personalities from Kombai who has made a mark in many fields.

Adeep said...

Interesting information about my palace ...

Thanks for all

Aarif said...

Neatly written article, which brings out the flavour of our people. Nice to see something on kombai in net.

I am native of kombai and have studied at RRB for couple of years - don't remember whether it was 4th & 5th or 5th & 6th...
Now a days the frequency of visit to kombai has reduced to twice a year.
Whenever I find time, will write in detail about below items in my next visit (BTW, I am new to blogging!! - need to get the art of writing blogs (like premalatha)
- late night new film at theni and a pathayathirai from palayam to kombai
- when grown-up bike-race without headlight at midnight
- 10th long leave - got to get friends with Joane miss 2nd daughter (Lesley Ann - if I remember correct). Where are they now?
- Endless great stories from Mama's, grandapa's, grandma's on royal estate lifes, the way they grown wealth and how they lost!!!
- Interesting saying from my great grandma - we have a heritage of thonnooru (90) varusha orai moru and elupathu varusha (70) kanghu. Explanation - since the family used to be ver big with atleast two or three new born and also with some old age people at home always, there used to be hot water boling all the time starting from morning 4 am till midnight, hence the kanal kanghu (charcoal) never used to be put off at our home (till the recent kerosene/gas came) and also the same with the orai moru, since the house will not be locked and atleast few people will always be there there used to be curd made every day and this orai more (butter milk to make curd) has a heritage of 90+ years. I like this saying which very well explains our great joint families that were there BEFORE!!!
- Story around another mahal at kombai - Raja Mahal - Not that majestic like manikoondu mahal - but has lot of stories. The big
- Thiagaraja tent kottakai experience
- namakal mettu (The view from this place now is fantastic). Please be there just before sunset and you can see both the views in sun light and just as kombai switches to electricity light
- valayal kadai - with pattu puthakam, actor stickers (fight between brothers in opening Kamal & Rajini rasikar mandan in two different rooms in our house with thatha + paati as chief guest for opening ceremony!!!)
- swimming pool at thootam, thiruttu tham
- Thatha's peculiar habits - giving special!! tooth powder (payoria) in daily calender sheets (he is THE BEST eco friendly re-cycler). Even being a rich person never used to waste money, materials, time (or) anything....
- Few other things on kombai specific food - Iyer kadai dosai, chiyyam, iyyappan fruit mix juice & lassi,
- great get-to-gether during annual leaves. There used to be nearly 15 kids (my grandpa had 9 children) - fight for dosa - kitchen will be crowded with 6 / 7 ladies and every meal will be like kalyana samayal... Just before gas cylinders - oothu kulal, thengai mattai, pooghai, ..... Kids with all those funny games, girls at make-up - dancing for songs, big guys/parents with playing cards...etc. Myself or my kids will never see such gatherings - much worried in the way we have changed!!!!. (It used to be better that 'Varusam - 16' movie.... All youngsters in our family have watched V-16 movie since it replicates more of our way of get-togetherness...
- ela vattams kathal settaighal - does not matter whether it is a marriage or funeral gathering... And we as young boys safe-gaurding them as soldiers. One at vasal, one at padi koondu to give signal when mama / amma comes!!!
- Kalyanam - Ethanai kalyanam antha veetil. Till my grandpa was there as a big joint family we never remember we booking mandapams for marriage. The entire Raja Mahal lane will be decorated and all feast functions will be handled in the group of houses there.

Thought of just putting some hints which I thought of developing later but ended up writing a lengthy blog.

Catch you all again later.

Farook Kamal said...

Hi Iam Farook,
Nice to read your home coming experience and the narration of a story teller. It takes back to the days of our youth the smell of hay, the wet wind of the green paddy fields, the chill breez that surrounds you when you cross Theni, on the way to the heavenly abode of KOMBAI my (our) native village. You could have put some pic and scenery on the blog. I am also a inheritant of Manickoondu Mahal and I presently live in Madurai.

ahamed said...

Nice article & good follow up posts.Kombai,has been an integral part of my life. May be just for the record - Studied LKG 2 Xth @ RRB HSS. Just a small town in area wise, but so many personalities - to know,to learn,to admire & to appreciate.

Kombai Ther - The second largest after srivillipudur in tamil nadu. Kombai Dogs are famous throughout the country. Iyer kadai dosa - same taste, same sambar for the last 60 years. Costs just 7-8 Rs. KFRC - is a mini L.A for gambling. More than anything there is my 50 year old home. Being away from Kombai for the past 15 years. Made a point to visit kombai once a year for my vacation.

Life in kombai is calm & relaxed. The green garden,cows,dogs,fish pond...above all the western ghats fresh air that flows through ( what I dearly miss in Dubai).

My grand father & his beloved brothers worked from scratch and created a name for themselves. They are so united & have made great progress.They are no longer today. But my home Raja Mahal is one such example for their hard work,dedication & sacrifice.

I can go on & on on... about kombai.Next article, I'll write about different personalities in kombai

SUGUMAR said...

hey guys, seriously I dont who u r premalatha, but the way u narrated about reaching kombai? wow. it actually brought me back the memories . I'm not actually from kombai but from cumbum. but my periyamma and her family is living there , where i used to spend my holidays with my big bro " senthilanna and my big sis vasuki akka" . and also i dont know how many of u heard abt my periyappa who was the head master of kannika parameswari middle school Mr.sikkumallayan.
all I'm trying to say u is ,i do have some kinda bond with kombai!
that was an awesome time which i spend with my brother on my teenage. Where he will take to me to those tent theatres and the Rajkamal theatre for the movies for the 2nd show man those were also the part of histories too. I jus simply love it.
keep going premalatha.

Anonymous said...

dear Mr. balachandran,

i m very happy to c your interest on indian breed same as me. even im in deep search for kombai dog an rajapalayam, and now had cameout finding with some pure breeds. for rajapalayam pls contact mr.chandrasekar of dindigul who is a know breeder. u can find his details in i have personaly visited him to buy a female raja pup for my frnd and was really happy with the quality he got. Also regarding Kombai, i got a detail from a well know source that the purest breed of kombai breed is still available in BODI Zameen, wich they wont give it for outside public. still i m tryin to get puppies thru some sources. if you got enough sources in BODI u also have a try. r else u can find some nice breed of kombai dogs in P.D. Boaz memorial hospital in santhospuram, Chennai...



Senthil said...


Brilliant. Read the post again. Almost similar memories. I also start looking for Veerapandi the moment I pass Theni. Tried to locate the place by looking at paoddy fields many times.

- Senthil

siva said...

kombai is a very rare breed we indian should not let that jean down but am still in search of good one got one pure champion breed and i ll forward good lines of kombai in future this will be a good specimen

snigdha G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hai Baji said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tariq Anwar said...

Mama is it you 😀😀☺