Monday, September 22, 2014

Enchanting Yercaud

The Christmas holidays had arrived, and we planned a trip to the picturesque hill station Yercaud, about 35kms from Salem. We- uncles, aunts and cousins, embarked on our sojourn from my uncle’s place in Coimbatore by car in the evening and reached Salem by nightfall, around 3 hours later. After a sumptuous supper, amidst excited chatter and GPS in smart phones switched on for ready reference, we continued the journey to our destination. Leaving behind the noisy roads of Salem, the first hairpin bend and a noticeable fall in temperature heralded the commencement of the winding road to the quaint hill town. As we continued our ascent, the hustle and bustle in the city of Salem, illuminated by lights of various hues and colours, presented a pleasing canvas for the eyes. The narrow road curved up constantly and 20 hairpin bends later, Yercaud town came into view. As it was 10pm, the roads were deserted and the shops closed; the resort where accommodation was arranged was situated 2kms away from the town.
The subsequent morning, we awoke at dawn and broke our fast at a restaurant in the town. A 2-day temple festival and an ongoing flower show saw the town bedecked with flowers, arches and statues and music of diverse genre blared from speakers. Tribal dancers in colourful attires were displaying their traditional dance forms on the street, to the accompaniment of drum beats, surrounded by a large throng of tourists and locals. We strolled leisurely around the Yercaud lake to the boat club. The boating in the pristine lake was a memorable experience. The vivid blue sky, the clear lake water and the lush greenery around the banks made a captivating scene.
Our next destination was the Killiyur waterfalls, about 3 kms from the lake. Munching fruits, we began descending the 300 steps leading to the waterfalls. The majestic hills capped with misty clouds and dense flora made it an enjoyable trek. We paused frequently, to drink in the scenery and to capture it in cameras. At the bottom, the clear water gushing down the steep rocks was a beautiful sight to behold. We clambered over the rocks carefully and ventured close to the water; the chill in the water was refreshing and pleasant. The beautiful scenery all around made the arduous ascent from the waterfalls less taxing.
After an elaborate buffet lunch, we relaxed for an hour, enjoying the view from a skywalk, watching the mists drift slowly across the hillocks. We then proceeded to visit the Shevarayon temple, situated 8kms from the town. It is a cave temple, built from the rocks and the deity is dedicated to the erstwhile ruler of the region. We had to bend almost double to reach the idol. The priest pointed out a tunnel, hewn into the rocks and extending nearly a kilometer into the darkness, behind the idol. The view from the Shevaroy hills surrounding the temple was panoramic, the cool breeze and the descending darkness signalling a long night. After gazing at the scenery from the highest point in Yercaud to our hearts’ content, we returned to the town and had a delicious dinner.
Early next morning, we began our return journey, bidding adieu to the tiny hill town. The swirling, thick fog obstructed clear vision and made driving precarious, for a while. As we left the ghat road and set out for Coimbatore, memories of the glorious trip lifted our spirits and we vowed to return to the charming town again.


“Freedom is not always about breaking free from chains”

I woke up to the persistent ringing of the telephone. Rubbing my eyes groggily, I gazed around in semi stupor, trying to get a grip over my slow senses. By the time I was fully awake, the person at the other end of the phone had given up. Something odd about this set me thinking- and then it hit me like a flash- I was alone in the apartment!  
It has been four years since I have rented this apartment. Along with the apartment, came Kamala- the maid. Over the course of these four years, every day has been the same- starting with a hot cup of masala tea brought to the bedside by Kamala. She had complete freedom over the running of my homestead- she moved around the furniture, decided when and what the meals were and even the clothes that I wear. Being a writer, and a temperamental one, it was imperative that I am not disturbed by these trifling matters- Kamala gave me the luxury of never having to attend to trivial household matters and, in return, I never pried into her domain.
My friends were jealous of my find- a jewel in the competitive world of house maids, and did their best to lure her away from me- but she stayed on. Imagine my chagrin when all of a sudden, she vanishes from my life. I felt like a toddler taking his first steps without anyone to hold on to. Thus began a new part of my life.
I had started with an attempt to make my morning cup of tea, but I had to search for everything, from sugar to spoons. I lost the entire morning trying to make breakfast.
I realised that I was over dependent on Kamala and that my daily routine was built with her as the core. I, who boasted of being a free bird, was actually a tame pet of an inconsequential house maid! I decided that it was high time I broke free from the invisible shackles of domesticity that bound me and became a master of myself, and made up my mind to terminate the services of Kamala if she returns.
I started out with moving the furniture around. I reorganised everything in the kitchen, from the cupboards to the racks. Once I was done with cleaning the entire house, I felt I had accomplished something. Several days passed in this manner, with no sight of Kamala and I grew more and more accomplished day by day. I was enjoying my freedom to choose my life- revelling in my successes, determined in my failures and the warrior in me rose to the challenge of redesigning my life in my own terms.  After a week or so, Kamala had vanished entirely from my life and my thoughts. One day, when I went out to empty the dustbin, my neighbour- a natural in the field of gossip mongering- signalled to me indicating that she had vital information to pass on.
She knew that Kamala had been absent- in fact she knew even why! Kamala had gone insane! I gulped down the retort that it was she who had gone insane, merely nodded, and went back.
I may not be much of a conversationalist but I prided myself on being a good judge of character and in my opinion, Kamala was perfectly sane – she had absolutely no tendency of falling over to the other side. Since I was rather free that day, I decided to enquire into the matter. I got her address from my landlord and set my steps to her home.
Kamala lived in a tumbledown shack with her husband and four children. When I reached her place, it was crowded – people usually flock to a place of tragedy like insects attracted to the light. From the bits and pieces of conversation around me, I gathered that my inquisitive neighbour was right- Kamala’s mind had indeed gone astray.
After some conversations I could gather the full story, rather the same old story. Kamala had married young and even though her husband was loving, he was a drunkard. He barely spent any time at home, spending all his income on drinks, leaving her to fend for the family. Even while she went about her duties in my house with a stolid demeanour, her mind might have been heavy with worries over her home- piling debts, increasing expenditure and growing kids- each held their share of space in her thoughts. When the weight was too much to bear, and her mind couldn’t keep pace with her thoughts, her mind had got deranged.
One fine morning, she sat on bed, intensely staring in front of her, as if concentrating on something – putting all her mind to it. Even the kids crying for food did not awaken her from her meditation. It was when her husband came home- drunk and late as usual- and found the tired and hungry kids sitting pooled around their mother, that he realised something was wrong. Several local doctors were called in, but none succeeded in waking Kamala from her meditation. It seemed like her entire world had shrunk into the tiny square of floor tile in front of her.
She was initially labelled as a patient of chronic depression, but after a week the verdict was delivered that she was officially insane – the diagnosis coinciding with the one that the localites had derived since day one. I went inside to support them in their tragedy- or rather to see the sight of the day.  She was sitting in the same pose, oblivious to the stares and chatter of the people around her. One of her kids got up and attempted to walk towards her father- but she stumbled and fell. I was still looking at Kamala, and I caught the sudden look that she darted in the direction of the kid. That look – the concerned look of a mother- belied her sanity and at that instant I knew- she was as sane as you or me. However, nobody else seemed to have noticed her momentary lapse. I walked out slowly, wondering about why she would forsake her life, earning and family and act insane.
I spent a whole day and night thinking about Kamala, and then my thoughts were replaced by more pressing matters. I no longer required the services of a housemaid- Kamala had in fact taught me dependence and independence. My life went along the new lines for a month or so, when one of my ramblings brought me face to face with Kamala’s husband. He seemed to have undergone a transition. I enquired after Kamala’s health.
“She is much the same. Since we are not able to support her in this condition, she has been shifted to a home for the mentally challenged. A week after she was admitted, she grew rather violent and vindictive and consequently was shifted to the isolation ward. We rarely go to see her now, as we do not know when her mood might change and cannot bear to see her in one of her tempers. I have heard rumours that they use chains to keep her checked during her violent days.”
He seems to have gotten over his old ways and looks after the family now. They had got some financial help from the government and were able to live a better life. Except for the fact that Kamala is not with them, they seemed to be doing rather well. Like me, they too have grown accustomed to a life without her.
I thought about that one look of intelligence that came from her and wondered if she was acting insane for this very end. Call it a writer’s imagination, but I believe her to be perfectly sane. She might have forsaken her life, family and freedom so that her family can lead a better life.
People have changing views of freedom- it is the absence of responsibility to some, the choice to mould their own life for some others. For me, freedom was a life devoid of meagre tasks- a free mind, infinite time and engaging work. Kamala made me realise that freedom is also about choosing the way one lives, making small yet significant decisions every day. Freedom is not about independence- it is more about the luxury of being able to choose your dependences.
I believe, in her isolation, bound in shackles and branded insane, she had found her freedom- worlds apart from her worrisome life- with weighing thoughts of her family and the mechanical and frustrating job of a house maid. I realised that one could find freedom even in chains- Freedom is not always breaking free of chains; sometimes freedom might be better when fettered than free.

The End