Around Kallakurichi with Jeyasankar and Ranji
By Etan Doronne
28 May 2011
Today is Jeyasankar birthday and this story is my best shot at finding how to gift him.
It all started with a request from my NY friend to help her Indian business partner find eye-care needy Indians. This task was appointed by the latter's guru in the USA, noting it must go for eye-care only.
One day, as I was walking Kallakurichi's Gandhi road, I noticed Dr. Kumar's eye clinic. At that time I couldn't understand the Tamil sign but the icon of an eye made it clear.
Ranji, Jeyasankar's wife, later joined by her brother Dr. Kumar, listened to my project and current challenge. They offered a delicious Tamil grown homemade filter coffee. I mentioned my likes of the Ganesh waiting-room's curtain that reminded me of my childhood books' drawings. Ranji immediately said she would search the shops for one the next day. 2 days later they gifted me a brand new beautiful one. That was only the beginning of an abundance of gifts.
The proposed eye project I discussed with Dr. Kumar didn't take off eventually. Dr. Kumar mentioned that a private initiative for eye health education would be welcomed with suspicion in the Kalvarayan hills villages. Only a government program would gain support, he concluded. Nonetheless my friendship with Jeysankar, Ranji and both their children had only started to bloom.
I had been invited for dinner. Ranji found out about my likes, my so far Tamil cuisine experience and would especially prepare a variety of local dishes.
The next day Jeyasankar picked me up at my lodge on his 10 year old-faithful TVS XL scooter. We headed to the villages passed his home. He is an insurance investigator, including cow policies, and is familiar with all villages around. At a sesame harvested field we stopped to chew on fresh seeds shared by a 'cow walker' lady. Later, in town, we would visit the oil mill utilizing these yummy bits. A temple across the water reservoir was a natural sacred snake den. We continued to a potter and took a break chatting with locals at the village square, where you can always find Mr. Ramchandran standing in his sunglasses.
Ranji kitchen is clean and naturally lit. Traditionally there are no cabinets, drawers or a stove in Indian kitchens and no table or chairs in the dining room. On the shiny dining floor no silverware is used but one's right hand for eating and left for serving and drinking. The dinner setting was beautiful, Whatever we had for dinner that night it blends in my mind with all delicious meals and dishes that followed ever since. Each dinner had a sweet and breezy ending of warm Chai under the stars. Their top level apartment roof overlooks rice and sugarcane fields around.
Ranji, who is the hostess in her brother's clinic, joyfully volunteered to teach me how to read and write Tamil. In days since I arrive for an afternoon classes. By now I can write and read only my limited vocabulary still holds me back from harvesting the fruit of understanding. My current level is quite useful for traveler, as I can already read shop and road signs to find my way.
Jeyasankar and me got around to visit a brick factory. Basically a village blank plot in the midst of sugarcane fields. Parents are digging local red soil while children roaming and playing around. On the road returning to Kallakurichi we ran across a friend of Jeyasankar. He warmly invited us to a once-a-year temple event at his village. Canceling his trip he took us back home with him. In between we got a guided tour at his 'Soda Factory' enterprise, that's a whole other interesting story.
Pondicheri is the city where his companies headquarters sits. He had to deliver ear tags of an expired cow to redeem his clients insurance compensation. These tags are as liquid as hard cash so for safety reasons these must delivered in person. We both got on a bus for a day at the "big" city which we both enjoyed. While my friend was busy with errands I walked the streets to the beach, found the French Institute of Pondicheri (Institut Francais de Pondichery) and browsed the rich Indian magazine collection in the refreshing air conditioned seafront library. Later we met on the beach.
Jeyasankar insists on paying for my bus rides, meals, chai and anything while we're together. He never accepts my money or let me pay for even myself. Growing up in with a father, a government high-rank employee, that dedicated himself and his personal money to help the poor and fight corruption, Jeyasakar keeps away from money-hungry people. As my friend mentioned several times, he doesn't like the whole concept of official honorable birthday gatherings neither cakes etc... I try my creative best at how to contribute. So far I gifted them with 2 DVD's of my best non-violent mind-engaging films and one animation films' DVD for their elder son who is a great painter and designer.
Only two days ago we had gone on our recent 'expedition': A girl's coming of age Hindu ceremony. Catching a bus after a scooter ride and then crossing a river by foot we arrived at the Mandabaum, the 'wedding hall'. My first such event to observe and taste.
Today, as I was practicing my morning Yoga, just as I was resting in Shavasana, I opened my eyes to see Jeyasankar sitting on the stone fence. He was about to go cut his hair but he must not start any activity beforehand, as per his folk belief. We sat together for a while and as he went on to the barber he invited me to meet his Yoga teaching friend this afternoon.
So, long happy and healthy life, my friend.
More about this documentary My India: Where every village is home - Experience !