Part 4 – Tamil Nadu
Coimbatore, my first favourite Tamil town. After the pervasive chauvinism of Kerala, it was a surprise and relief to be in public spaces where there is hardly any overt harassment of women.
I travelled by buses for my college daily, and never was I harrased. Of course the buses are jam packed. Violet chiffon sarees to be worn for important college functions was a difficult thing to navigate on the buses, but we survived. Another great thing about Coimbatore was the beautiful evening breeze (or wind) regardless of the weather. Perhaps because it was close to Ooty?
We lived next to a community marriage hall, and could hear wedding music playing at odd hours, surely to accommodate auspicious ceremony times (muhoortam), as predicted by the bride and groom’s astrology.
One perk of attending the morning assembly in our regimented college was encountering the heady fragrance of a hundred flowers. You see, the Tamil girls would be decked out in jasmine and rose flowers adorning their hair, every single day.
After roaming other places I went back to Tamil Nadu, this time to Chennai. Chennai could be hot as an oven, and the oppresive humidity is unbearable. Yet, the bus journey and the to-ing and fro-ing in autos is freedom. The auto drivers are respectful if you compare them with those from the neighbouring states.
If I walk out early mornings, I could see the doorsteps being wet and then decorated with kolam (designs on the earth with rice flour). Shady trees on the roads. Instantly available idlis and dosas. Big vegetarian lunch menus that made us snooze on the office desk afterwards. Coffee in tumblers that looked yummy, though I would never taste that particular culinary delight.
We did visit Tamil Nadu as kids, touring with our dad in trucks. I think, Madurai, Rameshwaram, Pondicherry, Tirunelveli, Tiruchirappalli, perhaps not in that order. I remember watching the salt drying in bunds built off the sea shore. The best fish fry somewhere in Tirunelveli or Nagercoil. Oh yes, delicious fresh mackerel fried on the beach, but Chennai beaches are dirtier now.
I find it hard pressed to write a bad word about this State, well maybe the heat. But perfect in every other sense.
So the book read for Tamil Nadu is The Hour Past Midnight, by Salma, translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom. A saga of small town Tamil Nadu Muslim women.