flock of birds flying over bare tree overlooking sunset


(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha )

(Original Novel : கோபல்ல கிராமம்)

The dawn ushered in a different kind of day for the village. A huge sun as red as a kovai fruit. Its light was a balm for the eyes that rose on a cloudless horizon.

Off Mangamma’s Path, on the cart track heading towards the village, two men came riding on tall horses. They were new to the village and so was their language. The white man riding the black horse was part of the Company. A dark-skinned man was riding the white horse. He was more handsome and looked stronger than the white man.

The white officer wore a tall hat. Under it, near his ears, were thick reddish-brown sideburns. The dark-skinned officer wore a red silk turban. He had no sideburns. He had a thick mustache that was curled like the horns of a ram. He had large, threatening eyes.

The white officer asked questions in his native language and the dark-skinned officer responded in that language.

They stopped when they saw the sunrise. Sunrises never grew boring no matter how many times they were seen. The sun, blooming like a flower, could be adored as a young child.

This was a calm sun.

It could only be seen for a few seconds. Once the sun rises even slightly higher, its light becomes too fierce.

Enraptured by the scene, the white officer said, “I’ve only seen sunrises on the mountains and the seas. This is the first time I’m seeing a sunrise on flat land. It is truly captivating. I didn’t expect this here.”

The dark-skinned officer agreed to the sunrise’s beauty. 

As they entered Gopalla Gramam, they saw harvested fodder in the shape of huts piled in the fields.

“Are they houses? Without windows or doors?” The white man asked.

“No, sir, they are not. The piles are fodder for cattle. After the harvest, farmers arrange it all in this beautiful and neat way.” 

“Why go through the trouble? Why can’t they just pile it up like hay?”

“Oh no, sir, those piles aren’t random either. There’s a reasoning and method for them too. These crops, millet and corn, will rot in the rain if piled like hay and the cattle won’t be able to eat it. Instead, they’re arranged by size and flattened by wooden planks before being shaped into the walls that are slanted against each other. Finally, soorithatai stalks are woven together and placed on top of it all for protection against wind and rain.”

The white man stopped his horse next to a pile and examined it with astonishment. His wonder was nothing compared to two men from a different, distant land. Gopalla’s villagers still laughed about the question those two other men had asked.

The two men had repeatedly circled one of the piles. 

“What are you looking at?” Asked the villagers.

“After building it,” the men responded. “How does the man holding the aakai stalk come out?”

After the roof was made, one person sits on top of it. Whatever harvest was being used, the man would thread a needle with a strand of aakai grass and lower it. His partner standing below would take the aakai off and signal with a grunt. The man on top would take the needle back and stick it into the roof roughly four inches away. The partner would thread the aakai and grunt again, signaling the man on the roof to pull the needle back and tie the two ends of the fiber together. This was done multiple times to ensure that the roof had a tight grip on the slanting frame, if not it would slide down. This was a fine method for making roofs. For making the fodder piles, the aakai grass was not needed. Instead they plaited soorithatai grass across the top layers of the fodder.

This was beyond the knowledge of the two men.

“A man held the aakai but how did he come out?” The villagers would mock.

“He made vadai. And even put a hole in it. But how did he put the thread inside?” They’d say, embellishing the joke whenever they found threads in the deep fried snack. Vadai, when it had gone stale, would form strands between two halves when pulled apart.

Dogs began to bark when the horses entered the village. Children continued to cheer and play. Women and old villagers gathered to see what was going on, along with others who dropped their work to join in.

The two officers traversed the small streets of the village and stopped at the Kottaiyar house.

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