(Author: Ki. Rajanarayanan Translation: Radha Soundar & R.S. Saha )
The Kottaiyar house’s generosity provided some help easing the locust famine. But it did not entirely solve their problems.
As per procedure, Govindappa Nayakkar informed the Company about the devastation. There was no response.
The villagers feared the threat of bandits and murder. Any news that reached them didn’t give them hope. They heard many things and weren’t able to distill truth from fact.
They heard that the white men were cutting the thumbs of weavers. The villagers laughed nervously at the odd news.
They heard that anyone that spoke against white men were beheaded.
They heard that they couldn’t give away cucumbers that they had grown themselves, without the white man’s permission. They laughed at the nonsense of that.
Amidst all this, they heard:
King Kattaboman of Panjalagurichi had been taken to a tamarind tree on the shores of the Kayattaru river, killed, then hung from the tree. This terrified the people who heard it and inspired many interpretations of what happened. Some said the reason for the execution was because the king had opposed the white man. Others said that the king’s brother, Oomaidurai, killed ten white men in revenge and hung their bodies.
The people spoke for and against the Company.
“How can they come from some land across the ocean and rule us?” Akkayya asked.
“He has guns and gunpowder. And huge cannons. They say a cannon shot can destroy a whole town.”
“That’s his brahmastram. As long as he has it, he can’t be beat,” Parthasarathy said.
“We shouldn’t get caught with them,” Akkayya said. “Not even for business.”
“But we’ve already given them our word,” Govindappa Nayakkar said. “We can’t go back on it.”
A few days later, the same two Company officers from before returned to the village. This time, however, they brought a battalion. This was the first time the villagers saw rifles and were all amazed.
For people used to slings, bows, and spears, the rifle was an astonishing weapon.
There were many dark-skinned men in the battalion now. It was said the white man had a difficult time training the dark-skinned men. Akkayya had many interesting stories about this.
“The white man would line the dark-skinned men in a row and stamp his feet on the ground, one to the other, just like a potter kneading clay with his feet. Then he would command them to do the same. As they did, he would chant, ‘Left, right, left right.’
“Left-right is the white man’s language. How can those donkeys understand that? They could never stamp in unison or at the right time. But the white man is clever. He tied a leaf to their left legs, and a cloth to the right leg. Then they were able to understand and chant along with him, ‘Olakaal, Seelakal’, Leaf leg cloth leg”
Parthasarathy Nayakkar thought it was sinful to needlessly stomp on Mother Earth’s face.