We left Chennai on Christmas eve. After a short visit to Chidambaram and overnight at Vaitheeshwaran Koil, on Christmas morning we set off towards our destination — a small village named Komal.
I remember my grandmother mentioning Komal several times, but beyond the name, I knew nothing. To me, Komal sounded out of place. It was too north-Indian a name, to be a village in Tamil Nadu. In fact, for a long time, I thought it was in Myanmar!
We knew no-one in the village. The house was sold several years ago, and my father hadn’t been anywhere near Komal for forty years.
We had no address. Back then, my father told us, people never had addresses. Everyone knew everyone else in the village. Each house was identified by its occupants. How, then, were we to find that house? “I’ll know it when I see it. I’m told it hasn’t changed one bit,” said my father.
One of my father’s cousins gave us the name of a person who could help us locate the house, just in case.
“It is near a temple.”
We followed the highway leading towards Kumbakonam and asked for directions from locals. Our landmark was a temple. We found one. And another. And another. But my father could not recognise anything. “There should be a bridge, followed by a row of shops. I don’t understand. ”
My father asked a few local people about the person my uncle had mentioned. “No brahmins live on this street,” said one man with a glare. He pointed towards another street, and told us to ask there.
On the other street, we were told that only Iyengars lived there, no Iyers. They pointed towards the end of the street and told us that some of the residents had been living there for years. Perhaps they could help.
At the end of the street, we stopped outside an old looking house, that my father thought looked familiar. Unsure, he knocked on the door, and asked the residents if he could take a look. A few minutes later, he came out and told us that it was not the one.
We had been going around in circles for over an hour. The sun was beating down on us.
Dejected, and frustrated, we were planning to return to Chennai, when we saw an elderly gentleman. As a last-ditch effort, we asked him about our mysterious contact person. To our delight, he knew the person. “Oh! Yes, I know him! But he doesn’t live here. He lives in Komal. This is Therazendur.’*
Once we realised we were in the wrong village, it took us barely 10 minutes to reach the narrow entry to Komal.
“The bridge!” my father exclaimed. “I know this! We are here! Those are the shops. Take this turn. Right here. Wait! Stop!” No sooner had the car stopped, that my father sprang out of the car. He looked around the small roads, and then began walking at a fast pace.
There was an old man, walking alongside a cycle, on the side of the road. My father asked him about a house that had once belonged to an uncle of his. “Oh that person passed away many years ago,” replied the old man.
“Yes,” my father replied in an excited tone, glad that someone finally knew about the house. “That was my uncle. My father had bought it from him.”
The old man’s eyes widened. He took my grandfather’s name.**
“Yes! I am his youngest son! Can you take me to that house?”
My father’s steps quickened. His excitement was evident. The minute he laid his eyes on the house, my father pointed towards it and exclaimed, “It is just as we had left it!”
The old man introduced us to the occupants of the house. He must have become accustomed to members of my father’s family coming to see the old house, and graciously allowed us inside.
“This house was the only house in the entire village to have electricity, in those days!” My father was visibly proud. “There used to be a swing. A large swing. Is it still there?”
The owner smiled and said it was there. Everything was just the way it had been. The swing, the large stone grinder, even the light switches and fans!
“This house was purchased in 1940 when the war broke out, and my mother had to move with three of her children along with our grandparents and stay in a largish house. It was bought for Rs. 4000. It was in this house that I was born,” my aunt later told me.
Watching my father almost run around the house, I can only imagine how many memories must have come back to him. Every wall, every pillar, must have meant the world to him — a world very different, and in another time, from that of ours right now.
The owner told us that my uncle once casually asked if it were up for sale.
“So was it?”
“No! It’s been a very lucky house for me,” replied our smiling host.
* My grandfather was born in Therazendur. We had practically gone around the whole village a couple of times, and it is likely that we passed by one of the houses that may have once belonged to his family. But we will never know.
** That old man, we later found out, was a distant relative of my grandmother!
The walls of this house are my entries for this week’s Daily Post Challenge – Wall
About the photographs: These photographs are of someone’s house. They graciously allowed us to enter their private space and I request these photographs not to be used elsewhere.