To think I drove all the way from Chennai for this!
Bhuvana cursed herself for not cross-checking with Google. The main palace was off-limits for tourists. However, the hotel manager in Kanadukathan had assured her that the other Chettiar mansions would be just as interesting.
After tucking into aappam and Chettinad chicken, Bhuvana sat on one of the garden benches. There was a nip in the December air. She tightened the shrug around her. Somewhere a dog howled. She let out a belch. It must be the spicy food!
She got up and walked towards the hotel gate. On her right was a narrow alley. Huge houses on either sides with similar structures were lined up. Maybe the manager was right!
The sounds of the crickets chirping broke the silence of the village. The leaves swayed and swished in the breeze. At the dead end of the alley, the solitary lamp post emitted a feeble light which flickered and threatened to give way any moment. Bhuvana was about to turn when the silhouette of a woman appeared from the house in the last row. She waved at Bhuvana.
Let me speak to her. Maybe she can guide me.
Clutching the hotel key, Bhuvana entered the alley. Some of the mansions were palatial and every brick spelt opulence with a capital O. In stark contrast, a few had been ravaged by the dwindling fortunes of their owners.
If only these walls could tell stories of days bygone!
“Are you a tourist?” asked the old woman, flashing pearly white teeth.
Bhuvana nodded. The woman wore a tattered saree. Clearly she stayed in that run-down mansion. It was pitch dark. The windowsills at the upper storey had gathered moss.
“Do you live here?” enquired Bhuvana out of courtesy.
The woman chuckled. “Yes. I was the queen of my house. I loved Bharatnatyam, but my husband discouraged me from learning it. However, that didn’t stop me from paying reputed artists to perform in my quarters. Thankfully, he allowed that.”
The woman paused.
Typical oldies. Bhuvana didn’t prod her.
The old woman resumed her nostalgic trip. She sighed, “You see the mansion opposite your hotel?”
“The owner used to be the richest man in this village. He …..” The old woman stopped and covered her face with her hands.
Bhuvana cleared her throat and asked the woman, “Is he alive?”
“No. I killed him.”
Tears welled up in the eyes of the old woman. “I brought dishonour to my family. Our mutual love for Carnatic music brought us together. But all he wanted was my body. After having his way with me, he told me to get out, as if I had seduced him. As he looked at me in disgust, adjusting his veshti, I thrust a knife in his chest and walked out in my disheveled state. See the lamp post? This is where I hung myself. Using this saree.”
Bhuvana let out a scream. The light flickered one last time.
The Chettinad region in Tamil Nadu is home to the Chettiars, a community known for its business acumen and affluence. Kanadukathan is a quaint and sleepy hamlet. The tourists cannot access the main palace but are allowed to have a look inside other mansions by paying a negligible fee.
Veshti – Dhoti
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