Today was my third visit to Virajpet in the hope that I might be able to track down Jeevan and his family, who were so welcoming to me last time (see For the Love of Three Oranges). After walking about 13 km on the first visit since my return, and about 8 km on the second, I was getting ready to give up, until I had another read of my 2008 blogs and remembered that I took a different road the day I met Jeevan. He is not near Devangeri at all, but on the other side of the hill via a different road out of town.
So, I took off to Virajpet once more this morning, early. After fortifying myself at the bakery with two banana puffs (like sausage rolls but stuffed with a dry fruit mince), I walked off noting that my stride has finally got back to what I'm used to. The first two walks I'd been plodding a bit with no rhythm - lost my groove, in fact (getting old, more like!). Today I figured out what it was: too much swimming with my legs just coming along for the ride meant I had no decent butt muscles left. They've returned (hurrah!) and my step is springing away at its old fast pace.
So, at the minimum, I would have another peaceful walk in the countryside. Remembering the right turn-offs to take, I encountered many women walking into town. To the men I usually just nod, or respond if they say hello, but to the women I usually say Namaskar, and they almost always smile and respond in kind (my accent seems to be responsible for the non-respondees). Kids, on the other hand, are only interested in saying ‘Hi!’ followed immediately by ‘Bye!’ and lots of giggling with their friends at the weirdo foreigner.
Walking along the shady undulating lanes, the coffee I'd had at breakfast was doing its work and I was ready for a wee. Problem being, these roads are bordered with thick hedges on both sides with rows of (usually) barbed wire visible where the hedge has worn thin. Waiting for a break in the hedge to do a wizz in private can be quite a strain. Finally, a rather precarious bank made itself available where I could hide my shining white western bum away from any poor unfortunates likely to walk or drive by.
Funny how Fate works sometimes. The timing of my wee break was impeccable. The moment I set foot back on the road a van tootled around the corner. Unlike most vehicles, this one stopped and a rather handsome, and somewhat familiar, face poked its head out to speak with me.
'Where are you going?' he asked.
Okay, I thought, I'll give it another go. 'I'm hoping to visit Jeevan.'
'Ah! Jeevan is my brother!' Bingo.
Last time, when Jeevan was taking me back to the main road he made a stop to introduce me to his brother Mohan. He remembered me.
'Get in! Get in! I take you there.' Mohan got his mobile out and rang ahead. He was able to inform me that Jeevan was not home, but his wife was.
Before we got to Jeevan's house however, Mohan had to run the errand he was in the middle of when he met me. On the way down another road I enquired as to whether the family ever received the set of photos I posted to them when I got home (I had always been dubious about this). 'Yes, yes.' Mohan nodded. Excellent!
Mohan pulled up in a driveway where some people were waiting for the bulging hessian sack he was delivering. He motioned them over to meet me. Turns out these people remembered me too! I had been trying to track down a family mentioned in Dervla Murphy's book - Dr Chengappa's (also mentioned in For the Love of Three Oranges) - and these people were among those I enquired with along the way. I was amazed and thrilled that they remembered me. What a good morning I was having! Bless them, they seemed to think it was only a year ago. How time flies.
Mohan turned the van around and he drove me past the steps leading up a steep hill to Jeevan's house. 'Steps,' indicated Mohan. 'You remember?'
I sure did. It was to the base of those steps that Jeevan brought me when his wife came down with a Miranda to offer her guest, accompanied by a family member who could speak good English. We proceeded to the house from there via a driveway further up the road.
When I got out of Mohan's van I was positively launched upon by Grandma (erroneously called Jeevan's mother in my earlier blog, Chondavva isin fact his mother-in-law). She was over the moon to see me again and squeezed my face in delight more than once (let the record state that no one else will be getting away with this in the near or distant future). Both she and Tharr (pronounced Tara due to the rolled r) look exactly the same as I remembered.
Mohan was happy to drop me off and leave, but before he did, he insisted on me taking his picture, which I happily did. Soon I was sitting on the same couch drinking coffee out of a delicate little cup with a tray containing two hands of very small finger bananas (home grown and very sweet - not like what we get at home at all). My enquiries elicited a plastic bag from the bedroom and I was soon looking at the postage pack I'd sent four years earlier, with its photos and letter.
Chondavva only has a few words of English (she was emphatic about enquiring after the health of my father and mother), but she made up for this with lots of talking and gesticulating at the photo albums Tharr had brought out and offering me a banana every few minutes. I looked over at the tray nervously. There were about twenty bananas and it was starting to look like I'd be eating all of them...
Tharr was busy making phone calls to Jeevan (who was unfortunately in Mysore on business) and her niece who speaks wonderful English, to come over with her mother to visit. Sadly both of the little girls, Apeksha, and the baby I met (or should I say, frightened to death) last time, Ananya (my favourite Body Shop perfume!), were at school. It was late morning and I was wondering how the conversation would be kept going for the time I knew I would have to stay. I needn't have worried. I was kept busy with the photo albums until Krupan and her mother Sumi arrived.
The collection that held most of my attention was Jeevan and Tharr's wedding album. What a handsome young man Jeevan was then (1999), and Tharr, my goodness. She still has impossible cheekbones and a long ovular face, but with all her wedding make-up on and her regal poses, she looked quite Egyptian - a dead ringer for Queen Nefertiti. (Meanwhile, Chondavva emerged from her room with a fresh pressed sari and a seed pearl necklace, her round-the-house clothes bundled in her hands. How embarrassing when I'd shown up in my sweaty T-shirt and trousers!)
Once sister and niece arrived, the real conversation started. The three older women disappeared into the kitchen and Krupan and I yakked away out on the couch. The two sisters understand a reasonable amount of English, and so kept poking their heads out to ask or answer questions via Krupan. Krupan, all of nineteen, was absolutely delightful to chat with and with no men present, once lunch was served on the coffee table, we all settled down to some serious girl talk.
Over ghee rice, boiled rice, lentil samba, mutton and a coconut sauce, and a dish of what looked like idlies, but were in fact a local variant, we chatted about the important things in life like the price of clothes and shoes in our relative countries and what make-up and hair products we used. There was a great deal of laughing and the time passed quickly. During this time Tharr, through Krupan, said something very interesting. She said that only two days ago she had been thinking of me and wondering why I had never returned as I'd promised. (In my letter I'd said that I'd hoped to come back the very next year, but every year before this one, work had got in the way). So when Mohan called this morning with the news, she had almost died of shock.
Another girlie activity that took up some time was taking photos. The women wanted me to take some pictures of Krupan dressed up. Tharr pulled out one of her own cotton saris, which was a purply-maroon colour with gold patterns around the edges. Mother and Aunty hustled her off to the bedroom to dress her while Chondavva kept me busy in the living room guessing what the hell she was saying.
Out came Krupan with her hair let down from its ponytail, a little lippy and eyeliner on, and a lovely piece of diamond costume jewellery pinning her sari at the shoulder. Stunning girl. In our earlier conversation I'd asked all about how Tharr and Jeevan's marriage had been arranged and I asked if anyone had been picked out for her yet. Not yet, she advised, she was too young. I was glad to hear it and this led on to talk about how people were getting married later in both of our countries. 'Of course, you have to come to my wedding in four or five years time as a family member!'
I said I would be delighted and honoured to come to her wedding, but only if it was in four or five years time and absolutely no earlier. She thought this was hilarious. I asked her whether she had a boyfriend (boys would be drooling over this girl for a certainty) and her answer was noteworthy for its extreme pragmatism. She said it was a waste of time as, even if she loved someone, she would have to give him up for the boy her parents chose for her, so there was no point breaking her heart. I asked why she wouldn't want a 'love marriage'.
'They're no good,' she said decisively. 'All very nice while in love for a few years, but when he falls in love with someone else, that's when the problems start.'
'But that could happen with an arranged marriage?' I asked.
'No, no. The parents and family would come together and speak to the couple and solve the problem.'
'Because an arranged marriage is between families, not just the couple?'
'But couldn't the families do the same for a love marriage?'
'Not at all. The parents wouldn't care as not their choice of family.'
Outside, I took many pictures of Krupan in combo with her female relatives and on her own. Then, they insisted we do it all again with me in the pictures (there were none with me in last time and I seem to recall this being deliberate on my part with my usual No photo! No photo!). But I submitted this time and Krupan also got her mobile out for some of her own. I have got her Facebook details so this time I can send them electronically as well as to the family via snail-mail.
Apart from the fact that I look like a clumsy giant next to these women (I felt the need to crouch and stoop to ensure the height difference wasn't too ridiculous), I am disappointed that they are not big on smiling for the camera, particularly Chondavva. It's not like they have dodgy teeth! Their smiles make them all look ten years younger while these serious portraits have sapped their vivacious personalities and don't do them justice at all.
I managed to extricate myself only after agreeing to come back when Jeevan and the girls are home (Chondavva and Tharr enjoyed scolding me for not giving any warning of my visit, but they were very impressed with my multiple efforts to track them down with no address or phone number - which are somewhere at home usefully lining the bottom of a box in storage).
Thanks to Krupan managing her Gran, I was able to escape without her gifting me with bags of oranges and whatever other produce she could lay her hands on. Instead, these were given to Sumi for her family. Result!
So the arrangement is that I will come to Virapet the day after tomorrow on the 31st for lunch (I've been promised a very special pork dish) and I will stay with Krupan and her family in town that night. On my asking, it turns out that they also know Don Boppana (coincidence would have it that Sumi and Krupan are also Boppanas, but not related) and that I will try and organise seeing them on New Year's Eve as well (Don was talking fireworks, while the other Boppanas are just having a quiet gathering). From Virajpet I will then only have a three-hour bus trip to Kannur on the 2nd, rather than four from Madikeri.
All up, a totally brilliant day that far exceeded my expectations.