Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thanjavur Weekends

While I'm here in the town of Thanjavur I'm keen to use my weekends to explore this geography for hidden places of interest. A few weeks ago my colleagues and I drove towards the coastal town of Nagapattinam. While driving on a road parallel to the coast we took an arbitrary turn on a whim and drove till we ran out of road, parked our car, hiked through the woods in the direction of the sea and came out to this completely untouched beach. I can't tell you the name of this place because, I suspect, it doesn't have one. We could see long stretches of beach on either side, but in the three hours we spent there we didn't spot a single person apart from the ones in our group.

Our next trip was on bicycles. There is a curious dam in this region, built by Karikalan Chola, called Kallanai, which is said to be the oldest such structure still in use. One of the canals from the reservoir, Pudhu aaru, passes our town. At the point where it crosses national highway 67, there's a road that starts to run right next to the river for nearly 30-40 kms. One on side is the canal and some really old bridges and sluice gates and on the other is unbroken stretches of maddeningly green paddy fields. It will take a lot more visits before I get bored of this one.

The weekend after that one was spent in conventional tourism, a regrettable visit to the Thanjavur palace. Almost everything is wrong with that place. The ground floor has a collection of arbitrarily arranged chola artifacts all mounted on grotesque pedestals. In the frontyard there are eyesores of all kinds, concrete dalmations, plastic elephants, etc. One of the main halls houses several bronze statues from thousands of years ago, but among them are PoP models of the Vailankanni church that makes you wonder what substance the curator was abusing. The upper floor surprises you with a whale skeleton and a tortoise shell mounted on a lamp post. In that way, the museum keeps getting weirder. All along the walls hundreds of couples have professed their love for each other, but amidst all the absurdist drama dished out by the archaeological department, the graffiti is the least of the travesties. Avoid this one!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Life in Thanjavur

Working for a rural healthcare non-profit in a small town, I thought, would lend me enough action during the weekdays and enough time during the weekends in which to blog about them. In my sixth week here I can safely conclude that I was wrong about the latter. In fact, the whole weekend-weekday separation, along with work-life or professional-personal, have all turned out to be a false dualities, and not necessarily in a negative way. Spending evenings and weekends, and even living with, the same people that I see at office all week hasn't been as cloistering as I would have imagined before I got here.

Life in a small town also has thrown the predictable charms my way. The "commute" to work is a 450m walk. When I have to catch a train, I leave home a few minutes before departure time. Eating out is a hard choice between not-more-than-six-or-seven restaurants. Waiters at our regular breakfast joints bring out the coffee and the smiles, in that order, before we have settled down in our seats. Kiosk owners wave at us even if we pass by, and don't bother to come running after us if we forget to pay. Our town also affords us unlimited clean air, and access to some of the prettiest country-sides you can think of.

Yet, Thanjavur is not heaven on earth. My biggest grouse here is the honking epidemic that seems to be gripping the population. Also, it might just be my observation, but the bus-drivers here are among the most maniacal I've seen. While the low traffic volumes on the street seem like a privilege, you can't really take things for granted. As a final reminder that our town is no idyllic paradise, our office was subject to a burglary that made us poorer by a laptop, a TV and half a dozen doors.

On average, though, it's been a fair amount of fun. Details in subsequent posts.