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Singamaparai Simulacra

Posted by on Aug 27, 09:37 AM
Filed under , | Comment [4]


An hour’s intense drive north of Palayamkottai — along narrow streets packed with dhoti- and sari-clad Tamils, animals (mostly domestic — plenty of ‘holy cows’), autorickshaws, motorcycles, and crowded, horn-blaring buses — lies the tiny village of Singamparai.

It’s a charming place for the Westerner. The villagers love to lavish hospitality on the few who visit, largely for the sake of pleasure, status, and tradition; but also because a few of their children attend the school, and they delight in showing their gratitude.

An Indian friend and I decided to visit one day by bicycle. It was, if possible, less intense by bicycle than car; my comfort with that mode of conveyance, as well as its superior maneuverability, make it the vehicle of choice on the congested, truly anarchic streets of South India. I say vehicle of choice, yet the attractive alternative remains, usually, to stay at home.

In any case, we passed through the congested streets, around the vast Hindu temple, “Kanthimathi Nellaiyappar” that dominates the town, and relaxed into an easy pace as the sprawl of Tirunelveli’s suburbs gave way to bright green rice paddies and a distant, obscure horizon.

As we neared the turn-off for Singamparai, the erstwhile azure sky now hung heavy with rain. But we were spared a public bath till after we’d coasted through the narrow maze of streets to the lime-colored village church where the boys loitered on the steps in apparently immeasurable boredom (they were on holiday, and the girls were working in the fields), and on to the home of some of our students, just down the way. Then the heavens opened. Cool rain soaked us through and laved (cleansed?) our limbs of sweat; it also had the goodness to send our hosts running toward us along the orange road from the distant banana forest, bags and clothing held above their smiling faces for shelter.

They were pleased to see us, but said little in English; their smiles were more welcoming than words anyway. We were invited in, and after the rain stopped, were treated to glass after glass of refreshing coconut nectar. The paterfamilias smiled under his handsome mustache like a joyful child — so pleased was he to lavish us with the fruits of his labor.

Later, after sitting on the patio, we ventured with them back to the banana plantation where we were given a tour (the children translated the occasional word from Tamil into English with tolerable accuracy), and we were given a tour of the various plantations — mostly banana, cotton, sugarcane, and groundnut. Vast reservoirs supply water during the dry season, generally from November to May, when the verdure otherwise gives way to desert.

When we returned to the village, later, we were invited to several other houses, where the parents beamed on us benevolently, asking the occasional, predictable question in Tamil, the children translating (“How old are you?,” “What’s your work?” “Are you married?” “Have another drink,” et alia)

Our invitations still far outnumbered our visits when we were obliged to begin the two-hour trip back to Palayamkottai; as it was, the sun set long before we arrived.

Such a pleasant trip called for another, so I brought my sisters and another volunteer back one Sunday for a visit. We received much the same treatment, only better — due, I suppose, to the presence of three pretty girls; the same whiskered paterfamilias kept the coconuts coming at a brisk pace (brought to the lips via papaya-stem straws), and insisted so thoroughly with his happy hospitality, that I fear the balance between consideration for our host and consideration for stomachs was rather offset in favor of the former.

It is indeed a delightful place. Yet even so, a demon contends with the gentle genius loci: the incubus, drink — rum, mostly — is the scourge of many a family, and television, with its insidious influence, is found in even the humblest abode (politicians have been handing them out for years as bribes).

It was a delightful double sojourn on the whole, however, and I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Best!

Randall

Comments:

  1. I saw one of the photos featured in the SSPX newsletter. As usual, great photos and descriptions. Especially love the colors!

    — Jordan Viray · Aug 27, 06:56 PM · #

  2. nice description of the best village maybe…I’m definitely missing that time!!

    — Br Joseph · Aug 28, 03:58 AM · #

  3. Definitely your photos demand a coffeetable book to be made for sure! Many of your photos speak at least 1000 words each. It’ll keep the donations coming!
    PS: When #4 comes, we will be ready… After India, your sis will be excellent company for #1,2,3….

    — DJ and JDT · Aug 30, 01:12 PM · #

  4. Thanks, all! More photos from Singamparai soon…

    — Randall · Sep 4, 05:12 PM · #

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