The Smells......6 mins 287 6 mins 287
The tourist bus stopped with a screech on the highway, throwing up a screen of soft red dust.
Manohari peeped out of the kitchen window. The bus was ‘delivering’ hoards of people. How many of them. Little ones, kids, youngsters, old, young, men and women, real old ones walking with the support of others or holding sticks ..Faith. It was faith that was driving people to this place.
She could see the silhouette of the Temple far away. It was on a small hillock. She could see the people climbing those steps; the walls painted with vertical maroon and white stripes.
The morning sun fell upon the Temple walls and the Gopuram tower, illuminating them with a mystic aura. But today it failed to touch her.
When they moved to this place, seven months ago, she would run to this window every now and then to see the colors, shades, and patterns bringing subtle changes in what lay before her eyes. She would lose herself in the beauty and the devotion that overwhelmed her. The archaeologists were of the opinion that the Temple belonged to the pre -Chozha period, though the Chozhas made contributions to the architectural beauty of the place, later. According to the Saivaagama routine, six Poojas were conducted every day- Thiruvanandhal, Kaalai Sandhi, Uchchi Kaalam, Sayamkalam, Irandaangkalam, and Ardhajamam...
The Lord Muruga in the Garbha Griha was six feet tall. The festival seasons saw Him decked in Silver attire and various other adornments. It was a sight to behold. As the Temple became popular, shops sprung up under the hill. The Aluminium Factory which was five kilometers away, built small tenements for the workers across the road, after buying up the land for a song. Bus services became frequent and more Tourists started arriving.
Manohari’s husband had purchased a large piece of land here and built a beautiful house and the past seven months saw a lovely flower garden in front and vegetable garden behind. The fruit trees which they had planted even before the construction was started, had begun yielding fruits. Life was beautiful in their retired life, far from the polluted and crowded city life. Everything was fine - till the bus stop opposite their home materialized.
Adjoining the front compound wall was a huge peepal tree that was half on the highway and half inside their house. Manohari’s husband did not have the heart to cut the tree. He loved nature. To prevent any legal problem, Jayakumar - Manohari’s husband, left the tree standing outside their compound -space and built a wall around it - a semicircular structure.
The trouble started two months back. All the tourists who alighted, irrespective of age or sex, would make a beeline for the tree and ease themselves there before they trekked to the Hill Temple. The breeze which hitherto brought in only the lovely aroma of the countryside now hung around with the ammoniacal pungence of you-know-what.
Manohari shut the window with a big bang. She quickly came to the living room too and closed all the windows. She muttered aloud so that he could hear her words, “The bus has come. God knows how many more buses will come today. All these senseless people will come and dirty the place now. Not a moment of peace. Why can’t they wait till they reach the Temple to use the toilets there !”
Jayakumar buried his face deeper into the News Paper he was reading. Next, it would be his head which would be rolled. It was.
“What a place to build the house.”
The same ‘She’ had been delirious with thrill and happiness when they settled down here seven months back. She continued,
“One must be lucky in life. From morning till night, we are destined to put up with this stink. And who listens to me. I’ve been repeating like a madwoman - asking you to go and meet the Collector and give a written complaint. My throat has become parched.”
How could he go and give a written complaint to the Collector! The Collector would think that he was insane. He imagined himself seated before the Collector and repeating,
“Er… I mean Mr.---, the people are using the tree space for, ahem, I mean..”
What a thing to complain about to the Collector! The Collector would think he was mad. He could not bring himself to do it.
A friend of his, who visited them had said, “Write in black huge letters - You Dog! Don’t Piddle Here.” He had seen this in some Bus Terminus in some small city and it seemed to have worked there.
No Jayakumar was against that too. He hated using strong language. To someone who suggested to break the wall and build it again around the tree, he said a vehement ‘NO’. It belonged, the little space outside, to the High Ways. He did not want any trouble.
He went to sleep that day with a troubled mind. Manohari had never been foul-tempered. Even when his late mother criticized her while she was alive; when his short-tempered sister shouted at her till she got married and left for her husband’s place. Their retired life went off smoothly…till the smells started. Can foul smells change a person’s temperament? Well. It seemed to have.
As he plucked the flowers and stepped in with them Manohari confronted him.
“Please go and meet the Collector today and see if you can buy the place around the tree on the highway.”
Strange! There was no sound of any traffic. No buses. Not even the sound of a random car vrooming through. No sight of any vehicle on the road.
He called out, “Pazhani, Pazhani.”
The gardener came running.
“What’s happened? No vehicles on the road?”
“Someone has been stabbed in the Aluminium Factory and no vehicles are allowed this side. Huge crowd in front of the factory Sir. They are expecting trouble. Buses have been diverted.”
It was a blessing. No smells for a while. Manohari was happy. She opened all the windows. The Pavazhamalli tree with its flowers carpeting the lawn brought in the beautiful haunting fragrance. She was even humming a song.
Jayakumar looked at her. He wished it would last - this ambiance. ‘I have to do something’, he said to himself.
He put on his shirt and walked out. The road to the right lead to the Factory. He avoided it. He turned left instead.
He could hear Manohari’s voice…she was humming Annamayya’s song “Thandanna na aahe.” She sings beautifully, he thought. How long it was since she sang like this. The smells had changed their life completely.
Then he saw them. The tender coconut -seller and his wife who wove mats and baskets and their two children. The elder one, three years old, was playing near them. The younger boy of three months was in the hammock that hung from a small tree. He remembered chasing them away from under the peepal tree two months back. The kid was crying the whole night and he had considered it a nuisance. They, the husband and wife, also talked eternally. He thought they were too loud. It disturbed his reading. Or, so he had thought.
“How are you Selvam? How’s business?” he asked.
The couple smiled at him with no animosity.
“We are okay Sir. Business is no good. Since the bus stop is there, we get very few people here. Now the factory is closed too. God knows for how long! I really don't know what I'll do.”
But Jayakumar knew what he could do.
He asked them,
“Would you like to come back? I shall ask my gardener to clean up the place. I have an old tarpaulin in the garage. You can put up a shelter too.”
The man was stunned. The woman fell at his feet thanking him profusely, elevating him to a divine status.
“Come this evening itself.”
The baby wailed as he walked back towards his home. This time, it sounded like sweet music.