Concrete, Outdoors

Somewhere near Tirunelveli

We went on a fair number of temple trips when I was young. Living in Vizag meant proximity to Simhachalam, Srikakulam, Devipuram, and Annavaram, all of which you could make a day trip to. You came back laden with prasadam, and Ma usually didn’t have to make dinner that night.

When I was in junior college, studying hard for the engineering entrance exams, breaks weren’t a thing, except to go out sometimes for fresh air. But along came a temple trip when a family we knew was visiting Vizag and insisted that we went along. Skipping an internal Physics exam (because we has the choice of taking it again the next day), I found myself in a taxi with my parents and a bunch of strangers, cruising to Srikakulam district to visit the Sun Temple at Arasavalli. This counted as exam preparation, of course, because when did we ever come away from temples without a plea or two?

We tend to visit temples in clusters. There is always just another important temple established by a sage or a king forty minutes away; naturally, after finishing up at the Sun Temple, we went on to the Kurmanathaswamy Temple, before setting off to Etikoppaka, where the visitors wanted to shop for traditional wooden dolls. I remember little of the temples now, though, and more of the roads.

This trip was made at a time before we had camera phones and I see it now only as images in my head. I am quite certain my mother packed idlis with molagapodi for breakfast, because she loves feeding people. The roads were lovely and tree-lined, sunlight seeping through the branches and pooling on the road. This is characteristic of so many roads in the Indian countryside! I’ve seen some of the most marvellous canopies over roads on the outskirts of Chennai and further south in Tamil Nadu (Pollachi, Kumbakonam, Tirunelveli, you name it!), in Anakapalle, and on the drive from Bhubaneswar to Konark. Elsewhere, the roads open to paddy fields, coconut palms, ponds, and blue hills on the horizon. For good measure, a canal drops in for company or water from a culvert gurgles into a field. Thatched roofs or temple gopurams ensure you’re not far from people.

The eyes feast on the trees and the hills, the skies seem open and serene, time travel seems possible — before a medley of horns and beeps assaults the ears, and you find yourself in the middle of a town again, where the odd banyan tree pops up as a treat. You’re never far from a small town in India.

***

Canopies and temples come together in my head today because of Monisha Rajesh’s temple visits in Around India in 80 Trains and my own little trip to the kirana store last morning. The sun shone down with renewed splendour, decisively waving the last of winter away. There was no hurry on the quiet street, but a kind of resignation towards waiting, and a bit of loitering. The air was clean, the sun winked through the branches of trees bent and withered with age. Ganesha watched quietly from His corner temple.

This morning, G. and I went to Pondy Bazaar for some shopping and were pleasantly surprised by how wonderfully comfortable everything was. People wore masks, the pavements were mostly clean, parking was efficient, and the sun wasn’t fierce enough to make the prospect of a mid-morning walk daunting. We aren’t overly fond of shopping, so it didn’t hurt that we found what we needed almost immediately. Even the yellow nail polish I was looking for stood at the edge of a row of bottles in the entrance to the shop, making this one of our quickest shopping expeditions ever!

However, more than anything, I felt grateful for being outdoors, for having trees to look at, for small talk with the people at the shops, even if there was concrete underfoot and not grass. Considering how we were cooped up last year, the smallest glimpse of the outdoors feels like a treasure.

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A woman from many places.

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Jaya Srinivasan

Jaya Srinivasan

A woman from many places.

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