Back To The Village | A man for all seasons

Dear Amma, Appa and the walls of Sarah Homes,

I miss you. I miss your sleepy morning hug, Amma. And your 7 a.m. peck-on-the-cheek, Appa.

I miss the warmth of my inji tea, the fragrance of your filter coffee and our silently shared Suprabhatam sessions.

I miss the random quotes that you write on the white board, Ammi. I even miss your cynical rants about the government, Poppy.

And I miss so, so, so many other things about you.

But don’t worry.

I’m doing ok.

I’m doing good actually. Very good.

Ask why.

I’ll tell you.

It’s because of Siva Anna. Yes Amma, that man with the Colgate smile who walks barefoot and puts his hand on his heart while saying Vanakkam. Siva Anna is one of my favourite-est people in the world. And given that I am surrounded by such amazing people, it’s a big deal, don’t you think?

So, last night I was sitting by myself in the prayer dome thinking of the both of you and suffering a severe bout of Sarah-Homes Sickness. Siva Anna came, sat silently beside me, put his hand on mine and transferred a chunk of his strong, beautiful soul.

There are certain people with auras so strong that you can feel it from the other end of the paddy field. Certain others have auras that are at times stronger, but lie hidden because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves. This makes them even more special. Siva Anna belongs to this ‘ever-more-special’ category.

Unfortunately, Siva Anna’s aura is a bit clouded these days due to stress but on a good day, when we’re all sitting in a circle on the kitchen floor having lunch, he radiates love and humility in amounts I’ve never experienced before. No matter how crappy his day has been, he cracks a stupid joke and guffaws so loud that you can hear it two farms away. And even if the joke isn’t all that funny, you laugh just because he laughs. ‘Buckling with laughter’ — I always wondered what this looked like. Anna showed me. Every third laugh of Anna’s has his lanky frame bunching up into a ball and rolling on the ground while his Colgate teeth dazzle brighter than the afternoon sun. Sometimes, I wish I could fold him up, put him in my pocket and then unfold him whenever I feel like a laugh.

We actually do that. If either of us has had a rough day and needs a laugh, we call the other person and say ‘Jiiiiiiiiii…’ and start laughing for 2 minutes straight. That’s it, just one syllable and a looooong, LOUD bout of laughter. It’s an implicit pact — we know about the crappy day without even asking about it and we know that this call will set it right.

I still remember my first visit here, almost a year ago. The place was buzzing with volunteers. After a particularly tiring afternoon of washing vessels under the summer sun, I went to cool down in the prayer dome and just fell asleep. When I woke up, I found a bedsheet covering my feet, another pillowing my head. Ponmani later told me that it was Siva Anna.

This incident defines him best. In the midst of extreme madness, with volunteers walking up to him at the rate of 3 per minute and bombarding him with questions, Siva Anna manages to make room for these silent acts of love.

I met him for the first time at the opening of the Nurpu weaving unit. Kaushik had asked me the previous evening if I wanted to go to Erode for the weekend. On a whim, I said yes. The next morning, we were sauntering into a thatched shed with wooden loom wheels and photographs of Gandhi. Men in white dhotis and cotton shirts, women in pretty handloom sarees. Not the pseudo-intellectual look that us city people sport, but something so warm and genuine that you can’t help but feel a wee bit guilty about your snooty, privileged life. As usual, Siva Anna was fielding an endless stream of calls and visitors at a rapid rate. (Some of the old-timers call him Phone Siva because his phone never stops ringing. Even if he switches it off for the night, he’s greeted with 150 missed call alerts the next morning.)

The event began at 10 a.m. It started with tree-planting along the walls of the unit. What I liked best about this bit was that there was no hierarchy to the process. I wonder if ANY of us ‘educated’ city folks would have invited our watchmen and cooks to plant trees at an event.

An hour later, we were under the thatched shed, the April sun filtering in through the slits and sides. The music of mynahs and of Siva Anna speaking his poetic Tamil. (You know how bad my Tamil is, right?) So here too, I understood very little of it. But like music, his words are so laden with emotion that you don’t need to know the language. Within an hour, my cheeks were wet. I looked around, my cheeks were not alone. The old-timers also talk about how Siva Anna speeches have caused floods in several places. 🙂

Since then, I have sat through dozens of his talks. I now understand more of what he says. And I sigh deeply every single time — oh, how beautifully he says it. Every time I listen to Anna speak, I wonder how beautiful his soul must be, how filled with empathy and love. You must meet him! He’s too good to be true.

Oh wait, don’t picture him as a saint. He has his flaws and he’s a major tease. He keeps imitating the way I walk. (And I retort by imitating the way he talks.) But he’s an extremely respectable man. And definitely, definitely a breed of his own.

Ok! Anna is calling me to accompany him to Singarapettai for tea. (He’s addicted! 15 cups a day on average.)

I love you, parents. And I don’t miss you anymore 😛

You can thank Siva Anna when you meet him.

Have a happy life, write back soon and courier some khakhra (For Colgate Man).


With a crushing hug and many kisses,


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