We lived in Maruvur District, the seaport side of Poom-Puhar. The city itself lay on the northern banks of the Kaveri River. To the west of Maruvur was Pattinam, the City District with the sprawling palace, royal courts, and residences of nobility and luminaries. The physicians, astrologers, artists, and courtesans lived in Pattinam. Vast well-manicured gardens dotted with luxuriant trees, flourishing flowering plants, and ponds filled with thriving fish and exotic waterfowl separated the City and Maruvur districts. The king held great festivals and spectacular games in these gardens, which also served as venues for the daily markets that stretched into the night.

The merchants maintained their primary residences in Maruvur District in proximity to the jetties and warehouses. The place teemed with yavanas—foreigners—from Seenam, the Middle Kingdom in the east, the Araby deserts of the shifting sands, and the Grecian islands dotting the turquoise seas in the west. There was a network of noisy alleys crammed with shops and sheds where artisans worked on leather, cotton, timber, and various metals. Physicians dabbled in herbs; perfumers concocted perfumes; and behind barred doors, skilled craftsmen bent over tables and cut, polished, and set precious stones.

There were whispers of houses of ill-repute but I was ignorant what it meant. To my young mind only people acquired ill-reputations, not houses. When I asked, Chinnamma said something vague regarding dancing girls and alcoholic drinks. These houses of pleasure—this was another term she used—sold palm wine, and entertained guests with music and dance of the baser varieties. And they offered maidens and boys.

‘Offered? What do you mean by offered?’ I asked.

But Chinnamma suffered her usual affliction, one which took hold whenever she did not wish to answer my questions: she became deaf. I never want to grow old, for I wish not to become deaf.

Puhar also boasted numerous temples along packed streets. All one had to do was to look up and there would be a gopuram, the monumental and ornate tower heralding a temple entrance, puncturing the clean blue skies.

Standing apart from this noisy, confusing labyrinth of never-ending alleys, lecherous street vendors, and—I too whispered though I do not know why—houses of ill-repute, was a serene enclave marked out by thick trees. Within these confines resided the tall mansions of the wealthiest merchants of Puhar. Soft sand covered the streets. Elegant statues of divine beauties, holding lamps lit by fragrant oils, stood in every street corner.

This was where we lived—Kovalan and I. But at my age, Father’s wealth made no impression on me. And even as an adult, I did not care for such ostentatious living.

Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2018

Song of the Ankle Rings, an adaptation of Silappatikaram

Continued on Monday: Mother, Mistress of the House

20 comments

  1. I have read this story in Hindi, long back, perhaps I was 9 or 10. You have written beautifully. Excellent depiction of South Indian/ Indian family. I think except for the language and some rituals or the way of expressions, due to culture, feelings are the same everywhere. Very interesting. Recalling old times when mother would not allow to read without her sensoring and I used to read when she slept, in the light of tiny oil lamp.

    1. Hello Indira,

      I believe this story is well-known and read throughout India.

      I decided to adapt for the modern reader and along the way plug many of the plot-holes in the original. When I say “plot-holes” I don’t mean to criticise the original which was written for the readers of that time. And the conventions for story telling was much different compared to what is expected now.

      When I launch the book, I shall make free e-books available. If you are interested, look out for the blog announcement.

      And yes, I too read some books under the blanket and with a torchlight 🙂

      Cheers!
      Eric

    2. At that age that type of writing and it was a translation, perhaps, I found boring but finished it because mother thought I’ll not understand being so young. I got to read only what mother allowed to enter our home.
      I liked your style.

    1. Same here, Ankur, I forgot the word until I came across it again during my research for this novel.

      The British in the Raj referred to them as “pagodas”.

      Cheers!
      Eric

  2. Hmm, Ha-Ho-Hum! My Dear Eric, I had gotten into thinking that You were really describing Your town or whatever, and was going to complain that You had not provided photographs.

    So it is about Kannagi, eh!

    Great writing. Hearty Kudos. Not that a few pictures would not help those of my kind! 🙂

    1. Thank you, kind sir.

      And how might I address you? Swami – a bit exalted but perhaps warranted. Yesudas – a bit irreverent as you have more grey hair than me, moreover I already pray to Jesus everyday. God? Hmmm, but we are all gods in one sense – and you know what I mean. Sir – is descriptive and respectful, but not definitive. Please guide me 🙂

      Regarding pictures for the Kannagi story – now why didn’t I think of that? Great suggestion. If I can secure relevant pictures, I’ll upload them in future installments.

      Thank you for the kudos,
      Eric

    2. Among other things, I see Jesus as Teacher par Excellence, Who taught us that God is our Father, which makes all of us One family!

      For me, God is one who can ‘Create,’ ‘Ex Nihilo.’ Possible for Him/Her alone. So I am Definitely Not God/god.

      According to Age, why don’t You call me ‘Bro?’ 🙂 I’d appreciate that.

      The Kudos are Well deserved.

      Love and Regards, my Dear Eric. 🙂

    1. Hello Ian,

      Yes, that Chinnamma comment was also favorite among my beta-readers. I think many of us can relate to how elders avoided some of our questions – or perhaps we are guilty of going “deaf” ourselves. 🙂

      All good wishes,
      Eric

    1. Thank you, Ina

      This story is set about late BCE and early CE India. I believe the states back then must have been exciting in different ways. I refer to the early American Indians and their way of life/culture. I know very little regarding America during that era. But I do know quite a bit after Columbus “discovered” America – and those were exciting times too.

      Trust the weekend is going well,
      Eric

    1. Hello Bill,

      You guessed the set-up I am constructing.

      All of us face challenges in life. But I also believe God does not test us beyond our strength. But I suspect sometimes He over estimates (or we underestimate) our strength.

      Wishing you a great weekend ahead,
      Eric

  3. I like how you illustrated “Chinnamma suffered her usual affliction..she became deaf.” You made it humorous.
    This reminded me of how it used to be where our parents would shooed us away when they didn’t have an answer. Back then, it did not occur to me that they didn’t have an answer and I assume adults knew more and it was beyond my understanding even if they explained.
    Luckily parents these days do make considerable efforts to explain.

    1. Hello Windy,

      I suppose when growing up children faced similar situations no matter the place or time.

      Glad that you found Kannagi’s recollection of her youth humourous. I love her character.

      Cheers!
      Eric

    1. You are right, children are born innocent and they smile and laugh. But as they grow older, they don’t laugh or even smile as readily as when they were much younger. Nature, nurture? I think the world, the collective “we” ruin the young ones.

      Thank you for your compliment re my writing.

      Cheers!
      Eric

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