The Dutches and the Danish- Lesser known colonists of India, Part II

My visit to the Danish fort at Tharangambadi or Tranquebar was undertaken as part of a larger trip to visit Kumbakonam. The visit was planned as a leavening to all that dough of Kumbakonam temples:) Admittedly the costal route hitting Mahabalipuram, Sathurangapattinam, Pondicherry and then Tharangambadi would have been the ideal way to visit colonial relics of Tamil Nadu, if one has a private car at one’s disposal. However, I am a great fan of train journeys in India and my mother is a great fan of temples, so putting the two together, taking the train to Kumbakonam and then a car to the Danish fort was the best answer.  While the direct car route from Kumbakonam to Tharangambadi is via Karaikal, the latter is part of Pondicherry Union Territory and so requires a permit for vehicles to enter. Moreover, Karaikal itself is rich in colonial history worth a separate visit especially as we go to all the trouble of acquiring a permit. But if we did that, then there wouldn’t be time to do Tharangambadi as well and return to Kumbakonam. So after lot of deliberating we decided to leave Karaikal to another day and take a slightly lesser travelled route to Tharangambadi through some local highways.

While national highways are these broad, well laid roads teeming with dangerously fast traffic, the local highways are quite different. They are not well laid roads, in many places they are plain mud roads that turn to slush at the first hint of rain. They are very narrow, barely wide enough to allow a car and a two-wheeler to travel abreast. However, they too are teeming with traffic at 35 kmph, which given the above road conditions is dangerously fast indeed. But the biggest difference between the two, at least in the Tanjore district, is the scenery that one travels through. While NH are abutted with eateries of all kinds and medians with carefully spaced arali trees withering away in the smoke and the heat, the country highways pass through a time warp. When you travel these roads you are taken back to the time when inter-city roads used to go through villages and small towns teeming with local shops lit with glittering lights highlighting their wares, people driving bullock carts with bales of hay or other harvest hanging out the sides, little road side temples with their vibrant crimson and white walls, temple tanks and rows of square fields gleaming with the early spring green of crop plants. Sure your butt is begging for respite from all the bouncing around potholes, but your eyes and other senses are too preoccupied with the refreshing surroundings that your butt takes a back seat.*

After only minimal stops for directions we finally entered the town of Tharangambadi around lunch time. As we were all of us quite hungry and I had read a lot about “Bungalow on the Beach” we headed there. Originally the Danish admiral, Gjedde’s house, the bungalow passed on to the British administrator in the 1800s and finally to the founder of the Tamil Nadu Mercantile bank (Nadar bank) whose family lived there for over a hundred years. Currently, the Neemrana Hotels run it as a resort and to them the credit goes for a fantastic restoration effort**. Not only is the building restored to an antique authenticity, but the gardens are beautifully laid and well maintained. They positively cool the eye in the midst of the glare of a south Indian midday sun. The interior is cool and tastefully decorated with antique furniture and other artifacts***. The best is of course the restaurant. We arrived at a time when there were hardly any guests around, so the wait staff had all its attention focussed on us. They were super friendly, courteous and completely unfazed by all the dietary restrictions and demands we threw at them. And the food…ah the food! I have, and this is no exaggeration, never had a meal like that before or since. Coming as it did right after some disastrous meals in the Kumbakonam hotels, this was like manna, heaven, little violin strains in the air, fireworks, eternal salvation and all other hyperboles rolled into one. In other words, it was awesome! It was so awesome we told them to make some more for us to take back to Kumbakonam and they happily obliged. So having refreshed our bellies and eyes and cooled our bodies down back to normal temperature, we ventured back out in the mid-day heat to visit the neighboring Danish fort.

Dansborg, the main trading post of the Danish East India company stands majestically on the rocky shores of the Bay of Bengal. Unlike the Dutch fort in Sathurangapatinam, this one has an intact and strong compound wall facing the sea and the inside is much better restored. There was still some restoration work going on in some parts of the fort, but the main entrance and the museum was open. The museum is very well “stocked” with a lot of artifacts belonging to the Danish period, including the original charter from the Nayak of Tanjore giving them the land on which the fort stands. There are as usual a number of artillery and armory exhibits and also some stamps and coinage of that time. The best part of the fort is that it is very well ventilated. The breeze from the sea cools every corner of the building that I didn’t see a single fan in use. We spent a long, pleasant afternoon sitting on the parapet and “watching the ships that go sailing by”****. There were a lot of families with young kids and a class excursion of primary school children having a picnic in the premises. And I must say I was pleasantly surprised to see all of them being very careful about picking up the litter after themselves. Finally after about an hour or so of this we decided to make our way to the 14th century Pandiyan temple on the other side of the bungalow.

Masilamani Nathar kovil*****, built by the Pandiyan king Maravarman Kulasekaran at the turn of the 14th century stands at the edge of the beach on a rocky outcropping. Recently, I believe after the Tsunami of 2004, this got a face-lift by the government (?) and stands now with a multicolored gopuram almost daring the sea to wash it away. It is remarkable that despite the devastation that the Tsunami caused in that area, and the constant hit it takes from the yearly monsoons, this temple has stood there for over 700 years! I think I read that some of the shrines have been washed away or submerged by the encroaching sea in all these years, but the main shrine still stands. I would not be able to tell you what I saw inside because it was locked when we got there. Trying to make our way to the other side of the entrance to peek through a possible window, we stumbled our way over some rocks only to run into some drunkards sprawled on the doorway. Seeing us, one of them rushed at us waving his arms and shouting unintelligibly and thoroughly freaking my mom out. But his companions soon dragged him off and we quickly scrambled back to the safety of the shore!

It was an eventful trip, full of good food, good sights and great adventure. What more can one ask? As usual, photos up here.

*sorry for the bad pun. But to misquote the Cops theme song, : whatchya gonna do when the come for you? Bad Puns, Bad Puns…?” Why, put them in a blog post is what!

**not one but two. The original restoration was completed and the hotel was inaugurated on Christmas eve, 2004, only to have the Tsunami batter it the next day. Kudos to their resilience in retaking another restoration, completing it and operating a really great resort. I read recently they are negotiating with the government to renovate the fort and open it as a luxury hotel also. I look forward to that.

***I found these incredibly beautiful, authentic golu bommais (painted clay dolls) that adorn some nooks around the entrance and the great hall. I dogged the manager and the watchman and found out that they got it at antique stores in Pondicherry and Auroville.

****with due apologies to Sinatra. And of course they were not ships, but boats, but even so!

*****another unique name for a temple. The only “Masila” I know is the one that comes in this song from which I take the meaning to be “darling”. So…”Darling Pearl Lord” temple?! Let the suggestions and comments flow!

The Dutches and the Danish: Lesser known colonists of South India- Part I

As a kid, I never enjoyed History classes in school, mainly because the teacher had the softest voice that would always put me to sleep right away. Even reading History textbooks was boring, as it had nothing but dates, names and other such facts which came last in the list of boring items below watching ants crawl*. But in my final year of middle school this changed when my teacher gave us an assignment on some war or other. As per my usual modus operandi, I procrastinated to the last possible minute. As the deadline approached and I had no material other than the meager stuff our textbooks had, I did what desperate kids do and asked my dad for help. Now, my dad belonged to the give-the-beggar-money-and-you-feed-him-for-a day-teach-him-a-skill-and-he-eats-for-ever school of philosophy. He would never give you a straight forward answer to any question, he would instead give you a list of 5 reference books, his library card and wish you all the best. And there in the library I came across the book** that changed my whole concept of History. It had stories, narratives and perspectives that carried me away and I ended up with a 10 page report (assignment had a 2 page limit). My teacher, amazing lady that she was, commended me on a well researched report and said that if I but worked on my summarizing skills I was sure to be a top scorer in the subject. Needless to say, I spend the rest of the year chasing my teacher after every class handing over unassigned, “well researched” reports on every topic discussed in class and she ended up giving me top grade out of sheer exhaustion.

Unfortunately, History was not offered as a subject in my high school and so I didn’t get to carry on my obsession with it and eventually it whittled down to a hobby. Now that I am an earning adult, I feed my long lost obsession by spending a great part of my time and money visiting places of historical significance. However, while being a history buff is all well and good, when it comes to trying to find present day relics of historical sites, I am completely stumped! Even if TripAdivsor will rate the site and give you some sort of direction, convincing your local “guide” to take you to these out of the way places is a completely different story. This is further confounded by the fact that I have no sense of direction***. Never was this more in evidence than when I went looking for relics of the lesser known colonists of Tamil Nadu.

Obligatory history lesson: While the Portuguese were the first to colonize and last to leave India and the French and British the largest and most influential, the Dutch and the Danish also had a significant presence in the subcontinent. While the Dutch colonized mainly the Malabar coast, they also had a few trading posts on the south east coast. Their first and major trading post in present day TN was at Pulicat and Nagapattinam respectively, but they also had significant presence at Sathurangapatnam****, in present day Kalpakkam. They traded in muslin, spices and of all things, chinese pottery!

The Danish settlers, on the other hand, were the biggest traders of tea, even surpassing the British. More interestingly they were the only colonists who had a solely mercantile presence in India and no governing body. They didn’t have many ports, but the one in Tranquebar***** is most significant simply from a story telling perspective. The settlement at Tranquebar was a serendipitous one. The original fleet of ships from Denmark set out to aid the king of Ceylon in his wars against the Portuguese. However, as perhaps the single most Charlie-come-lately episode in colonial history of any country, they arrive 3 years late and after the signing of a peace treaty between the warring kingdoms. So not only did the Danish fleet suffer diseases and inclement weather on their journey losing half their fleet, but they also found themselves as unwanted guests and an acute embarrassment to the host king. They were thus promptly packed off to a disused temple in the outskirts of the capital to keep out of trouble. The commander of the fleet then launches a few ships under his deputy’s auspices to see if he can find other patrons while trying to come to some kind of understanding with the Ceylonese king. Unfortunately, the scouting ships meet with the Portuguese off the coast of Karaikal and get throughly bombarded. The deputy, Crappe, and a hand full of his men manage to escape and wash up at Tharangambadi where they fall into the hands of the soldiers of the ruling Nayak and get arrested. But luck finally decides to shine on the beleaguered Danes as they get an audience with the Nayak of Tanjore who shows interest in trading with them. He gives them a piece of land off the rockiest part of the shore and allows them to trade off of it as long as they pay him tribute. Crappe quickly agrees and sends word to his commander, Gjedde, in the nick of time. Their ill luck never really leaves them as they battle lost ships, hostile natives, hostile colonists, bankruptcy etc for the 200 odd years of their stay in Tranquebar. But the then king of Denmark never agrees to let go of his troublesome possession simply because, I can only imagine, he doesn’t want to give up his membership of the great european colonial superpower club. Nevertheless, they manage to build a fort and cling to it through their adversity trading as a neutral player during the european wars until they are finally bombarded out by the British sometime in the mid-1800s. The current Danish government has set a project in motion to rebuild the fort with the help of the Indian ASI and set up a museum to commemorate the Danish presence in India.

On a white hot, sunshiny day, bored out of my wits, I visited TripAdvisor to see if there was anything to do nearby. Wading through innumerable suggestions for malls, movie theaters, eateries and the one and only Dakshin Chitra*****, I found a passing reference to the “Sadras fort”. My interest piqued, I went chasing this elusive reference and found that it was only 20 km from Chennai and better still quite close to Mahabalipuram. After reading a bit more about it (basically everything summarized above), I printed out sketchy directions to the place and called our trusty FastTrack driver. Since for him 3 pm would be too hot and 4 pm would be too late, we chose 3:30pm as our departure time.  My sketchy directions said to take ECR to Kalpakkam and then follow signs to the town. Although getting on ECR and getting to Kalpakkam was a breeze, finding signs to the Sadras was turning out to be a nightmare. However, we were not fazed by this too much as this is not a new thing for me. I have led this particular driver on various wild goose chases earlier. He knew from prior experience never to trust my directions as I have on various occasions given him completely misleading ones that led to some interesting detours. So completely ignoring my constant repetitions of, “but the website said…” he pulls over to ask for directions******. While the first few people gave us blank stares, we finally hit the jackpot with an old gentleman******* waiting at a bus stop. He not only knew where Sadras was, he also knew about the fort and gave us clear directions and a quick history lesson. It turns out that Sadras is the current name of the erstwhile Sadurangapatnam and originally encompassed Kalpakkam which got a separate identity when the nuclear power plant was built in the1980s.

As soon as you leave Kalpakkam nuclear power plant campus behind, you see the sea unravelling on your right and in a little while the compound wall of the fort starts to rise up on your left. The turn to the entrance to the fort is hard to miss, but the road itself is not well maintained. The first impression of the fort is neglected grandeur. We parked our car under the shade of a conviniently located peepal tree rousing some destitute looking folks who seem to be enjoying an afternoon siesta. Making my way to the entrance I notice the gate is unlocked but closed and is shrouded in dead silence except for the occasional chirping of some birds. I had read earlier in TripAdvisor that the caretaker of the area is an exceptionally knowledgeable person and keen on imparting it to everyone who enters. So once I entered the enclosure, I looked around for this individual and couldn’t find him. I did however notice a room off to the left of the fort that seemed to have some occupants and in the center of the compound around a cement bench surrounding yet another peepal tree, I found someone else napping. Unwilling to disturb anyone, I carried on with my exploration of the fort.

Since TripAdvisor said the fort was renovated, I was expecting something like say, the Gingee Fort, but unfortunately, although the structures were renovated, the area itself were overgrown with weeds. Perhaps one person fighting a sole battle against weeds, is sure to lose out. Nevertheless, since there was a clear path to the warehouses (two) I headed towards them. I wish I could describe better the ambience of the place. Imagine if you will: a baking hot sun, a late afternoon stillness broken only by the buzzing of insects in the overgrown weeds and an occasional breeze stirring, alleviating the otherwise pervasive feeling of suffocation. Then you enter the warehouses. Large arched doorways and windows, the occasional breeze amplified to whistling wind currents and a cooling shade with something scuttling around in the darkness********. Inside the warehouses are interconnected corridors which eventually lead to an abruptly cut off stairway. Presumably they led to a watch tower when the fort was in operation.  The approach to the well, although overrun with weeds is still accessible and so is that to the square dyeing stations. The Dutch having settled in a weaving community seem to have maintained a strictly mercantile communication with the locals. The practice of using square troughs over circular dyeing vats is said to have been learned from the locals. According to the ASI they apparently found a Adu pulli attam*********grid on a brick wall at the site, but as I couldnt find it, I am going to assume they took it to wherever it is they took all the ceramic pottery and other relics they found at the dig. After climbing all over the fort wall and seeing the sea on the near horizon and imagining British ships amassing to bombard the wall I was standing on, I reined in my imagination and went to rouse the caretaker. I wanted to see the famed cemetery, the only enclosure that is kept under lock and key. Once roused the caretaker was profusely apologetic at having failed to show me around the other parts of the monument and quickly opened the gate. The cemetery is by far the best kept part of the monument. The tombstones and engraved grave stones are incredibly preserved. The care-taker is surprisingly well versed in deciphering the Dutch writing (presumably he has had a lot of practice). He also showed me a “secret” room off the side of the cemetery which the ASI people stumbled upon much later in the dig. The top had tumbled down, but was remarkably very well preserved! If you had the strength of an elephant you could lift it up, flip it over and place it on top and it would fit snug with no more repair work necessary.

The fort is small and all in all doesn’t justify a separate trip, but being close to Mahabalipuram (at the most 40-45 min) it would be a great combined trip. I spent about 3-4 hrs on this trip (including round trip driving time) and came home very well satisfied as an afternoon well spent. It is a great way to learn more about the history of our home town. (photos up here)

*Clearly this list is in ascending order.

**For the longest time I thought it was the one by Bhashyam, but much later when I managed to find a copy of his book and read it I found it to be dry and not at all the life-changing one that I remembered. So either my younger self is less critical or my memory is playing tricks.

***Obviously, Geography assignments never had the same effect on me.

****Apparently named after the residing deity Saduranga Perumal. Why Saduranga I dont know. Perumal who liked square things?!

*****Although they still managed to butcher a perfectly good name.

*****Try googling for “things to do around Chennai” and you will see what I mean!

******Usually Chennai FastTrack drivers are notorious for not stopping to ask for directions. Even when it is clear that neither the passenger nor the driver has any idea how to get to a place, they are such staunch believers in the concept of random walk that they will just drive around randomly trusting that eventually they will have to hit upon the right place by sheer power of probability.

*******A word about old gentlemen of India (well OK Tamil Nadu). They are by far the best direction-givers out there. Google maps should hire them to plot accurate maps to all interior places!

********A cat, not, as I feared a mongoose.

*********Something like Snakes and Ladders, I am guessing.


To fly as the gale decrees. Riding the wind currents, dipping into air pockets, twirling skirts that scatter rain drops. To spin, float and rush at bare branches, wheeee!  Free to flip up my skirt. No one to grab and force it down, to sigh in exasperation. No judgement. Free to get completely soaking wet, to break a rib or two. To spin any which way, free from the need to be useful. And finally, free from the hand that clutches at my handle. Holding me down, cower under me, avoiding the rain.


“Yes! Yes! Yes”, the kids chorus as they hear they are to join the family on the yearly vacation down south.

“When will we go, Mommy?”

“Will we really see the whales?”

“Will cousin Jay come too? I dont like him! He just preens and he hordes  nuts!”

“Hush, dear! We dont talk about Jay’s peculiarities. Anyway, no, Jay wont come with us.”


“So where are we going mommy?”


“Florida??!!” But I thought you said we would go to the tropics or something!”

“You are still too young to travel that far, dear.”

“Hey, mom! Can Maggie come too?”

“Who’s Maggie?!”

“Shsh…you were not supposed to talk about Maggie, blabbermouth


“Boys….If you dont tell me I’ll have to ask cousin Jay.”



“She just moved in next door, she has really pretty stuff. Bright and shiny.”

“Moved in next door? What happened to the Joneses?!”


“I dont want you hanging out with strangers, you hear? And I dont care if she just moved in or if she has pretty stuff. You stay away from her. Now go practice your flying so you can be ready to leave soon. I don’t want anyone complaining they are too tired before we have even left the city!”

“We never do that!”

“As if!”

“C’mon, shoo. Out you go! And don’t go pecking at seeds in the park. You are still too young to know which are the good ones and which are not”, said their mother as her babies fluttered their wings and took off from the nest.


Wrrum, tick, wrrum, tick. the sound of the ceiling fan coming back on woke her. Where was she?! Oh right! Power cut so she had come to sleep in the large hallway with the front door open . There was something important to do. What was it? She struggled up from the mat and sat staring blearily around her. Something exciting, out of the ordinary. The perfect solution. Solution to what? What was the problem? Perhaps it was just a dream.  She got up to go to her room when she noticed the side room was closed and a garbage bag was outside it. Now the memories came flooding back. It was not a dream after all. She was going to fix it, that’s right! Grinning she walked to the bag and rummaged through it until she found what she was looking for. She picked up the pieces and walked back to her room, put it in the desk drawer and locked it. She tucked the key under her pillow and made a knot in her saree so she wouldn’t forget again and went back to sleep.

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“She left the front door open again” Ding! goes the tumbler-davara as his wife plonks it in front of him.

“You know no one’s going to come up to the fourth floor to steal. Why the drama?”

“Drama. Seriously?! And who said anything about stealing?!”

Seri, vidu! It’s too early in the morning to fight. You know the doctor said it is only going to get worse. We cant lose our cool so soon. I will get the child lock on my way back this evening. I’ll fix it. We’ll find a way. ”

The newspaper rustles as he hides behind it. He hears her muttering something in the kitchen. He sighs, folds the newspaper and inhales the fresh scent of his early morning filter coffee.

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His mother was muttering again. That is all she seemed to be doing these days. Apart from banging  stuff on kitchen counters of course. When was the last time they had an early morning hurry burry without the dark looks and tightly-gripped-together lips? He used to hate getting up in the mornings, now he just loathed it. It was so much better when Bobo was there. He could still feel the warm fluffiness under his chin where Bobo used to curl up every morning. He loved Bobo. He missed Bobo. If Bobo came back everything would be fine. Nobody will be angry at Paati anymore and Amma wont look so exhausted or Appa so sad. He had to look for Bobo one more time. He could fix it, go back to normal life again. He would be like Chota Bheem and save the day!

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Gone, again!  Even this morning, the entire Sahasranam recitation went fine. Not one name dropped. That is 1000 names, that is, and all present and uttered out loud. And yet, here it was this knot in her saree mocking her memory. What could it be for? Looking out the window of her back room she saw the road with its swarm of people walking by. The traffic snarling, people busy going everywhere. Was it ever like this before? When was the last time she had time to just sit down and think? She was too busy to sit down, that’s for sure. She should be out doing things. But what things? She squeezed the knot between her fingers closing her eyes, hoping she’d remember that way. Well, no point sitting and hoping for something.  The trick is to walk it out, something might trigger the memory. She shuffled out to the main hall and looked around. Where was everyone? Shouldn’t they be here by now? She walked to the front door and found some strange plastic thing on the knob. What was this? It didn’t let the door open! Curious, she leaned in to look closely at the hinge. This is interesting! Surely this wasnt there before. She couldnt possibly have forgotten this! It must be something new. It looked new. There! that was the original door knob still there underneath this covering. Just need to take the covering off and the door will open as before. That was easy! Just need that… that…never mind the word! she knew what she wanted. The thing that will fix it just fine. This was going to be fun!

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” He stole a cat! Are you going to do nothing?!

“I am sure he didn’t steal it. Besides, it could–”

“It is not Bobo. For God’s sake don’t you start saying it is Bobo!!”

“It IS Bobo!!” his son shouts from his room, behind the closed door. “I CALLED AND HE CAME TO ME!!”

“You went to it carrying milk and cheese. What do you expect? IT IS A CAT!!!”

Alright! It’s fine. Even if it is not Bobo–”


“– EVEN SO, its not like he stole it. He found it wandering the streets”. Then in a whisper, ” It has made him happy. The first time in weeks I have seen him smile!”

“It had a bloody collar on. Of course it belongs to somebody. You can’t ignore facts, just because your son is happy!! I want him to be happy too, but not this way. What is happening here? When did we start losing the plot altogether?!”

“I didn’t see the collar. Fine! we’ll put up notices tomorrow. We’ll give it a week. If nobody claims him by then, he’ll stay.”


“Son, IF this belongs to someone else you wouldn’t want them to feel bad like how you felt when Bobo left, would you? I promise you, we’ll get a new Bobo for you. I’ll fix this, believe me.”

“Yes, but what if Bobo had gone to this other person when he left us and that person now sees the poster and wants him back? He was my Bobo first!”

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The door was fixed alright, but what is that “thing” in her saree for? It was still sitting there mocking her, and as if that were not enough she couldn’t remember the word for it. The talk with her daughter-in-law was just a disaster. It was frustrating. What do you do when your efforts are met with blank incomprehension and the panic in the eyes of the person you were trying to talk to? What’s the point in crying at her?!  What had she done?! She had just come looking for answers. She went back to her room and shut the door with a bang. She needed to calm down but her brain would play back the conversation, gaps and all and the panic would start again. When her grandson walked into the room it all started to make sense. His face was aglow with happiness. That look of joy, that was it! Bring that carefree smile back in his face and fix it there. That’s what she had to do. She remembered that now and the rest came floating back. Of course! that is what she had picked up from that….that…no! she was not going to get lost in that world of words again. She was going to hold on to this moment if it killed her. She quickly drew a piece of paper toward her and started drawing her grandson just as he looked right now with that glorious smile on his face. So words had deserted her. Never mind, she still had images. She was going to keep this paper with his face on the desk so she will never forget what she had to do! The…thing…fluffy thing…ptch! never mind, just stop it grabbing the pencil. There! Her grandson and she both laughed as she picked it up off the paper and set it aside so she could finish her picture.

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It was all a disaster. Bobo didn’t fix anything, he just made it all worse. Now Amma was mad at him. He couldn’t think how to explain it to her. He knew it was Bobo, he just knew it! Even  Paati did, they had laughed at Bobo together when he played with her pencil. Just like how they both used to play with Bobo before. She recognized Bobo, he was sure of it. But now it was all wrong. Now all he did was picture Bobo pining for someone else. Someone who had bought him a collar. Now looking at Bobo only brought fear, a deep pain in his stomach that made him not want to eat anything. Even the ice cream Appa had gone out to get especially for him. Would someone really come to take Bobo away? Another thing to fix apart from all the others that Bobo’s coming back was supposed to fix! It was all just a great big disaster.

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This little thingy goes on that, and now this whole thing on this… There, now this first half is done! This whole “images” idea works. Just have to forget there was ever another way to communicate. Forgetting, she could do; no problem! In fact, she was getting to be a regular pro at forgetting! Her dry chuckle sounded loud in the sudden silence. The war of the words must have ended sometime ago. No point worrying about what all that was about. Wouldn’t understand anyway and trying only seemed to make everything worse. Silence was good, it was comforting, helps with thinking. Calms you. She stretched and straightened her back and turned off the light. So dark outside, must be late. Perhaps should go to the store tomorrow. She turned the light back on and drew a picture of the tool that she needed to buy in her diary. She put that and her incomplete project back in the drawer and locked it. No more knots, no more emotional attempts at conversation. Once this was complete that’ll be proof that her new system works. After all it helped her fix this …thingy…and they were just going to throw it away too!

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“She was upset with me earlier. For taking her saree to the wash. She has worn it for a whole week, she wouldn’t give it to me to wash, so I just took it and washed it while she was in the bath.”

“That was good. Maybe she was not upset because of that.”

“She kept thrusting the thalappu of the replacement saree at me. It was all knotted and I could tell she was bothered by the saree. I dont think she could have possibly meant anything else”.

“So she wore the replacement saree. That couldn’t have been so bad.”

“I did try to explain to her that the old saree was filthy and she will have it back tomorrow.”

“How did she take that?”

“Like everything else, tried to say something, couldn’t and so walked away and shut herself in the room.”

Silence, as he tries to think of a way to comfort her. She finishes brushing her hair and gets into bed.

“You know the worst part? It was the saree I had bought her last Diwali. A simple cotton one because she wanted only that as it was the softest and didn’t bother her as much as silk does.”

“The replacement saree? Yeah I remember the Diwali saree. She said she didnt have that color, right?”

“Not really, but that’s not the point. The point was, she wore it again for Pongal and when your sister asked her why she wore an old saree, said she loved it best. That was just six months ago. Now she can’t just find the words, she has forgotten her likes and dislikes too. How much longer before she forgets us?”

He hugs her tight as tears flow not sure he can fix this anymore.

***                             ***                            ***                       ***                          ***

No one had called yet. He had made sure he had his fingers around the collar when Appa took the photo for the flyer. He didnt think Appa had noticed. He made sure to keep Bobo out of Amma‘s way so she wouldn’t get mad again. But in the evenings he noticed Bobo sitting at her feet under the dining table. He seemed to like playing with her saree and she didn’t seem to notice. So perhaps Bobo would stay after all. But Bobo was not fixing anything.  Paati now rarely came out of her room or speak to anyone. He thought perhaps Bobo slept in her room during the day when he was off at school because he had seen his hair on the bedspread. But he couldn’t tell if  Paati noticed or not. He wasn’t sure what she did all day. They had a new girl in to keep her company during the day, but he thought it was more to make sure  Paati didn’t leave the house and wander off.

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The maid girl was a genius! What clear illustrations! There, that’s her knock. Good, now where is the drawing of the tool? Oh! yes here it is. Good girl, memory worth the two of them. Her personal memory-…person. If she were only a bit more dextrous with tools, she could finish the whole project by herself. Well, thank God she doesn’t! Then there truly will be nothing left to do but sit and worry about the big blanks in her brain. No sense in worrying about it now. Where is that shop? It was round this corner wasn’t it? Wait! where is the girl going now? Oh, this is a new one! So shiny! Look at all those tools. Much better than that old shop that was round the corner. What was the owner’s name? He had that black tooth in the front. He knew her name, was always ordering people about to get her coffee while she chatted about the specifics of what she wanted. He had a daughter didn’t he? What was her name? Nice girl, two braids. Wait, where did the girl go? Don’t panic, she has to be here somewhere. Oh, thank God, there she is. Well, isn’t she the smart one, she’s found the exact tool. Oh, right, she has the drawing. Not that smart then! So many words on the packaging, but that is ok, the girl will know what to do. She has even remembered to bring her purse..with money…well, she is a regular memory-bank isn’t she? Memory-bank! That’s a good name. Anyway, here’s the tool now for the final piece to fix, then…well better not think of the “then”. As Krishna says …what is it? Sure it starts with ka…Should ask the memory-bank girl, she was sure to know.

***                             ***                            ***                       ***                          ***

“I don’t know…”


“That girl the company sent…”

“What about her? She seems alright. She had really good references.”

“I know. Its just that she seems so…I dont know…meek…”

“Meek?! Well you dont want an aggressive care-taker do you?”

“No of course not. Perhaps, “meek” is not the best word. It’s just that Amma always liked energetic people. People with some quickness of mind, you know?”

“Well, Amma is not quite herself now-a-days, is she? So perhaps this is what she needs now. Besides, you were the one who told me she gets upset when people try to engage her in conversation. So perhaps, “meek” is what is best.”

“I know, I know. I just… we used to do things together all the time. I miss bouncing ideas off with her. Remember that Kangat’s wedding? That embroidery pattern was all her brain-child! I just miss her, I suppose.”

“You think we should perhaps get someone who will stimulate her more? Do you think she will deteriorate faster with this girl?”

“No, I dont know. I might just be projecting. Maybe she does need someone to just calm her. She definitely seems calmer.”

His phone beeps. He checks his message.

“I have to go now. I thought this was a good fix…”

“No, go. We can talk when you get back. Besides she has been here only a week. We still have time to make a decision.”

***                             ***                            ***                       ***                          ***

Paati was definitely upto something. Ever since that girl came, the two of them were in her room all the time. Even Bobo seemed to be in on the secret. He slept outside her room, guarding the door. Anytime someone came close to it, he’d open one eye, stretch and flex his claws! Appa thought the girl was the solution. There was definitely less shouting with the girl around, but he was not convinced. He didn’t think Amma was either.  There was something strange about her. She kept smiling secretly to herself when she thought no one was looking. And then there was that sound. He heard it the first time last night. A sort of whirring noise. He was about to go check it out, when it had stopped suddenly and he had heard that girl giggle. What was she upto? He was definitely going to find out tonight. He was going to sneak into Paati‘s room and find out. The two of them where upto something, he was sure of it.

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Done! All done! Unbelievable. The silly Memory-bank was bouncing up and down on the bed watching it fly. She was going to destroy the surprise if she didn’t stop that giggling soon. But still that whirring sound….she should jump too! Well today is the D-day! What time is it? Oh right, that’s his step! Quick have to be ready before he opens the door. Where did that stupid girl go? Yes, yes I am coming! Oh everything is here, good. One…two…here we go!! The door opens and her grandson walks in. That look on his face! Much better than the drawing. He was hugging her and jumping up and down. He was throwing words at her too, but it didnt matter. The happiness is back.

***                             ***                            ***                       ***                          ***

Amma fixed his Battle Robot Helicopter!” she says as soon as he walks in the door. She’s got tears in her eyes.

He looks around and sees his son manning the remote and the Robot zooming overhead, while the cat chases the chopper’s shadow on the ground. His mother is sitting on the sofa with a big grin on her face, he hasn’t seen in months. The girl is throwing directions at his son, not meek anymore.

“What?”, he says stunned.

“That’s what they have been doing all this time in her room. They have come up with some picture cards to “talk” to each other with. They even went to the shop to get some special part to fix the pieces together. It’s only words that upset her. She’s still there, we just needed to find new ways to communicate.”

“What?”, he says again, not really caring. His family was fixed. His mother had fixed it, like she used to fix all his problems when he was younger. The details could wait.


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