Sunday, September 10, 2017

Paddy Homestay is my kind of paradise.

"People think of heaven as a paradise garden, a place where they can float on clouds and laze in rivers and mountains. But scenery without solace is meaningless."
says Mitch Albom in his book:
the five people you meet in Heaven

Swinging in a hammock which is tied to two tall and curvy coconut trees, under the canopy of dappled sunshine and lush green palm leaves, I re-read the last line. Something about solace strikes a chord. I underline it and read it again. Dipping in and out of slumber and wakefulness to the rhythm of the hammock and the balmy breeze, I ponder on the line with my eyes closed. The book rests on my belly; its covers closing slowly, almost in slow motion over the pink pencil I had used to underline solace, like heavy eyelids, simultaneously open and shut, awake and asleep, rising and falling, keeping pace with my breathing.

I am in paradise. Paddy paradise. Imagine a  place where:
A lush green field of paddy stretches as far as the eye can see. Fresh coffee is made with milk that is milked on site, by hand, in a bucket, by the farm hand while the happy cow munches on fodder in an open spot outside the kitchen. Warm fluffy rice is served with hot sambhar and vegetables. Yes, the rice is from the paddy field I'm currently in and the raw banana subzi I've asked a second helping of has come from the banana tree I was taking pictures of just this morning.
The banana that became subzi.
This is Heaven. But is it because I've found my solace or has the scenery around me put me in this state?

I guess it's like night and day, like light and shadow, this business of solace and scenery. One is needed to notice the other. A beautiful scene has no meaning if one's drowning in one's inner turmoil. A hungry belly needs food, not scenery. I get it.
But, is solace possible without scenery?
Can a peaceful mind find its paradise in a noisy, busy, dirty place? I'm sure some people who've found their zen can. But I'm not there yet. I need peace and quiet before I can sit and meditate or do yoga or read a book or cook or even do the dishes. I often listen to music while doing the chores. Even the walls of the house seem to relax when the notes start to float. Am I escaping the reality of dirty dishes in Sufi-land or am I orchestrating the notes of my scenery to arrange my solace?

Is this a form of escapism? Or is it a simple act of marrying the mundane with music so that if in the middle of the washing, one spots a rainbow, one dips into it first and then carries on with what needs to be done. To me, it's being in the moment, every moment: noticing it, accepting it, living it. If a few notes sung by Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan make the soap suds in my kitchen sink sparkle with colour, then why not?

Moments are the atoms memories are made up of.

And memories are the cells that make up life. Some parts of us remember love, our mother's cooking, the feel of that first kiss. Other parts remember the road back home, the bills that need to be paid. And then there's the part (the heart or the soul or whatever you want to call it) that remembers that this is a journey, that we are all finding our way--inching towards the destination that is our origin.
A simple act of making the bed in the morning or stepping out into the garden, or even looking out of the kitchen window and watching a bird flit from one branch to another, can make a big difference.
"Beauty surrounds us; but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it."
~Rumi~
Maybe, one day, while tending my plants I will dig into Rumi's words and loose all that I think I am. Maybe then I won't need to walk on green grass. But until then, I will continue to listen to music, stare at flowers for too long, hug my friends and kiss my family and cuddle in bed with a delicious book and create my own pool of paradise. And every now and then, I shall travel and seek out scenery that soothes for the world is beautiful and bountiful and I have finite number of days on this planet.
I open my eyes, hold the edge of the hammock to hoist myself up, swing my legs down to get up. The pink pencil escapes the book and drops softly on the red earth below. I pick it up and make my way to our room at Paddy Homestay--a slice of paradise in fields of paddy, cocooned in a grove of coconut palm trees.
Paddy Homestay came up on my screen when I was googling for a 'place to stay in Tanjavore'.  I clicked the link to its website. One look and a few review readings later,  I knew I'd found something special. 

What Ambika and I experienced while we stayed there was beyond any holiday experience. It was like visiting family (a loving and caring family). Thiru, Arul and their beautiful family made our three days in Tanjavore a precious memory to hold and to cherish. Their hospitality is that rare mix of efficiency, homeliness and love for their land that when you return home, you want to make plans to visit them again--soon.

One of the highlights of the stay was a bullock cart ride from the homestay to a village of potters and a popular temple nearby. 

Are you ready for some scenery? For a bumpy ride down a beautiful road in Tamil Nadu?

The sun is on its way to set.

Come on then. Climb up, hold on to the side rails--careful there!

All set? Let's go.
Children coming back from school and some going for evening classes.


The pots get a knocking with a wooden spoon to beat them into shape.
Patterns and prints are added with carved wooden bits.


The potter's children had come from school and were about to settle down to do their homework.
The two pots the smiley potter is holding came all the way with me to Doha:)
"You ride." says the bullock cart rider to me.
I obey.
I'm absolutely thrilled that he's offering me to take over and absolutely petrified when I do take over and feel the power of the animals travel from them to me via the reins I'm holding gingerly.
The bulls don't look too impressed, right?
Photo courtesy: Ambika
We park at the temple.
My legs are shaking a tiny bit but I'm grinning like a teenager who's just had his first taste of driving a car!

Setting sun. Stretching shadows.


Thank you Thiru and Arul for everything:)
*********
Looking at all the pictures above, you may think that such a place exists only in the lens of a camera held by a photographer who chooses to see what pleases the eye and ignores the 'reality' of life. Yes, I'd agree with you. 

There are serious problems that the farmers and potters of this region face. Almost all of their problems (economic and ecological) are the direct result of indiscriminate exploitation of land for farming, deforestation and ignorance of the people who make policies or even the ones who don't but who despite getting an education, prefer to ignore how big an impact big and small decisions made by individuals and governments have on the day to day lives of rural Indians.

"Oh! how sad that they've started using plastic here." I comment perched on my green urban high horse.

"Chinese stuff!" adds Ambika.

"Why?" she asks the potters.

"The wells nearby have dried up. We have to travel six to ten kilometers to fetch water. Plastic is lighter. It's easier." comes the matter-of-fact reply.

Our city- dwelling -preaching -green- to- the -farmers selves nod our understanding.
Plastic vessels have replaced traditional brass and terracotta ones because the villagers have to travel longer distances to fetch water. Pipes are being drilled deeper and deeper every year to try and reach the depleting water levels.

Men continue to beat their wives and scavenge off them to feed their alcoholism. And women continue to work as labourers on fields and construction sites to feed and educate their children. Ambika and I came across such stories in the three days we were there. 

Yes, I choose to capture the light, for the dark was, is and will continue to exist along side the light.

Solace is personal. Scenery is public. Scenery is our responsibility, a debt we owe our planet, a promise we must keep for our children and their children.

Can there be solace without scenery?

Commenting on the idea of heaven, Sadhguru, in one of his videos, asked, "How do you know you're not in Heaven already and you're spoiling it?"

This trip to rural Tamil Nadu couldn't have come at a better time. #RallyforRivers is the wake up call we all need to remind ourselves that if we want our children and their children to listen to birdsong, swing in hammocks in coconut groves or drink coffee made with fresh milk or simply eat fresh food and drink clean water, then we must do what needs to be done--NOW!
video

Back in Doha, I unpack the tangible memories I've brought home with me. The terracotta pot I'd so lovingly carried as cabin baggage has succumbed to the stresses of air travel. A hole gapes back at me from the bottom when I unwrap it.

"Where there's a will, there's a way." my mother used to say:)

It's been given a new role. We may not store water in it (as was planned when I bought it) but its earthy fragrance (saundhi khushboo) will remind me of the beautiful people of Tanjavore and their warmth whenever I water the plant that sits in it.
Have a lovely weekend.
And please support the farmers who feed us.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you, Arti, for this fragrant, tangible, savory piece of solace for this disquieted soul.
    A very rainy summer here coupled with a house renovation that grew complicated sapped too much of my creative spirit. Not to worry, in a week my love and I head off to Prague for a few days before beginning a cruise along the Elbe to Berlin. An escape? Perhaps, but more likely a welcome respite, an invitation to explore, to be elsewhere, and to take note.
    Cheers and hugs!
    April

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    1. Hi April. You've been on my mind for a couple of weeks now. I'm so glad you're well. Prague and the cruise sound wonderful. Enjoy and hope to see some pictures when you're back.
      House renovations can be tiring. I hope it's all sorted now.
      Looking forward to your creative spirit soaring once again so that I may get to read your words when you return.
      Hugs. xx

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  2. Gorgeous, as always!
    I’m not sure I’m convinced that I always need scenery for solace… but I think you do need some form of beauty. Scenery for the heart’s eye, perhaps?

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    1. Thank you Jz.
      I reckon the scenery can be a vista or a poster or perhaps a state of mind (like Worsdworth's daffodils that he saw in his mind's eye)--just as you said, "scenery for the heart's eye."
      I met my yoga teacher yesterday and she said something that rings true to me at this point in time in my life--she said that scenery and solace are not separate. Our logical or intuitive mind creates this duality.

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  3. This is a green heaven, Arti! Really enjoyed reading the post and the pictures, as usual, can transport you to the Paddy Homestay. Thank you for sharing.

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