The Train Of Thoughts
For people in Ooty, this winter has been really cold. In other words, this is the most biting cold the locals have faced in a while. At least since last November. Last year, the rains made life more comfortable for people in Nilgiris district. In sharp contrast, in many places temperature is expected to drop to sub zero this year. Even as people complain about the discomfort, it is rather clear that they love the cold. Nilgrites are classy dressers. You cannot see too many people without shoes in my locality, Greenfields, which is very close to the centre of town, Charing Cross. Even the most poverty stricken dress up in mufflers, sweaters, and jackets to ward off the cold. Any small change in climate brings a flood of visitors. Once they get to town, they tour touristy places like Botanical Garden and Doddabetta, the highest peak in South India. My personal favourite is the Bhavanisagar Dam. I suppose tourists return disappointed without exploring the district.
The movie scene in Ooty sucks most of the time. People just don’t go to theatres. After having lived in places like Coimbatore, Chennai and Hyderabad, I found this trend strange. Ooty is not really an arts and culture hub. However, I am thankful to the fledgling short film festival.
On the other hand, it is quite bizarre that the most modern of arts (the movies) doesn’t really appeal to people. But DVD piracy is rampant and is a sure sign that people are not entirely immune to the charms of the silver screen. You wouldn’t be wholly wrong to assume that it’s the content of the movies that drive people away from the theatre in hordes. But the marketing of these movies is also a big problem. I am certain that people have not even heard of some of the movies that hit this town’s theatres, especially those that in languages other than Tamil. Or perhaps, people don’t really need to unwind as much as those in the big cities as they already live a calm, serene life.
But what is really depressing is the lack of a reading culture in Ooty. Apart from the Nilgiris Library and Higginbothams, there are no other places that provide people with good reading material. Even newspapers and magazines cannot be commonly bought.
Nilgiris district is the tea capital of India, as you know very well. But in tea shops, the potent drink is as bad as say, Chennai. I have always wondered why. The answer is pretty simple: In tea shops it’s a business. But you would be lucky, as I have been, to have tea at Ooty’s homes. This tea made with care at home is really how tea should be and not the faintly sweet, lukewarm excuse you get in the shops. Ooty is also home to the most flavours of tea you can ever obtain. From Chocolate to Masala to Organic, tea is available in every taste you can possibly imagine. When people hit town, they would do good to buy a pack or two. It’s an ideal gift when you visit your relatives and friends in the plains.
When I was still a kid, my parents and especially my grandparents, guessing quite wrongly that I was precocious, decided to amuse themselves by entertaining thoughts that I could be sent to Lovedale, where presumably I would bunk in the hostel and become one of the brightest in the family. Thankfully, they never decided to act on their thoughts. But it cannot be denied that Ooty is one of greatest places for education in South India. Parents here often shape their careers around the performance of their children in Ooty’s prestigious schools. Even the hostel life in these schools is an experience to be valued and treasured. Children from well-to-do families land up in Ooty not just to excel in studies, but also develop an array of skills that serve them well in their careers. Even the government school in Ooty is much better than any of those in the so-called plains.
During this Pongal holidays, my wife and I decided to leave the cold mountainside and head for Vellakoil in Erode district, where the weather was much more warm and pleasant. My friend, a famous Tamil writer, hosted us for the good part of almost three days. I was nowhere close to guessing the rush of passengers who had caught the buses, including special vehicles for Pongal. Our travel then became an adventure and we reached my friend’s home in early hours of January 14. As you know, Pongal is the harvest festival of Tamil Nadu. January 15th, the date of Mattu Pongal, a festival in honour of cows, was spent in the company of a rich landlord from the Gounder community in Vellakoil. The ‘Chakkara Pongal’ (a delicious combination of rice and jaggery), made with special ghee, was probably the best yours truly ever had. We also invited ourselves to the continuing festivities for the next day. The landlord, is a well-read, but extremely eccentric man, who was continuously under the influence the whole time he hosted us.
Shoppers at Uzhavar Sandhai (farmers’ market) and Ooty Municipality Vegetable Market usually have a whale of a time. The greens bought here are both fresh and nutritious. You also get a much wider range of veggies than those that can be bought anywhere in Tamil Nadu. Vegetables like brussels sprouts, leek,lettuce and broccoli, which are unavailable in the plains, can be bought here through the year.Ooty is also home to homemade chocolates, varieties of oils and, of course, the varkey. The bakeries are also a great haunt for tourists.All of this makes Ooty an ideal destination for honeymooners especially in the summer months of April and May. Darjeeling Momos are the food-on-the-go choice for tourists.