A Short Indian Diary - of a holiday, also a trip with a purpose, that Judith F. Hubbard-Jones and Nicolas G. Hubbard took during 23rd February – 6th March 1998.
Written by Judith F. Hubbard-Jones © 1998
Part 1 (23rd - 28th Feb 1998)
Early morning bells from a church nearby. We quite like this town (Tanjavur – or Tanjore). There are hardly any tourists and the waiters in the vegetarian (i.e. local) restaurant look at us eating with respectful interest. One, whose English is a little better than the others, helps us to choose typical local dishes.
8am start to Madurai, stopping at Tiruchchirappalli (Trichy) on the way. This is India’s second most important pilgrimage centre after Varanasi on the Ganges. This is South India’s equivalent. Pilgrims pray at the riverside (very dry at present) and come to do rituals such as rite of passage for new life of a child or for when an aged parent has died. Hair is shaved off and sandalwood powder or paste is rubbed in to stop the scalp from being sore. Various rituals involving offerings of fruit and rice and leaves are offered with the prayers of the Brahmins. We watched with interest, even though it seemed intrusive to do so, but we were told it was OK to look.
We visited the largest temple we’d seen – so large that it contains a huge township. Its walls are six kilometres around…. (See page 1018) The stones in various courtyards were too hot for me to walk on barefoot and my blisters from the other day were still calling out! I must wear socks tomorrow. Nick always wears socks! Nick has now got his cameras concealed in a linen bag, so doesn’t look so conspicuous, however he is using his video today, which causes increased interest.
We look at the Rock Fortress, but decide not to climb it. It really is very hot today. Apparently India is experiencing a similar increase in temperature as we are in England. Weather here is more like late April than late February / early March. Even the Indians are sweating profusely, so we must be doing quite well to cope. It really is very hot and quite humid.
We pass through wonderful countryside and enter a strange hill country. Some hills are just huge bare rocks with absolutely no soil on them whatsoever. These volcanic rocks don’t seem to have eroded at all.
We arrive at Madurai about four in the afternoon. We made good time today, considering we averaged 30mph. Another posh ‘Taj’ hotel but this time in a rather comfortable old colonial building.
I find that the number I was given for Professor Aruldoss (my contact who I met in Birmingham 18 months ago) is incorrect. I will try tomorrow at the American College.
Today we passed some villages where people make rope out of coconut fibres. They were a sad bunch of people. We stopped to look, and the group rushed up to us to show how the skin on their hands is worn away leaving pink patches. The skin was quite tough but they made out that they had blisters and wanted money off us. Other tourists had obviously been taken in and given much money. Nicolas was generous as usual. Am I becoming hard and cynical, or too realistic?
Alcohol is banned from being sold for the next three days as the finals of the Indian election polls are announced. The final results are on 3rd March.
We spent the morning exploring Madurai. It has the largest Tank (reservoir) in India. The palace-temple complex is devoted to the Fish Eyed Goddess. Here she has importance over her male consort. (See page 1023)
In the temple complex we saw women with their friends. Women give birth to their first born in the temple so we are told. (need to read up on this) We saw preparations for a festival, flags being put up, together with a statue or two being carried around to the sound of drums and a loud flutelike instrument and the lighting of lamps (oil or butter). Our guide for the morning was very good but we ended up in a local Emporium to get a good photographic ‘opportunity’ of the city from the roof top. Of course on the way down we had to get past the carpet sellers and the sellers of fantastic Indian furniture (all of which I would have loved!), gems, knick-knacks etc….
We saw many interesting sites such as a groom and his procession on their way to his wedding.
Everywhere you go someone somewhere wishes to sell you something. One has to become hardened and stick to what you really want or manage to take home in suitcases.
I bought a bunch of green bananas. These taste more like the varieties we get imported to Britain. Next time I will buy the little fat yellow ones-they are wonderful!!
For lunch we had the bananas, finished half a watermelon we had with us and some savoury doughnuts that Nick had bought. Lunch came to less than 10 rupees each (15p). If we ate in the restaurant that would be over 100 rupees each (£1.50).
It is very hot here today, so we rested up a bit during the midday. We then took a walk around the gardens and ended up at the swimming pool. The attendant there was very attentive as only Indians can be. We had to have a comfortable recliner each. All the fat ‘pinkies’ visiting the hotel (a number were business fellows) from the US and Europe were sitting around like beached whales. Nobody was allowed to do anything for himself or herself. The Indian attendant rearranged towels, moved a chair a few inches, ordered tea for you etc – just like something from the days of the Raj!
This morning Mrs Aruldoss had rung the Hotel at 8.55am and promised to ring again at 5pm. This saved me a fag of contacting them. (They had got my letters etc) Anyway Professor Aruldoss rang at 5.45pm (prompt by Indian standards!) We are getting used to Indian sense of time – just! (For instance by the pool we saw a tray of afternoon tea appear and were asked if we would like a cup of tea by the waiter holding the tray. We said ‘yes’-expecting an instant ‘cuppa’. But the tray was destined for someone else. We had to wait a full ¾ hour for a large tray to appear for our sole use.
Professor and Mrs Aruldoss with four year old Benjamin arrive at 7.10pm. We take them to the restaurant for a meal. All went quite successfully and in a friendly manner. Aruldoss gets going on religion and philosophy and how the ‘Britishers’ were to be seen a liberators in bringing Christianity to India. He does not go with the present trend of thinking that says we were greedy Imperialists. I am more cautious, I think we did exploit quite a bit – but he is the local expert! Benji is quite a handful and very hyperactive. He and Nick soon make friends and I am a new ‘Auntie’ (I remember how the children in Islamabad called me ‘Auntie’). It is an honorary title children give to adult women friends or women of their parents generation. Nick becomes ‘Uncle’ in the same way. Nick and Benji go and play ‘taps’ and running water (luxury for a little Indian boy) in Nick’s room whilst the rest of us make arrangements for tomorrow. Benji thinks he is back at Selly Oak where his father was. The idea is to make an early start at 6am and get to Nazareth and back in a day. Mr Biju is OK about this.
The finals of the election are now being announced, but Madurai seems quite quiet. (Some parts of India will be very "grumpy" apparently and bad feelings can run high.)
[Nick, thinking of the stray surfer stumbling on this page, interrupts.
"Why Nazareth?" you ask.
Missionaries in the 1800's established several Christian communities - taking on place names from The Bible.
"No, that's not what we meant. Why did you two go to Nazareth?"
Dear old daddy used to work here 1938-1942 as 'superintendent in charge'. As we grew up, we heard many stories about this place.]
We set off from the hotel at around 6.30 with Mrs Aruldoss already having been picked up by Mr Biju. The road, Highway no.7, is quite a fast road, bypassing villages. It took us just under three hours to get to Tirunelveli. Nick and I stopped for a quick breakfast of coconut and chickpea rissoles. The others seemed OK without breakfast or a loo stop! Tirunelveli would now be quite unrecognisable to father, apart from a few old religious buildings and older houses. It is now a bustling modern place by Indian standards with a huge bus station.
The road to Nazareth becomes small and winding and very countrified. If you half close your eyes it could almost be rural England. At the moment the land is green and lush, although famine and draught have been known here. There are many church towers and spires dotted around the landscape, like many places in Europe.
Finally we arrive at Nazareth. The church tower dominates the whole village. First we look for the Pastor (Mrs Aruldoss’s idea). We find him in the parish office, sitting quietly at a completely empty desk! (No telephone interruption etc. as one would find in Britain!) He has been here at Nazareth only since June and is still ‘new’. Mrs Aruldoss is very interested in poking around the garden of the Parish Office as this land belonged to her family who lived next door. She too, is doing a bit ‘down memory lane’ exercise. She was here last, nine years ago. We visit the village church – St. John’s but have no great feelings that this was where father was involved.
We then take the car (or rather the car took us) to the Arts Industrial School, which is only a short way away. Here we were received by the second in command. They were expecting us, but as my letter to them had been held up, I had never got the reply before leaving England. Apparently they were all prepared for us to stay for a few days! I had sent some photocopies of father’s album. Someone here had done some research and photocopied items of interest from minute books. We begin to get the feeling of “Yes, here it is where father was….” and everything becomes something of a heightened awareness, as this is the real reason for our being in India.
We look around the workshops and see skills in die-casting, light engineering, computer skills as well as tailoring and carpentry. The workshops seem well maintained and the students bright and happy.
We then find father’s bungalow! It is now used as the dormitory for the young boy’s hostel. There are dear little wooden beds, with no bedclothes, (too hot) row upon row, with buckets for washing underneath. I assume loos are in the other block. Possessions are kept in little tin trunks.
The boys' school is nearby and the girls' school further on.
The bungalow is recognisable from our photocopies from father’s album although very shabby compared to its former glory! The asbestos roof, which would have been a modern thing in father’s time, is still there, with little boys sleeping under it every night. This would contravene all sorts of Health and Safety rules in Britain!
We get our usual crowd of interested children who love having their photos taken.
We are given a room to ‘rest in’ (Indian hospitality), but we are too interested to be resting and want to make the most of every minute that we have. We are given lunch in the same building – fresh sardines in curry, fish rissoles and various vegetable dishes. We are served by two very attentive men (curious about the way we eat I guess as much as our being European). The Vice-Principal eats with us, the food was cooked by his wife who we meet later.
The visit in the afternoon to the Girls High School was fascinating. The whole school of several hundred girls was reading out loud! It sounded like a swarm of bees being happy on a lazy summer afternoon. The concept of silent reading when learning is alien. The word is to be spoken. We are told that concentration would be difficult for the children if asked to read silently- they would be distracted. They also need to hear the words they read and say them. I seem to remember being told that the concept of reading in silence is a comparatively recent idea – a European idea no more than a few hundred years old. Jews and Muslims would never expect their children to read Holy Scripture in silence, in fact I am nearly certain that the Koran is always read aloud.
We were invited to talk with the headmistress (yet another person sitting behind a completely empty desk with no telephone interruptions). We all drank ‘7UP’ whilst she sat there and we asked questions. The photocopies of father’s photograph album cause interest wherever we go. Somebody in our party (we had quite a gathering now), one of the AIS lecturers, who is our main guide, is very good and quick to spot where is where and what is what.
He recognised the old Bishop’s Theological College building.
The patient Mr Biju, who is quite amazed at the interest we have made here, drives us the one kilometre or so to where it is at Tirumaraiyur (Thirumaraiyur). The Bishop’s Theological College is now closed, having merged to form the Tamilnadu Theological Seminary in Madurai in 1969. The present church is used locally, but the college cloister, which is all that remains of the college, is not used.
Here was real evidence of father’s mind and spirit and work.
Here were pillars after the fashion of Hindu temple pillars carved with Christian and other symbols e.g. kangaroos, rabbit, cars, etc. We didn’t spot a cat but would have done eventually! On one pillar we spot his initials, GEH, on an oval just as on his serviette ring! Seeing something that was so obviously his (all the pillars that is), we got a far better idea of the person he was and had been. He would have been about Nick’s age (late 30’s/early 40’s) and we felt he had been really happy here in South India; and the realisation for us was that we had never known him at his best.
We return to Nazareth for tea. This consisted of a nice slice of Madeira fruitcake, a few sweet biscuits and a puff pastry item that I thought would have contained a custard or fruit, only to find the ubiquitous vegetable curry!
I am presented with a stole and veil (or perhaps it is portable altar cloth, Indian style?) that I had admired in the tailoring shop. I give the Principal a First Day Cover of the Diana stamps, but I don’t think he knew what it was, even though I explained it would grow in value and collect-ability.
Whilst there is a general confusion about where the visitor’s book is (someone has the key and cannot be found), we wander off up the road to visit an ‘Auntie’ of Mrs Aruldoss. This is the first time we (Nick and I) enter an Indian home. (Shoes off.) Auntie is very old and has very old furniture and old items like the ancient wireless set, of which I remember the like of from the 1950’s – and it is still working! We sit talking, her English is good, and she can certainly remember father’s name. Her parents knew him well and he would have come to this bungalow no doubt. (The Engineer’s Bungalow.) ‘Auntie’ is of the upper educated class and is the permanent hostess of a house group or fellowship group, which includes the AIS Principal. One wonders if there was a house group in father’s time in that bungalow and today’s is just the continuation. I felt that time had stood still in the bungalow and if father had walked in no one would have been surprised.
The Visitor’s book appears, as does the principal. We sign and write our comments and return to the AIS. (The previous entry was dated 1977!) The Principal was at first (earlier on) showing (I felt) his displeasure that we couldn’t stay several days. However I felt this first visit was right in length. We had had eight hours of tremendous interest. The Principal wanted us to meet the Bishop of Tirunelveli etc. but we tell him, another time perhaps! Maybe we were rushing our visit in their eyes, but there was no other way for us to do it on this occasion.
[We maintain our connection with the Art Industrial School. In 2001 a water storage tank was constructed and dedicated to our father's name.]
Mr Biju then drives us back all the way to Madurai. Driving at night is very hazardous with no regulations adhered to by way of headlights – they either don’t exist or are too bright and blinding.
We have a slightly more leisurely start. Mrs Aruldoss and Mr Biju pick us up at 10.30am. (We never got to call her by her Christian name, Indians are curiously formal. We are now the Reverend Judith and Mr. Nick!)
We go only a few yards up the main road to a women’s refuge, the Arulagum, Pasumalaj. All the land where the Taj Hotel stands, and where the refuge stands, once belonged to Missionaries. The women and girls are in a safe compound. They are not allowed out for their own safety and protection –pimps and ex male ‘friends’ would only try and set them up along the road to prostitution. Many of the girls are what one would term ‘simple’. However once they have proved themselves in various ways and have families who will undertake to care for them, they are let out to start afresh. Some end up staying for many years, one was obviously there for the rest of her life and saw the refuge as her home.
Here at the refuge they learn a variety of skills, proper cooking, spinning, and weaving (towels and cotton items). Some make bags out of a plastic material and sewing. We saw a picture of a recent picnic outing to the seaside. There is a crèche for the young children. The crèche sang us a very long song indeed. I challenge any English crèche to sing as long as these Indian children did!
Mrs Aruldoss had worked here once on the staff. The present warden is away starting an Aids project somewhere. One girl had died of Aids here at the refuge quite recently. We spend a long time here – nearly all morning.
We then went to the Aruldoss’s house – our second Indian home. We are now the new Auntie and Uncle to all four children. Here we meet Aruldoss’s father and mother. They live in the middle room whilst the children and parents have two rooms upstairs. This is a rented house and quite small by European standards. We are sat in the front room, which is not more than a lobby. An amazing plastic clock plays ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ and similar on each and every hour on run down batteries. It had to be heard to be believed! The family had long since ceased to hear it. This is a typical everyday Indian city house, quite unlike anything I’d been to before. Lunch takes about four hours. First we had to buy vegetables from a local stall. It was then cooked as we entertained various members of the family sitting in the tiny front room. When we did eat, we were very formal in that Nick and I and Aruldoss, plus four-year-old Benji were in the front room, everybody else somewhere at the back in another room. I couldn’t get them to eat altogether as room would not permit, nor was it my place to suggest it. I also realised this was the custom as I had witnessed in Pakistan. I was just a bit surprised that this was happening in such an enlightened family. But, as I say room, was something of a factor. We eat as they do with our hands only, off plastic plates. These plastic plates were the same sort as in Pakistan, a sort of Asian universal plate made in China. The family have to move out of this house in a few months time, as it is rented property and the owners want it back.
The situation of the house is very good with tiny but useful shops all around. The family includes a skinny cat. Cats in South India are not very well off as there are no meat scraps and no tinned cat food. Mr Aruldoss senior tells us his life story, which is fascinating but as he speaks so quietly and his English is his own particular brand it is difficult to understand everything his says.
At about five we set off by car to the Tamil Theological Seminary (TTS). This is interesting although they were shutting up for the day so we didn’t have long there. We met the Principal, The Rev P. Kambar Manickam who I had also met at Queen’s last summer in Birmingham. He was another person who would have wished to take us around.
We then go to a part of Madurai called the Railway Colony. Another picture from the photograph album was matched up! Nick and I discover that father had been Pastor here for a short time and that this was the home of Walter George, friend of father's and Nick's Godfather, both before and after Independence. Here we met a fascinating Anglo-Indian community. One chap who was third generation was as white as any ordinary Englishman was, with brilliant blue eyes, whilst his sister was typically Indian, only she wore western type clothing!
At the Church of the Divine Patience, we were presented with a "Peace Concert" booklet celebrating the Golden Jubilee of the CSI Synod and Indian Independence. We were delighted to see father's name in print alongside his friend's and notable Bishops: Rt. Rev. S.C.Neill, Rt. Rev. G.T. Selwyn, Rt. Rev. J.E.L. Newbigin. Nick was not so delighted to see an advert in the same booklet selling CFC's - the chemicals that damage the Earth's ozone layer that have been mostly phased out in the western world.
8.30ish start to the Nature reserve area at Thekkady just in the state of Kerala. We travel for about three hours, entering a more mountainous and wooded area.
On the way we pass many brick making communities and children who should be at school are helping their mothers making bricks. It is not as intensive and cruel as some places, which are more industrialised. These are folk who are in a rural ‘small time’ industry. It is nevertheless very hard work. A girl asks me for soap. I give her my only piece. Other girls want some. I say they have to share – but what is such a small piece of soap amongst so many? The other items that children beg off us is ‘school pens’ A biro is highly prized if you are a child. If you are a child not going to school, to have a biro really means you are on the ‘way up.’ We enjoy going up into the mountains, the road becomes torturously windy. We stop to see monkeys in the trees. This area is well forested.
We arrive at Spice Village about midday.
We are given Jasmine flower necklaces to wear around our necks. The huts are thatched in local style. This is the first time we are not in air-conditioned accommodation. It is a little cooler up here. Nick and I have a lunch outside our huts, of fruit and nuts, which we had brought with us, some of which Mrs Aruldoss had given us as a present. we have a rest then take a walk around. The plants in the ‘village’ are all spice plants of various sorts and are mostly labelled.
At 3.30 we set off in a mini-bus with other Englishers and Europeans (the first we’d met for a number of days) to the lake in the Reserve. the lake is a flooded valley. The little ferries are chronically battered old pleasure craft of varying sorts with ancient plastic chairs. In England the boats would have been banned on the grounds of being totally unsafe – yet there we all were feeling safe enough! Hand pumps keep seeping water at a suitable level down below. If nothing else is maintained, the engine is, as it does work! Everybody wants to see tigers, but we don’t of course, these shy creatures being generally nocturnal. We do however see a delightful group of wild pigs with their mothers and Aunties and older brothers and sisters. The grown boars don’t generally belong to the family grouping.
We saw two She elephants and a baby. Baby was carefully shielded from our view. It was good to see them in the wild.
We saw lots of different birds, bison and monkeys. the trip lasted about two hours. At about 6.30 at the Spice Village, we then had the joy of an hour’s Sitar with Tabla session. An evening raga of sitar followed by tabla accompaniment, then a folk tune. An amazing Guinea Fowl in the tree constantly ‘sang along’ in its particular way. There are a lot of guinea fowl around, but only this one bird cackled and squawked by way of singing. Apparently he/she does it every time there is live sitar music. Nick and I go to a table for our dinner, only to find five more guinea fowl have roosted in the flower bed next to our table.
There is a definite ‘nip’ in the air. This is the first time we have experienced this in India, although we are still able to sit out in short sleeves. No need for pullovers.
This is our last day! We woke up to all sorts of bird, frog and other noises. I could happily stay here! This is definitely a border town and we are told about the differences in local dishes and language. We hadn’t realised quite how distinctive the different states are in India. We eat banana chips (amongst other things) for breakfast – one of the local specialities. We check out, then someone who Mr Biju has organised, who is knowledgeable about local spices takes us to a local garden. We learn all about nutmeg and mace being from the same tree (nut and leaf), see how peppercorns are grown and are dried, cardamom (green) and various other spices. We are then taken to this chap’s brother’s shop (of course!) to do some spending. But we don’t mind as it is a lovely shop full of spices. We buy up some interesting pieces including some reasonably priced real saffron from Kashmir. We then set off in a leisurely fashion, as we have plenty of time, back the way we had come to Madurai. We stop to see a cotton field on the way and pick some cotton.
Longish wait at minuscule air port – only one plane a day. Fifty minute air flight. Given rather untypical white bread cheese sandwiches and the ubiquitous vegetable curry concealed in a pastry ball.
At Chennai the diary stops. We had an excellent flight back going Club Class. Andrew welcomes us at Heathrow and drives us back to Milton Keynes.
We used the services of Pettitt's to plan our holiday.
We examined their brochures, and adapted one of their suggested tours by extending our stay at Madurai. This gave us the time to travel south to Nazareth.
This was our first visit to India. The extra expense of using the agent made for a more relaxing holiday. It was well worth having the booking, itinerary, car and driver all organised for us.
Part 1 (23rd - 28th Feb 1998) Back To India Travel Last update 30/7/03