The other day I walked down Veeraperumal Koil Street in Mylapore. This is a narrow thoroughfare that connects Musiri Subramania Iyer (Oliver) Road with Royapettah High Road. There is no Veeraperumal temple in it and the name was Veeraperumal Mudali Street in old times before it turned ultra-religious. When I was a kid, our family home was in Bangaru Ammal (now known as Bangaru Ammal Koil) Street, a cul-de-sac off Veeraperumal Koil Street. It was a strange place – one side were bungalows and on the other a whole lot of cowsheds. My uncle often suggested that our house be named Buffalo’s View. During the years I lived there before moving to Calcutta, I must have walked down Veeraperumal Koil Street thousands of times.
It has not changed much. There is still the doctor’s clinic that we often went to (he was rather fond of a neighbour by the way, or so it was said) and there are the two Pillaiyar temples, one of them virtually a destitute for years until VN Janaki, wife of MGR and later Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu suddenly took it under her wing. It expanded thereafter and has never looked back. But why am I rambling about all this when my tale has to do with the other side of Veeraperumal Koil Street, the section that led to Oliver Road? There was a large and very ugly bungalow, with a façade done up in some stone cladding that looked just like eczema. Here lived a famed artist and cartoonist. But he was soon to be overshadowed by his wife. A quiet woman, she one day declared that she had mystic powers. These manifested themselves during séances of a certain kind during which she would put a lime into her ear and claim to talk to sages of the past.
This was however no godwoman seeking a huge public following. Admission was only by invitation and from what I can remember, no money was ever offered or accepted. High society mamis would wend their way to the house every Friday and be present during the sessions. A privileged few could ask questions and the lady would then repeat the same via the lime to the saints who presumably clustered behind her earlobe or answered via the same lime line. She would then relay the answer received, much to the gratification of the public.
I too made the journey, in the company of my imperious grandmother. Being just a short distance away, we walked down and then the wife of Engineer Ramaiyar (as grandfather was referred to) and grandson were given admittance. The specific query my grandmother had concerned whether I would ever have a sibling. In my naïveté I too assumed that the arrival of thambi pappa would be facilitated by the lady concerned and tagged along. Unfortunately I remember nothing of the actual audience but I do recall grandmother walking back home rather briskly and happily. She was however not overjoyed when she turned in at the gate.
What she saw was my dad, uncle and a couple of cousins all standing with limes in their ears. “Hallo? Yaaru? Vamadevara? Excuse me, but can you answer this question?” asked uncle in a falsetto while cousins, aunts and assorted relatives rolled about in laughter. Even grandfather, who was seriously ill by then, joined in the fun. Grandmother was furious and told me in a fierce whisper that if I turned out to be godless like these other people in the family, divine beings would say it with thunderbolts. However, when my uncle offered me a small lime and asked whether I did not want to speak to the Gods, even grandmother had to laugh. That ended our visits to the house of that godwoman. Grandmother however would periodically seek out other specimens.But alas, there was never to be a sibling of any kind.
Walking down Veeraperumal Koil Street last week I found that the godwoman’s house had gone. I stood at the spot and laughed out loud at the memory. A couple of passersby looked astonished. Maybe they thought I was a mystic, or perhaps just a little mad.