India is a harsh place. As is the intrigue, the pallets of colour, muddle stories of Gods with different names and statutes, and the street theater or circus acts?
Or one of Voltaire stories with pestering beggars who pull and chant like puppets and offer horrifying sneers with stories best not told? Don’t forget the trinket sellers who cling astonishingly to the side of busses like performance artists. And what to make of Sadhus who walk naked smeared in fire dust along the roads between towns loud and congested and polluted? Oh, India! India! You’re a devil player on the sixth sense, wrapped up in a cacophony of survival. And much harsher than the English perceptive of a saffron wrapped swami standing on one leg, with a matted gray beard, smoking a joint meditating on life.
Nevertheless, away from all this, tucked behind the palm trees on the eastern Palani Hills, in a small quiet valley where India is still gentle, here sits a guest house owned by eccentric retired Englishman.
I first met Chris Lucas of Cardamom House fame some ten years past when exploring the route of the Great Arc of India. The valley is quiet, except for the extensive wild life chattering in the garden down to the lake side, giving views of out-stretched wings of the Larks, Horn birds and crimson backed Sunbirds. It is nature’s own garden where time has stood still because man is some distance away.
Shankar, the house manager, greeted me like the returning survivor from the adventure he remembers me by, when I set out on a large, orange, off-road motor bike and then returned after some three years later with a 1970 MG convertible.
This time I walked in.
‘Mr Conrad welcome. And the bike?’
‘No Shankar it sits at home retired until another adventure shouts at me.’ He smiled. I don’t think he understood.
‘Let me take your bag and get you tea.’ The strong plump man in his forties, his black beard enclosed with his short hair, took hold of my bag and shouted to another to bring me tea. He then placed my bag in a corner. I noticed how he had gained weight.
‘So, little has changed.’ I said looking about, including the view. ‘And Chris?’
‘He is in England. He sends his welcome and will see you at New Year. We have a swimming pool.’
‘That is great Shankar, I bet that is appreciated.’ He smiled at me knowing I had been polite. He dabbed his hands on his dhoti and ushered me to sit. He was an easy man to speak to. His English good, if sometimes confused by the odd expression; always deferential. He spoke to his wife, put his arm on hers, who I am sure I had not met before, not this wife, she was young and turned her shy head away as she served the tea.
Shankar asked ‘Dinner at 7 Mr Conrad?’
Once I had an early dinner I went to my room and was not seen until breakfast.