When I told some relatives and friends that I had decided to settle down in Tenkasi, a small town in Tirunelveli District in the Southern State of Tamilnadu, not many were really ready to believe me. They thought I was joking. All through my thirty six years of work life, I had stayed in metropolitan cities with best of comforts and life styles and this, they were aware. Choosing to live in a rural town was the craziest thing I would ever do in my retired days - this is what they initially thought.
When the idea was initially floated, my wife was the first to raise apprehensions and objections about living in a village town. She never trusted the small medical facilities in rural towns. Thanks to the intervention of one of our revered Masters during those days, she relented finally.
I took my retirement from work two years before I could officially retire. I had been dreaming about the freedom to do what really mattered to my heart, retirement offered. I loved quiet places, picturesque natural settings, greenery, shades, breeze, open space and green fields and forests.
We zeroed on Tenkasi after lot of deliberation. First of all, I did not consider Chennai as a livable place and so it was ruled out. Coimbatore where I had a piece of land was a choice, but got rejected as we felt we had no base there. Our native place Tirunelveli was too hot and had neither the attraction of smaller towns nor the conveniences of bigger cities and so was voted out. Trivandrum in Kerala was in the reckoning initially as we had several relatives staying there, but was dropped on language issues.
Why not Tenkasi? That idea came just out of blue. We used to be passing by Tenkasi in the last couple of decades to visit one of our relatives. Tenkasi fell within our native district. It was only three kilometers to Courtallam another small hilly town with several waterfalls. It was bordering Kerala and enjoyed sufficient rains. It enjoyed cool breeze throughout the year as it was closer to hills. It was a small agricultural town well connected and growing yet to become busy and nasty. People had simple life styles and there were several temples in surrounding towns, rivers and water dams in adjoining places, and it was only three and half hours from Madurai and one and half hours from Tirunelveli to reach in emergencies. All of a sudden, the idea gathered momentum and strength.
"When our intent is very strong, nature conspires to bring it to reality soon." I have heard this from my Master, but I experienced this as a reality very soon.
Sometime in early July 2006 soon after my retirement, we were returning from Courtallam and Papanasam, another nearby small hilly town with a roaring waterfall across a water dam in the company of my in-laws and we passed by Tenkasi.
As we were just leaving Tenkasi, I happened to stand in front of the Main Temple at Tenkasi and I found myself praying spontaneously to Lord Kashi Viswanath to help me find a suitable house in Tenkasi if I was destined to stay there.
No sooner than we crossed the limits of Tenkasi, my relative phoned to me to tell that there were two houses available for rent at Melagaram, a smaller outskirt of Tenkasi and he had known the landlords closely from his father’s days. Melagaram is another town panchayat, just a kilometer away from Tenkasi on the way to Courtallam. I promised him to return back to Tenkasi from Madurai in the next couple of days to have a look at the house. We returned back two days later and liked one of the two houses he showed us. It was a street house in an 'Agraharam', a predominant brahmin locality. We paid the advance rent on the spot without even bothering to decide when and how we would be shifting to that place.
But we were not to be staying there for long during 2006 as we were planning to visit our children in USA during October. Besides, our debate continued as to how far we genuinely wanted to stay there. We moved into Melagaram house with very small baggage sometime in August and stayed there for four or five days. Our definitive move to Melagaram happened in June 2007 after our son’s wedding. It looked like shifting from Sheraton Hotel thirtieth floor to the nearby hut.
We were total strangers in Tenkasi and we were trying to grasp the life-style in an 'Agraharam'. People over there were supposed to be very tradition bound, conservative, educated, some of them agricultural landlords, many fairly poor. During the initial days, coming to know that we had stayed in Middle East for quite long, the people at Agraharam also looked at us with great curiosity and interest wondering what we would be doing in a village town.
Tenkasi was not to be the sleepy village that we had imagined it to be. We got a BSNL phone connection within a couple of days of making an application and the broad-band internet connection followed in a week’s time. The Indane gas distributor acted a little tough initially about transfer of our gas connection without our ration card, but gave in on the condition that we submit to him the ration card before we could ask for a refill. A stranger neighbor in the 'Agraharam' took us to the Village officer and got us a residence certificate. He also took us to Tehsildar to make an application for a new ration card; as we were staying abroad for almost a decade, we never knew what happened to our earlier ration card. I never realized that staying at Agraharam commanded so much respect among many in the government departments. A ‘Honour card’ which did not allow us to draw any provision supply, but would be sufficient proof of residential address was issued in the next few weeks. Melagaram, and more particularly 'Agraharam' seemed to be a respected place where more of educated people resided. Many friendly neighbors were willing to offer their help for a host of nitty-gritty things.
We met with several pleasant surprises at Tenkasi. Let me tell you some of them:
• We could just walk to many cinema halls and watch even newly released movies for just thirty rupees.
• We could see boys and girls playing out-door games - ‘goli,’ ‘vattil,’ ‘pamparam,’ ‘gilli,’ ‘paandi, ‘hide and seek’, in our street carefree without having to worry about traffic reminding me of my school days.
• Most residents seemed to enjoy lot of spare time that was spent just sitting on the verandah in front of their house and turning to ‘East’ and ‘West’ and that was sufficient past-time for them. I thought, probably, they were in high spiritual state not needing anything specific to engage themselves in or to keep themselves happy.
• Almost everyone seems to be noticing arrival of visitors to any house within Agraharam; this offered us phenomenal sense of security.
• The Ganapathi temple at the west end of the road was kept open by the priest every morning and evening and most residents gathered at the temple regularly in the evening for prayers. The small temple was a convenient place for people’s congregation. The Melagaram Magalir (Ladies) Mandram (Club) met almost every day, after their daily chores, to practice and chant slokas and devotional singing; they preferred this to sitting before the dumb box ( I mean television box). Children used to run to the temple during prayer times when the temple bell rang - the enthusiasm coming more for collecting sundal, puliyodarai and pongal prasadams.
• Milkman arrived every morning at around five and mid afternoon with fresh milk; he had not missed even a single day. Greens, vegetables, curd, atta for making idli-dosa, tamarind, kolappodi (the lime powder for drawing kolams), fruits, chappals, cosmetics, toys, dresses and sarees, metal items, repairing dresses, vessels and the likes and many more were available right at our doors through walking vendors.
• A decent provision store that could be thought of as a Walmart for Melagarm had every supply needed for a house, at fair prices.
• Buses were frequent and a bus journey was so cheap – not more than two or three rupees.
• Hot and delicious vadas were sold on road-side shops on the main road every evening stock running out within minutes of preparation.
• You could take a pleasant walk up to Courtallam in the evening enjoying the cool breeze blowing from the hills.
• On important auspecious days like beginning of Tamil months, New Moon days or eclipse days, male elders clothed in 'pancha kachham’ paraded to the temple to perform ritual offerings to their forefathers.
• Other major attractions were:‘Margazhi’ month early morning bhajans, Akanda Naama bhajans, Sree Rama Navami, Mahadeva Ashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Kolaattam, Karthikai deepam, Chokka paanai . All celebrations were reminiscent of my young days at Tirunelveli and things I missed for nearly four decades.
• The children were all quite simple, smart and possessed lot of practical intelligence.
• The Kashi Viswanaatha temple front yard was a Tenkasi parallel to Marina beach in Chennai, but a lot more clean.
• One could eat stomach full any time for less than about twenty rupees in most eating joints. At least one such eating place offered six or seven varieties of dosas and tourists who came there round the year, made a beeline to these eateries.
• The nearby Courtallam provided the cheapest holiday resort for the not-so-affluent. One is never tired of taking bath in those waterfalls.
The above is not an exhaustive list, but only a sample. My wife who was the most apprehensive about our decision to shift to Tenkasi for our retired living initialy is now willing to stay alone there even if I ever get bored with Tenkasi and wanted to travel out. Such was her profound transformation within a very short period of staying over there.
For me, many educational institutions in Tenkasi and nearby areas started recognizing my approach to Youth Development and called me to do programs for their students, and faculty for better motivation, self-confidence and inner development.
Not a day passed by when we had not patted ourselves for our decision to choose Tenkasi for our retirement life.