Tomato Sekar’s Home
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Tucked away behind the ashram of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, there is a small village connected by a dirt road, long enough that it is creeped with bushes and bushy undergrowth plants. This dirt road is the only way that links to the main road of Tiruvannamalai. Tomato Sekar’s house is just situated at the edge of this village. A slow walk for around 20 minutes through this dirt road may lead you from his house to the main road, which is adjacent to the well renowned Ramana Maharshi ashram.
“Peeeple in this village called me Tomatooe”, that was how Mr. Tomato Sekar introduced himself to me, shaking his head from side to side while speaking his very strong Tamil accent. I nodded but found a little awkward for me to address him as Tomato. Asians especially are taught to address people with a proper title according to their age. He is around 60, and for me to address him as Tomato, I found I am a little dishonouring his wisdom age. I reiterated, to make sure I must not denigrate him, “You mean tomato ketchup?”. His lips stretched amused, “No ketchup but tomato. You must know why, I was given this nick name because I sell lots of tomatoes in the wet market”. Mrs. Sekar was standing by his side at the iron grill of the entrance looking at the gate of the house. She is around Tomato’s age, holding a tiny dustpan in one hand with a rib broom made of coconut palm on another.
Two hours earlier, before discovering Tomato and his home, I was still rocking sleep on the opened-window bus that had departed from Chennai CMBT since morning but now I’m already on the feeder bus. Getting off the feeder bus by the Ramana ashram, I headed for the house I had once stayed some time three months ago. I had wished that the room to be vacant after I come back from Malaysia. Unfortunately a new occupant has already rented the room. It was for a year contract. In Tiruvannamalai if you find a room with good deal, they are always booked up, even for as long as a year or two. Tiruvannamalai is an important Shaivite town, where Shiva is revered as Arunachaleswar, an aspect of fire. There are many pilgrim tourists coming from elsewhere outside India to pay homage and pilgrimage here. Knowing no room was available for me, I knocked off from the upper level of the house and headed to the exit, then stood by its four-foot zinc-sheet gate figuring out what to do next while trying to hold up my little frustration.
When there is a will, there appears a way. A salvation army arrived with his honk calling me, then he pressed several times again till I looked over to him. This autorickshaw driver known his way of locating room-for-rent within homes in the village like drinking his cup of tea. He appeared precipitating in doing his persuasive talking and heavily selling the room on behalf of the house owner. That left me with limited choice to choose. “Gooood room, you like it Sir? Yeees? Money no problem. Pay only little money”, saying the autorickshaw driver with his gesticulation as if running a business of his own. He was coaxing persuasively yet very manipulative. Words from his mouth almost melted my heart when I finally committed to a room, and he claimed ”You can pay me anything, even one Rupee is enough”. One Rupee is enough? What? You mean one Rupee? No way he would accept one Rupee unless he is completely not sane. What a tactic of a mischievous driver to gain extra sympathy in exchange for a big fat commission. What a bluffing coax.
When they asked us to pay as little as one Rupee, that itself carried a diametrically contrary meaning – “Make Sure You Pay Me A Fatty Sum!”. The haunting part of dealing with autorickshaw drivers usually exploded when we failed to seal the price upfront before going for a ride. Otherwise, you’ll be haunted and haggled by them for the rest of your day, unless you pay something exorbitant.
Being having dealing with many mischievous autorickshaw drivers many times, the rule of game is not unknown. I was relented and willing, upfront knowing that I had to pay a little fatty sum. A friend told me, when you travel, you can’t be letting no autorickshaw drivers earning your money, you are capable of helping them to earn a better living for their family. That was a true saying. Most of the time, I prefer to walk than riding on wheelers when I intend to move from one place to another. That saves money and makes the limbs to do some workout. Thinking back, I had not been riding on autorickshaw for a very long while, why not this time.
The day of arrival at this village of Tiruvannamalai has put me in a demand of physical and mental energy – stress. Before the horizon turns dark, I should not be deprived of the direction, precisely myself to be vivid of the way getting in and out between Tomato's home and to the main road taking Ramana Ashram as the landmark.
At Tomato’s home, I requested Tomato to write for me his mailing address in the event I may not be able to find my way home. The day was getting late, soon the horizon was going to fall dark. It was in the darkness that I will be going to Siva Sannidhi for dinner. I could find the address plate nailed to the pole of the gate. Instead, Tomato asked me to help him to copy the address myself. How nice he was making me to write Tamil on his behalf. You know, writing Tamil is never ever easy. I must admit I am not a good copycat.
In Tomato’s home, I have not seen any tomatoes at his home, not even one yet.
As I climbed up to the open space rooftop at the third storey of the house, apart from seeing the strings of clotheslines, my eyesight was enlarged with the complete view of Arunachala hill. Tiruvannamalai sits at the base of this Arunachala hill.
Night begins very early in this village. The town area is some distance away from this village. By 8pm, this village is already completely quiet down. The villagers calling it a day as soon as the day gets dark.