When her father said they would go to Gingee for the weekend, Savithri was very unhappy. "What would I do in that village for two whole days?" she wondered.
Savithri, was hot and grumpy. She was off to Gingee for the weekend. A trip she did not want to take! The long car ride in the humid weather made her sleepy and uncomfortable. Moreover, she hadn't wanted to go to Gingee for the weekend. She had planned a gala time with her friends in Chennai. But suddenly out of the blue her father had announced a trip to his village. Grumblings, mutterings and many pulling on of long faces followed. But nothing worked. As far as Savi was concerned, it was going to be a “totally dead two days”.
Empty bottles of water and drinks littered the back of the car. Amma and appa were talking quietly in front. Suddenly Savi noticed the changing scenery. Dusty, crowded towns were slowly being left behind and landscapes with green rice fields opened up. She saw the car going through and avenues of tamarind trees. She remembered how her father told her on their many drives that trees were planted during ancient days by kings, and the tamarind trees were given on “rent.” She sat up and rested her chin on the window (despite the fact she had been told umpteen times, never to do that). Her mother turned and smiled at her
“We are nearing Gingee Savi. You will love what you see.” Savi just signed. But then what was that? Savi couldn't believe her eyes. For
Suddenly there arose a high mountain. She saw a fort on top and zillions of black boulders everywhere, boulders that were smooth and shiny, and thrown casually around as if giants had been playing with marbles.
“That is the Gingee fort,” said her father. “The British called it the Troy of the East.”
The car zigzagged its way though twisty streets that had low quaint houses. Some the roofs were thatched and some had warm orange tiles that sloped down. Soon they were in front of a large compound wall. There was a flurry of movement and the gates were flung open. Savi felt there were hundreds of people at first glance when it was only 15 of them. Aunts, uncles, and wait a minute, there were four pairs of solemn eyes peering at her from behind a pillar. Kids of her own age, well almost she thought.
Suddenly a plump pair of hands and the smell of sandalwood and mango pickle enfolded her. It was her old grand aunt. who hadn't seen her since she was a baby. After the warm welcome and the fussing, tender coconuts were handed around before they were taken to their rooms. An aunt noticing this called out to the four and introduced them Senthil, he is 14, Meena here is 12, Prabhu (the dark chubby boy) is seven and Karthika is six.” Smiling shyly the four surrounded her.
By the time lunch was ready, they were friends. They sat together for lunch. They sat on the dhuries and washed banana leaves were placed in front of them. Rice with dhal and a dollop of ghee was followed by different dishes, some non spicy, some fiery and with plenty of large papads and fried chillies. Savi relished the thick curd and the mango pickle.
Meena seeing her enjoying this whispered, “The milk is from our cows and grandma made this pickle three months ago.”
“Finish fast and let's go, we have some exciting things to show you,” said Prabhu. “No going anywhere in this heat” said their aunt. who was ladling out the paal payasam, “Rest for some time and after coffee and tiffin, you can play.” Good naturedly they went to the outer room. For the first time Savi noticed the house. was an old fashioned one with a large inner courtyard with many pillars. The doors were made of teak with heavy brass fittings on them. There were wide flat platforms where you could sit comfortably or stretch out and relax. “Oh you have a swing,” said Savi, she tried to swing herself but needed the help of the older two to push her as the old swing was pretty heavy. But again they were shooed off to rest by another aunt. They slipped into a room and quietly played a game of snakes and ladders, before it was safe to come out.“We are going for a walk patti,” they called before trooping out the gate. “Come before dark,” called out an uncle. Before the advice that was following was over, they had already turned the corner. There Soon they were many thorny shrubs and looking up Savi realised they were at the base of the mountain.
“Let's wait here” said Senthil, the oldest and the quietest. Meena was picking the “manjadi kottai', the black and red seed that was strewn under trees. “It's easier to handle these when playing Pallankuzhi” she said, “the cowrie shells are harder to play with.”
“There, Muthu anna is coming,” shouted Karthika, “Let's go, let's GO.”
Seeing Savi's puzzled look, Meena said, “People say that we still can find the treasure here.” Just then Muthu, the goatherd joined them.
Senthil explained Muthu's presence. “Muthu is an old friend of ours. He doesn't go to school as his family is poor. He lost his father when he was two years old and his mother has to support the family by selling idlies. Muthu herds our neighbour's goats in this area. He has taken us into the caves.”
Introductions over, Muthu lead them past the old Mandapam. “Savi look at the round stone ball on top of the pillar,” said Prabhu, “When they were building our house, they found one in the compound. No one knows how it got there. Remind me to show it to you.”
“There should be,” said Senthil, “after all Gingee is an ancient historical area.”
“I remember the name in our history textbook” said Savi “But..”
“I too find history boring” nodded Meena understandingly, “it's because we live here, that the facts are in our blood as it were,” she giggled
“The fort has a huge rampart 60 feet thick,” said Senthil, “and stands at 800 feet in height, guarded by a moat, 80 feet wide. It is about 800 years old.”
“My grandma says that when they were kids and used to play here they used to find tiny pieces of gold.” when they played as kids in this area, the size of Bengal gram, but not anymore I think.”
“We shouldn't keep treasure if we find it,” piped up Prabhu, “We have to hand them to the Archaeology Department.”
Icy streamlets of water coursed down the rocks. “It's so cool, said a thrilled Savi, I want to bathe here.”
“Better not,” said Meena, “We tried it once and went home shivering with fever and joint pain. Got shouted at properly and a nasty kashayam to drink.”
“Did you know that the fort was fortified by Ananda Kone, the chief of the local shepherd community. After the Kone's, the kurumbars took over,” Senthil continued his ‘history lesson' unconcerned that the others were having their own conversation. “In the 16th century the Nayaka rulers took over. After which it was under the rule of Chatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha ruler.”
“I know what happened after that,” shouted Prabhu, “Gingee was ruled by the Mughul emperor Aurangazeb and Sarup Singh was appointed chief of Gingee by the emperor, under the control of the Nawab of Arcot.” He had just finished this portion before school closed.
“Right,” said Senthil “But the most exciting event happened after that Sarup Singh's son Raja De singh, revolted against the Nawab of Arcot, and refused to pay tax and fought against the rulers. He and his friend Mohammed Khan were killed in battle. They were buried inside the fort. Even his horse, Neelaveni, was given a hero's funeral and is buried inside the fort.”
“There are many folk tales and folk songs sung in this area about Raja De Singh. Let's ask Krishnaveni Chithi to relate some stories for us after dinner,” said Meena.
Just then, they noticed Muthu and Karthika looking at something on a ledge high above. Muthu scrambled up like one of the goats he herded. Carrying it down carefully, he showed it to the other kids.
It was a brass pot with its mouth wound tightly with an orange cloth, now faded to a pale pink.
“Don't open it” said Senthil, “I've heard that a harmful gas might come out. Let's take it to the Archaeological office. Appa's friend heads the office.”
The walk back was brisk. The office had yet not closed and Subbu Uncle and his colleagues were thrilled at the find.
“You are a bunch of smart kids, you will be rewarded for this,” he promised.
By then Senthil and his cousins had a quiet consultation. Senthil spoke for all of them.
“Thank you uncle, but instead of rewarding us, can you give the reward to Muthu? After all he found the treasure and he deserves it the most.”
Uncle Subbu smiled. He knew Muthu well.
“You know what? We are going to sponsor Muthu's education.”
Muthu smiled at this new found treasure.
Keywords: children's short stories