Lakshmi Sharath hears a tale of how the British used cannonball shots to seal a deal and decides to explore

Another day, another town, and we hear another story. As I journey along the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu, listening to tales of yore, I see facets of India that were part of a different era — the colonial period. I am driving down what was once the foundation of the East India Company before Fort St George in Madras took over. And cannon shots apparently decided the outcome of the tale. I am in old Cuddalore.

I drive to the ancient port that wears the mask of an industrial town. The old harbour still has warehouses of the colonial days. I cross the river Gadilam and the bridge takes me to a bustling fishing village, full of life and colour, where fish is being transferred from barges to trucks. There is hectic activity and the entire area wears a festive air. But it’s business as usual in this part of town. I watch the men at work and then continue on my journey. I am looking for Fort St David.

I find no signs of it until a passerby directs me towards the beach, where there is no habitation but for a ruined house. Surrounded by dense vegetation, it has an eerie, haunted air to it. The colonial style is unmistakable and I wonder if it is Fort St David, but I learn that this was once a medical centre.

Moving on, I see another building with a watchman outside, who shows me the way to an old ruined bungalow located in a vast open space overgrown with dense vegetation. This is the old fort. A small plaque on the gate confirms it although I don’t find the name Fort St David anywhere. A family living opposite tells me that they are the caretakers of the building, now under the Arcot Lutheran Church.

Water flows around the bungalow like a moat, as I walk around it. The caretaker tells me that the tunnels are closed. A white grave stands in the middle of nowhere. I learn that the fort and the lands nearby were bought by the British from the Marathas as part of the ‘cannon ball villages’. The story goes that a cannon ball was fired in all four directions and all the land in the range of the shots became a British settlement.

Driving on in the neighbourhood, I finally see the name Fort St David on a bungalow. But the locals insist that the original fort is not this, but the ruined old house surrounded by water. I move on, as canons echo in my ears and take another detour to enter another crowded town. It is time to hear more stories.

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