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The tales of Kaptanpalem

Kaptanpalem near Vijayawada in Andhra Pradesh was a sleepy little village when I went visiting my uncle’s home there, with my brother and grandmother. Local legend has it that a certain Army captain walked through the village long ago and hence the name. The house was a rambling dilapidated mansion situated in part-orchard, part-rolling fields coming right up to the house. I would spend my days sitting or lying on string cots under the overarching, gnarled trees that flung their branches into the sky, it seemed with an entitlement . Wood fires crackled and sent glorious sparks in different directions as flavourful foods wafted their way to us.

I rambled through the orchard collecting raw mangoes and lemons from massive trees that cast their largesse on a child like me, city-bred and overawed at such abundance. Amidst the scent of the mango blossom, leaves fluttered down one by one and then by tons and I gloried in the leaf fall and carried some of them on my shoulders and in my hair as I walked back. I went into the paddy fields looking up with young grain dancing in unison to song and breeze. The evenings brought the cows home with jingling bells and I never tired of watching them herded into their large sheds. Milking was a ritual and I marvelled at the straight stream of milk that fell into the gleaming brass vessel with such precision.

I went exploring the house with its dark corners, wooden chests full of old clothes in mothballs, old chairs that have long seen their best days and creaking staircases where every step spelt disaster. It was in one of those rooms I saw a wooden almirah with worm-eaten drawers that contained screws, nails, buttons, an assortment of things that I had no fancy for. Even as I was leaving in search of fresh spoils, I spied on the top shelf a copy of Black Beauty, the book of equines. I wandered into the veranda with the last rays of the sun falling on an old mat and collapsed with the book in my lap. I spent the next few evenings reading the book in the same spot, living with those creatures, their joys and travails, their masters cruel and kind, and animals that seemed more human than most humans. For me, reading on that worn-out mat against the backdrop of trees standing in their silhouettes against a darkening sky was the quintessential reading experience. Much later, I realised it was not only the book but all that was associated with the reading of it — the idyllic place, the simple folk, the mooing of cows on the background, the clucking of chickens at hand, the serenity of it all — added to the experience.

Black Beauty abandoned years ago by older cousins as they went in search of greener pastures travelled back with me and is still with me long after the inhabitants of that storied mansion have passed on. It was an unlikely find in Kaptanpalem and often, I wonder whether it really happened or was it a dream on a magical midsummer evening?

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 8:30:34 PM |

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