Society

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

The star attraction at Hanu Reddy Mango Festival is a 156-feet long wooden table made from trees felled during cyclone Vardah

Of all the watchmen hired by Hanu Reddy Farms to take care of the Othivakkam farmland this mango season, the grandest is a giant tamarind tree, with three swings hanging down its sprawling branches. From its vantage point right at the entrance, the tree stands guard, looking over acres of land. Impressive as it is, it isn’t the star of the show. For that, we need to go about 200 metres further inside the farm and Nirupama Reddy, of Hanu Reddy Residences, is presently taking us there.

And then we see it: a 156-feet long polished wooden table, resting heavy on its 54 legs. It can seat 150 people. “This table was built using the trees that were felled during cyclone Vardah,” informs Nirupama. We bend down at one end of the table. The cross-joints and frames repeat one leg after another, as if into a tunnel of pillars. “The bottom half is made of casuarina wood, and the top half is eucalyptus,” she says, running her fingers along its length.

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

Beauty in the aftermath

In the December of 2016, as the Reddy family watched the news of cyclone Vardah hitting Chennai on their TV sets, they worried about the toll it would take on their farm. But it still could not prepare Nirupama’s son, Ram Reddy for what he would see when he entered the property. “When I opened the gate, I couldn’t see anything beyond heaps and mounds of leaves. The whole place was just fallen trees. It took us two months to clear the area just enough to access the land beyond the entrance,” says the 28-year-old caretaker of the farm.

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

About 30% of their trees took a hit. Of the 250 fallen mango trees, they managed to save 240. However, the 20-year-old casuarina and eucalyptus were the worst hit: “Most of them were destroyed,” he says. After months of clearing the farm, the family stacked the logs of branches in one place, but decided against selling them as firewood. Instead they figured the wood could be eventually put to use at Hanu Reddy Design Studio.

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

Nirupama’s brother-in-law — the man behind both the studio and Hanu Reddy Realty — wanted a table made out of the wood — a 12x5 feet one. “But we didn’t stop there, we just went on constructing, adding more legs. Even though we hadn’t set out planning to build a long table. The whole process was rather organic,” she says. In fact, until last year, the table was 122 feet; more legs were added this year. It took a crane to bring the table to this spot and a customised tent to keep it safe.

Want to share a meal here?
  • The idea behind the table is community dining. “It is a way to bring people together, with the theme of mango, India’s national fruit,” says Nirupama. Hannu Reddy Mango Tourism is organising The Great Mango Festival, at which people can go fruit picking and on bullock cart rides, shop at sustainable markets, learn pottery and practise yoga. “You can have breakfast at the table, the menu will be mango-based and designed by celebrity chefs. We will also have a live mango ice cream counter,” she says. They have also collaborated with Exoticamp, a travel startup, for setting up tents in the farm to spend the night.
  • The festival will be held at Hanu Reddy Raghava Farms on three weekends: June 9, 16 and 23. Visit www.hanureddymangotourism.com or call Exoticamp at 9487762833

Waste to worship

“A tree itself is like a sculpture,” she says. This philosophy of repurposing echoes throughout the farm; surrounding the table are washbasins cut out of black granite rocks from the property. “We got sculptors from Mamallapuram for this.”

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

Beyond the table, three roads diverge into the woods and one of them leads to a space with an uncanny resemblance to the Godswood from Game of Thrones. The clearing of land has a single tree, surrounded by logs cut along their length to serve as benches. “We have built it as a meditation space,” she says, as a peacock hoots in the background. The farm borders the Kayar reserve forest and so is home to peacocks, deer and to migratory birds such as storks and egrets, albeit temporarily.

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

This table in a Chennai mango farm seats 150 people

We walk around the farm, through trees of jackfruit, sapota, red sandal, neem, golden showers, jamun, gulmohar and cashew, to return to the table. The evening light is caught in the netted canopy of mango trees over the table. These trees are 60 years old, and were planted at this spot by Nirupama’s father-in-law. Now, they look over their young fallen comrades. “This way, life goes on after death,” she says.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 2:46:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/longest-table-in-chennai-mango-farm-seats-150-people/article27273677.ece

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