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Making History Come Alive


S. Muthiah

BRAHMINS & BUNGALOWS: TRAVELS THROUGH SOUTH INDIAN HISTORY
By Kavita Watsa
Penguin India, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 290, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 1 January 2005

Few persons are likely to have done more reading of the books on South India written during the colonial period than Kavita Watsa. Intelligently selecting from that reading, she combines her selections with perceptive observations made on journeys through South India as well as in places she has called home during a young life spent on much moving about. This happy mixture she spices with nostalgia, anecdote and sentiment, certainly biographical but never allowing her persona to overwhelm the narration. The result is one of the most charming travel books by an Indian author that I have read.   I was doubly delighted to read Brahmins & Bungalows because at last there’s someone who has followed a trail I’ve laid during the last thirty years but who has made it a more enjoyable experience through the use of a simple, felicitous prose that in its genteelness strikes just the right note when it has need to blend with the words of those keen observers of the centuries past. The sometimes wistful, sometimes whimsical personal touch only makes Watsa’s maiden effort a more soothing salve for those wracked by pain at seeing heritage desecrated more and more, day by day.   Watsa, a name that meant little to me when I first heard of this book, soon came alive in its pages as a young woman whose own heritage is as fascinating in its mix as the warp and weft of history woven by various rulers in the land she criss-crossed. It never struck me that Kavita Watsa was the Kavita Milner I knew who looked as though she wouldn’t say boo to a goose but would be meticulous with her editing and proofing. That meticulousness is still there but the streak of adventure in her revealed in several parts of the book came as a total surprise. Imagine climbing thickly forested Perumalmalai with just one companion and trying to find your way to the top and back again as the mist blankets everything, the sholas block every trail and the gaur and the wild boar ever seem to be following you. No wonder when they reached bottom again and the state they were in was gawked at by the crowd at the bus stop, an old man answered his young grandson’s question, why did they climb the mountain, with “Must be mad”!   I guess you need to be ...


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