Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gopu Chettiar - part 2

continued from here.

Ramalingam told his rapt audience how Gopu Chettiar had fallen into the trap of that small little thing he had married last year and was close to bankruptcy. It took hardly two days for the rumor to spread. It has been a matter of debate whether Chinese silk or French wine was part of the consignment in the ship that never sunk off the Nagapattinam coast. But the conclusion that Chettiar was drowning never remained in doubt.

It started as a trickle but by the third evening, the queue outside Chettiar's palatial house was longer than the sturdy rope used to draw the temple chariot. They had all come to collect their deposits back from Chettiar. Any refusal to return the money would confirm Chettiar's alleged bankruptcy. And so it went.

By the end of the week, Chettiar could no longer sustain the deluge. He had exhausted his cash and textile holdings and it was time for some tragedy. He decided to gather all the gold from among his women and sell them off in Karaikal. Selling in a French post would guard against further rumors and the police, which had woken up to the scandal. So Chettiar devised a plan.

He called half a dozen of his close confidants, each unknown to the others, and handed them a sack of gold. They were supposed to carry it secretly to Manjakudi, which is on the way to Karaikal. Chettiar going out on his bullock-cart with sacks of gold would guarantee looting if not lynching.

On the conspired night, Chettiar was waiting at a non-descript house in Manjakudi for his confidants to arrive. At the same time in six different households of Kumbakonam, men with due prodding from their favorite wives, had decided that Chettiar was anyway a goner with just one sack of gold left with him. They decided to stay at home and perform an archana for Chettiar at the temple next morning.

Honor is a pretty bad thing. From the smallest men to the most noble, men possessed with honor do the same thing. As the sun rose across the Kaveri, the sounds of the chirping birds gave a poignant background to the lone bullock cart trudging back to Kumbakonam. Crushed diamond pieces from his ring had done their job.

ok. I was pretty bored this alleged Diwali morning and ventured to figure how bad I suck at fiction. I heard the non-spicy part of the above story from my grand uncle (age 92), who had briefly rented one of Chettiar's Kumbakonam houses. And this conversation happened while discussing the run on ICICI bank recently.


Arun said...

seems like a good idea. u shud write more.
i'll have to read your story again rather slowly sometime. somehow i got lost in the second post.

Vijay said...


But a dark tale, indeed. I am tempted to observe that most of your writings seem to have a pessimistic tone, contrary to your actual self.

Was the chettiar trying to escape with the gold? Or, was he merely trying to sell the gold, to pay back the people. In case of latter, why should he be wary of the police -- he can even get their support, right??

Balaji said...

Pessimistic ... yeah, I guess I use my blog mostly for bitching :)

Chettiar only wanted to pay the depositors by selling his gold.

Police, hmm ... I just threw something. didn't think much about it! My mama thatha merely said that Chettiar wanted to sell them in Karaikal (being a French colony).

I remembered Manjakudi bcos its one of about half-a-dozen villages where our extended family hails from.