Marian Farm is where I was born and brought up. I was born in the 1980s, and my childhood best friend was Mother Nature. Marian Farm was paradise, full of joy, fun and excitement. The farm was established in the 1950s, and it originally spanned 17 acres; now we have around ten. Every nook and corner has a memory behind it.
Marian Farm is situated between the lush valleys of Shenbaganur, a rural area six odd kilometres from Kodaikanal town. The age-old gigantic trees at its entrance provide a sense of calm. Anyone would yearn to be in such a blissful place, surrounded by pear farms, chirping birds, crop fields and placid streams. Shenbaganur derives its name from the fragrant shenbag trees that are well known for their amazing medicinal properties. The farm catches your eye as you look down from Coaker’s Walk. Mother Mary’s shrine greets you at the portal. Marian Farm was owned by a British major, the late Alexander Robert Banks Stoole, who gifted it to my dad, Salaithnathan, who worked for him loyally.
My dad is an agriculturist, and we grew seasonal vegetables and practised livestock farming. I loved visiting the fields with him and enjoyed the stories that were narrated by the grannies there. I would also take a share of their tea and plead with them for betel leaves and nuts. My sisters and I would run down the fields barefoot, roll down the meadows, chase after the butterflies and play peek-a-boo among the pear and plum trees. We would even climb trees to look for eggs in nests. A tire swing was our best weekend companion, and it kept us occupied for several hours. My dad is a good chef, and his specialty is English dishes. His roast chicken with veggies satiated our weekend appetite. The white calla lilies down the marshy land in the farm were the cynosure of all eyes; they made all our celebrations memorable. We loved playing in the streams down the farm too, where tadpoles and small crabs were our playmates.
I was very proud of two things as a child. One was my dad’s Fiat car, in which we joyrode around the town umpteen times. The other was our landline phone, since nobody else in our locality owned a phone then. Although we no longer use the Fiat, my dad still maintains and treasures it in remembrance of Grandpa Stoole.
My pals loved sleepovers at our home on a few second Saturdays, every year. The spacious lawn and antiques at home always made them inquisitive and cheerful. Not only my friends but all first-time visitors were mesmerized by the bison and deer skulls.
I grew up listening to my dad’s childhood anecdotes about his treks through the pine and eucalyptus forests with his contemporaries, all as naughty as he was. His trekking stories inspired me to explore places around my locality. I used to stroll along with my sisters and pals to Silver Cascade during vacations. The mist rising in the mountains was a breathtaking sight. On our way back home, we would relish hot peanuts and vadas that we bought from roadside stalls. We were naughty enough to tease the monkeys that inhabit the area and feed them. We would also gather morning glory and lantana flowers to make small garlands.
Fisher’s Seat (now called the City View) wasn’t a tourist spot then. Very few people were familiar with the place, but my dad told us it was named after a man called Mr Fisher who often visited and enjoyed his evening tea there. It was my favourite childhood picnic spot. My dad used to take us there for picnics, and we would play around the pear trees and take in the fantastic view of Periyakulam and the Theni plains. The sight, at night, of the plains glowing with its many street lights, the cool breeze, the pear orchards, and the lush green grass, with the dragonflies on one side and Kodai town on the other: All of it remains a vivid memory. Sometimes we were blessed with a glimpse of a mouse deer darting swiftly across our line of vision.
Summer vacations were always adventurous and fun-filled. We sometimes had foreign guests who loved trekking, and the Red Rocks would always be our trekking destination with them. We followed a jungle pathway that starts at Mother Mary’s shrine in Shenbaganur and goes down through a deep jungle leading to Periyakulam. The guests kept us engaged with chocolates and fairy tales—Cinderella was my favourite; I would fantasise about her pretty shoes on my feet. Postcards and inland letters were a regular part of our lives during summer vacations, and they kept us connected to our friends and relatives. We would walk up to the Sacred Heart College post office to buy these postcards. I don’t think any other kid would have visited the museum and the post office as often as I did.
The Sacred Heart Museum was about a kilometre from my home, and I frequently went there, sometimes with friends and at other times with my dad and sisters. The museum, well known for its rich traditional heritage, with over 500 species of butterflies, insects, birds, snakes, and stuffed animals, lured me often, and my dad, with his knowledge of the specimens in the museum and the life of our ancestors, acted as our personal guide. I was well acquainted with some of the friendly priests in the museum. I never liked going back home early, so I would explore the eucalyptus woods and the plum orchards of Sacred Heart College, and when the bell of the church struck 12, I would speed back home. I deeply missed the college when I had to move to Madurai for my legal studies.
The Medical Mission Sisters were our neighbours, and they would conduct summer programmes for us kids and provide delicious meals too. The cookies and marmalade jam that they made from the fruits that grew in their garden were my favourite. They were, of course, our medical advisors, and I remember how they dressed my childhood injuries.
The Deejay Agro Rabbit Farm, now closed but very popular in our locality in the 90s, was another exciting spot. I would go to watch the white bunnies nibble on carrots. I would also take a white cloth with me to soak in rabbit blood—according to an old wives’ tale, it was believed to promote hair growth. Alice in Wonderland was close to my heart, and as a child I believed that a rabbit on the farm would lead me, too, to some bizarre world.
And then there was the Carmelite monastery in Shenbaganur. It was the one that shaped my spirituality. We would attend Sunday service at the church and receive blessings from the nuns, many of whomI considered friends. I was inspired by their simplicity.I always admired the way Sister Annama and Sister Theresa arranged the flowers and leaves in the church, and they taught me the art of decorating. They had a beautiful garden with a wide array of flowers, which kept me happy and engaged during my catechism classes. Our Christmas cards were always bought atthis church.
Years have passed, but the beauty and serenity of my hometown has not faded. Although I live in Madurai, Kodai is my home, where I am a local girl. We visit Kodai often with our sons, and I relive my childhood memories with them. A visit here to escape the humdrum life of the city is always rejuvenating.