Snooty Ooty conjures up a picture of planters sipping cognacs while an uniformed Indian (without slippers ) pulls off his master’s boots and then serves perfect sandwiches to beribboned and bonneted memsahibs.
Of course we know this is an image created by movies and books; but people coming up to Ooty expect the town to have a different atmosphere and different lifestyle from towns and villages in the plains below. Rolling lawns, pretty flowers, cool and clean air at the least.
Ooty does its best to deliver inspite of increasing crowds and strain on the infrastructure. A town where a population of 1 lakh lives and hosts the same amount of people every day during the Season. We have the Tourism Festival, the Tea festival, the Flower Show, The Boat Regatta, The Horse Races, Cultural Shows , everything meant for the tourist . The clubs, the billiards rooms, the lake, the pretty gardens, the race course are at their glittering and colourful best.
Where does their support system for all this show hang out? The bearers, the nurses, the cleaners, the tea estate workers, the mason who build all those resorts , the people in the shops , the people hawking yellow flowers and woolen caps. The guys who row the boats, the guys who fry the chicken , the women who clean the rooms.
Besides the wine shops and cinemas. It’s at the temple Festivals of course.
And the biggest in Ooty is the Mariamman theru. The ther takes about 12 hours to be pulled around the market. Starting at 1.30 p.m., it circumambulates the market and ends up at the temple again in the early hours of the morning.
Through the night, people flock to throw salt at the deity, feel blessed, state their requests and then move off to look at all the shops.
Its a thiruvizhaa. Anyone who has grown up within walking distance of the market makes their obeisance at some time during the evening or night. The very sentimental may come back to Ooty just for the festival. Groups of families dressed in their very newest clothes make their way to the festival. The convent educated imports like me may talk of crowds and discomfort and stay away.
The main deity is preceded by a number of smaller ones, each sponsored by a particular group or community.
Enterprising boys will come out with their makeshift cart and clink their hundis at all passersby.
And it’s this that lured me out of the house instead of an evening spent on the couch. Now I’m there to cheer on my kids from my area with their little ther.
But the sheer joy and excitement of seeing the normally vehicle packed streets around the market turn into a joyful market selling every colourful thing possible infests me and everyone. I buy a couple of things I don’t need.
Various groups and organizations sponsor stalls doing different things. One offers a brightly green coloured kesari. Another offers badam paal. Over it all are the strains of the loud band sponsored by the Mel Gate Mootai thookum Thozilalar sangham celebrating 40 years of their Sangam. As the night and the ther progresses, the songs will move from the religious to the raucous.
It could only happen in India.