Coimbatore and Ooty

When foreigners visit Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore generally is not counted among the major attractions. Pondicherry, a former French colony alongside the sea equipped with ashrams and Indo-French cuisine, or Madurai, commonly referred to as the “temple city” renowned for its famous Meenakshi Temple, often top the list of “must see sites.” Occasionally, Coimbatore factors as a transit station for wayward travelers seeking a cooler climate in the popular hill stations lining the Western Ghats. Aside from an evening layover, few travelers remain in Coimbatore, which is mostly regarded as a region of textile and industry.

Perhaps it’s because Coimbatore rarely factors into tourist itineraries that locals seem particularly struck when they encounter a foreigner speaking Tamil. Generally, my introductory “Vanakkam, eppadi irukkiriinga?” (Hello, how are you?) provokes a surprised response and the following conversation is both a cause of shock and amusement. Interestingly, among the dialects and variations of Tamil that I have encountered in Tamil Nadu, I can converse with the most ease in Coimbatore. I passed my first few days striking up conversations and shaking off lingering jetlag.

In terms of my doctoral project, Coimbatore is an interesting place. It’s both a site of religious pluralism with a substantial Muslim and Christian population as well as a contemporary site of Dalit political formation. While Dalit (formerly Untouchable) movements are fairly developed and institutionalized in the rest of the state, Coimbatore is just now witnessing this mobilization on a mass scale which will, most likely, eventually lead to a new political party entering the already fractured fray of Tamil politics. I met with the founder of the region’s largest Dalit movement on an earlier occasion, and looked forward to resuming that conversation. When I arrived, local parties and organizations were protesting a new dam construction in the neighboring state that that threatens the viability of the regional agriculture. Amid the road and rail rokos (blockages) that ensued, I opted to return when their schedules weren’t fully booked.

After several days in Coimbatore and I took a bus to Ooty, a former British hill station, to meet P. Bandhu and T. Jacobs, a pair of authors who run the South Asia Study Center and have written extensively about the history of Dalit movements in south India. As per their recommendation and with tempered expectations, I opted to stay at the local YMCA dormitory and boarding house. I was surprised to walk into an old colonial villa dating back to the mid-1800s that exudes a rustic charm. The best part of staying in the mountains is waking up cold in the morning, drinking hot tea and thawing out before a picturesque view. Ooty is a idyllic place that lures you in, and in fact, I might have to extend my stay a little bit longer.

-Michael

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About plcflash

This site provides a forum to share recent translations of Tamil speeches and essays. I hope it can be of use to both a general and an academic audience.