Coonoor II

(When I began writing about Coonoor, someone said, But I thought you were going to Ooty. So, to clarify, Ooty is the District Headquarters of Nilgiri District - like an American county seat - and Coonoor is a smaller, nearby town.)

I got up at 8:00 and went for a walk. The weather was variable, like spring: cool, breezy, then washed with warm sunlight, then with dark shadows. Tried to look hard at everything, picked up leaves and cones to draw. Later, after lots of breakfast, we sat at a white wrought-iron table on the lawn, and I painted what I had collected.

At dinner I warmed my hands around a hot toddy. I was busy pretending that it was colder than it actually was, with the fire every night and the hot water bottles and all. A piano player stumbled through old Hindi film songs in an almost-empty dining room (because the 'season' was over). At another table the waiter asked someone, "You are full vegetarian?" and she answered, "Not even mushrooms!"

The next day, after breakfast, the really, really good Chef Ramalingam showed me his herb garden: mint, lemongrass, basil, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, celery. I admired all of them and asked if he grew parsley. He said, "Parsley, monkeys take it. Monkeys my enemy."

Then we sat outside again, and two monkeys passed by, large and small, and paused, but not long enough for me to draw them properly. Growling and coughing. Then one male, three females with babies clinging under their bellies.

R watched the young Indian tennis player Sania Mirza lose in the second round of Wimbledon -- on the national TV channel, Doordarshan, with commentary in Chinese -- why?? I think that if Doordarshan ever modernised we'd miss its reliable weirdness. But not very much.

The day is punctuated by sirens from the tea gardens: the beginning and end of the work day, and the lunch break. Then there is the whistle and the chuff ... chuff ... of the so-called toy train, coming up from Mettupalayam on the plains to Ooty. And the grinding of trucks labouring up the hills, loaded with petrol; firewood; sacks of tea; everything that from outside comes by truck up the hairpin roads.

I stood looking up at a huge fir tree and tried to see it as light and shadow, but each mass of light had its own shadows. I would have to draw every needle. Then it stopped looking like a tree at all. Shadows within shadows.

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