Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Down All the Days - Again

Down All the Days - Again By Henry Marriott
During my time in Ketti I was an active and frequent hiker and at every opportunity I would get an exeat and range over the hills surrounding the school. I usually did this in the company of either Neville Matthews (a brilliant Mathematician) or Eustace Dillon ( afterwards a Merchant Marine captain). If you are a serious hunter gatherer, its useless confining yourself to the school grounds as they were picked clean in no time, no you must travel.
All the hills on the eastern side of the school grounds were named, you could see a kidney shaped hill The Droog in the distance ( think Tipoo Sultan -who used to toss his enemies from this prominence to meet their death on the rocks below) and then there was Every Hill (the trees atop the hill spelt ‘every’), then Old Tom and One Tree then Noseys, and further in the distance and more southeast was Benjies and Latimers. In fact for some time a path leading up to Noseys was called Marriott’s Path. The latter three hills were easiest to access, they yielded provender in abundance, the others being more distant. If notice was given and the cook was advised early enough each of us would get 4 chapattis stuffed with aloo mattar curry. These were normally consumed en route to the chosen destination.
Neville and myself discovered a Kota village on the road past the Cauvery Dam (Katery Dam) and beyond an old pear orchard, and coffee plantation. It was about a two hour trek I think with a pause to look for pears. We made our find known and we were asked to accompany a visiting anthropologist from UCLA, a Professor Mandlebaum, we did this in a monsoonal down pour and thought our trouble was well worth 10 chips each at least, we got 5 chips between us. He was a boring type, his one joke was to tell us that anthropology “was the study of man embracing woman”, a wicked sense of humour ! I wouldn’t have mentioned this had we been properly recompensed!
At the dam where the dammed water outlets were, was a very deep pool which afforded great swimming for the bolder people among us, not me, you see I’m an Aries, the fire sign, not good to mix with Aquarius! There were rocks to dive from and places to paddle in for wimps like me!. There were the school dams, we referred to the dam on the western boundary (behind the boys’ houses) as the Old Boys Dam, and the rather shallow dam on the eastern side beneath Noseys as the Cubs Dam. I remember once returning in the evening from Old Boys something in the stream caught my attention and I sat down on the bank to investigate, a sound made me look up and a female hyena was approaching for a drink, I backed off, it looked at me and had a long drink turned its back and loped off. At my time in school there were jackals you could hear their howling quite often I have seen them from a distance, neater looking than pariah dogs, but about the same size. There were also wild boars, one day in early evening returning from a hockey match on the road between Oldham and Lewis I was about 100 yards in front of a crowd of boys, I heard a rustling sound in the bushes to my left and out popped a wild boar, big beast , it looked at me, crossed the road, and vanished up the bank on the right . To mark the occasion I dug a deep hole about a foot high and deep in the base of the bank. Should you see such a hole, you now know what it commemorates.
Then there were the organised field trips to Tigers Cave, near Fernhill and several trips to Dodabetta. I remember one expedition to scale that mountain by about 40 of us led by the intrepid mountaineer Mr Hammick, memory tells me he was in full suit and tie, but that couldn’t be. Anyway, we had to haul a dekshi of biriani for our lunch up the mountain strung on two poles, four people at a time taking turns. There were smaller expeditions also up Dodabetta, the trip back was also enjoyable if you ran down in a controlled manner, in one area there was a patch of shale which permitted a sort of skating run. I also enjoyed visits to the Ooty and Coonoor Botanical Gardens. In Ooty there was the Toda village and I used to watch the comings and goings, the Patriarch of the tribe would be greeted by the women crouching right down and placing his foot on their heads. Although he had to suffer this form of obeisance several times in a short progress he never seemed to prevent it. Coonors garden also housed the Pasteur Institute which my sisters and I had to visit occasionally to receive injections of one kind or another before travelling to Ceylon. On the return trip we used to stop off at the Andhra Villas for one or two dhosais for which they were particularly renowned.
I’ve left my favourite place to the last, which I always visited alone, this was the Boer forest, north west of the school, towards Lovedale. It was heavily forested with pine trees, on approaching the birds would cry out warnings of potential harm but would quieten down when they perceived no danger. If you fought your way to the centre of the forest you would come to a glade in which there were the remains of a building. I used to sit quietly there and an exchange would take place, any worries I had would be absorbed and be replaced by the prevailing peace of the place. I imagined prisoners living here and felt their presence. Oberon and Titania would favour this place for holding a tryst with elves and fairies gambolling around and over them. To get a feel of the type of place see the paintings of Josephine Wall. I always felt at peace when I visited my secret place. (Oh! Come on let me be a little corny!)
What is it about Ketti that inspires many of you, some from foreign climes and even at great expense to visit for three or four days each year? I’ve read that it’s the smell of eucalyptus, the slight sharpness in the air, or is it the camaraderie inspired by the sharing of a special gift bequeathed to you by your presence here in your formative years, has it formed you and are you returning for its refreshment? Its truly Shangri La. You and I are fortunate people sharing a common experience and a magical place.

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