By Malini Aikat
You discover things in Ooty. Like houses tucked away in the bottom of hedgerowed lanes. And English names on the gates - like Farleys. I half expect Poirot to leap out at me, hand in hand with Miss Marple.
The evenings are silver grey, not the riot of colour painted on the sky that is the joy of poets. A disciplined palette. Trees look black in stark relief with a kind of bleak beauty, their branches outstretched, a gravity in their bearing, an almost ancestral dignity. Cypresses. Black Wattle. Gum trees. Monkey Puzzles. Quietly weeping willows. Birds shut shop for the day, fussily attend to a few last minute details.
And a siren goes off. Like life in a northern town. We could be near the coal mines. This could be England. In the 1800’s. Jane Austen land. No history book will be able to explain with such clarity, so vividly, exactly why the British made themselves quite so comfortable here the way the landscape does. It is a record of Englishness. Red tiled roof tops. The stately Ooty Club where so many were more equal than others and which still continues an old tradition of living. Here are wooden boards announcing the participants of hunts decorated by the stuffed heads of foxes – the grisly trophies of hunts. One does not realise how small these creatures are. You discover a Dutch family stuffed them – the Van Ingens – for a while the only taxidermists in India and then the only ones left in the world. Now only their quiet cottage remains as a memory of a distant world.
You discover flowers. In way you haven’t before. Out of their vases, outside neat garden beds. As somebody eloquently put it: “Flowers of every kind are allowed to grow.” Allowed to grow. Made me think - that way of putting it. At the lab we are surrounded by floral wallcoverings – 2 dimensional images on paper. Here the real thing leaps out from you from everywhere. The entire town is a catalog of flora.
I get a perfect understanding of what inspired those classic wall coverings. The world they emerged from. I see in what kind of a world William Morris, the great British designer and artist of the early 1900’s, conceived of his classic masterpieces. When I look at the classic wallcoverings I can feel the crisp air and the grey skies, the mist and memories of a forgotten world.