- Karthik Narasimhan
Lord William was the British Collector of Salem sometime in the nineteenth century, and he didn't particularly care for the job. He governed with callous arbitrariness, caring and kind one day, cold and heartless the next; mixing up bizarre administrative decisions with incredibly smart ones.
He was in a particularly foul mood that October afternoon – he had already walked a couple of miles, and had 3 more miles to go to get to his car. There were no roads in this godforsaken cluster of villages west of Salem, and it is not clear why Lord William was there in the first place. But he was there, and he was tired and hungry. The smell of food coming from a house nearby was not helping.
And then, in a typically brash gesture, Lord William decided to step into the house. The people that lived in the house were cooks, and on that day the family was making Adhirasams. There must have been a hundred of them in the enormous drum-like container: Little brown discs; a glossy, satiny brown, glowing from the ghee. The fat man was making more, pausing only to wipe the sweat off his face with his veshti. His son, no less corpulent, no less sweaty, was napping at the front door.
Lord William nudged the son gently with the roll of paper in his hand. When he didn't respond, the Lord walked into the kitchen, shoes still on, and after a friendly glance at the dad, picked up an adhirasam from the container and bit into it. Oh, the pleasure! Later, he would tell his wife, the Doraisani, that as the thing melted in his mouth, he could feel his tiredness melting away. She would think he was nuts.
But now, he was eating his third adhirasam, oblivious to the anger of the fat man. The poor fellow was making these for someone's dhevasam and he wasn't at all sure the dead guy would appreciate this heathen man eating stuff meant for him. Especially if the heathen had licked his fingers after finishing one adhirasam, and used the exact same fingers to pick up another one from the drum. This batch of adhirasams was doomed.
After three, Lord William stopped eating. He was stuffed. He took a few more and put them into his pockets. He then told the dad he didn't have any cash on him at the moment, but he was the collector and all, and that he should come meet him tomorrow at Salem and collect money for the Adhirasams. He added as an afterthought, “And bring a few of these with you when you come meet me tomorrow.”
The next day, the fat man woke his son up early in the morning and asked him to go to the city with the (defiled) drum full of sweets and get some dough from the collector. After a sumptuous breakfast, the son started for Salem, drum on his head, a thirty mile walk.
He walked and walked and walked, and in about an hour, he was very tired. Another hour, and the sumptuous breakfast had worn off. He decided that he needed some serious R&R, so he sat under a tree and ate a few adhirasams. And then he walked and walked, and took another break.
If his progress were to be plotted against time, one would have noticed that for higher values of t, the distance covered had decreased considerably. If one were to look for reasons for this alarming decline, one would have to look no further than another graph of time vs breaks. It might also be pertinent to note that with each break he took, the consumption of adhirasams increased at an alarming rate.
By the time the fat son arrived at the Collector's office that evening, he had eaten all the adhirasams. Not one left. After some layers of low level bureaucrats, he is ushered into the room of Lord William. Lord William pays the guy a few rupees, and looks covetously at the drum.
The fat son grins sheepishly and tells the Collector that he did bring a few, but he ate them all, long walk sir, sorry. Disappointed, Lord William asks, “Why not bring more man? Your dad had a lot in there yesterday.” The fat son grins even more sheepishly and tells the good Lord that he brought the whole lot, and ate the whole lot.
“Get out of here man,” the Lord says and as the son starts walking away, he tells him that the phrase is an expression of disbelief and that he shouldn't really get out of here. The Lord is sure the son is messing with him, given that he only ate three the other day and had to skip dinner. About an hour of intense questioning follows, and the son keeps insisting that he did indeed eat the entire batch of adhirasams. Finally, the exasperated Lord William sends the son home, with an ominous warning: “I'll find out sometime.”
A few months passed, and the good Lord William has to take a trip to Mamundi again. The reasons for his trip are unclear, but it has been suggested he was consumed by the thought that someone could eat so much food, and wanted to go back and find out. The evidence for this theory is strengthened by the fact that he headed straight for the house of the fat cooks. And in an interesting stroke of luck, it was lunchtime and the family was getting ready to eat.
“You,” Lord William says, pulling up a stool in front of the fat son, “I want to see you eat.” Then he gets up and walks to a charcoal stove, a pot of rice simmering on top of it. “How much rice in here?” he asks the fat dad. “Six kilograms, Durai,” is the reply. Six kilograms of rice, in case you are wondering, could feed a large family for a large number of days. The Lord takes the entire pot, places it in front of the son and tells him, “If you eat all of this, I'll make you a rich man.”
Over the next hour, the fat son ate all of it.
Lord William couldn't believe his eyes. It is his turn to be a little sheepish, for having questioned the integrity of this remarkably talented young man. “Come with me,” he says, and takes the fat son on his horse drawn carriage to a secluded spot near the village.
“Run, young man. Start here and run as far as you can. Stop only when you tire. Run.”
“But why sir?”
“I wronged you. I questioned your integrity. So run now.”
“I am not sure that makes it any clearer, sir.”
“Run as far as you can, and I will give you all the land you cover. That's my way of making up things to you.”
The fat son believes this is reasonable evidence that the Lord is slightly off his rocker. He stays put. Then the Lord brandishes an offical letterhead, and writes down what he just said and hands it to the son. The young man cannot believe his luck. A lot of land would mean a lot of food for the rest of his life.
So he runs and runs and runs, and in a few minutes he is tired. But he won't stop to rest. He runs some more, and gets tired some more. No stopping now. He thinks he could use an Adhirasam though. That thought propels him for a few minutes more, and then he stops to rest under a tree. He then proceeds to die right there.
The good Lord is apalled, and his sheepishness is now replaced by remorse. But true to his word, he draws an imaginary circle using an imaginary compass and gives all the land that the young man covered to his family.
If you ever go to a village called Mamundi, and see a big piece of farmland called the “Six Kilogram Brahmin Farm,” do tell the people around you that you know the history of the land. If they ask you how you know the story, tell them you read it on the blog of the great nephew of the fat son. Cluck your tongue in sympathy when they tell you that most of the land is now residential. And get someone to make you an Adhirasam.
 My dad, who narrates stories much better, wasn't sure what the Lord was called. He kept calling him Dorai, but I told him it was very unlikely a British family would name their son that.
 A Dhevasam is an yearly ritual to honor dead people. The food is usually very good.
 Aaru Padi Pappan Kadu is the name of the farm. It passed through a couple of generations, and today, the original owners have sold most of it.
 The son may not have been fat. Or even the dad. But somehow, that's always the way I think of them.