I was in Madurai three days, lodged at the Taj Gateway Hotel atop Pasumalai. Pasu means animal; a malai is a hill, sometimes also a mountain.
The gate to the hilltop property is right on the busy main street, secured by a weighted crossbar and polite guards who ask you questions and believe your answers. The animals who’ve always owned the hill have their own scheme of entrances and exits and also a vast expanse back of the hill to which they scoot when humans get on their nerves. Signs on the narrow road up the hill ask you to watch out for mongoose crossings. Over three days I saw twice from the taxi low long mongoose flit across. Once I saw a baby mongoose emerge from and back off into the hedge by the swimming pool, which I was facing while walking on a treadmill in the hotel fitness centre.
So many mongoose. No signs about snakes.
The peacock is vain. Although male, it steps about in the delicate manner of a human female model on show on a ramp, slow and deliberate and ever full of self. It was probably its season, for the half dozen or so peacocks in the hotel fanned out their tails even at male humans. The dozen male and female of the birds that the hotel has planted on its property cry out continually, and sometimes at night the entire number of them are on top in the tree you’re passing beneath, and they let off an alarming cry all together and startle you into paralysis. For a moment, in the darkness, you believe ghosts exist.
Powerful nations have the agile eagle with its mean eyes as national bird. The Americans, for example. Germans. What can be said about Indians, whose national bird is the peacock? Another question: Couldn’t the English language have offered this not-too-bad-looking bird a better name?
Over a century ago, the Pasumalai Gateway Hotel was the house of the chief executive of the JB Coats company of the United Kingdom. That officer, white of course, wouldn’t have had to see the urban sprawl that’s at the foot of the hill these days. He’d have had a clean view to the single hill that looks like a sphinx on one side of the plains; turning right-about he’d see a twin set of granite hills, one wooded and the other bare and deep-veined; turning right then, he’d see a whole range of hills on the horizon, running soft and blue for a decent distance. He’d see the flat green plain running all the way up to them.
This hill-range I could see from the oddly named hotel restaurant: GAD, it is called. From another window of GAD, the sphinx-shaped hill could also be seen. Seated in the restaurant, the sprawl of the city wasn’t visible whereas the hills and the clouds looked lovely from it. Every meal I ate in that restaurant was good, equal to Taj’s quality and Madurai’s fame. Even the limited vegetarian I order. Thoughts came to mind that was tranquil in a sated body, and I scribbled some in my green-back Moleskine.
I might get serious with my notes someday.