Sunday, June 11, 2006

Mark Antrobus

First meeting

Though it was a hills station, the summer of Kodaikanal in the recent past has been as hot as Madurai. I was standing under the shade of the a lone wattle tree watching the giant road-roller giving its final touch on the newly laid road surface on the Kodai – Ghat road KM 48/6. A green ambassador, must be a 1960 model, slowed down the near the parapet across the road and a lean foreigner unmounted the driver’s seat and I was surprise to see him walking towards me. He must be at least 40 years of age, but the thing that caught my eyes most was the three stripes of vibhuti (lines of ashes) and vermilion mark on his forehead. With his blond hair shining in the simmering sun, his mustache and beard flowing through his face, his eyes settled in a state of serenity, he looked much like a sage. He introduced him self as Mark Antrobus, an active member of CPCK (Consumer Protection Council of Kodaikanal) and the PHCC (Palani Hills Conservation Council). He appreciated me for having delivered a quality work in laying this road and a couple of other stretches on the Lake Round Road I had executed recently. I was elated, as no one, even the local people have never cared to really motivate me for providing quality roads in spite of the corrupt system.

At the KMU

The next time I met him was at the Kodai Missionary Union (KMU) Library that I visited on Saturdays to browse through the huge collection of books and to pick a book that would be my companion during my travel in the following week. The library was meant for people with missionary connections and I am grateful to Mr. Watson, a former librarian of the Kodai International School who introduced me to the library. Coming back to Mark, we made our coffee and Mark was asking me suggestions on the initiatives to be taken through the CPCK and PHCC to ensure quality roads in Kodaikanal. I was least interested, as these are the few hours I snatch to get rid of the road rollers, heat masters, mini-mix plants and the other road stuffs. However, I gave him a few suggestions, just to be courteous and ended the conversation. He invited me to his house as wanted to introduce me to his mom.

At his Cottage

His house was situated on a hill 2 furlongs from the load road leading to Prakasapuram and the grass path leading from the road to his house had a fencing of Hydrangea (known among locals as Idly poo, for it is shaped like the south indian dish Idly) on the valley side and a retaining wall adorned with the trailing creepers and climbers on the hill-side. It was a beautiful cottage and the calling bell was answered by Mark himself. He offered a warm welcome in the Tamil way (Vanakkam) and ushered me into the living room where he introduced me to his mom Mrs.Grace, who is turning 92 the following week. He excused himself to complete his morning prayers leaving me with his mom. I could hear him reciting Maniye Maniyin oliye, Olirum ani punaindha …… verses from Abirami Anthadhi. His Tamil pronunciation was as perfect as MNSK, our Tamil pundit in Sainik. Mrs. Grace playing with the cat on her lap, was very happy to have found a companion to talk and started sharing her experiences as a war correspondent with Reuters during the WW II. While she was me telling that she had named her cat as Pompon, a submarine she had seen in the WW II, Mark arrived with a towel around his bare body. He took me around the house and finally we landed in the Kitchen. He asked, if I would like to have a tea and I nodded yes with a big smile thinking that he would be procuring fresh tea leaves from Darjeeling or Munnar through his missionary contacts.

Herbal Tea

He lighted the stove and placed a vessel with 2 glasses of water in it. He opened the windows and plucked a couple of Hibiscus and Chrysanthemum flowers, a bunches of Mint, Coriander and Tulsi leaves from the pots on the Window sill. Then took a tray of containers and added dried Lime-grass, Fennel, Vettiver and Rosemary. Then he added 2 teaspoons of Palm-sugar, Honey and finally squeezed a few drops of lime juice on the decoction. Though I sipped it with apprehension, the aroma of the drink rushed through my senses and I felt a refreshed breath. In a week’s time, I stopped drinking Coffee and Tea and switched to Mark’s herbal drink after collecting all the ingredients from various sources. In a few months my frequent nose block was gone completely and I also my weight reduced significantly.

The Farm House

My visits continued and on a Thursday, he called and invited me to his house on the following Sunday, to accompany him on a picnic to the farm house he is constructing, where would be spending the later part of his life. On the scheduled Sunday, along with Mark and Mrs. Grace, I started the trip. Near the Bonded Labor shed on the Kodai Palani Ghat road, he took a left turn and headed on the Ganaesapuram Road. After 8 KMs, he parked the car near a group of locals with a palanquin made of a bamboo chair tied on a reaper on its two sides. The men carried his Mom on the palanquin while Mark and I followed them through the foot-path. It would have been at least 6 KMs when we reached a grove of lemon trees (Got reminded of the beautiful Lemon Tree song by Fool’s Garden).

The scent of the ripe lemon mixed with the strong smell of mud was rejuvenating. Through the grove, I saw a two storey house built in random rubble masonry. As we reached the cottage, the group led Mrs.Grace into the house, while we sat on the verandah that ran along the walls with its heavy stone pillars. Except for the occasional cooing of the birds and humming of the rolling stream, there was only silence. I felt more relaxed than ever after the 6 KM walk through the jungle and I wanted to remain there forever.

I noticed that there was something unique with the mortar binding the walls. Mark told me that he started building this house a year ago and would take another year to complete. The house was built with granite rubble stones collected from the vicinity and the mortar used for binding the stones is a mixture of red gravel, lime stones, sand and jaggery. He has not used cement or any of a artificial material in building this house. The windows and doors were made by reusing the old windows and doors as he is strongly against felling of trees in the name of development. The floor was laid with terracotta tiles and the roof was a simple truss like structure covered by Mangalore Tiles. The wide bath room was tiled beautifully with small pieces of broken tiles of varying colors that he collected from the debris of the bath rooms of his shenbaganur house and he personally laid it creating a piece of art. There was a solar heater and an array of solar panels to supply electricity to the house and the water got collected in a tank on the roof by through gravity from the water fall at the back yard. I busied myself engrossed in every minute details of the house and Mark went to the kitchen to prepare our lunch.

The lunch was a salad of Knol-Khol, Turnip and leeks, red rice porridge, boiled legumes and a salad of peach dipped in honey as dessert. After the lunch, I stretched on a slanting rock below the water fall with my legs hanging through the streaming water. It was almost 4’0 clock when Mark announced that we should leave else, it would be too dark to locate the foot path.

The disconnect

The last time I visited Mark was to wish Mrs.Grace on her 94th birthday and after I left Kodai, I rarely thought about them. Few years before, when I was going through Fit for Life by Harvey and Marilyn Diamond, a book presented by Mark, I got reminded of Mark and I called him. Mark was happy to hear from me and his mom appreciated me on my thoughtfulness. I invited him to our home if he happens to visit Chennai and he told me there was no reason for him to leave Kodai. Moreover, he told that his farm house is in the verge of completion he is making arrangements for settling there very soon and wished I should come there for a stay. I thanked him and when I hung the phone, I felt a sense of heaviness growing on my heart for having left such a beautiful people and place. But I know, life should go on as is. Last year, I called to wish Mrs.Grace on her birthday, only to hear the voice on the other side saying “The number you have dialed no longer exists”. I realized that he would have settled in his farm house far from any form of communication. Probably, I will visit his farm house during my next visit to Kodaikanal and till then, my mind has enough stupidities to be occupied with.


Helen Wang said...

An interesting story! Thanks for visiting my blog. Please come back often!

Anonymous said...

I am Elango, Mark's friend. Mark has been looking to contact you.
Thank you

Shiva said...

Hi Elango,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I tried his number a couple of times but it is not working. Please email his number so that I can get in touch with him. Currently I'm in the US and hence, email would be right mode of communication to get in touch with me.

Fay said...

I knew Mark in Wales when we were 17/18 years old. I loved his mother, who was called Grace. Is she Mrs Margaret?
Mark was amazing!

trixtrader said...

Is this the same Mark Antrobus who lived at Hengwrt Hall in North Wales in the early 60's? I too remember his mother as Grace. Inspirational and beautiful times. Give Mark and his mother my love and best wishes, sounds as if he has achieved his nirvana. Mike Hutcheson.(haggis) "dont shnop munch your grunch"

Shiva said...

Fay - Thanks for visiting.
Yeah. She is Grace. I got the name mixed-up with another friend of mine, who used to visit the KMU library. Mark was happy to hear that you will be mailing him.
Hope you guys are in touch now:)

Shiva said...

Hi Haggis,

Thanks for visiting the blog. Yes. He's the same Mark. His inspiration is still the same. I have sent an email about your comment. He would be happy to see your message.

tom said...

hello - same mark once known as govinda? hope youre doing fine, tom

Shiva said...


Mark was looking to contact you. If you happen to read this post again, please drop an email to


Shiva said...

Hi Tom,

Thanks for visiting my blog. Yeah! it's the same Mark and he's still known as Govinda. Drop an email to so that Mark can get in touch with you.


Hannah said...

Hello there,

this is Anja a friend of Mark. We met in portugal around 1986. I was so happy to see marc and grace online. Would love to get back in touch with You :)

Much Love,


Shiva said...

Hello Anja,

Glad that you have read the post. Here is Mark's email ID -

If you can pass on your emaid ID, I can send you his number


achupichu said...

Hi Shiva,

This is Koushik. I am mark's friend..I call him Mark Govind :-) Please convey my wishes to him.