Remembering Kanchipuram

Twenty years ago, or maybe fifteen
We took a bus to Kanchipuram
Two things on our minds
Eat idlis
Find temples from a fifty-year-old guidebook
Strangely enough, silk sarees were not on the agenda

The idlis were soft and fragrant and tasty
Time and again they filled our stomachs
Without doing anything else
The myth of the Kanchipuram idli was forever shattered

The temples though were quite another matter
From Pallava and Chola times
The stern stones mockingly winked at us
And our dinky little cameras
Daring us to attempt to stand
Across centuries as they had

But they themselves were falling to pieces
Dying not to great floods or fires
Nor by war or pestilence or earthquakes
But to the piecemeal everyday greed of you and me
A stone here for a doorstep
A stone there for a fencepost
An idol somewhere for an ardent collector
And so they were disappearing
Into the everyday pointlessness of individual lives
The survivors stood merely to assuage the egos
Of a powerful few

On the bus back we slept
And dreamt of soft, aromatic idlis
And the ghosts of dead and dying temples.

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