It almost sounded like a war cry. Velu threw his hands high up in the air, his head looking upwards at the sky, eyes firmly shut and his taut muscles getting tighter as he called out passionately to the heavens . And then he said in flawless English “ This is where I saw God, “and he went on to tell me the exact date and time , 37 years ago.
Nallamudi Poonjolai in Valparai was just another view point in the hills until Velu’s tryst with the divine . The destination now has a different name. A board at the entrance read “ Seen God “ with a footnote below it - ”Om Adi Muruga.” Velu ‘s shrine was just around the corner .
He claimed that God had arrived in a bolt of light and sound and he could see a human form. “Romba azhaga irunderma , “ he added in Tamil, describing that God looked indeed handsome. He had been coming here everyday at 11 am to see if he would be lucky a second time. “Innum kelunga – I will tell you more , “ he said, sensing my curiosity. Little did he know that I was more interested in his life than in his sighting of God.
He said he was over 70 years old, but had been coming here ever since he was a young boy with his father, who was a mason. “ I studied, I worked, I married like everyone, but then this is my calling, this is where I belong,” he said nonchalantly when I asked him about his family .For a matriculation pass who was employed in a factory and tea plantation, Velu was not cut off from the outside world. He was aware that one of the photographers in our group had posted his photograph on the internet. And his memory was sharp. He even remembered the girl who had photographed him a year ago. But then he lived like a nomad – wandering around the hills, wearing just a dhoti around his waist, living on fruits and herbs. Once in a while, he mentioned that his wife visited him. And then he claimed that the wild animals do not harm him at all.
It had been raining in Valparai for the last couple of days and the view of the Annaimalai hills was shrouded with fog. The sun was teasing us. Only a while ago, we were treated to a glimpse of the verdant mountains, gushing with waterfalls. But then the mist curled up again, hiding even the tiniest branch in view.
For most of us, God that day was somewhere in the pristine valley, veiled by the fog in the canopy of forests spread over the Annaimalai range . We waited with bated breath ,hoping to see a great hornbill in flight. The mist unfurled and furling rising up from the depths of the valley and merging with the clouds.. It was a mystical moment. Velu went to the edge of the cliff and called out to his Muruga. We watched him for a while as he stood silently by himself, looking out into the hills.
The tea plantations parted ways to lead us through a carpet of green , dripping with rain droplets . As I walked down the slippery slopes, I could hear Velu calling out to his God again. I knew he would be here tomorrow and every other day at 11 am to look for Him.