An Age of Kindness

A glimpse into the past reminds us of a time of built-in benevolence

A glimpse into the past reminds us of a time of built-in benevolence

As the evening softly came in with the sunset, my mother and I sat sipping tea on the thinnai of her childhood home in Udumalaipet village. This raised and shaded sit-out, built along either side of the front door, overlooking the street and flanked by pillars, was a special place for us.

Serving the purpose of a verandah, this in-between space, painted green, acted as a crossover between two realms—the private interiors of the home and the outside world.

That evening, nostalgia had found Amma. Eating roasted groundnuts coated with palm sugar, I listened carefully as she recounted stories of past evenings spent on this very same thinnai, as the night lights start to dot our streetscape view.

Her expression mellows with memories as she flashes back to when family members would sit here, nap, read and catch up with visitors over a cup of coffee. Spices and chillies would be spread out to dry. The thinnai was the perfect perch to sit and watch the rain, enjoy the breeze or seek a brief respite after a long day before stepping inside to tackle the affairs of the home.

It was also a space where everyone was welcome, from hawkers who laid out their wares for residents and passers-by, to the homeless and bereft who sought shelter from the elements. It wasn’t unusual for Amma to step outside some mornings and find some stranger sleeping peacefully on their shaded thinnai. Many a weary traveller would settle here to escape the blistering sun on summer afternoons. And if a member of the household noticed the same, a glass of water was offered for their parched throats. The thinnai was a way to offer hospitality to people irrespective of whether you knew them or not, Amma said.

Unlike modern architecture that’s designed to cut off physical and visual access from outside, the thinnai blurred the lines between the ‘private’ and ‘public’. Thes...

Read more!