Today, I drove from Kanchipuram to Coimbatore. The drive is excellent, and the highways from Vellore to Krishnagiri, and Krishnagiri to Salem are wide, and almost empty of traffic. (Which means that concessionaires who’re operating the toll roads are probably in grave financial distress, but that’s a separate issue.)
One of the unique pleasures of traveling medium distance by car is the sense of possibility it gives you. Rail travel has its own charms, but by and large, once you board the train, you’re stuck on the route it will travel (unless you make really special efforts like changing trains every now and then or maybe even hijacking the train). But with a car, the ability to change plans and to go forth and to completely different places is much higher. “I could detour just eighty kilometres and see Hogenakkal, and still be able to reach my hotel tonight,” I thought around eleven thirty this morning. “I could cancel my appointment and just drive on to Cochin!” later, around two thirty in the afternoon. “Gosh, what if I skipped the direct route and went via Namakkal instead, just for the opportunity to make terrible Chennai Super Kings jokes.”
The seed of this temptation is planted by highway signs, telling you that such and such place is a left turn away, or just 40 Km from where you are now. (In an extreme case, on the way from Pondicherry to Chennai, my passenger saw the sign for Calcutta and suggested going there instead for phuchkas. I did not oblige.)
The highway signs between Salem and Coimbatore made me realise that this particular part of Tamil Nadu has places with names that are very different from the ones I’m familiar with from Chennai, Kanchi, and their surroundings, which tend to the “Long live divine classical Tamil!” mould; what with names like Thiruvallur, Sriperumbudur, Azhinjalpet, Thiruvannamalai, and Villupuram.
The Salem – Coimbatore stretch has those too, of course (Tiruppur, and Kovai itself), but there were four names I saw which had a much more immediate connect with me as a North Indian: Sankari, Bhavani, Sathy, and Avinashi.
All these four names are Sanskrit, all four are names or epithets of Parvati, and none of the four have suffixes. The town is called simply Bhavani, not Bhavanipuram, or Bhavanipet, or Bhavanipalya or Bhavanihalli. And they don’t have any honorifics either – neither Sri nor Thiru is appended to these names. They are quite simply, some of the most direct and personal names I have seen in Tamil Nadu.
(Place names with honorifics are not unique to Tamil Nadu. Punjab has Anandpur Sahib, and there is a very unfunny joke about the pious Punjab Roadways bus conductor who slaps passengers who ask him for tickets to Amritsar instead of Amritsar Sahib and Ludhiana Sahib instead of Ludhiana.)
I wonder if there are more such prefixless and suffixless Sanskrit names in this region, and for that matter, how these names came about. There must be a story here.
On a more frivolous note, I also saw a signboard for a place called Gobi. This being TN, the name might actually be Gopi or Kopi, but now I am filled with a burning desire to go there, find out if the local method of preparing cauliflower has something distinctive about it, and then release the recipe to the world as Gobi Gobi.