Umayal is 90 years old, frail but still active and sharp.
She lives alone in an enormous old house in the small village of Athangudi in Sivaganga district, Tamil Nadu.
She came to the village, and the house, at age 16 after her wedding. Her husband died many years ago, and her sons and grandsons live in Chennai or outside India.
"Till 10 years ago," says Umayal, "at least 30 people lived in this house. Now my children are married and have moved to other cities and countries."
But she does not want to leave the house.
Athangudi is famous for its handmade decorative floor tiles. It was once a matter of pride to use Athangudi tiles in one's house. Now the village looks deserted.
Like Umayal's mansion, several houses here, each occupying one to five acres of land, are more or less empty.
Welcome to the land of the Chettiars.
Image: The Chettinad Palace (1902-1912) in Chennai, one of the few Chettinad buildings built outside Chettinad. Dr MAM Ramaswamy is the current owner.
Image Courtesy: Flickr Commons