Serenity and tranquillity have been replaced by money and comforts
1982 — Kozhencherry, Pathanamthitta district, Kerala
It’s all dirt roads. Slushy in rain, puddles in downpour, small streams in thunderstorm. One umbrella and three children — blood-related, belligerent, boisterous. From the bus stand they hop from one puddle to the next that 2 km stretch. Nothing escapes them. Mangoes ripe and unripe, cashew nut fruit red and the green ones, jampakka; everything becomes a target for practice. When they finally get to their ancestral property, a two-room house, they get down for their feast. A rooster is killed and hung above the fire. All three of them sit around to pluck its feathers. Rest is taken care of by the womenfolk. Off they run to the ‘puncha’ paddyfields to catch small fish with dhotis and towels. Poor tadpoles are at the receiving end.
The well water was so cool and sweet unlike the chlorinated water in their cities. The wells never used to run dry even in the harshest summer. And summer was never that hot — felt like warm spring throughout. There was year-round paddy cultivation and labourers would come for water and food which was available throughout the day from the kitchen, shaming even a 24-hour restaurant.
The cows, chicken, kids of all ages kept the womenfolk busy. No courtyards had boundaries, no houses had gates, but I cannot remember a boundary dispute ever arising in those times. Even domestic herd respected these imaginary lines, the only violators being chicken, which were promptly warned away by the canine counterparts.
There would never be more than Rs. 300 in the house at any point. There never arose a need exceeding that amount. Church was the epicentre of all activities. Swimming courses were in the canal nearby which had year-around water supply. No house had any motorised vehicle. Hercules and Raleigh cycles reigned. We learned the basics of bicycling in these giant two-wheelers when the adults were away. We used to put our right leg below the bar across to the other side and it had a funny look. Bruises were healed by leaves of communist green and nature. None had any severe trauma like broken bones — God knows why.
Television was yet to invade our visual senses. Radio receiver sets were the omnipresent media (sans FM). Soap was always the red Lifebuoy. Bar soaps were unbranded and often made with coconut oil and caustic alkali in varying proportions in an old, patched up, plastic bucket. Battery was always Eveready and milk was always fresh from the udder.
Few teashops, which sold anything from tobacco to pepper to fertilizers, satiated all our consumerist needs. These old time malls were the hotspots for the latest political and local news. They were open late into the night with the help of a ‘ranthal”. Arrack was unheard of and men used to consume toddy in secrecy after night fall.
I had never played with an electronic gadget ever in my life. When I was a kid, I never had any and when they became ubiquitous I never felt the need. Boredom was never complained for we used to amuse ourselves with whatever was available. Rooms were small but hearts were big, Men were men and women, women and there were none in between.
2013 — Kozhen-cherry
Rubberised tarred roads greet us. Palatial houses line either side, a majority lying vacant and a few occupied by elderly grandparents. There is an SUV in every porch. Courtyards are patterned with interlocking tiles. Old wells have dried up replaced by tubewells. The thick greenery has been replaced by a thinner one. The village currently boasts the maximum density of vehicle showrooms in Kerala. NRI bank accounts are overflowing with fixed deposits.
Paddyfields lie dormant (they are awaiting a new tarmac for an airstrip), the courtyards are bereft of animals. Milk comes in packets and powders. More than 75% of the population consist of senior citizens; youngsters and children have emigrated to presumed greener pastures. There are more rooms than occupants in all the houses and the inmates appear to be waiting the final visa.
This is the greatest irony one can witness in a short span of 30 years — the problem of plenty leaving unanswered questions. A good portion of their lives was spent gathering and now they are left with arthritic knees, fatty livers, and dim visions. They are doing their best safeguarding their collections and looking at various permutations and combinations on how to pay the least income tax. Money is kept in NRI accounts and they count the number of days they spend in India, careful not to exceed 180 days. The spurt in prosperity gospel churches aid this belief as they need something to fall back upon. When does one finally live!
(The writer is MD, DM, PDF, Epilepsy Assistant Professor, Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)