A tail-ender’s travails

Each worker from Vathuruthy has contributed to the development of the city. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

Each worker from Vathuruthy has contributed to the development of the city. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat  

Despite concerted efforts has Vathuruthy once again missed the development bus?

In the first stirrings of development of the city, during the 1920-30s, when the shipping channel was carved and Willingdon Island created, when the Naval Base (Katari Bagh) came up at Venduruthy, Harbour Bridge opened West Kochi up, and later when the Tea Garden Express began chugging into Old Harbour Terminus, a contiguous area of eight acres, Vathuruthy, lost out to the more vital formations.

As years went by its development remained bypassed to properties with prospect, it relegated, perhaps by default, to the boondocks. With consequent waves of growth around it–Gammon Bridge, the NH47A, the new Venduruthy Bridge-it continued to receive the short-shrift. Somehow it missed the bus.

Even today, despite every effort by city keepers and the dogged application of its respected councillor, and GCDA chairman, N. Venugopal, Vathuruthy continues to sadly wear a badge of neglect.

And again despite that the place has given the city a mayor, Mathew Pylee, and transit homes to the groups of industrious men and women from neighbouring Tamil Nadu, the construction workers, who literally have built Kochi.

Today there are as many as 4,000-odd Tamil workers who live in Vathuruthy, a corruption of Valthuruthy (tail of Venduruthy), amidst a population of about 12,000.

Its noticeable identity is in the rows of men and women, labourers, squatting on the railway track, which runs parallel to the cluster of their shanty homes, each carrying their signature work tool and a lunch box.

In the pre- Nedumbassery days when the airport was opposite the settlement it was once again sidelined, drowned behind hoardings welcoming Gulf returnees and the trickle of tourists. Kochi was much smaller then and Vathuruthy its underbelly.

Mathew Pylee came to the marshy area as a 10-year-old in 1950, when his father, a small building contractor in Mattancherry, bought 22 cents of land there. “The land was bought by four, five families. At the time there were no alleys in the area, no electricity and only two water taps,” says Mathew.

K. K. Sharvanan, 60, a retired BSNL officer, whose father was one of the early settlers too remembers slushy paddy fields around and the ‘thodu’ (canal) that demarcates the boundary.

It was in the 60s that Tamil labourers began coming to the city for construction work and needed reasonable accommodation. Most landowners in Vathuruthy who were employees in the neighbouring Port, Navy and MES in Katari Bagh began constructing small pads and began letting them out on meagre rentals. That’s how Vathuruthy became a settlement of the Tamils.

Dharman came here 30 years ago from Madurai to do “coolie work”. He remembers the place as one “with water everywhere and the houses made of ‘ola’ (palm leaves)”. After marrying his daughter off he and his wife Chinamma have made Vathuruthy their permanent home. The two run a small window shop retailing everyday items like soaps, sambar powder, thorthu and such. For both life here has improved in every sense of the word. From the Rs. 5 that he earned when he came, he retired earning Rs. 1,000 a day. “Earlier we had to carry loads on our heads for long distances. Now the lorry does that. We go home only for our festivals. The money we now earn is enough for us,” he says in a tired voice.

Rajendran, 50 seems upbeat. He came from Usilampatti as a 20-year-old. He too speaks of the area being filthy and slushy “but the last ten years” have seen a change. He remembers the rains as a time when he placed stones under the bed stead to raise it above the water. Rajendran was one among the workers who constructed the railway line near Atlantis, he discloses with pride. “Each worker here has contributed to the development of the city. Some of us now have our own houses and one of us runs two buses from here to Madurai,” he says

N. Venugopal, councillor of Vathuruthy since 2001 speaks with fervour about the plight of the people who still do not have a school, hospital or basic infrastructure facilities. But he has enabled the building of a community hall and a sanitation centre which generates money for its upkeep and has improved living conditions drastically. A park and a funeral ground are his other contributions to the area. “I know everybody here by name. I am now trying to construct a road for small vehicles,” he says.

Mathew Pylee speaks of radical solutions for the area for he fears that it may degenerate into a slum. He talks of resettling the landowners elsewhere offering them attractive rates for their land and depopulating the area, using it for other purposes. The need for a full-time health inspector is another of his wishes. Mathew’s attachment to Vatharuthy is from the heart. His 92-year-old mother Mary Mathappan, one of the original settlers of Venduruthy, still lives there. He visits her and his three brothers every Sunday.

“The people of Vatharuthy are a hardworking, toiling class of people. There is so much warmth amongst them,” he says, remembering his days as a young boy when he would organise dramas and music programmes in the area. But that was then. Today even in the improved scenario, Vathuruthy is an apology for a developing city like Kochi.

Among the welter of congested houses, where gaudy film posters bring colour and strains of songs waft over women washing clothes, children running around, bleating goats, sleeping dogs, old-style hair cutting saloons and a few drunk men wandering at dead of noon, Vathuruthy is not a pretty picture. And yet, Mathew says, “I love Vathuruthy with all my heart.”

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 11:07:59 PM |

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