Meenakshipuram: the village in T.N. that time forgot

Last man of ghost village Meenakshipuram is no more | Video Credit: N. Rajesh

Meenakshipuram in Thoothukudi district is known as the village where one man lived. Now, following the 83-year-old’s recent death, its future remains uncertain

Updated - July 09, 2024 12:05 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2024 04:56 pm IST

“Lonely places attract as many lonely people and the loneliness we see in them is partly in ourselves,” British novelist Pico Iyer famously said.

S. Kandasamy, the last surviving villager of Meenakshipuram a ‘ghost village’ in Thoothukudi district, who died two weeks ago, gave life to the word loneliness.

Meenakshipuram village is infamous for its ghostly appearance after its inhabitants moved out over the last two decades due to various reasons such as water scarcity and unapproachable roads to nearby towns. Recently, the lone surviving resident of the village, aged about 83 years, died, sending all who were once associated with the village into a tailspin of nostalgia, spurring recollections of living happily in the village.

Meenakshipuram, a village in Thoothukudi district, has been abandoned due to connectivity and water issues.

Meenakshipuram, a village in Thoothukudi district, has been abandoned due to connectivity and water issues. | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

Reaching the village from Thoothukudi city is not a great task, one eventually lands up at the ghost village, after passing a series of villages that look nearly the same, along narrow lanes that snake along the Thoothukudi-Tirunelveli National Highway, 26 km from the city.

Meenakshipuram, long after its residents started moving out in the late 2000s, closed its doors to the world and has remained isolated from neighbouring villages. It remains alive and bustling only in the yellowing snapshots of village residents who have migrated from here. Most of the residents of Meenakshipuram migrated to nearby villages such as Nadu Sekkarakudi, Keezha Sekkarakudi, and a few moved to the town. 

Mr. Kandasamy, we are told, lived his last decade only with scraps of old clothes, cattle, a makeshift bullock cart and framed photographs of him along with his family and the village. He was alone for the past decade, and as his sons remember, maybe even a couple of years longer. 

Ganapathy, one of Kandasamy’s associates, whose family, like all others, had moved to the nearby Nadu Sekkarakudi village in search of a better livelihood, remembers days when the old man would take a walk along with his cattle to give them a bath in the mornings and evenings.  

S. Kandasamy. File

S. Kandasamy. File | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

Searching for words, Mr. Ganapathy, in a frail voice, adds, “The old man was very stubborn, and he wanted to die in the same house where his parents once lived and died. As I grew up seeing their family and cattle, I cannot stay put in my ‘new’ house in the new village, so I come here once in a while to look after his cattle.” 

A son’s duty

Kandasamy’s elder son K. Ravi, who has now, after his father’s death, taken over his father’s duty by shifting to the ‘lonely house’ to look after the cattle says, “My siblings (younger brother and two sisters) and I grew up in this house until we moved out after we got married. We cannot now afford to lose out on our father’s memories in the place where he lived and breathed his last.” 

Mr. Ravi has now quit his job as a driver and moved to his father’s house, but he says his wife and children were not willing to accompany him and so he would have to shuttle back and forth once a week to visit them.  

K. Ravi, the son of the last resident of Meenakshipuram village, spends his day alone in the same house after his father’s death.

K. Ravi, the son of the last resident of Meenakshipuram village, spends his day alone in the same house after his father’s death. | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

In memory of his father, he and his siblings have secured his father’s age-old makeshift cart, which he once used for rekla races (bull racing), and refurbished it, as they say it is a symbol of a bygone era when they spent days with their father, who enthusiastically prepped cattle for races and jallikattu

Mr. Ravi who took pride in his father’s decision to stay alone when everyone else moved away from the village, says his father, after a few years of living away from people, began to enjoy his loneliness, turning it into an advantage by thriving in the remoteness of the village. 

What if...

Mr. Kandasamy’s friends who live in the nearby villages of Keezha Sekkarakudi and Nadu Sekkarakudi, remember him as a happy person, though media reports from the past uniformly portrayed him as a lonely person living in a haunted village.  While it was true that Meenakshipuram was separated from the rest of the area due to poor connectivity and water scarcity, he did not care much for these discomforts, while others saw them as problems that rendered their village unliveable. 

Poor connectivity and water scarcity led the residents of Meenakshipuram to level the village.

Poor connectivity and water scarcity led the residents of Meenakshipuram to level the village. | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

Mr. Ramasamy, who is over 70, from nearby Keezha Sekkarakudi, says Mr. Kandasamy visited their homes once in two to three days to buy groceries and beedis. He reiterates what Mr. Kandasamy used to say whenever his friends and family advised him to move out of the village and live with them or their family: “No worries, makka (mate), I have learned how to live peacefully with all the oddities of life.” 

Though he was happy living on his own, Mr. Ramasamy says Mr. Kandasamy often used to worry about water scarcity and other related problems that were overlooked by officials whenever the village residents represented these issues through petitions or protests. 

“If the problems had been tended to by the government and transport facilities were created to provide better connectivity, maybe the village would have stayed intact,” he remembers Mr. Kandasamy repeating this thought, until he died.  

Mr. Ravi recalls his childhood days when he and other village residents used to walk for about 5-6 km on the fields and through forests fearing snakes and other animals, to reach their school in a nearby village. “Owing to poor connectivity, nobody was willing to set up shops in the village, forcing us all to walk five kilometres each time we had to buy something,” he says.  

However, he doubts whether the village residents would have stayed on even if there were proper road facilities, as at one point in time, water scarcity reached a peak and residents had to walk miles to reach nearby waterbodies to fetch water.  Even for agriculture, they used to depend on rainfall, and if rains failed them that season, it was a nightmare for the whole year, he notes.  

An abandoned house in Meenakshipuram

An abandoned house in Meenakshipuram | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

The residents who once practised agriculture on their lands have not been able to sell their lands asno one was ready take the risk of wasting their money on land where there was no water available, he says.  

On a positive note, Mr. Ravi says, the land is one of the two reasons why the relationship between the residents and the village has not completely snapped. The other reason is the presence of two temples there – Kaariya Siddhi Srinivasa Perumal Koil and Parasakthi Mariamman Koil. 

Village residents, in an unwritten promise, turn up at the village for the temple festival to meet their former neighbours and friends. Mr. Ravi says that a festival held every five years at the Mariamman Koil could not be conducted this year, as his father was bedridden. “Worrying about our father’s health, we decided not to conduct it this year, but instead we perform regular poojas through a priest,” he adds.  

Mr. Ravi, with the help of his brother K. Balakrishnan, has decided to restart farming on their land after the jallikattu and rekla race seasons end, as they are now busy training their bulls for the competitions. He does suspect that perhaps the isolation affected his father’s mental health in his last stages, as he had begun forgetting things and relatives. “At one point of time last year, he could not even recognise me, and his last memory of mine was when I went to the Gulf to work for a short period, many years ago. While he remembered my brother, he could not remember me and my sisters, and that was when we started worrying about his decision to stay on alone,” he says.  

A larger crisis

As news spread about the mass migration of villagers, the district administration, realising the seriousness of the issue, informed residents that they would help them return to their village, but no one was willing to come back, claims a revenue official. 

Village residents say they don’t trust the word of the officials because of the situation in the neighbouring villages of Pottulurani, Nadu Sekkarakudi, Mela Sekkarakudi and Keezha Sekkarakudi, who also face similar problems such as that of water scarcity, have not been settled to date.

Pottulurani villagers have been continuously protesting for clean and hygienic water, alleging that waste from nearby fish units seeps into the waterbodies. They even went to the extent of boycotting the 2024 Lok Sabha election

Similarly, Sekkarakudi villagers face problems with water but in a different form. Village residents walk to the village centre, pulling make-shift carts arranged with pots to fetch water for their daily use, as they do not have drinking water supply.

A teacher at an Anganwadi centre located at the entry of Meenakshipuram village said that despite having one of the largest rivers — the Thamirabarani river — flowing through their district, the government was not able to fulfil even the basic needs of the people of the district. “When even students are taught about climate change and its implications, ground-level work in water management also should be taken seriously at the decision-making level,” she says.  

Mr. Ravi and his brother have decided to restart farming on their land after the jallikattu and rekla race seasons end.

Mr. Ravi and his brother have decided to restart farming on their land after the jallikattu and rekla race seasons end. | Photo Credit: N. Rajesh

What does the future hold?

Mr. Ravi has now whitewashed the house where his father lived.

Asked if he was concerned about his mental health staying all alone in Meenakshipuram, he smiles and says he will find peace in solitude, reminding us once again of Pico Iyer’s words.

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