How sadly has my hometown changed!

Whenever I am in India, almost on a daily basis, I make it a point to visit my sister Ammini who lives about a mile away from my home. And often I choose to walk the distance. Not only that it gives me an opportunity to feel one with the surroundings, the effort offers me a perspective analysis of the enormous transformation that my hometown has gone through. The walk often carries me through seven decades in time, from the placid and rustic memories of the past to the raucous and boisterous cacophony of modernity. The idyllic village atmosphere that has been preciously protected in the crevices of my mind often gets disturbed competing with the present, harsh reality of clusters of concrete monuments, blaring noise, and choking smoke. As the speeding buses and honking autos race by me with utter abandon, I virtually succeed in escaping into my own imaginary settings of the green expanse of luscious paddy fields and clayish walking bunds that divided them. The acres of coconut palms, bushy trees, and vegetable gardens have been replaced by stacks of ugly cement tenements and shacks selling commodities. The scattered homes and occasional huts vanished to accommodate the skyscrapers and massive industrial complexes. Only the sky has remained the same. I search in vain for my familiar puddles, mounds of pebbles, and routine ditches that used to be signposts along my path from my father’s home to that of my mother.
      The single rail line that used to drag an occasional train has been multiplied several times hauling a variety of electric coaches to numerous destinations. A 291 double lane concrete bridge built overhead the railroad tracks has made it convenient for vehicles and pedestrians to cross without waiting for the trains. The handful of pedestrians who frequented the narrow sandy walkways have politely disappeared that many thousands of impatient humans can find their hungry goals in a hurry. The sprawling metropolis has mercilessly bulldozed the once upon a polite and placid land of mine to accommodate the growing needs of the faceless, soulless crowd and mutilated the sanctity of the place.
     Though I find it hard to precisely identify the many familiar locations of my several childhood connections, the events and the individuals remain transfixed as inseparable images in my mind. And as I walk through those spaces, the experiences glide in and weave back imposing themselves into the presence, crafting an illusional uncertainty. The best I can explain it would be a fusion of the dimensions of time and space, perhaps a scientific impossibility, but certainly within the realms of the faculties of the mind. The landscapes have no semblance of the past, but I still sense the ever bachelor shopkeeper Raman standing at his front door and watching the street, the barber Kuttan agreeing to report soon for my father’s haircut, or the graceful Velama greeting me with her charming smile. I still shudder as I walk through the old vicinity of the house of Ramakrishna Pillai, a gregarious old man with his long white beard and big belly that many years later, Sant Claus reminded me of. One of his sons along with his friends was arrested and put in jail for seven years for raping two nuns, the story making a huge scandal and totally shaming the respectable family. Ramakrishna Pillai never came out of the house. As I walk over the tall bridge, I think of the tall Tresa teacher and all her lanky family members who lived in a house on the side of the perpetual puddle (we called it valiya vellam – big water). When it rained, the puddle swelled deep and we could not walk through without wetting our clothes.
     As is said, change is the only dependable constant. Yet thoughts can sieve through transcending time and the accompanying changes and grab on to the saved old splendors. As we attempt to balance between our inner thoughts and their external expression, our conscience is often caught in a quandary of doing total justice to both. The closer the two can be and the lesser the modification is forced upon, life can be peaceful and serene.

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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