Saturday, February 19, 2011

Nagalapuram - My Malgudi!


Had an opportunity to go to my native place / hometown (at this moment I don't know what exactly to call it; let us discuss about that also inside!) after a very long time. When I say I am confused what to call it, it's not one confusion. There are many. I can call it my native place but that's not enough to explain my closeness with that place. I am not sure if the term 'native place' in English just means the place where I was born or if it means the place where my great parents lived, then my parents lived and then I lived for sometime. If it just means the place of birth, that is the place where I was born. But, it means much more than that to me. I grew up in that place for a significant part of my early life. I may not be able to call it my native place if I have to look at my roots from the father's side to call it so. I can call it my hometown, but there are some some problems in doing that, too. First of all, I am not sure if it is a town. It's kind of between small town and big village. Then, I neither have a home there nor is the place home to any of my family members now. But, as I said earlier, this place means much more than native place and hometown for various reasons. I may not be able to call them my native place or hometown for different reasons. It would be literally correct if I just call it  my mother's native place. She has no confusions about her relationship with that place as much as I do.

There are many people who have this kind of confusion about their native place and hometown. All of them would just call the place wherever they spent most part of their childhood as their native place or hometown. They don't think if they were born there or if all their ancestors lived there or if they still have a connection with that place. Unless an uncle or grand uncle keeps reminding about the real roots, they don't care too much about all these.

That way, to many people, their mother's place or maternal granny's place becomes their native place. What happened to us could have happened to mom also, right?! For some, it would be the place where they migrated to for livelihood. It includes those whose parents are in government jobs and keep changing their place every few years once. That's how many of our friends just claim that their native place is Bangalore or Chennai. And, it is not that only if mom is stronger at home you have to fall in love with her native place. Even if mom's family is richer than dad's or if mom's place is bigger than dad's it could happen.

Neither mom nor has her family been stronger than dad or dad's family respectively. But, for me, mom's place became my place. Reason - mom's place is bigger than dad's. Because of that and for some other reasons, I got an opportunity to go there and study. Every one's life has some defining moments. It was such a defining moment for me. It was a major decision. Despite my grand uncle's (grandpa's younger brother) resistance, we took this decision.

That place is called Nagalapuram. I am one of those lucky boys who have both the parents' places in close proximity to each other. Dad's place is called Boothalapuram. I lived in Boothalapuram for first seven years and in Nagalapuram for the next eight years. Even after that I lived for considerable amount of time in Nagalapuram on and off. I really lived. Just because they were in close proximity, I used to keep visiting Nagalapuram quite often in the first seven years and Boothalapuram in next few years. So, I have some kind of affection for both the places. I was born and lived for longer time in Nagalapuram. It was not just longer, it was better, too. Since I was more mature then than in the first seven years, I have more memories from Nagalapuram.

Like all places, even my place has a lot of specials. We have to discuss about all of them. After the properly told love stories (or love movies), it is the properly told village stories (village movies) that attract our people. That's because there are a lot of people who came from villages or small towns and settled in cities halfheartedly. I mean, half heart there and half heart here. Anything that reminds us about our early life is exciting. They make us nostalgic. Love and native place are such things. If you had a love experience in the same native place, love for the place would be even more stronger. Even those who leave those places with bad memories will have such exciting memories also in some corner of their heart. Like the collar dirt in shirts.

I know that writing about personal stories won't excite the readers. Whenever I write like that, I do that with a fear that someone shouldn't think, 'Why does this guy speak so much about him and his own experiences? What does he think of him?'. But, when we talk about such things, I also feel like doing a great service of reminding others about their interesting early life ('Ah! What? Great service!?' Wondering what the great service is? Just wanted to check how it sounds when I speak like our politicians who loot the public money and call it their great service to the nation!). 

Not only that. Nagalapuram is one of the most important subjects that I want to write a lot about. If at all I become a good writer some day, I would surely make it the place where most of my stories take place. Whenever I read about R.K.Narayan's Malgudi, I think of Nagalapuram. I also feel the urgency to write all my memories about the place as stories. Let's see.

OK, let's come to the point. Ask me, "What are those specials about Nagalapuram?". Did you ask? No problem. Even if you don't ask, I am not in a mood to leave you today. There are many specials. First one - as I mentioned in the beginning, it's a 'neither town nor village' kind of place. It has a lot of advantages. You can experience the goods of both town and village. You would also experience the bads of both. Everyone won't know everyone. At the same time, it is not that no one knows anyone. What else do you want in life? It's such great thing to be in a place like that.

Some cities are liked more than others. They are always liked by people because they boast of high quality of living conditions. Various groups of people from varied cultural background live there. They are the cosmopolitan cities. Cities like Bangalore! There are such places in small towns and villages also.

What are the common characteristics of such places?

1. Unlike in other villages, people from varied communities live in such places. Generally, in our villages, only a few particular communities will be in majority. Every village will have a caste identity. Among such villages, places like Nagalapuram remain broad-minded without getting caught any such narrow circles. I call them the cultural islands. You can see communities that you usually can't see in average villages. In those villages, you can't see business communities; you can only see farming communities. I haven't seen many places that have big big streets for minority castes such as Brahmins, Mudaliyars, Chettiars, Acharys, Muslims and Christians.

What is more special is, just like in big towns and cities, even in my place, people mingle with others without knowing which community the other person belongs to. There have been stories where you never get to know which community someone belong to till the end. Even today, there are people in my place itself who don't know which community I belong to. Even my close friends wonder, "Oh, you are this?! I thought you would be that, for so long!". They get confused between this and that and many other things and throw big big exclamatory marks and question marks in confusion. I have heard some people don't even touch each other in some places. You can see even those people speak like relatives in my place. This is what is cosmopolitan, right?! What do you say?!

2. As we discussed earlier, in such places, you would have a lot of people who migrated from some other place. Their native place would be another place that is near or far from that place. But, their kids would say, this is what has been our native place for so and so number of generations, so we don't know any other place. There would be many people like me who would have made their mother's place theirs successfully. There are many people who came many generations back like that and became sons of the soil in Nagalapuram. Their children and grand children would hear the name of the real native place only in the stories being told at home once in a while.

Leave those who migrated. At any point in time, there would be a good number of floating population in my place. They may be in the marketplace (this marketplace is an important place; let's talk about it in detail later)... or may be buying groceries... or may be doing some cooly work... or may be in the cinema theater, or might have missed the last bus to their village and be sleeping in the bus stand till the next morning bus comes...! Then, more than all these, at any point in time, there would be a good number of beggars and insane people from other places roaming around in our place. In how many villages can you see this?

3. That was about people who migrated from other places to ours. Let's now talk about those who migrated from our place to other places. There are many people who went from our place to places all around the country and become big. Those days, there used to be only few graduates in villages. That too, from an elite family or two. But, in our place, at that time itself, there were lot of people who had some big degrees next to their names. We have our people in Chennai, Bangalore, other states, and also in other countries. Whichever place you name there will be someone from our place. Whenever someone new goes to those places, they would be given their addresses to take all initial helps. Some times, we would also witness attempts to spoil some of their names back in our place for not receiving the guest properly.

When I had been to Chennai to attend a childhood friend's marriage, I realized that people from our place were all leading an envious life - staying very united, helping each other, meeting often and talking about old stories. Some youngsters that I had seen in my childhood back in our place had come there with grey hair.

4. We see some people who feel very proud about belonging to a particular family saying they have a history of their own, right? Likewise, our place has a history of its own. So, people from our place feel proud about belonging to that place. There is a four hundred years old Shiva temple. The temple has a story. The place name has its roots in the story.

If I have to say something from little more recent time, a popular Muslim poet that wrote a lot of religious verses in Tamil was born in our place. We used to memorize his name every year from sixth standard in our Tamil text books. We used to be so proud about reading the name of our place in the text books that go all over Tamil Nadu. Even our teachers used to be very proud about it.

Not only that, our place has some connection with Kattabomman, the popular king who fought against the British rule very early in history. A Tamil teacher who works in our place (but is basically from some other place) has written a small book about our place. So, I don't want to write  more about those stories. His book sales shouldn't go down because of that. :)

5. The facilities that we had or have there. There are lots of opportunities for good education with a matriculation school (which was not there when I studied; I am not sure if I would have studied there even if it was there at that time!), a higher secondary school, a high school (that's where I studied), two middle schools, and many more small small schools. 

There was a Public Health Center (Government Hospital), which was serving people from a large number of surrounding villages. It is still there. With mushrooming private hospitals in place, the respect for that has slightly gone down now. Most of the children from that area were born there. It used to be the birth place of all - irrespective of social and financial backgrounds. It was a time when your status was not judged by the hospital in which you were born. Wondering how many doctors would have born there. That is where I was born, too. In my house itself, most children that were born after me were born in private hospitals in nearby towns.

There is a college in Sattur (which is a bigger town near our place). It was started in our place and was shifted to Sattur later for some reason. If that college had stayed there itself, it would have been a different story now. Nothing stayed after that. One after the other went to some or the other nearby town. Now, no current affairs... only histories...

One good news that I heard when I went there this time is, there is going to be a new arts and science college in our place from this year. Though some nearby towns have become bigger, some big people who are still very fond of their native place have brought the college to our place using all their influence. The place is excited about getting back something that was lost long back. My love for my place would have been stronger if I had had an opportunity to go to college in the same place by bicycle. Would have got some love opportunities also, right?! Anyways, no problem, I have a reason to cheer that at least the next generation is going to have that.

Then, there are many ponds and lakes. More than all that, the marketplace... I can't sleep tonight if I don't write about it in a separate paragraph. So...

6. There is a marketplace in the center of the town. I should say, "There was". Only the place is there now. No market. It has become one of the cultural remnants of the fast eroding country culture. Even in my childhood, I used to hear the noise of the market in the evening - just before the school concludes for the day, though we were almost a kilometer away from the market.

If we talk too much when the teacher is not there, this is what he/she would ask as soon as he/she comes back those days - "Why are you making so much noise? Like marketplace!". I think, the teachers in any other place may make that comment but not the ones in our place. Slowly... gradually... the marketplace has become quieter. So has the entire place. A hearsay in childhood is that this market was one of the biggest weekly markets in the whole of Tamil Nadu. But, What I have witnessed myself is that it surely was one of the biggest weekly markets in what I had seen.

Every Thursday, policemen used to come from the nearby town Pudur to provide security for the market. But, it is so sad that such an important place did not have a police station. Our place had lost many things to the nearby towns for many reasons. Thursday is not over yet. Let's continue to talk about it. On every Thursday, almost in all houses, there would be some special snacks from the bazaar. From then on, wherever I go, I have been searching for the taste of that Thursday bajji my uncles used to bring home. I haven't got it yet. Of the five week days, Thursday was my favorite day for a long time.


Now, let's spend some time understanding my relationship with the place. Thanks to my father's in-laws. After completing first two years' education in my ancestral place, I came to Nagalapuram for further studies. Only then did I get to know that there could be two sections A and B in the same standard. Only then did I get to know that there could be so many students in the same class. Since the parents were there in a distance that could hear the market sound (13 kilometers), I had no big problem. More so because most of the days (including Thursdays) dad used to be roaming somewhere close by only. I could also go to parents' place every weekend. Life moved on. Slowly, I lost interest in going to parents' place. Nagalapuram became the hometown.

At the time when we couldn't even have imagined about computers, we were thinking that I would have to settle (pun?) there with a teacher's job or business man job(!). I was also planning that, for the first time in the world history (this is how you should speak if you don't know world history), I would make my mom's dad's house mine. Though I have dreamed of conquering the world in later years, I never even thought of living in Pallivasal Patti, a place which was few foot away from Nagalapuram, at that time. By the way, Pallivasal Patti is one of the two parts of Nagalapuram. So, what is the other part of Nagalapuram called? Nagalapuram itself! Amusing, right? Pallivasal Patti is the posh area of Nagalapuram.

I have roamed around the nook and corner of Nagalapuram. Wearing half trousers, I have played all sorts of games. Some are approved in Olympics and others are not. Games such as Kabaddi, Cricket, honey extraction, cucumber plucking, tamarind collection, etc. I have watched strangers strangely when they used to walk on our streets with families. What I hadn't thought of at that time was, even I would come in to the same place like a stranger one day and people would see me strangely too. Watching new cars in our streets used to be some much fun. I had never thought then that even I would come in driving a car like that on the same streets one day.

After a long gap, when I went this time, that too in car, I felt some kind of an uneasiness. It's an unknown - unexplainable feeling. 'Why do you do all these? You could have stopped all these few kilometers back itself and come here in a bus!', says my inner voice. I know you would wonder, 'What non-sense is this?!'.  I wondered myself like that for a moment. But, when I went there in car, I had distanced myself many miles from that place. An major reason for that is the time gap. Had I frequently visited, I would have maintained some contact with some people there. Would have got introduced to the new comers as well. Appearance wouldn't have changed so much. Before entering with a own car, would have tried some borrowed cars. Would have felt little less shy. Would have been less strange to the eyes of the current locals. If you see someone who left as a youngster come back with wife and kid, how would you feel? How can you see that so casually?

Where is the mud that we played on? They have laid cement roads everywhere. The place has become little more beautiful. But, how do you guys play Kabaddi in streets now? Are you guys playing at all? Streets have become very small. I mean, the length as well! I am sure the world has not shrunk only there. One reason could be that I have become big (I just mean, physically!). Else, having seen bigger roads in cities would have made them look so. When my brother also said the same thing, I felt relieved and confirmed that there is nothing wrong with my eyes.

When I saw traffic signal in a junction, I felt as if my place has become like Bangalore. I remember a day when I was wondering if my place would ever see an auto-rickshaw, at least from a near by town. It's still fresh in my mind. I could see countless auto-rickshaws when I went this time. I just thought to myself, 'Wow, this place has gone far ahead. It's just that I am not able to claim my closeness with this place!'.

Can I renew it? Can. But, how? And, why should I do that? Gradually, a lot of people have left the town. A lot of people have left the house where I grew up and gone to different places, too. Only a poor uncle is stuck there.  In the house where I was planning to get stuck! Went there and stopped the car in front of that house. Couldn't see too much of attention to the car. If such a car had come in our days, we would all have come to the car and not left it until the car itself left. It's not there now. Good improvement. By the way, my car is not such a good car. It is a old, used, worn-out and one of the cheapest cars that anyone could buy in the history of independent India, which I bought for a bike's price.

OK. Stopped the car. We all went inside the historical house. My three years old talkative daughter refused to come inside and cried like mad. Even I felt like crying. 'You are refusing to come into the same house where you would have been growing up if planets had been positioned differently!', I did my calculations within and thought to myself. Went to her and told in a sobbing voice, "When I was a kid like you, this is the house I grew up baby; This is the street I played; See those boys; That's how I was!". I don't know if it's understandable to her or not. She changed her face as though she absorbed what I said and then got back to her stand again. She stayed within the car itself.

Whatever is the case, she was not ready to come in. Nobody was interested in convincing her either. It was just a courtesy visit on the way when we went for some other work. I thought, 'Let her not come. If she comes the story would end here itself. Let her not come. Only then will I be able to think over it again and again - talk about it repeatedly - write about it as an important experience!' and left her. What a pity? What a pity? My daughter doesn't like the place where most of my life was spent. If I talk about the life I lived here tomorrow, she might get irritated and say, "Dad, don't irritate me, tell me something interesting".

When we went inside the house, there was another incident to add fuel to the fire. It was like museum for my wife. There was a photograph that was taken almost thirty years back. I look exactly like my daughter in that. I have seen that photograph many times before. But, it was giving a different feeling this time. My wife said once again with the same amount of amazement, "You look exactly like her!?". Note it - she doesn't look like me; I look like her. I was cursing, 'At least to see this, your daughter could come in... But...'

'Did we really stay in this house? So many of us in the same place?! How can it be possible? Unbelievable, right? No chance!', We spoke about something that actually happened as if it never happened, with no disagreements.

Then, we went to the farming area behind the house, which was in walk-able distance, to do what we went there for. In the eight years that I spent there, I have walked in that area at least once in a day. Memories of the walking, jogging, running and all the forgotten games passed through my mind.

Can my daughter not understand even a drop of these? Can I not share them with her? I felt like going mad. When I am in my seventies or eighties (Excuse me for this; I am basically very greedy by birth!), when I will have more urge to talk about all these, to whom will I tell all these? Now itself, I don't get anyone to listen to all these! Let's see... Don't know how much more changes I will have to witness!

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