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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!'.
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.