Monday, December 31, 2007


I am a tourist in the city I grew up in.

Trivandrum is changing. There are new signs of prosperity everywhere, of course, but there is more as well. The whole culture is changing. Men's boutiques and male-only hair salons are springing up everywhere. Mallu men who used to think coconut oil was the best styling gel are now becoming metrosexuals. They strut about in tight jeans and colourful shirts, with coloured hair cut the right length - thinking they're on par with their counterparts in the big cities. And they are - some of them.

The old manor-houses of the city are being swallowed up by real-estate sharks, who spit back out perfectly symmetrical concrete cuboids. Previously, the rich used to live in old venerable houses set back from the road in vast grounds, with whitewashed walls growing green with moss and clay tiles turning black with time. Now, they've exchanged the beauty and the space and the greenery for sets of little squares with perfect plumbing, inside cuboids guarded by a 'security' in a uniform.

But who am I criticizing? The very apartment my parents are renting was built on the pyre of one such manor house. They were a set of three houses, my grandmother tells me, belonging to a man famous for his land and his wealth. He gave one house to each of his three daughters, and one of them (or more likely, her sons) sold out. I can see one of the surviving houses from here - it strives for privacy, trying to hide behind coconut leaves and mango trees, but to no avail.

I go to Palayam market, and barely recognize it. But I can't quite remember what it used to look like either, because the new place is so different - so open and so light. Then my mother reminds me of Good Morning Stores, and memory is triggered. I look around, and compare the image my mind has just come up with to the new reality, and draw a blank.

It used to be a narrow street, clogged with tiny shops (mostly 'Fancy Stores', the memory says - oh, the excitement that phrase still evokes). The vegetable market to the left was an unhygienic place, with a dirt floor and ex-vegetables strewn about everywhere. In the rainy season, one would go in and come back out with splattered clothes and shoes clogged with mud. And now - the vegetable remains are still there, but everything looks so hygienic. It's a vegetable market of the twenty-first century, with none of the dirt and squalor one used to be so familiar with. I'm not sure which one I prefer, though.

The main road has been cleared of the fancy stores, and is now a one-way. But while crossing, I still look both ways, out of habit. But there is so much light - it's hard to get used to. The pink mosque is still there, as is the stadium, with the addition of a decidedly ugly 'torch tower', whatever that may be. The Legislature building looks prettier, somehow.. I look at it in the light of the setting sun and suddenly I'm filled with - a sort of grief, is that it? I mourn for the lost me; the innocent me who didn't know anything of what was to come, who dreamt for one whole year of going to Delhi, not knowing what would happen to her, how the big city would change her and make her a cynic.

Vegetable shopping used to happen on Saturday evenings. The mosque would bugle out its prayer call at dusk, and the city would slowly darken, and then the street lights would come on and the silver Jesus, casting benevolence over the city from the top of the red church opposite the mosque, would be lit up. I would sit in the car, vegetable shopping done with and ice cream at Baskin & Robbins to look forward to, and look at Him, and at the Martyrs' Memorial, and dream. My city, my city, my city.
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