Saturday, 12 December 2015

Chandragiri, On your shore is where I'd rather be.

Among the many questions that confuse (and most often, infuriate) me, "Where are you from?" tops the list. Frankly, I have never known. And if I did have an acceptable answer to it, why would it matter to anyone where I really am from?

That being said, I am fortunate to live multiple lives in a single time, mostly owing to the places I come from. I was born in a small town in Kerala, Kasargod and my formative years were spent in Dubai. After my too-big-for-Dubai dreams and other circumstances forced my exit from a closely guarded, protective environment in Dubai, my world expanded so much more once I stepped into a newer home, Mangalore.

Mangalore is not the ideal place to live in, considering how communally sensitive it is (when it is). But still being in its developing stages it is a perfect amalgamation of  the traditional and the modern, which suits all lists of the introvert I am. Looking back, it seems to me that in spite of the love-hate relationship Mangalore and I had over the years, this city has finally won my heart- and the usual answer to where I'm from is Mangalore, if we don't delve into further details that is.

Thekkil, my ancestral village is only a two-hour drive from Mangalore. While my sibling passionately hated life in Thekkil, it being cut-off from most amenities,  I had an insatiable need for regular doses of village life tracing back to as far as I can remember. We never lived in Thekkil after we migrated to Dubai, me at the age of 5 and my sibling at 2 and half years. Only this August, we spent two whole nights at home, ensuing my granny's demise.

Disappointingly, I do not have much travel experience to compare Thekkil's beauty with other places in similar settings. But with some effrontery that I have cultivated over the years, I believe enough to call this place one of the most beautiful villages in Kerala. With a serene river abutting most independent houses, beautiful moonlit nights playing the highlight, towering palm trees all over and a caressing monsoon, I can hardly be proved wrong in this regard.

I can't vouch with statistical correctness, but Thekkil comprises mostly of a young adult population. Most of its middle-aged men are first generation Gulf-toilers, the result of which can be seen in the form of bungalows screaming out all kinds of grandiose. The bigger your bungalow, and the grander your child's wedding function, the more successful you are in life, it seems. This has always put me off.

But in general, the residents here are not overly sophisticated or pompous. As a child, I would often wake up in the mornings listening to the loud noises of domestic discussions in our kitchen that usually hosted them; who is marrying whom and when, who's child just went to the gulf for a new job, who is building a new house, what's for lunch at who's place- life in Thekkil was as transparent as it could have been. Things have changed a little through the years, or so it seems. Or probably it should be attributed to my  growing up, specially being a girl.

While the aforementioned bungalows have huge emphasis laid on the entrance arches and doors, there is rarely any communal activity that happens not involving the rear doors of houses, mostly where the areas that confine women are located. It seems to me now that most of these rear doors are more shut than open and welcoming. Sitting on the porch, at a safe distance from which the river proudly presents itself  as a stage to the moon's reflection, I'm told is a taboo for a 24-year old lady. Too many men and ill-intentional young lads tread those mud roads after all.  It has also been difficult to fake/hide my identity here. Everyone in Thekkil knows everyone from Thekkil.

These are however not major issues to someone whose wild-spirit is still untamed after strenuous effort by a traditionally, conforming, conservative family. You can hardly ever drag me away from the river banks and I sit even on boundary walls, reading books if that's what it takes. I also find the chai that the vendor across the street sells pretty good for the standards of the shop. I wonder how many other women have tasted the same.

The women in Thekkil have chosen a subservient role in their families and largely, in the society. Patriarchal by all means, a woman's role seems confined to their houses, raising the family. Power to them if that is what they wish. But growing up, I have heard of several instances of fathers not wanting to educate their girl children lest they grow up to defy the roles already assigned them. Most kids in Thekkil go to the government school at a short walking distance, where there is absolutely no emphasis laid on quality education, and this is an issue that worries me.

The better part of the story is that I now remain only a visitor to this village. The time I spend here mostly involves quenching my recurring need for its beauty and heeding to a natural affinity towards the little world it houses in itself, and its people. The bitter part is that, there is only a little portion of this beautiful village that leaves me even as I walk away from it.

As I sit in Dubai and write this, it has been only a little over a month since I last visited Thekkil. But Chandragiri, on your shore is where I'd rather still be.