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Return of the native

Though born and raised in a city, one’s nativity is generally traced to another place due to hereditary affiliation. I am known among my close ones as a native of a village situated far from Chennai. Beyond visiting it occasionally as a child, I have hardly any association with that place. Yet, its name forms part of my full name in records—typical of my generation.

Some time ago, I was tempted to visit my ancestral place. In my early days, I remember trekking nearly three miles along a narrow path to reach the village from the railway station. Nowadays, buses speed past at regular intervals.

As I alighted at the bus stop, political party flags fluttering atop tall poles and a blaring radio set in a tea stall greeted me. Patrons, about four or five, were squatting outside, enjoying their morning drink, while one of them haltingly read the day’s news from the newspaper. The tea shop stood at the very spot where a retired schoolmaster used to conduct classes on the porch of his house for a few village children. Now, I could see boys and girls in their respective uniforms cheerfully heading to school.

The small but ancient Siva temple was in a state of disrepair, with cowherds playing cricket inside the big compound of the fallen structure. A large stone slab with lines and lines of inscriptions was lying in a corner. Perhaps this lithic record referred to handsome endowments made to the shrine by pious monarchs centuries ago. Villagers whom I met conveyed the good news that, with donations from devotees, they would be renovating the temple soon.

A portion of Sannadhi Street had turned into a little bazaar, complete with provision stores, vegetable stalls, and mini-supermarkets. Most low-roofed houses were terraced. All of them had electricity, water, and drainage connections. I hardly came across any familiar faces. I was disappointed to learn that the ethnic folk art of Therukoothu (street play) was no longer organised as the artists were no more and people preferred watching television at home or films in a theatre. The house of the hereditary Karnam (village accountant), once a landmark, is now a pawn broker’s shop.

A conspicuous change that came to my attention was the disappearance of a separate Dalit colony that existed on the outskirts of the village in those days. Now, people belonging to all communities are living in harmony in the main village itself. As I returned to the city past the lush fields, I was musing over the sea change that my native place had undergone over the past few decades.

(Published 20 December 2023, 19:28 IST)

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