Friday, April 12, 2013

Kalpakkkam: Mourning the loss of Character!


20 years earlier - Kalpakkam beach
I grew up in a tiny seaside hamlet called Kalpakkam. Picture an army cantonment but located in the middle of nowhere.... Got it? that's Kalpakkam. Picture it in Black and White now :)  Located midway between Pondy and Chennai, 20 years ago, it was connected by 2 small roads to Chennai (now with grandiose names like East Coast Road and Grand Trunk Road). It was a time when casurina groves nodded to the salty balmy air by the dozens everywhere. A time when swinging on Banyan trees was fun. And reading books was the greatest summer-time pursuit. When cousins visited us for 2 full months. The place did not have any restaurant or movie hall (still doesn't have the latter I think). So going out to eat or taking a train or watching a movie was a big big treat reserved for significant achievements. A time when you traveled by foot, cycle or cycle-rickshaw. It was a time when you could cross the road without looking left or right, and talk to strangers without wondering if they are kidnappers, pedophiles or sadists. A time when going by bus meant looking out of the window and figuring things out for yourself. (okay, I've finished wallowing in nostalgia, now for the rest of it!)

The same spot. Notice the plastic?
I went to Kalpakkam a few weeks ago. And HOW changed it is. Autos, buses, many may cars. Everyone as plugged in as anywhere else. No more Casurina trees. Plastic bottles, bags on the beach. You don't talk to strangers. You sanitize your hand after shaking hands. Be connected via FB, don't listen or absorb your surroundings.

What I mourn is not the modernity or the power of gadgets, but the loss of character the place had. Its now just another place. You could speak in Hindi and very well be in Indore, or speak in Telugu and be in Vizag.... or whereever. That is disturbing. Take the popular Phoenix Mills mall in Bombay. It used to be a fave, until it opened shop in Chennai. Walk in, and if you ignore the Tamil around you, you could well be shopping in Bombay!

The wonderful element called 'character' we've traded in exchange for the newest, fastest, bestest. I wish we did a bit more to preserve some element of the unique nature of our villages, cities, country in fact. The bigger consumerist players have more money, but is there anyway we can protect the artisans? Give them their place under the sun? I wonder how I would ever explain to my grandkids what a 'kumiti' is (well, its a contraption used to burn fragrant sambrani over coals to dry one's hair) or worse teach them kinship. Well, everything has its price. We lose some, gain some. Would I be able to live without my iPhone? NO! Or travel in a bullock cart? NEVER! But that doesn't mean I shouldn't mourn the loss of handmade paper or a string of flowers so thick that a child would need 2 hands to hold it or feel terrible about my beloved casurina trees now making way for highrises. 

13 comments:

  1. Those were the days! We're supposed to make the world a better place. Sometimes I wonder if we have. Thanks for sharing a piece of your past. My M post is in a similar vein.

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  2. Sigh...every 80s child would mourn the loss of such things...I am a small town girl myself - and I relate to most of the things you said about your town. Just the other day, I was in a party and while the kids played, almost all parents were riveted to their gadgets...I knew they were texting, exchanging mails or plain checking out their FB. I was probably the only one looking around and then I pondered if this behavior we adapted makes us connected or disconnected with the world around us...You might catch the stars, but you miss out on the dandelions blooming at your feet! - I sound like an old person complaining about the younger generation. But sadly, I am a part of the gadget jungle. Thanks for reflecting my own ponder, and thanks for the reassurance that I am alone with it! :-)

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  3. I so get this Meera. And that is what I feel the generation misses today. The nuances of little things that made great stories.

    Your post made me realize, I am not the only one who feels this way. Thank you!

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  4. sigh... modern life... !

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  5. I so agree. I went back to Calcutta after a few years to find that it had become just another metro and all the famiiar family stores had been broken down to make way for A/C malls! What a shame!
    Reading books should always be the greatest summer-time pursuit!

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  6. I agree with you when you say we have traded character with the newest fastest bestest. I have been going to Chandigarh for the last 20 years and although it was always a city - Now I see it change in a way I don't like at all !

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  7. hmmm !
    Quite a nostalgic post.
    True it is about every place. Every place is populated , polluted and modernised . Atleast if few things are intact then its a big achievement !

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  8. hmmm why is it so diff for us to draw a line somewhere rt!

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  9. I can so relate to this. I went to my granny's place after a decade or so and was so shocked to see the transformation... the green fields have now given way to multi-storied buildings, the lazy life has changed to the fast paced life like any other city...

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  10. I feel this way when I visit my hometown Vijayawada and see the rampant commercialization, a bowling alley at the end of every main street, kids splurging their parents' money at KFC's and stuff, I don't hate it, but I don't like it either!

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  11. Beautiful post, I agree completely. So many places these days are turning into clones of the same thing, bereft of the experiences that once made each one of them special.

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  12. Yes - I hate how places are losing there unique character. Before we associated a type of sweet, for example, with a particular place. Now it seems you can get everything everywhere! :(
    Isn't Kalpakkam where they wanted to place a power plant and there were protests?

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