So, what triggered that conversation? I have met this person so many times during the past two years to discuss business (past & future). And, I always knew he is a Malayali. But, never for once did we discuss the exact coordinates of our location in Kerala. On Monday this week, I was in the unwinding sort of mood when we visited this Client, once again.
We were at the fag end of our fifteen minutes’ meeting with him, when somehow the topic of homeland came up. All I had to hear was that he is from Kannur and then, as Malayalis usually do, I asked, “Where in Kannur?”
“It’s a place called Chirakkal, a very small town!” He said.
“Oh, Chirakkal! I’m from Valapattanam, a smaller town placed right next to Chirakkal!” I spoke with delight. Very rarely do I get to meet non-IT people from my town in Bangalore. Oh well, that was just the beginning. Mr. N… who had almost risen from his seat to leave, comfortably sat back in the chair prepared to listen (for a change ;)) to the long conversation.
No matter what, you get hooked on to a conversation usually when it is in some way connected to your childhood, unless you had a very depressing sort of childhood. I did not carry a very high opinion about Valapattanam or Kannur, in the days I was there. It took me a long time to understand how pivotal a place like Valapattanam and our house by the river was in making up my character, my destiny and the experiences I have had.
In many standards of definition, Valapattanam may not be even counted as a town. A stat-crazy guy once told me that Valapattanam is the smallest Panchayat in Kerala. Well, it could be! But, in our good old childhood, I along with my dear cousins had counted the number of mosques in this village town. I do not know if it is a matter of pride, but Valapattanam probably has the most number of mosques in any panchayat in Kerala: at last count, there were 34 of them in an area of only around 2 sq. km. It is not without its share of temples, either. But, the numbers in the case of mosques is just too staggering. Valapattanam is no obscure town, though; it has its own share of importance in history. Well, I am no historian; you could probably google it and find more.
Conversations, like thoughts (Refer The Thought Machine), can take off at one place and go to totally unplanned territories. Our conversation mainly evolved from the discussion about the news-hungry people of Kerala. My friend by now tells me how every individual living in Kerala is so well-informed about the world around him/her. There’s the example of beedi workers from Kannur. In any group of 6-8 beedi workers, there usually is one person who doesn’t roll the beedis. His task is to read the newspaper aloud. The role will shift from one to the other, every day; however, this is one thing the beedi workers cannot live without. The beedi workers are usually paid on the number of bundles of beedis they roll in a day. So, who pays the worker who reads the newspaper? Well, it is taken care by the others.
At this point, Mr. N… also points out that this is the case at those earthen tea shops in the villages as well. Even if the rest of the villagers won’t have the time to read the newspaper, there will always be one gentleman reading out the news aloud with occasional bursts of “Hear this! Hear this!” My own memory took me back to the days when my grandmother, no matter what she did or didn’t in a day, would read the entire newspaper carefully. There was particular emphasis on reading the obituary page. Only in Malayalam newspapers, I believe, is there a dedicated full page for obits. Looking at a particular obit entry, my grandmother would, then, with help from her daughters and cousins try to figure out who the dead person is. Well, it works. There have been cases when we have realised there’s been a death in the family only by reading the obits. Needless to say, my mother – staying abroad in Oman – continues this practice even now. She relies on the Gulf version of Malayalam newspapers. Well, at times, I would wonder: are we the largest newspaper-reading regional population in the world?
The conversation somehow shifted to sports and there was no doubt among all three that Kannur, and especially a town in Kerala called Thalassery, probably has the largest set of sports-conscious people in Kerala. People from a district called Malappuram may beg to differ. But, that would be mostly in the case of football. When you take the case of Thalassery, people there are mostly well aware of all sorts of sports played in India; whether it is hockey, football, cricket or volleyball. Mr. N… is quick to quip in that Thalassery is the birthplace of Circus in India. Readers from Thalassery may have lots to add here. Well, I need to move on with this, so I would rather not spend too much time talking about this place. Thalassery again, similar to Valapttanam, is a very historically significant town. And you may google the name to read more. Meanwhile, our discussion moved on to the Sevens Football season in Valapattanam. Ow, I miss those days. Sevens’ football is this very aggressive form of football (as the name says, with seven players in each team), tournaments of which is played in small towns of Kerala. Valapattanam happens to be the host to one of the most exciting tournaments of these.
For me, the Sevens’ tournaments were never about the quality of football. The matches usually ended in fights and the players even used to hit the referees. But, the excitement nevertheless, is unmatchable. There would be smell of roasted peanuts all around and our hands would itch at the thought that our parents gave us only about Rs. 5/- as pocket money. Lastly, how can anyone forget the inflated condoms floating in the air like balloons? Well, can’t beat that…
The conversation took different twists and turns. It went on for close to two hours. The most interesting discovery came when my Client mentioned that the Chirakkal pond is probably the largest such pond in Kerala (well, growing up, I had thought it was a kind of river). From that point, he went on to mention he had a house somewhere close to that. Working out the coordinates, we found out that his house was directly opposite to that of my uncle (and he also knows some of my uncle’s in-laws). Well, it indeed is a small world, after all! Now, this is where most usually a conversation is headed, when two Malayalis are deep into it: discovering a common point in between.
My delight, that day, was not mainly at discovering where this person came from. It is the absolute thrill of recalling snippets of information/gossip about a place you have grown up in. There never is another place like home. You are bored of it and at times you learn to hate it, but the moment you leave home, the first thing you feel like doing is go back. That night, more than on any other, I missed the good old life at Valapattanam.
What do you remember about your hometown? Do write to me! Good Day, Good Night!!