In our village Anadhikritapuram, the high point of the year, used to be the ten-day festival at the local temple. The festivals were timed to coincide with the harvest season. Experts in traditional dance forms like Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, would
enact stories from the ancient scriptures. The performances went on for hours. Hindus, Muslim’s and Christians all got together and had a good time, shopkeepers did brisk business, and every one went home happy. Then television came into our lives.
In the 80’s, India hosted the Asian games in New Delhi. To promote the games the state controlled media went on an aggressive marketing campaign which saw television spread across the length and breadth of the country. It became a status symbol to own a TV, if you owned a VCR as well, then you were counted amongst the local elite.
I was in school during those years. From home to school was about a kilometer and I used to walk the distance along with my friends. I hated school; it was the presence of these friends that made life bearable. One of my friends from this group was Rajesh. Rajesh Patel’s family had migrated to our village from the state of Gujarat. The Patel’s had been our family friends since my grandfather’s days. Rajesh and I shared a few common interests
like cricket, comics and day dreaming. We were also at the bottom of the class as far as studies were concerned. Rajesh’s elder sister, Sunita was in the local engineering college and had scored the highest marks in our village. Much against her will, she was roped in to tutor both of us.
The mind, it is said is like a butterfly, flitting from flower to flower, where every flower was a different thought. My butterfly surely took its flying very seriously, especially whenever I was being taught. Every day of the week after school hours, Sunita tried to interest us in some man called Pythagoras who had issues with triangles or someone called Newton who started talking weird after being hit on his head with an apple. During all this, I would be busy looking all around their house and drawing sketches in my notebook. Didi, or elder sister as we called Sunita was a noble soul. She never scolded us. For her the severest form of reprimand was to peer down at us through her thick round glasses, with a serious look on her face.
Rajesh’s mother rarely came out, happy with her life in the kitchen or prayer room, it was his father whom I found more interesting. Rajesh’s grandfather had earned enough to see to it that his children never needed to work, and Patel bhai as Rajesh’s father was called ensured that his father’s property did not go waste. The bhai part in his name meant brother .Tall, thin he was always immaculately dressed. Even indoors he would wear full sleeve shirts, and while outdoors, he would wear shoes. All this made him stand out in our village, a world where men usually were happy bare-chested or at most wore a simple shirt accompanied by the dhoti, a bed sheet like cloth draped around the waist. Patel bhai, though rarely ventured out doors, he could normally be found sitting in front of their TV, watching any thing being transmitted in English.
While in the Patel sitting room, Sunita didi would try to convince us to agree to Darwin’s theory that our grandfathers were apes, in the inner rooms Arnold Schwarzenegger would be making mincemeat of the Predator. Patel Bhai lived on a daily dose of Rambo, Indiana Jones and Rocky mixed with equal portions of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’. Rajesh was a great fan of his father. Much to our amusement, he called his father ‘Pop’. Now this would have been OK, if we had been living in some part of the western hemisphere, but here in the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent and that too in a village, where half the people could not even spell out their names in English, this was free comic entertainment for the masses.
The plan in the Patel family was to get Didi married of to a green card holder from the US – the dream destination for their community. Using this connection they
hoped to eventually place the entire family in the US. This craze for everything western was their attempt to soothe the cultural shock, which they expected to face, as and when they ever succeeded in crossing over.
Thanks to the efforts of Didi, somehow I crawled through my exams and eventually went to college.
My professional career required me to settle down in a different part of the country. This year, during vacations, I decided to go back to my village and check out old friends and relatives still living there.
The village had now become a bustling town. The temple festival had been reduced to a five-day affair, as most people worked in distant cities and did not have time as before. New dance forms had been introduced, which had less to do with the scriptures and more to do with the hip breaking gyrations popularized by Bollywood. Thankfully the festival was now held outside the temple premises. Local politicians ensured that every religion celebrated its festivals separately.
One of the first places I went to was the Patel residence. Rajesh still stayed with his parents, in the same house, though now he was married and had a son. Didi’s life had taken a slightly different turn. She landed a job while still in her final year of college. There she had married a colleague, another brilliant engineer, like her. The young couple threw away their high salary jobs and moved to a remote village and set up a school there for tribal children.
Rajesh’s mother was in the prayer room as I had expected. Patel bhai now had a head full of white hair but still dressed like James Bond on his way to visit the Queen. He briefly acknowledged my presence with a nod of his head. His grandson was on his lap and they were busy watching the latest Batman thriller. Later during lunch, which I had with them, I heard grandfather and grandson making plans to watch ‘’Step-Up Revolution’’ being screened at the local movie theater.
Thankfully, not everything had changed.