Voices From a Growing Town

Thommen Jose

I am conscious of flux, of disorder; of annihilation and despair. If this is all, this is worthless. (Virginia Woolf, The Waves) 

The Master Plan occupied the centerpiece of every conversation and gathering. Or more specifically the Transport Plan which the Master Plan was chiefly about. It was an officious one, a protracted one, albeit disarmingly simplistic which called the road passing through the heart of the town, the ‘spinal cord’ of the town. It proposed a hierarchy of four and two-lane roads in order to ‘facilitate safe and relatively unhindered movement of traffic within the town.’ It came with a map of the town crisscrossed by lines of different widths denoting roads 21, 18, 15, 12 and eight meters broad. Arguments broke out over whether a line was a thick or a thin one. It was the first time anyone really looked at a map. Remarks like ‘plenty of grey areas’ and ‘my panchayat is bigger than yours’ could be heard being bandied about. It was not just about roads but a consummate makeover. “If I donate some land for a bus stop, then maybe I can open a small restaurant where my house is,” a neighbor said. A meek, pleasant guy who lived off his dowry, everyone was surprised by the sudden enterprise. Then everyone had a Their Own Plan each intricately linked to the ‘land use’ proposed in the Master Plan; they turned the pages briskly as if in a hurry to decode some hidden path to wealth before any other. Nothing much was profited from the rubber subsidy which came and went. The more percipient of the population stood quiet, erect, starch-shirted harlequins. They were the original owners of the land, the ones who bought it, toiled in it and built houses and sculleries in it. Their stertorous voice had been silenced by old age and dependency. But their gleaming eyes spoke.

 “With the road widening, there will be no shop left in Pala town,” said Venu chettan. “At least none of the shops that have been there for many decades will survive. It’s not that they are making much money – lack of parking space has already eaten into their business. But with the new Plan, many of them will have to be razed to the ground. Entering some of the shops today you already feel like walking into a portakabin – quite palpable is the sensation that what you see today will not be around tomorrow. Thanks to the Plan, real estate which was already dull has now become even bleaker. As have my retirement plans of buying and moving into an apartment in Kochi.”

“You have to see the number of drama and ganamela companies that are closing down,” said Joseph Mathew. “Then nobody has the patience for these ancient entertainment forms anymore. Three day Kathakali recitals today are compressed into two hours at tourist centers like Fort Kochi. Roads reflect our ever increasing hurry to reach somewhere, to start, to move, to go. The more the number of roads, the more these traditional forms will suffer.”


 “Sadder are the mephitic views of those from within the community,” said the Priest. “As the size of our congregation goes up, the cracking, limiting walls have to come down. And this I say regardless of a road, old or new, next to it or around it. The flock has to trust us the anointed shepherds to find them a suitable lair. Take the case of the church in Chowara which has been air conditioned factoring in the rise in global temperatures. Now, that is how we do it, how we should do it. Fighting for primordial structures is such a waste of time. People can point out antique values but the prerogative is ours to make praying comfortable.”

“Growth,” said Manimala sar, “is as inevitable as Tuesday following Monday and Wednesday, Tuesday. For progress to happen there has to be roads. I am fascinated by the many new roads coming up. Take this bypass for example – I bring everyone here who comes visiting us. Pala and its conurbations are like a many-headed monster and the roads are the veins that keep it alive. I guess ‘veins’ is better than ‘spinal cord’ and I say this not because I was a zoology professor.”

 “You might scoff,” said Dr. Ittyavirah, “at a new bar that has come up at some godforsaken corner. But wait. The cockalorum had inside information about the Plan you are now holding, probably several years ago. Watch agape when state highways come up all around his beer and wine bar in a trice.”

“Bars boom at the expense of sweet toddy shops,” said Valsamma teacher. “Then who goes to toddy shops today, except some like my dewy son. You say the food is excellent but the toddy you bring home cannot even be used to ferment the appam mix, such is the adulteration. There has to be a law to protect this state treasure.”

“Bus stops are where we used to meet,” said Venu chettan “steal glances, touches and exchange letters. The bus stops today are like entire amphitheaters announcing the resume of the local MLA or minister. They are so big kids openly canoodle and exchange WhatsApp numbers and videos that nobody notices. Maybe nobody cares anymore.”


 “Mark my words,” said Dr. Ittyavirah “nothing is what it looks like. The Plan here while rendering many paupers will also make some millionaires. And that is by design.”

“We have to ensure nobody gets a free hand here,” said Valsamma teacher. “The municipality was taking complaints, the date is now over. We have along with some of the neighbors submitted a petition, mass signed, against some provisions of the Master Plan.”

“God is everywhere,” said the Priest. “And churches are like roads – can be built anywhere, has to be built everywhere.”

“Now,” said Joseph Mathew “there is a building where you went for your Hindi tuitions when you came back from abroad. Take a good look at it if you have nothing against it. Take a good look at it anyway, its going away soon.”

“Without growth,” said Manimala sar, “memories would be stunted.” 

(The post construct is a dismissive attempt at being inspired by the ‘play-poem’ style Virginia Woolf spoke about in her pathbreaking work, ‘The Waves.’)

 *This story first appeared in Thommen Jose's blog Wanderink.com