Going to your hometown or remotely near it is always a pleasure. The lush green fields, misty mountains and wind farms that dots the landscape welcomes you as you peer out of the window of the bus. When the bus stops and your feet touches the land, clean moist air caresses your cheek and whispers ‘Welcome home’ in your ear. In that moment you know you are home. The home where I lived for the first 18 years of my life.
After I left Nagercoil, Kanyakumari for education and work, number of times I visited the place were few and far in-between. Not to mention the 13 hour travel time and lack of convenient transport prevented me from making the visit more often. Apart from special occasions like Diwali, I hardly went there.
After I became a reporter, I yearned for an opportunity to go there for work. So when my boss asked me to travel to Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli to do a story on engineering colleges in that area, I jumped in joy. I was ecstatic when I landed in Nagercoil, for official purpose.
Doing a job I love at a place I love comes with its perks. When I was reporting, it let me discovere whole lot of things about my hometown that I did not know during the time I was living there. I did not know that Kanyakumari district is the only place in India that has a temple for ancient poet and Lord Murugan devotee, Avvaiyar. The 300-year-old temple is in Thazhakudy, 12 km from Nagercoil. Though the origin of the temple is not very clear, it is a sanctuary for the people surrounding the area. Vijayalakshmi, a devotee, said during Tamil month Aadi (falls in mid July and August) thousands of women gather in the temple, make kozhukattai, a South Indian sweet dumpling made from rice flour with grated coconut and jaggery as offering to the goddess and pray for prosperity, marriage and childbirth.
According to Sekar, a native, after worshiping here, devotees visit the small Murugan temple situated in mountains. It was an interesting discovery for me, for I have never heard about such a legend before. When I asked my father, he said, “Yes, it is a famous temple. Every year traffic has to be diverted and additional buses that take people to this temple ply.” There is so much I don’t know about the place I grew up in, I thought.
Other than my recent discovery, Nagercoil has not changed since the time I was a teenager. Tower Readymades, where my mother used to take me for buying ‘expensive clothes’ for occasion like a weddings, is still standing in Manimedai junction. The junction is the Panagal Park equivalent of Chennai, where you find famous clothing and footwear shops, where I have been to with my parents since the time I was a grade schooler.
I still remember the footwear shop Rahmath, where my parents have been buying chappals and shoes, probably for the last 50 years. It is very close to my school. The white name board, that bears the name Rahmath in dulled red paint, has not changed either. Sometimes it is good to know that things have not changed.
But it is not like nothing has changed. Nagercoil now has a mall, small though it may be, and a multiplex. It is a great improvement for a laid back town, where there is not much younger population and hardly any industries. It never fails to surprise me how people in Nagercoil actually earn their keep.
If I remember right agriculture is one of the major occupation of people here, where coconut, rubber and paddy are grown. There is an old salt factory here, which could employ few hundreds. Apart from that gold jewellery business is the most prominent here. For a town with a population of two lakh, there are more shops than are required I would say.
The jewellery shops decorate the entire Meenakshipuram stretch (a central bus station similar to Koyembedu of Chennai) and it does not stop there. Famous jewellers like Joyalukkas, Bhima and Kallarackals have found a place in this sleepy little town. Though I cannot pinpoint the exact reason behind the huge presence of jewellery shops, one thing I could think of is its proximity to Kerala, which is known for its gold business.
Kanyakumari district was a part of Kerala till November 1, 1972 when it became a part of Tamil Nadu. The district till date retains its Kerala roots, for which I can vouch for. My grandparents studied in Malayalam medium and know to read and write only Malayalam. They can speak Tamil of course, but if people from Chennai were to hear it they would take it for Malayalam rather than Tamil. This is another reason why I can understand Malayalam just like Tamil though I cannot speak as fluently.
When I moved out of Nagercoil to study engineering in Thanjavur, my roommates had difficulty understanding me though all of us were Tamils. For example, back home we call sugar as ‘cheeni’ whereas it is addressed as ‘sarkarai’ in rest of the Tamil Nadu. Small onions are called ‘chinna vengayam’ in most parts of TN whereas we call in ‘ulli’. That is the least of my worries. My slang used to get laughed at and I would be asked if I were a mallu every single day. Living in Chennai for the past seven years has changed all that though.
But the question of identity still remains. Though technically Kanyakumari district people are part of Tamil Nadu, the truth is we are neither considered Tamils nor Mallus. But that is an another debate, one I would like explore at a later date.