During the weekend, as I was accessing music videos, I came across a few videos eulogizing Coimbatore also known as Kovai, the place where I hailed from. This reminded me of a chapter I had composed about my place of origin from my first book ‘Pneuma’ which was originally uploaded on Kindle before I opted for a self-publishing package from a publisher. An excerpt from Chapter 8 titled Reminiscences is given below:
The name of the Indian city of Tamilnadu state may not resonate as anything significant to multitudes, however, it had an indefinable significance to Neha whose carefree childhood and tumultuous teenage years were shaped by the vivacious, crowded, multicultural, urban agglomeration. When Neha’s birth was celebrated in Mehta Hospital, Chennai by her grandparents, aunts and uncles the regime of Indian National Congress in Tamilnadu was terminated by the rising popularity of DMK with M.K. Karunanidhi holding the office of Chief Minister. Brooke Bond Tea Company, where her father was employed, lost their British ipseity and gained an Anglo-Dutch identity with Unilever’s annexation. Neha was introduced to Kovai when her new mother could join her life partner after a confinement period of sixty days during which she was nurtured and pampered as per South Indian traditions. Ever since, Kovai had been a trusted companion in her life who brought frolic, magic and romance to her formative years; a silent witness to her tales of joy and sorrow who was never reluctant to offer a shoulder to cry.
Transition occurred not only in Neha’s life. Kovai also transitioned from sweltering summers with extreme temperatures as high as 40 degrees to monsoon madness with the heavy downpour drenching everyone and everything in her line of approach to not so chilly romantic winters offering a pleasant relief to weather-beaten residents. Princess birthdays with precious gifts from loved ones, family movie night at KG cinema complex or Central and Kanakadhara theatres, dining out with family at Hotel Sree Annapoorna and Ananda Bhavan, family dinners at friends or relatives’ residences added zest to her colour filled childhood days. Waterfalls, temples, shopping complexes, textile and engineering industries and educational institutions transformed Kovai to an iconic city not only in the state but also in the country. 1970’s was a time when English medium schools left such a distinctive impression in the field of education that middle-class parents with unexceptional income clamoured for admissions in private schools even before the birth of their offspring. One occasion when catholicity genuinely assisted parents was when obtaining a spot for their children at catholic schools despite intense competition. Neha’s pursuit for a successful career commenced in 1978 when she was enrolled at Avila Convent Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Coimbatore. Oblivious to the economic stress her education was initiating in her father, Neha reaped the rewards of a seed that her father had sown.
As a student, she remembered how she welcomed festivals wholeheartedly as they brought additional holidays besides the calendared school vacations. Diwali, Pongal, Saraswati Puja, Ayudha Puja, Muharram, Ramzan and Christmas filled the city and the streets of her district with magic as decorations, lights and fireworks beautified the edifices rendering them supernal.
Taste buds were tickled by the variety of homemade ghee-fragrant sweets and savouries that good-natured neighbours attired in new ethnic and fashionable outfits brought home with immense pleasure.
Entering the threshold of adolescence, Neha found herself intrigued by a fascinating subject that was not offered at the catholic school for secondary students, boys. She had failed to appreciate their company when she studied with them till Fourth Standard in the primary until the nuns, who were intolerant to indiscipline, plotted and schemed and eventually bid farewell to them. She had always found her male counterparts annoying, maliciously ridiculing and unfriendly material whose presence should be avoided. She had an unmistakable memory of having pushed a boy who was standing on the desk with such anger and force that when he stood up after a heavy fall he was the bearer of a chipped tooth. Bodily changes, hormonal development and pubescence transfigured those irksome lads suddenly into attractive species whose attention was worth craving for.
Neha basked in the glory of her secret admirers and audacious ones who dared to disregard societal restrictions and advance a proposition that lasted until she burst their bubble. Boys in the neighbourhood, from adjacent schools who eyed pretty or smart looking girls from bakeries, shops and bus stops in the proximity of the catholic school, at church, in Sunday catechism classes, participating in rotary club events, at function venues, at popular eateries and so ran the seemingly endless list. They were an irresistible topic to converse with her girlfriends in hushed voices within the privacy of her room that often-generated excitement which overruled apprehensions of being overhead by eavesdropping family members. Harlequin, Silhouette romance and Mills and Boon series were read voraciously as Neha did not have access to internet cafes which were made available to the public only in 1995. Every girl had a crush on some boy somewhere at some time as though it was an unspoken law in the adolescent kingdom. Like every other girl, Neha survived those temporary distractions until HSC state board exams.
It was customary for 12th Standard students in the 1990’s to sit for the state board exams in external venues. Avila Convent Matriculation Higher Secondary school and a few other local schools had their venue as Sri Avinashilingam Home Science College for women, which had acquired the status of ‘Deemed University’ three years ago; a venue where Neha’s resolve to be solitary was no match against the unfathomable power of the Sisters of Fate. On the final day of her board exams, Neha heaved a sigh of relief as she walked to the bus stop thinking about the umpteen number of things she could pursue with pleasure during her long vacation when a stranger’s intense gaze discontinued her thoughts.