Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Aditi's Kochi


Aditi's Kochi
An open short story


Aditi hails from a beautiful village called Dayalpur, which is in the Jalandhar district of Punjab. When she was studying for her first year under graduation in the Government College Tehang, her family had moved to Kochi in Kerala as her father Ranjit Singh wanted to takeover a wholesale store for electronic equipment spare-parts run by his eldest bother Teja Singh consequent on his death. Teja Singh was unmarried. During that time Ranjit Singh was a high school teacher in Dayalpur. Since Ranjit's elder brother was settled in Canada, it became Ranjit's sole discretion to decide on the future of Teja's business establishment, which was well known in north Kerala. Family and friends advised Ranjit against the closure of that very successful and profitable business. Thus after much deliberations, Ranjit decided to resign his teacher's job to takeover the business which was run with much passion by Teja. Another reason for Ranjit's decision was the strong bondage between them.

Her father's decision brought about the first major change in the life of Aditi, who was otherwise a very routine girl. She was a little bit introvert and very shy as well. Till then she had not much friends. Her mother Arati was her only intimate friend. Everyday, after returning from college, she used to help her mother Arati in cooking. She loved it very much, in fact. Cooking time in the evening was the occasion she shared the happenings on the day with her mother. The things happened in the college, things known about classmates, the observations she made in the class as well as during her to and fro travel for study etc.

During the railway journey from Jalandhar to New Delhi and New Delhi to **Kochi, the discomfort of an unexpected leaving of their own village, friends and relatives was very much evident on the faces of Ranjit Singh, Arati and Aditi. Among them the cooler person was Arati, because she did not have any anxiety about the new place to where they were traveling. For her, the world was limited to her husband and daughter. Therefore, she would be comfortable at any place as long as Ranjit and Aditi were with her. But the cases of Ranjit Singh and Aditi were different. The major reason for Ranjit's worry was his anxiety over the continued study of Aditi. Though he tried for a college admission through one of the friends of his deceased brother, it did not come out successful. For Aditi the case was further complicated one. She could not imagine a life out of Dayalpur, even though it was with her parents. Throughout their journey to Kochi she was anxiously thinking about the new people and things that she would have to face at Kochi.

In Kerala it was rainy season. After the train entered Kerala in Palakkad, the remaining three hours journey to Kochi was through torrential rain. When they reached Kochi, the downpour became further heavy and the railway yard looked like a river. However they saw the real river when they got out of the railway station. Teja's chief accountant Sukumara Pillai was waiting for them at the station. They started from Kochi South Railway Station in his car. The parking yard of the station was seen like a large pool. Sukumara Pillai's driver adventurously drove the vehicle to the portico where they were standing. When they opened the door, water rushed into the car. Some how they hurled themselves into the vehicle. When the car entered the main road, it was exactly like an overflowing river. The situation was further complicated by the bumper to bumper traffic. Their vehicle began to move like a snail.

It took three and half hours for them to travel ten kilometers to reach the old apartment that Teja Singh purchased fifteen years back. The place was a little bit away from the rushes of the city. Though it was only 6 pm, thick darkness had already spread allover because of the heavy rain. Therefore they could not watch the surroundings of their new home. However, once they entered the home, Aditi felt very comfortable. Contrary to her anxieties about the new place while they decided to move to Kochi, Aditi began to love the new home from that very first day onwards.

On the second day of their arrival, while looking around through the window of her bedroom, Aditi noticed a public library next door. She could see the long rows of book shelves in the library. It attracted her very much. The more she looked at the bookshelves, the more she got fascinated. Subsequently a wish budded in her mind to visit the library. In a couple of days she got admission in the grand old Maharaja's college in the city, which was five kilometers away from where they lived. Her new college had a very good library. But she never ventured to go into it. She never had the kind of fascination about the college library that she felt for the library near her home. One day while returning from college, she visited the library and obtained a membership form. On the very next day she submitted the filled in form and remitted the membership fee.

She felt an unexplainable tranquility of mind while entering into the members' area of the library for the first time. Some unseen forces within her guided her to the travelogue section of the library. From  there she pulled out two books, almost absentmindedly. One was a Switzerland Traveler's account of her Kochi tour and the other one was an Indian writer's travelogue on his maiden visit to Switzerland; an amazing coincidence!

Back at home she completed the first book on Switzerland in that night itself. She read the second book on the next night as well. Now she had two conflicting pictures. The Indian writer provided her a picturesque narration of the beauty of Switzerland, discipline and courtesy of its people. Whereas the Swiss writer made her highly confused with a complex mixture of observations. It narrated the common issues of the city including the traffic chaos. Whereas it also told readers about the friendly nature of the local people along with some habitual issues and the beauty of its backwater.

While completing the Swiss author's book in the second day late night, with her short familiarization with Kochi, she knew that all the things the Swiss traveler wrote was not correct. But she also knew that a lot of things had to improve. 'Anyway Kochi is going to become my permanent home. Therefore I should make it a better home' – Aditi decided. That thought inflamed in her. She kept on thinking about it till early morning and then she fell asleep.

As it was a college holiday she woke up only around nine in the morning. When she entered the kitchen, her mother had already completed the cooking of breakfast.

“This is injustice Aditi” - her mother told her with a smile. She was reminding her that on holidays she had to help her in the kitchen.

“Sorry Maa yesterday I slept only very late” - she kissed Arati.

While taking breakfast Aditi thought about her decisions in the previous night. Her thoughts even amazed her. 'My God! whatever things I am thinking about?...' - she asked herself. Still she decided to stick on to her decision to make Kochi a better place for her.

On her third visit to the library to return the books, she stood confused amidst the bookshelves for some time and then moved between the current affairs and travelogue sections. Finally she decided to read more travelogues on Kochi to get a clear understanding on how others looked at Kochi. On the subsequent days she shifted her attention to the historic, political and developmental aspects of Kochi. Thus, within a few days she became thorough about the Kochi related catalogue of the library. The library staff also became very friendly to her. It helped Aditi to spend long hours in the library. On some holidays, she spent the entire day time in the library. At times she read books by standing by the book shelves, some times at the reading room and some other times at the reference area. In short, she read more books while at library than at her home.

Now she knew that pollution, encroachment of open spaces by concrete jungles, criminal gangs, shabby businesses etc were the weeds that grow along with the growth of cities. “Kochi is growing very fast, if I can prevent the growth of weeds along with it, I can make it a better place...a city with much difference...” - She thought.

Her passion to know more about Kochi to serve it better, helped her to defeat her introvert and shy natures. She wanted to interact with more local people to know about their observations and anticipations about Kochi. She also wanted to cross-verify the findings of foreign travelogue authors. Perhaps, the first local person with whom she became more friendly was her classmate Riyas. She discussed with him what she learned about Kochi and requested his support to learn more about Kochi.

“It seems you have already read about Kochi more than me. Now it's time to experience Kochi by traveling and interacting with people” - Aditi received the suggestion of Riyas with much excitement.

“Exactly! I want to travel the length and breadth of Kochi to experience its traffic chaos in the first place” Hearing it Riyas laughed aloud and replied:

“We Kochi people seek ways to escape from the traffic chaos...here a Punjabi lioness wants to experience it...what should I say?”

“Riyas, I am not joking. I am serious.”

It was the beginning of her Kochi expeditions with a purpose. She planned travels using every chances she got.

Ranjit Singh and Arati viewed their only daughter's changes with much anxiety. After all, Kochi was a new place for them irrespective of the Kochi's Sikh community connections they had. However the genuine nature and clean characters of Riyas was a relief for them. Ranjit secretly advised Riyas to take particular care on Aditi as she was not used to that kinds of travels and interactions with public. Riyas consoled him by saying that “don't worry uncle, Aditi is a very intelligent and strong girl”. However on Sundays Ranjith did not allow her to roam-round. Instead he and Arati used to take her to the Gurudwara in Thevara wherein all the Sikh families in Kochi assembled on Sundays. Prayers and wonderful communion; Aditi also began to like it very much.

Aditi used the Sunday community gatherings to know the impressions of the Sikh community members about their Kochi life. She was gradually penetrating deep into the Kochi life. She began to see herself in varying roles of a proactive student, social worker, thinker, change agent and reformer. She and Riyas met and studied almost all kinds of people during their travels, the diversity of it was so amazing as it ranged from completely marginalized poor people to big business men. Those engagements quite naturally related her with student politics in the campus. By the time she completed her post graduation in Maharaja's college, her social involvements had grown out of student politics. During those days she felt as if being pulled towards some novel destination by unknown forces within her. However, as an individual who always maintained the simplicity of a Dayalpur girl, she could not believe that she really had the capabilities for the kind of social and political engagements she was making.

A thunderbolt awoke her from the daydream. She looked outside through the window. It was raining heavily outside similar to the day on which she arrived Kochi along with her parents. Ten years passed since then. Now Aditi became the Mayor of Kochi Municipal Corporation and Riyas worked as Secretary for the Corporation under her. Kochi had begun to change as she dreamed after reading the first two library books she had taken. Now she was very confident that she could make Kochi a better place, a different place than the regular cities. The same forces within her that made her a different girl during her studies in Maharaja's college still guided her forward.

During the nomination time for her candidature to the Municipal Corporation council, the district leader of her political party asked his state leader why should they project a Punjabi lady as Mayor candidate. To that question the state leader answered “Kochi is a Municipal Corporation in India and Aditi is a passionate Indian who has been working for the welfare of the Kochi people for long. This reason is more than enough, I hope”. The state leader also warned the district leader not to raise such stupid concerns again. Accidentally Aditi overheard the above conversation occurred in their party office. Immediately on hearing the state leader's comments, Aditi thought 'earlier I believed Dayalpur is three thousand kilometers away from Kochi. Now I feel that either Kochi is in Dayalpur or Dayalpur is in Kochi with no measurable distance'. That thought dramatically strengthened her determination to live for Kochi.