The nature of my Dad’s job required him to move around frequently, every few years. So whenever he got transferred, we were in tow, renting a new house and staying together as a family. That way I got to live in a variety of houses, enjoy different places in and around Nagercoil Town, studied at many schools around, visited markets in these small village/towns & made a long list of friends too.
Once he got transferred to Vellamadam, just on the outer edge of Nagercoil Town. Those days, it resembled that picturesque Indian Village that you would find only in the South, full of green paddy fields, blue skies, flowing water, monsoon clouds and mountains within stone throw’s distance. I was admitted in the terracotta tiled, slope roofed, single storey Elementary School in Vellamadam, which later was accredited Higher Secondary status. Unlike today there were not many shops or homes around the school, then. Just across the road which ran infront of the school was the vast expanse of paddy that was lost in the distant horizon of mountains and clouds. Adjacent to the school was a small spring well that was perennial even when the water in the river and other wells around went dry in the peak of Summer.
Vellamadam was full of green acres in the 1960s
There was never much traffic on the road. Occasionally, farmers passed by in their bull carts. Busses and lorries were rare and much sought after to sight. Buses & lorries welcomed with lots of noisy waving and clapping till the vehicles passed us by during our class recess breaks. For me & the other children, young and innocent as we were, chasing butterflies and dragon flies that floated around the spring well is how we ticked on time till the bell rang at the end of recess and the start of a new period (Class).
The buses to Aralvoimozhi run by the Sri Ganapathy Bus Service used to pass the school at our recess break. The bus was driven by a jovial, aging driver in his 50s who sported a cottony white beard and had long hair that was bundled into a tuft on the crown of his head. In short, he reminded me of Rabindranath Tagore. He also wore white shirts, I remember clearly as it was yesterday.
As soon as he brought the bus to a halt in the bus stop right near the school gate, we begin our excited waving and shouting in joy at the bus. Kindled by our excitement, the driver used to poke his head out of the window, lift an arm in the air and shout, “Sree Ramajayam,” which got repeated in a loud chorus by us, the young kids. It became eagerly executed daily routine for us. Then we were free, untouched by the classism, communalism, caste-ism or any other “isms” of adult lives.
While residing in Vellamadam, my close buddy of the times was Aarumugam. His father was the local Iron-smith. We were never to be seen alone. We walked to school together, played together, snacked at the small petty shops & went home only to study and sleep. Near the bridge was a Sudalamadaswamy temple which Aarumugams and I used to visit often, whenever we heard the sound of the bell rininging, we’d stop our games and run to the temple for the roasted peanut and bananas we were handed there. Nobody asked me which religion or community I belonged to, or why I was in the temple, not my parent or any from the temple even if some of them would have known me for sure. Such was the genial mentality of the people - all accepting, all loving, all embracing culture of Nagercoil Town in the day when life was young. This is my prayer too, that this is how it should remain.
Soon enough my father got transferred to Nagercoil town and we came to stay in a house near Nagaraja Thidal, a prime center for the Hindu community of Nagercoil. But then, in the 50s there was no reason for concern or worry to be neighbouring Hindus or Christians or an atheist; not even the slightest. Religious faith was in perfect harmony; undisturbed, un-disturbing! I joined second standard at the local Public School near Manimedai (Duthie’s Clock Tower). Nagaraja Thidal used to be our play ground and we never did differentiate between a Hindu or a Muslim friend.
A few years later when we shifted to Charles Miller Street, near Home Church, the Church courtyard became our play ground. And whenever I visited my grandmother in Thuckalay, I used to play with a cousin on the grounds adjacent to the Dargha.
That way, when I look back, I know these harmless, insignificant activities then helped carve the character in me, which I hold onto proudly. But the credit all goes to my parents who never once questioned or cautioned me on my friendship with kids of other religion nor did they do anything that would have sowed the seed in to me view then any different than me. To me, parents like these were the unknown, unaccounted ambassadors of goodwill of their time. If every parent would sow the seeds of goodwill in minds of their children, atleast this part of the world would be a religious-trouble free zone, in a generation’s time.