<%-- Page Title--%> Slice of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 141 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

February 13, 2004

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Notes From A Small Town

Richa Jha

Old and new neighbours around my parental house wanted to know everything about my unannounced visit. When they saw my little one playing in the lawn with our two pet dogs, one auntyji screamed loudly from her terrace on the other side of the road. "What R-ji, you never told us that Richa was to come. Wasn't she here just a few months ago?". The other aunty said, "and such a sudden trip, is everything all right?" The first one said next, "Oho, no jamaai? Is something wrong?" Without waiting for either my mother or me to reply, they winked, giggled, and asked, "Or is there some good news? We have been waiting for a long time to hear of it."

Such well-wishers and unsolicited curiosity is typical of this old colony in the small town I grew up in--or any other colony in any other small town, for that matter. I know these women well. I also know how their minds work. I also know it works this way because they have plenty of time on hand. The forenoons are theirs, the sunny-winter afternoons are theirs, the chilly wintry early evenings are theirs. With so much time to spare, it is natural that they occupy themselves with matters of the locality. Our house, being a part of that locality, falls in their purview of close scrutiny. That I am no longer formally employed is a matter of great concern in the circles there. That I have had only one child after so many years of marriage is a matter of heavy speculation there. That I usually make my trips without The Hubby sends signals to them. That this hurried trip followed a recent one, without The Hubby yet again, yes, they know it for sure now--something is terribly wrong somewhere! These women please themselves with small things.

Not everyone in this small town is equally nosey. Some are nosier than them, some less than these bunch of women. But all the same, this place where I grew up, has it's charm: it's sleepy, dusty, laid back, contented, unruffled, everything that a metropolis is not. The only thing people have here in plenty is time. I like this town. There was always that initial hesitation in saying where I was from during my early college days, ragging nights; but soon I realised that it made no difference to my own academic pursuits. As long as I excelled in what I was there for, people (the teaching staff, the friends, the classmates) didn't care. Soon, the rest of the world didn't care.

The ones among you scoring high on personal-contentment index will like this town. Or several others like this one. They all wear the same look. There is, in general, peace inside the house, outside the house. Children smile, play in the huge plots of open fields, picnic and study together, not in the coaching-centre way, but in the more fun way of going over to a friend's place to study. Tottering chaat vending stalls can still be seen wobbling down the narrow colony roads selling mouthwatering phuchkas and tikkis. The Mc Donalds of the world, though now increasingly eyeing these newer markets in their second phase of expansion, are yet to make these people drool to their tastes. These small townies find other ways of 'living it' up. I told you, they have simple tastes.

All said, these are not primitive places. You'll find girls sashaying down the ramp at public catwalks, you'll find children excelling at the various national-level academic and sports meets, you'll find celebrations at the New Year bashes going on till three in the morning, and champagne flowing at public celebrations. These are towns where the latest big Plasma Flat Screens have found a place in the houses and new malls are being inaugurated on a daily basis. Only, the customers still prefer to hop down to the nearest metro to shop!

Yet, having grown up there, the day we leave these small towns for the metros to study, to work, or to get married, we somehow know we will never be able to fit back in ever again. The city people liken this "small-town mentality" to having tasted blood in the punky urbanity of the big cities. We feel that having built our ideals on foundations of pragmatism, minimalism, and appreciation (of small joys of life), we small townies make a better fit in the urban madness. At least, we are less myopic than our fully-metro bred counterparts.

But then, it is easy to tell a towny from a city bred. The other day in Mumbai, someone gave my son an expensive gift. So expensive that it was clear I would never let my child play with it. So expensive that it made me want to return that present right-away. So expensive that it made me scan the box carefully for any forgotten price tags. Oh my God, there, you see? Now that is a typical small-towny mentality. You may wear the most expensive ensemble, but, even more than the shoes, it's finally your inner-wear that shows what you actually are. So it is with us small townies -- our true identity is bound to peek from somewhere.

I think I like being, in essence, a small towny. And yet, strictly speaking, I no longer qualify as one. I stopped being one the day I stepped out from my house to study in the big city, and left that severely wounded man at the accident site near the station because I had to board the train. Tick tock, tick-tock, Time had started making it's presence felt. Before I knew it, I was in that big city, racing against Time itself. Snap, went the connection.

And that is what sets them apart from the city-breds. If having to choose between time and humane-ness, they will, most certainly, opt for the latter. They lead simple, uncomplicated lives, I told you.




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