Monday, August 01, 2016

A Native Place without a Home – Proddatur Diaries

Vasu Reddy From Chicago

In many years since I came back to my native place, Proddatur. Close to twenty.  It is still quite a travel from the nearest airport.  It is an all night trip by bus, train or car from Hyderabad, Bangalore or Chennai.  I have always been an excellent traveler.  No amount of time spent on a plane, car or a bus makes me tired but for the waiting time to the destination.  My impatience comes from waiting in between.  It has always been something I did not like is to wait.  Just have to get from here to there, and as fast as it is possible.  Sleeping the entire way, anywhere anytime and being hungry on time and the favorite pastime of coffee drinking anytime and anywhere, all go along with traveling well.

Not much has changed in the way we travel from the city to my town.  For more than two generations to date the routes, the roads, and definitely the travelers remain the same, despite the multiples in increase in travel.  The infrastructure remains the same, and in reality the so called development really is neither adequate nor has kept up with the demand.  The only thing that has multiplied is the cost.  The rains this season have been incessant and in reality a fantastic monsoon season for the next agricultural cycle.  With the constant downpours, the entire state is waterlogged (no change in water management except what the politicians say as progress, but zero progress on this front) while providing much needed relief from heat and dust.  As people and the government don’t do anything about cleaning, the down pours also act as washing machines for the entire state, at least when the rain pours.  I still reminisce on the happiness rainy season brought to us as kids, which was a fantastic part of the Indian summers (all year long).

The buses are now available, and some even have beds (very small but utilitarian) and you can sleep your way to your destination.  Luckily no one was on their mobile phones on the bus I traveled.  For me the travel part did not matter to me as I just slept thru, except for an out door bathroom break in rain.  We had a relatively clean cabin when got in on the bus, although there no place to sit, there were only four beds in each cabin.  The Lenin was fresh including the pillow cover.  I believe there were 9 cabins with 4 berths in each cabin.

The last time I traveled home to Proddatur was a forgettable and unplanned trip, but the latest one was fairly accommodating and the mode of transport much more comfortable.  On both ends at Hyderabad and at Proddatur, I had the pleasure of best friends Prabhakar and Satyam, send and receive me.  While Prabhakar waited for the bus to get off in Hyderabad, Satyam’s voice woke me up in Proddatur.

Outside of sleeping all thru the trip, and constant rain, the only forgettable tidbit for the night was when the bus stopped in the middle of the road near a tea stall, the guy yelling thru the bus to get down and relieve yourself.  I had to just like all the other guys in a line into the rain, and I am 100% sure that each of the guys were feeling exactly like I did, pure bliss.  My guilt was short lived when I saw myself (and all the guys from the bus) at least find a way to make the call of nature, but the women had no such chance.  Nothing has changed; no one cares, and probably never will.  (My following Indian politics and Modi’s pronouncements all over the world, reminded me that every one with a mike can make speeches, but no one can really do anything.  The message to Modi will come shortly and will not leave any detail behind on crap that is fed to the people).  In the nation which had a female prime minister in the 1970’s and uses Bharat Mata as the name of its nation, this place is not even in the same ball park to either be clean nor have any respect for women, in fact for anything.  I some times doubt of people had any self-respect.  My India has gone to dogs and we probably need divine intervention to knock some civic sense.

There is some improvement in communications as phones work with constant yelling, and internet spotty, but reservations seem to work.  Satyam sent us a text with my bus ticket; it did provide details, and a contact person and number, which worked.  I don’t give much credit for the telecom infrastructure as I did work on this in the early 1990’s, and the current state of the network today is no where near it should be, except for the number of users.  In reality my experience for the week has been that it is a crappy network.  Yet again, what else you expect if the nation spends more money on graft.

Going back to the trip, Prabhakar had a big bottle of water along with my e-ticket, and I slept all my way, except for the nature’s call on the road in pouring rain.  I thought the rain was absolving my guilt on unabashed behavior.

The wonderful and the most thoughtful gesture of brotherhood from best friends provided comfort of being alone and venturing the bus travel.  All through the travel, sleep took away my anxiety of the time away from my native place.  Very little time was left to think about where to get off, how to get home, and will I know how and where.  But travel was never an adventure for me, but this trip had some anxiety.  As always sleep was comforting until I heard Satyam’s voice calling my name out and looking for me.  One of the most comforting feelings to hear a familiar voice before you even your friend is in sight. Nothing has changed, again here; neither the voice nor the person, along with the reception in person.  Friends forever, and nothing changes.

That’s where my familiarity stopped.  I would not want to claim my old town was a clean place when I left, but the shock of what I saw was immediate.  I did not recognize the place, and not for better.  This place has been trashed and abused.  I though I was seeing a child with 100% neglect.  Once again Modi’s pronouncements on clean India, either has not been embraced by the people of my town or they have completely lost cognizance of cleanliness.  No matter what this my town and this is where we roamed freely (walked mostly) and spent our formative years.

Satyam sounds and looks the same, and more than anything else he is the same as when I last saw him.  That’s what makes me happy instantly, and comforted.  Whatever started with seeing Prabhakar outside the Shamshabad airport as we walked out, which was also in just a few minutes with a very pleasant immigration officer, and no hassle luggage or customs.  Along with my wife’s father who had traveled far to get us with a lot of snacks (which could last the entire trip), Prabhu was also reassuring to see, as we were going to our respective native places.  Satyam’s familiar voice and his leading me back to my mother was best possible way to get to see her.

Immediately after you get off the bus, you can’t miss the abuse bestowed on the town.  No where I could recognize the town we left behind.  Sadness creeps in as you see street after street in disarray and trashed.  There was not a single building that looked well kept, not a single street free of trash, except the rains has really fed the trees and made the air less hostile.  I kept wondering, where was my home?  Even as the auto stopped in front of my home, I did not recognize it.  Despite a best friend, and his voice, this was an unfamiliar town.  While Satyam rode his scooter, the auto with me a couple of bags followed him.  My own best friend service the purpose of GPS in my own un-familiar town.

This place is unrecognizable, not a home, road, turn nor even familiar silence in my colony.  I had to look at my home twice after we stopped in front of it.  The funny thing is I did not walk into my own home, but exactly opposite into the apartment complex opposite to it where my mom lived.  All of a sudden I felt tired, and was in disbelief.  The transformation is more shocking than that I walk right in front of my own home into an apartment to see my Mom, which perhaps was the single most important part of the journey.

Satyam walked with me to the door, and left me with my mom when she opened the door.  Once again a gesture of a great friend to allow me to embrace my frail mother without even my best friend.  After all this is my town, and my home is where my mother is.  My mind was no longer pondering on how people have abused my town, and all of a sudden it did not matter.  The long wait to get here, the sickness and years of rehab to regain the mind and body, the stress of the Indian bureaucracy, travel along with a bit of fatigue; none of it mattered.  You have your best friends get you on the bus, and one to get you off it and here is mom.  What else would anyone would want to ask for?

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