In the not too long ago past, Thycaud and the Residency area of Trivandrum was a thick patch of greenery. Huge trees, bamboo groves and bushes were home to birds and small mammals. Jackals took a quick morning stroll in these woods. Mongooses scurried underfoot. Racket-tailed Drongos whistled and cackled. Earth was dark and cool and mysterious. Boys skulking classes at the nearby Model School and Intermediate College ( now Govt.Arts College) feasted themselves on the mangoes and cashews. In the winter mornings, mist hung around, reluctant to leave even at the behest of the sun.
In the place of jackals, now roam the human political animals at the Govt. Guest House. Bamboo groves have been cleared off to give way to multistoreyed buildings that house the Railways and Yatri Bhavan. The beautiful old Residency from where once the British Resident surveyed his protectorate, now houses the state tourism institute. Scraggy old trees remain like weary ghosts of the past...
By the side of the road where the garbage collectors dump their collect, there is a Milma booth from where I buy milk often. It is difficult to hang around there long, because the stench of the decaying wastes throttle the passer-by. Today morning I was passing by and bought a litre of milk and a half litre of curds, which cost me Rs.32.50. I gave the man-in-charge a 50 rupee note and 3 rupee coins. He gave me Rs.20/- and said – No change, Sir, you remind me the next time you come, I will give you the balance 50 paise. I said, leave it, what difference would a 50 paise make? No, he insisted, I will give it to you next time, there is such a shortage for 50 ps coins. I am exasperated and reply that its OK, don't bother.
The man hurrumps and says - “Sir, maybe to you and me and the ordinary folks, 50 ps wouldn't make any difference. There are even people, poor people, who return the coin saying, 'Annuh, you keep it, maybe next time it become one rupee or two rupees you can give it to me'. But, Sir,” he pauses significantly – “you know, I am an ex-army man, 30 years in the Army, served even in the Himalayas, but I can't understand the rich people who come here in their air-conditioned cars who would either wait till I give them 50 paise ( this was when half-a- litre costs Rs.9.50) or when I say no change, would dig around in the car and after 5 or 10 minutes come up with a coin. I am telling you Sir, I am seeing a lot of life sitting inside this booth. These people would have their cars running idle all the while and don't they know they waste petrol waiting for my 50 paise? They think I am like the bus conductors who don't give the small change back.”
“Only the rich care about the little coins. Maybe thats how they made their money, uh? They would spend lakhs on their cars, thousands for their drinks and luxury life, but man, they wouldn't let a 50 paise go!”
I smile at him and reflect on the ways of humans. I have a theory that we humans are basically what we do not want to be; and the virtues that we extoll are just ideal states to which we aspire. Basically, we are filth. I gasp for breath and give a vicious kick to the bike and drive away.
************** Balachandran V, 24.05.2009, Trivandrum.