There is a friend of mine, who will tell anyone willing to listen about the sheer beauty of the small towns of Belgaum and Kolhapur. As a woman, my take of small towns is a little different based on the few I have seen.
My life in childhood revolved around few small towns other than Pune. They were in the depths of North India, in bad old Bihar - Dhanbad and Jamshedpur, and in Bengal - in a place called Barrackpore, where the 1857 mutiny started.
Now Pune, when I was a child, was this tiny town, and we were a part of the expatriate Bengali community, therefore the greatest need was to herd together and celebrate the Bengaliness, through Durga Pujas and other such "socio cultural" activities. Over time as Poona has grown, this too has changed. I am now too busy and indifferent to be a part of it and somehow this once rather boisterous event has become very staid - strange!
Dhanbad is a bad town. Mafia run, wicked in so many ways. My uncle was in the railways and was posted in Dhanbad for quite a few years. The mines located underground the town constantly burn, it has the smell of fired coal. Every pan chewing, wild-eyed man could actually knife you down, without a thought-and you were always well aware of the dangers! Yet, I was fascinated by it. There was a massive railway yard in front of the house. It had a "turntable" which allowed the engines to change directions. My uncle used to take us for steam engine rides. Within the town, there was no place to go, as Dhanbad was an industrial town, in the worst of ways, a coal hell. I have no idea how this town is now.
Being stuck in a place with nothing to do meant lots to read. There were these fabulous “bong” books to read, which made my evenings. These were the creepy ghost story types, long hands silently dripping with blood, crawling towards you,...the skeletons are dancing, ready to pounce on you, and you have nowhere to go. These made my days. The house we lived in was these old colonial houses, quite fitting the atmosphere of the stories.
Iti, my daughter, seems to have inherited my love for ghost stories that is all she reads nowadays.
Then we went to Jamshedpur, or TATANAGAR. Now, everyone in those days, worked for either TISCO or TELCO here. My father too was here for a little while, so there were many friends here to visit. I was born here...but I don’t think I’ll want to stay here.
Jamshedpur back then was divided into class-conscious neighborhoods, with little to do. Gossiping, clubbing were the main activities of the evening. Women then had no status apart from being homemakers; the men would discuss football and whatever else men talk about. Children had plenty of space to run around.
Living in this provincial town, the mindsets became quite small; they could be packed on tiny pinheads. Of course, the girl child was viewed, as a potential wife. For every one of us fairness creams were suggested, even the fair ones were asked to use a range of "treatments" to get even fairer- I of course had a range, right from turmeric to whatever else you can think off! The boys were asked to study harder and become engineers. If anyone wanted to be an artist, a quick whack was delivered to knock it off his head. After these thoughts we were left alone in the courtyard, and asked not go further because it was dangerous.
But, this was a well laid town with a place called Jubilee Park, where everyone would crowd around in the evenings. The sky was always a brilliant orange, because of the furnaces from the factories. Of course life has changed, with the blossoming brigade of working woman with so many attitudes, and job hopping youngsters.
For me the escape from these little towns was the sheer anonymity of larger cities. They were and are so crowded that gives you space. If you want to, you can get lost there. No one bothers you, no one cares.
Yet, I retain a love for many a small town. Madgaon, Kolhapur and Belgaum being among my favorites. The only time I went to Belgaum was in small “meter gauge” train, sitting at the doorstep, passing by countless other village and towns. It was a great ride. The red soil, the nip in the air, fragrance of dirt and flowers-the beautiful houses.... I was always an outsider enjoying the peace, because Pune by that time was beginning to burst at the seams.
So, here's to small towns, and may we always love and enjoy them.