The linguistic separation of states has imprinted some distinctive character to each State in India. Tamil Nadu’s distinction (in my mind) is its’ love for larger than life film stars (mostly average looking), a rather chauvinistic love for Tamil as a language, a determined ignorance and a seeming contempt of all other Indian languages, a fascination with fair skin, unceasing attachment to traditions, great awareness of their rights, economically priced materials of daily use and political largesse for odd items like grinder, TV and so on.
After my daughter started living in Coimbatore (post marriage), I became better acquainted with the State in general and Coimbatore (CBE in brief hereafter) in particular. CBE has a balmy climate, winter rainfall, good connections thru air, bus and train. It was industrialized long back and hence has a dominant business community. It still retains (in a limited extent now) a sense of small town with the benefits of a larger city. The bus service is quite enviable, but sometimes requires change over. Autos are in plenty, but overcharge to a ridiculous extent. Minimum fare is not less than Rs. 30. Radio taxis are available but with some prior notice. Their charges are more reasonable – around Rs. 11 per km.
The area around race course is occupied by Army cantonment (very nicely kept), old money, and very modern apartment blocks which cost around Rs. 7 to Rs. 8 million on an average. Real estate is a prominent part of the local industry as it is now in any Indian town. Old row houses and new apartment blocks jostle each other. Auto drivers still ask is it Apartment as though it is a new arrival on the scene.
The recent Mullaperiyar dam issue has stopped interstate transport with Kerala. It seems very shortsighted as the two States are intricately connected in terms of trade and commerce. I had to travel to Palakkad- a Kerala town 60 kms away- and understood firsthand the problems created by this interstate dispute. The Tamil Nadu bus stopped at Walayar- the forested border of TN and we had to walk briskly to Kerala to catch some private buses standing there to take passengers to Kerala. This turned out to be local bus which stopped at intervals of thirty seconds for the next one hour. I had to go standing for an hour.
My grandson studies in a newly founded school (2007). There are only 20 students in the Junior KG class with two teachers and several maids. It follows IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum which emphasizes on activities along with education. The School is run by a young individual who had worked abroad and now gives personal attention to it. The School has branches in some other TN towns also. This is a model replicated by several other larger school chains in different TN towns. Obviously, these Schools charge market driven fees (still lesser than Mumbai, in my view) and still have to turn away parents coming for their ward’s admission at the last moment.
The establishment of such high end Schools reflect the growing economic strength of non metro towns and the willingness of a largely conservative population to value good quality education. There are several other indicators of economic growth such as the ubiquitous malls, traffic snarls, multi storied apartment blocks, crowded buses, bustling temples and so on. I feel that India’s future is in such semi metros.
CBE has separate shops selling fresh vegetables and fruits (called Pazhamudir Cholai) at market prices. These are reasonably large format shops and attract good crowd. We do not have such exclusive shops in Mumbai. I think Pazhamudir Cholai (try to pronounce it right at first try) have cracked the formula for handling perishables economically.
Medical tourism is another attraction in CBE. There are four or five big hospitals only for eye care- Shanker Netralaya, Arvind Eye hospital, Eye foundation. I spotted a Kidney Centre, Diabetic care centres, Thyroid treatment and so on. There are also fully fledged hospitals. Due to prevailing competition , the charges are also reasonable.
A cousin informed me that his employer (an IT Organization) employs 8000 persons in Coimbatore. To me it seems a large number. TN has a large number of Engineering colleges (education is big business which the Government and Courts refuse to recognize) which need capacity utilization. The last academic year has witnessed sharp drop in admissions due to indifferent quality of output (manufacturing defect – to use an engineering term). Only 15 % of the Engineering graduates are employable. Rest are said to be useless. Even these 15% undergo significant amount of training. So large training campuses are being proudly displayed by Infosys and its competitors as a key differentiator the above mentioned cousin told me that entry level recruitment runs somewhat on following lines.
Q . What is your name?
A. My name is J……N.
Q. What is your name?
A. My….. (Not clear what the question is or how to answer)
(Candidate needs further drilling or is rejected)
How quality is maintained if the intake is of such indifferent quality? Well, out of 100 candidates, it is enough if 15 is good . They would carry the rest. This is quite understandable in Indian context.
Another cousin mentioned a more interesting sequence of events. It seems during college days speaking in a language other than Tamil invites tart comments. After completing the course, a group of students went to Bangalore to search for employment. They reached Bangalore and sought directions to prospective employer. Tamil is not a popular language in Karnataka due to some politicized issue. So speaking in Tamil did not evoke any response. Since they were not comfortable with any other language, they returned without even without seeking out prospective employers. While this may be an exaggerated version, the fact still remains that most Tamilians do not know the language of their neighboring states, whereas in Mumbai at least most dwellers would be comfortable with Marathi, Hindi and understand Gujarati well.
The Airport is undergoing vast renovation – mostly completed- and looks modern. The return flight was almost full with lots of suited Kanhaiyas on business trip. Taj has opened a new hotel and so has some other global chain.
Lastly, CBE has good old age homes also. I visited one during a previous visit . It had amenities to make life easy to live for aged human beings along with extracurricular activities to spent time in an interesting manner. Some of them are heavily advertised on TV every day (to my daughter in law Priya’s eternal irritation on seeing a senior woman citizen exclaim “what a life”). I was informed that the charges are Rs. 18 lacs plus reimbursement of some recurring expenses. Reflecting a truly Indian spirit, Padma feels that we could invest in one unit of such old age home and it would appreciate like real estate. I think all profits are to the promoters of such old age home and not to its investors.
So CBE has the full circle of facilities to meet human needs- schools to old age homes- along with good climate also. Why is it relevant?
I have spent almost all my life in a Metro and we start thinking that it is possible to live only in Mumbai or some such metro city. I have heard this many times and experienced it when searching for suitable marriage alliances of my children and relatives. It simply is not true. There are many such good cities in India which now offer good opportunities and which are bound to grow along with India’s economic dream run (when compared to rest of the world). What compels emigrants like us to stay in Mumbai is sheer economic need and acceptance of a way of life which we believe does not exist elsewhere ( an Indian emigrant to New York or London used to say this for a long time- not now). That would change in future.
The Jet lite flight took off from CBE ten minutes before time, circled over Mumbai for thirty minutes (VIP movement was the reason given) and the announcement on landing was “we are happy to announce right time landing of our flight…”. There were five counters for radio cabs and one came within two minutes of reaching the taxi stand.
We are back in Mumbai.