In 1973, this Tamil Nadu town on the border with Karnataka was chosen as the site for the state’s second industrial cluster. Through the ’70s, a diverse clutch of companies, producing everything from trucks to garments to medicines, set up factories here. Hosur began to emerge as one of India’s new manufacturing centres. In the decades that followed, however, the town did not live up to its initial promise. Its boom in manufacturing ended and was replaced by another – one that pivoted around real estate.
Hosur’s experience is relevant today. As the previous story in this series reported, struggling companies in the state’s industrial clusters are trying to cut down on their labour costs. It’s a script that played out in Hosur about 20 years ago.
As the town’s fortunes rose, fell and then rose again, one of its residents, observed the changes closely. In Tamil Nadu’s literary circles, poet and novelist Aadhavan Deetchanya is well-known for a set of satirical stories he has sited in two imaginary lands – Liberalpalayam and Kakkanadu.
The first is a land that has embraced liberalisation. “At one point, I thought we do not need to call this country India or Bharat any more,” Said Deetchanya. “We should call it Liberalpalayam – palayam means place or town.”
The ten stories he set here look at what people, government and society are like in a liberalised economy. “There is this idea that if you want a good road, you will need to pay a toll so that we can build the road,” said Deetchanya. “And so, in Liberalpayalam, the government follows the same system while building houses. It builds houses and puts up a toll-booth between the bedroom and the bathroom.”
Kakkanadu means potty land. In four stories located here, Deetchanya inverts our society that condemns scavengers as outcasts, and reimagines a society where scavenging is the most sought-after profession. In Kakkanadu, manual scavengers – who clean up human excreta – live in houses larger than the president’s. They get paid more than him. Here, it is the person unskilled at scavenging who is scorned. Unlike our society, where someone who doesn’t study well will hear: “You are only fit to clear garbage.” In Kakkanadu, people will be told, “You are only fit to be a judge or collector!” It is a society where everyone wants to be a manual scavenger. Even the president quits his job to become a scavenger.
when we started the #eartotheground project, i had planned to chronicle change in these states through interviews with writers. the plan floundered in mizoram and odisha. but worked partially in punjab — where one of our biggest insights into Punjab came out of a rum-fueled chat with writer desraj kali.
In the last 15 years, novelist and writer Desraj Kali has seen Punjab undergo some striking changes. But none is as striking as its gradual religious revolution.
A growing number of people in the predominantly Sikh state, he says, are now visiting Hindu temples. Not those of principal deities like Vishnu, Shiva and Rama, but of Shani, the elder brother of the god of death Yama, who is notorious for his malefic influence on life.
More than ever before, Kali says, people are visiting the gurudwara of Baba Deep Singh in Amritsar. According to legend, Deep Singh, a Sikh warrior, was decapitated while battling the forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan. In a niche in the perimeter of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, there is a painting depicting the storied aftermath: Deep Singh, holding his severed head with his left hand and swinging a massive sword with his right, continued to fight, and died only after reaching the Golden Temple.
There are more, says Kali. People in increasing numbers are placing chadars at Pirs’ mazaars. There is a “thousand-fold” increase in the number of tantrik ads in the local media. Eeven orthodox Sikhs – Amritdhaaris, who carry the sacred dagger called kirpan – have begun visiting “non-traditional deras”, religious centres with living gurus, though Sikhism expressly forbids worship of individuals.
What explains these sweeping changes in Punjab’s religious milieu? It is the rising uncertainty in people’s lives.