Trying to belong again

Trivandrum. This used to be a favourite conundrum to put forward to the opposing team during the ‘20 questions’ game for the degree students in the nineties. The answer had to be guessed, and the question could be presented visually. So, it was the picture of a ‘tree,’ a ‘van’ and a ‘drum.’ Not a difficult guess for those from the city – but when you travelled out of Trivandrum for student camps, this is a trick you would have under your sleeves.

Then you delve further into the etymology. It is “thiru anantha puram,’ I would explain to a non Malayali – ‘this is where Lord Vishnu sleeps under the hood of Anantha, the serpent god. This would open the pandora box of myths and stories. And I would lose the plot at one point – because the stories are many, digressions much more, and the nuances innumerable. The listener would be enthralled, surprised and reasonably confused.

Years became a few decades. Exactly over two decades I had lived out of Anantha’s favourite city. Life so happened that this became the norm – regular visits to Trivandrum, and back again to the home away from home (Colombo).

Before the shift to Colombo happened, Trivandrum was everywhere. In me. In everyone I knew. That is the only thing we knew. The city, its chaos, packed KSRTC buses where boys suspended themselves dangerously on the footboard, just loosely holding the rusted window bars of the rear seats. The student strikes for this and that. This meant happy hours as science students escaped the labs, the dissection, and others ducked history and commerce. The strikes offered the chance to go home early, or taste the icy cold ‘sip up’ which was around 5 or 6 rupees, or congregate under the largest tree and say ‘ to hell with the rest of the world,’ or all of these combined.

As if overnight, suddenly you grow up. I grew up. With others like me. Secured a job. Responsibilities swept in.

Once you start living outside, you begin to represent things – your culture, music, films, costume, etal. In this representational avatar, somewhere you occasionally want to be yourself – which can be different to the ideal representations that you are expected to project by default, especially while young.

Somewhere along this journey of exiting and non-exiting, you kind of become. Something. This is the very thing that grounds you. One does not need any more put an effort to ‘represent.’ One becomes.

Trivandrum, for me has been a catalyst in this becoming myself. It is not one specific memory, or a place, or a person I can point to that I cherish . It is the city itself through my childhood and adolescence that prepared me unknowingly, seamlessly to take on the many detours that were to come later in life.

The sojourns were fleeting. Colombo gave a sense of peace and contentment that I struggled to find in Trivandrum. May be the urban anonymity of Colombo that I cherished. Not sure. But there was something enigmatic that held me closer to Colombo. It could be sometimes as mundane as the ability to slow down and patiently cross the road over the zebra that was notably different to the murderous vehicles that aim to run over people in Trivandrum. I still do not know, neither do I plan to figure out.

It used to be a love-from-far or love-hate relationship with Trivandrum for a long time.

I wanted to belong.  Again. To Trivandrum. It took a long while for me to feel that way again.

In 2019 when I returned to the city of Anantha, what I felt and was gearing up for, was the fear of the known. I was never really scared of the unknown. But the known demons could burst the bubble inside me, I worried.

Trivandrum was not ‘happening’ in the modern sense. That helped. The pace of the city was still ‘slow’ as someone would say. There were places that never changed, nor would change. This was a good place to start rediscovering!

The eagerness to rediscover Trivandrum was coupled with the strange feeling of beginning to belong.

The All India Radio loudspeaker at the museum is far from nostalgic. It is quaint. It is a phenomenon. Unobtrusively it connects. For me it did.

The children who played on those sands eons ago must be returning there now as parents or grandparents.

I became an observer. A listener. The voices that wafted through the air from the studios of AIR sounded the same as in the nineties when I did programs. It gave me a reason to remember the dreams once I cherished – to be a broadcaster. How I used to love the spiked, white board walls of All India Radio, and the heavy doors that said, “ON AIR.” Everyone tiptoed around without making a hum.

The twilight hours at the museum were nostalgic, the morning hours, hopeful. The time spent there in abandon reconnected me with the aura of All India Radio. Tuning into Ananthapuri FM whenever I could, became a habit.  Listening to the ‘Shabda Rekha’ (soundtrack) on AIR of old movies took me through the intense, suspenseful moments as if I were watching the movie in real.

The power of storytelling, in simple ways, cannot deceive imagination. I was rediscovering. Reconnecting. Belonging.

The journey continues.

Anila S K

About Author


Anila is an international development professional with diverse interests. Currently working for the United Nations World Food Programme, in Rome, she has spent most of her time in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She is an art lover and is interested in film making.

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