Thrissur native P U Janardhanan left for Delhi in 1980 and spent four eventful decades in the city, witnessing its transformation into a metropolis. Having taken root in the city it was the pandemic that prodded him to give up on the life there and head home. Suddenly, it was time to move out of Delhi for good. Home felt a lot more safe.
His is one among the thousands of Malayali families who boarded the flight to Kerala from the national capital when airline services resumed after the lockdown last year. And they made the move to leave Delhi , not for a short-term stay in Kerala but to live permanently in their home state.
“It was a long and eventful life in Delhi,” says Janardhanan who started his career in his early 20s with Rangoon Studios along Janpath. “There is a lot to remember. The Asian Games of 1982, the anti-Sikh riots…I remember buses being stoned and set on fire in the streets. Photographers used to come to our studio to wash the negatives. One day, a correspondent of The New York Times came with photographs of a Sikh lying butchered in the drains. The picture still haunts me,” says Janardhanan.
Vijayan Punnathur, another Malayali, who returned to his hometown of Vadakkancherry after about a four decades-long stay in Delhi, had left for the capital city after getting a government job. In his case too, it was Covid-19 that forced him to make a switch from the metropolitan life.
“I had an intuition that the pandemic condition was going to worsen and made the decision to return home,” says Vijayan who superannuated as a senior principal secretary with UPSC.
“In Covid times, we feel safe in Kerala while the condition in Delhi seemed to go out of hands,” Vijayan says.
“I have pleasant memories of meeting up with V P Singh, I K Gujral and H D Deve Dowda during my stint with the planning commission. My proudest moment as a Malayali was when I attended the ceremony to confer Jnanpith to Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai. I was lucky enough to witness the event,” he says. “I remember seeing Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez travelling by a cycle rickshaw on Chandni Chowk Road. Marquez had accompanied his friend and the then President of Cuba to Delhi where a meeting of the Non-Alignment Movement was held in 1983,” Vijayan says.
Soman, from North Paravur, another “Delhite” to return home says Malayalis do have a habit of returning to Kerala when they are down with a disease.
“As far as I know, around 90% Malayali women in Delhi used to come to Kerala for delivery,” Soman says. “We decided to come back to Kerala as Covid began to ravage the city. In Delhi, you may end up in a mortuary if you are admitted to hospitals as a Covid patient. In Kerala, things are much better,” he says.
“I joined Navy in 1967 and was transferred to Delhi in 1973. I was witness to the full fury of the Emergency, and the massacre of the Sikhs. In 1986, I joined Jana Natya Manch,” recalls Soman. “I remember, when we came to know that Safdar Hashmi was stabbed by a group of Congress goons, all of us rushed to the hospital. He succumbed to the injuries after a day. Thousands gathered for his funeral,” says Soman.
Soman who arrived in the state a few weeks ago has not gone out much due to the Covid restrictions but is keen to follow his interest in theatre. Vijayan frequents the village library every day. He is also the chief editor of “Gramathoolika”, an online magazine published by the library. Janardhanan who captured thousands of moments of the changing face of Delhi in its quest to transform into more urban now takes pleasure photographing glimpses of the day-to-day life in Chittilappilly.
Cartoonist Sudheernath, who has been actively involved in facilitating treatment for Covid-19 patients in Delhi, says at least 1,000 families have returned to Kerala in the past few months. “More than 100 Malayali families in Rohini, where I live have gone back to Kerala. It is like shifting from the ventilator bed to the hospital ward,” he says.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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