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Belgaum Snapshots

On popular demand (= request from (possibly) the only reader of this blog), we interrupt the broadcast of the UK diaries to post about the short work-vacation trip to Belgaum. For those interested and waiting with bated breath (!) for the last instalment of the UK diaries, it shall be broadcast after this post…I promise !

I am currently on a short trip to Belgaum to conduct a theatre workshop for kids aged 8 to 15 years. I had never been to Belgaum before. So this has been a very interesting experience.

Here are some (word, not photograph) snapshots from the trip.

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The first thing that struck me as I reached here was the very different way in which everybody spoke Marathi. The accent is distinctly Kannada and the words and sounds are very well rounded. In Pune-Mumbai we speak in quite a sharp manner…crisply cut sounds et al. Also, there is a fun way of combining the last two words (usually the verbs, in Marathi) of a sentence.

I learnt that almost 80% of the population of Belgaum is Marathi-speaking, and proud of it. The Maharashtra-Karnataka dispute about Belgaum is very much present at the back of everybody's minds though nobody refers to it. It surfaces in choices and preferences. Almost all the kids in my workshop do not like learning Kannada, which is a compulsory subject in schools here.

This morning there was a procession of some deity and as is usual in such processions, there was loud music accompanying it. All the songs in the procession were either Hindi (few) or Marathi (most). The Marathi songs were mostly praises about Maharashtra (Jay Jay Maharashtra Maza for example) or about Shivaji and his sardars.

Here almost everybody with a basic education knows at least 4 languages – Marathi, Hindi, English and Kannada and a few even know Konkani. I've always believed that being multi-lingual is wonderful. (Aside: I had read somewhere that the brain centre that controls / facilitates the learning of languages is also responsible for Mathematics ! Amazing, isn't it ?) Fed by zealous politicians' propaganda however, sharp divides are forming in people here – those who are pro-learning Kannada and those who are anti. It is rather unfortunate. In my opinion, each language has its own beauty and charm. The more you know, the richer you are. It is all very well to be proud of your mother tongue and insist on knowing it well and using it everywhere, but this doesn’t mean that other languages are inferior. However, I believe I am a part of a pathetic minority who hold this opinion.

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Belgaum is a sleepy little town that is reminiscent of Pune about 20-odd years ago – small, shaded lanes, quaint stone bungalows, waadaas and a general laid-back speed. Also, as told to me by several Belgaum-kars and noticed by me too, Belgaum ends at about 5 kilometres in any direction…it is that small. Travelling times are typically 5-7 minutes and 15 minutes in extreme traffic…believe me, I've experienced one horrendous traffic jam at an intersection called RPD Cross. Traffic in this town is even more chaotic than in Pune – something I never thought I'd be saying about ANY city in the world ! Policemen are present here and there but I haven't seen them do anything about the traffic…this is just like Pune :)

As is the destiny of all sweet little towns everywhere in this changing world, Belgaum too is changing…striving to embrace modernism, which, in my opinion, is mistaken by many to be consumerism. There are new apartments being built by demolishing old stone bungalows. There is Big Bazar and Café Coffee Day and many other such establishments that offer the feeling of being modern…of being a big city.
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The prices of some things in this town are unbelievable ! 

The other day I was reading the newspapers (Tarun Bharat and Sakal, for those interested in knowing) and read the classifieds for sale and rental of houses and was blown away by the prices.

Most notably (since I had it thrice in the last 10 days) is the difference in the price of ice-cream. A single scoop of ice-cream (same size as in Pune) costs Rs. 13, three scoops for Rs. 40 and a humungous sized Sundae just Rs. 60 !!! Not just that, when you order even just a single scoop, it comes garnished with fruit pulp and dry-fruits or tutti-frutti ! Royal ! :)
                                         
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The people of Belgaum, all those that I interacted with, are very friendly, welcoming, very very hospitable and quite proud of their town. There is much more of a sense of community living here than in Pune. There is much more sharing of their lives. Nearly everybody knows everybody. For somebody so thoroughly city-bred like me, it is a slight adjustment but also a very interesting experience.

The kids in my workshop are so much more innocent than the kids in Pune that initially I thought them to be naïve. Later, on reflection I realised that actually, this is how childhood ought to be – innocent. Pune-Mumbai kids have way too much exposure and I wonder if that doesn't make them too hardened before their time.

The two people that I spent the most time with in Belgaum are S-tai and SK.

I have been put up in a separate room in S-tai's home. She has a home-based small catering business and also holds a senior position in an educational institution. She has come up the hard way and is a very simple person. She is an amazing lady who has a history of misfortune. But S-tai is a fighter and she has overcome her share of problems with amazing good grace, courage and humour. You'll never find her complaining. She has a wicked sense of humour and is always cracking me up. She is very intelligent and sharp, practical and a lady with very strong principles. S-tai is a big inspiration to me.

SK became TH's friend first and I only met her a day before I came to Belgaum. She was in Pune and returned to Belgaum on the fourth day of my workshop. Since then I have come to know about her myriad activities and skills – she is a dancer and a singer, an excellent organiser who puts up music-dance-drama programmes of a very large proportion for a charitable organisation. Her circle of friends is so large and so varied that she always enjoys help and support in practically ANYthing that she takes up. The reason for this beautiful and huge sphere of friends and well-wishers is that SK truly loves all her friends and does everything in her power (which, believe me, is considerably extensive) to help them. Don't be misled…this petite lady packs quite a punch.

The people of Belgaum are truly the most wonderful part of my Belgaum experience.

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No matter how much fun you have with family abroad, no matter how good the people are in a particular place, no matter how well you spend your time in meeting new people, seeing new places and learning new things, after all, home is home. I've been away for two months now and getting very homesick. But it's just another three days and I'll be home.

The next update will be from HOME :)

Ciao !

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