Reams have been written about the way globalisation has transformed India in the two decades starting 1990 when the country, in a manner of speaking, gave up the socialist model and initiated a process of ‘market-oriented reforms’ which have ‘unbound’ India. The country has changed beyond recognition in less than a generation.
This is equally true of Chalode, my village, in the heart of Kannur District in north Kerala. If a modern day Rip van Winkle were to return to this hamlet, he would have lost his way. Twenty years back, Chalode was a no more than just a junction of two roads with a couple of shops. The tiled and latticed single-storeyed three-room building which was my school in the 1950’s is the Agricultural Development Office today. The weed-filled pond surrounded by trees has been filled and converted into a sprawling bus-stand bounded by a row of three-storeyed commercial complexes housing bakeries, eateries, textile shops, margin-free shops, medical shops, watch repairers, dental clinics, photo studios, internet cafes, driving schools and the like. (The use of plural nouns here is not a mistake; there ARE two or more of each, which serve the locality of 3 km radius which has perhaps no more than 1000 households.)
The cell in my wife’s watch needed replacement. We decided to take it to one of the watchmakers. My wife remembered that though the Titan watch I wear worked well, its crown had dropped off. Now that we are going there, let’s get is repaired, she said. I remembered that the cell of the watch a Sheikh had presented me with during one of my trips to
The shop was called TimeSonic, suggesting that apart from chronometers, he dealt with audio equipments as well. The absence of any audio equipments was surprising, but the mystery was soon explained: to a Malayalee who pronounces both ‘s’ and ‘z’ in an identical manner, TimeZone is the same as TimeSone and hence TimeSonic.
Shamnad, the young man in charge of the one-man show in this hole-in-the-wall of a shop was quick: he replaced the cells in the ladies’ watch and the Sheikh’s present without much ado. He said replacement of the crown of the Titan watch would take some time. Would we pick it up the next evening? He would give me a receipt for the Titan he was holding over.
As he was writing out the receipt, he made a casual enquiry.
‘Is the other watch up or sale?’
I answered that the thought had not crossed my mind. Nevertheless, I enquired, ‘How much do you think it will fetch?’
‘I have no idea,’ he said, ‘but will find out if you want.’ A little later, he asked me tentatively, ‘How much did you buy it for, sir?’
Having not paid for it, I did not know the price. However, I did not want to tell him that it was a gift. ‘It was bought years back, I don’t recall how much I had paid,’ I told him.
‘If you are selling it, Sir, please let me know,’ he requested.
Nodding, I took delivery of the other two watches after paying for the cells . The bill for the Titan watch would be settled after the job was done.
As we were walking out, he asked, ‘Sir, can I have your phone number, please?’
‘Why? I’ll pick it up tomorrow during my evening stroll. I’m in no hurry. Even if I do not come tomorrow, you need not call me.’
‘It’s not for that. Just in case you decide to sell it …’
The next evening I went to pick up my Titan. After the bill was settled, Shamnad said, ‘That watch … I made some enquiries, Sir. It is not as expensive as all that…’
‘That’s fine.’ I replied.
As I got out of the shop, Shamnad’s voice could still be heard, ‘Still, if you are selling it …’