As soon as I entered the village and heard the latest Tanglish youtube sensation Why This Kolaveri Di blaring from the loudspeaker I realized that I was in a different world from the U.P. and Bihar villages I was used to. About 40 Km from Madurai, I was in a Tamil village that defied description. Open sewers, Coconut plantations and paddy fields and colourful temples in every courtyard coexisted with a Western Union station ready to receive money from abroad, a large bus from St. Joseph’s High School picking up and dropping children and a spanking new Panchayat Bhawan (local government office). Cars and motorcycles were parked haphazardly in street corners with small grocery shops dotting various corners of the village. Not being able to read Tamil boards, I was dependent on my colleagues to translate the boards but I counted at least 3 agricultural co-operative societies of various ilk.
This changing face of Tamil Nadu is visible in many statistics. With 44 percent of the population being urban, Tamil Nadu was one the most urbanized state in the country in 2001; this trend has only accelerated and by 2011, 48 percent of the state’s population lives in an urban area. But these statistics are highly deceptive. Rural transformation in Tamil Nadu is striking. In many villages people commute to nearby towns for non-agricultural work and even villages boast of growing non-agricultural employment. No wonder IHDS found that 47% of the rural males in Tamil Nadu work outside the farm sector, one of the highest in the country.
This transformation of the state that spawned legions of rural studies and has shaped Indian anthropological mindset for several generations reflects the growing spatial divide in India. It is not that rural U.P. and Bihar are stuck in a time warp. The north Indian jajmani system documented by Weiser is a thing of past and rural Bihar has begun to dominate UPSC examinations. But the changes in South, particularly Tamil Nadu, are far deeper and far more rapid. They are seen in roads, primary health centres and schools. But most importantly, they are seen in a mindset that sees nothing wrong with Kolavery Di blasting away next to a temple. There is something exhilarating about witnessing this twilight moment of Tamil Nadu rural landscape. Next census will see Tamil Nadu past the tipping point where more than 50% of the population will be urban and if we are brave enough to undertake IHDS-III, this village I just visited will have been swallowed up by the ever expanding urban landscape.
This traditional cot made with rope and topped with a spring mattress seems like the epithet for the rural transformation in Tamil Nadu.