When Velli first came to Kannagi Nagar, in 2000, the place was practically desolate. In her 60s now, Velli was part of one the earliest group of families to occupy or settle in or be relocated to – whichever way you want to call it – Kannagi Nagar. She was forced to leave the place their family owned in Taramani, which was seized by the corporation due to a miss in the land tax payment.
Velli’s house is in one of the lanes next to the sole bus stand in Kannagi Nagar, where the earliest settlers of Kannagi Nagar reside. She lives in a double-storeyed building occupying the lower half of it. Her family had agreed to the city corporation to buy this house when they moved, with the lease spanning over a period of 20 years at 200 rupees per month. The term (and the payment), she says, will be over by next year – thus making the house completely theirs. Her house is also only one of the handful here to have a water valve-pipe allotted individually. Unsurprisingly, Velli chooses to keep the pipe locked and covered with a plastic cover.
The whole place was merely ‘filled with water’ when she came, as Velli recollects. That water-filled land Velli first came to is home to the thousands of – almost 80,000 – residents of Kannagi Nagar now!
Selvi, who appears to be in her mid – late 30s, re-arranges the snacks lined along the stall as the woman next to her, fries more and more ceaselessly in an enormous pan. There are bhaji, vada and a couple of other snacks to pick from. There’s a nice rhythm attached to the entire process of – tossing the batter into the pan, frying, taking them out and arranging them neatly.
Selvi came to Kannagi Nagar not as part of the Tsunami relocation, but much before that. Born and brought up in Chennai, Selvi used to be a resident of Adayar before buying a house and moving here in 2001.
“The rent shot up too much and too fast, we couldn’t afford to carry on living there.”
This isn’t her main source of income, Selvi tells us. She cooks for houses near the Jain Engineering College along the OMR road. At first, it may appear that Selvi holds an air of indifference when asked about the crimes happening in Kannagi Nagar. “We go for work early in the morning and come back only by evening, so we don’t get to see all that,” she says. But she doesn’t ignore the subject altogether and mentions the murder that happened recently, quite nearby to where our conversation is happening.
Contrary to what many outside think, the schools in Kannagi Nagar aren’t so easy to get into Selvi explains. But that’s more a matter of their admission regulations than anything else. Her own children attend a school in Perungudi, which is half an hour away. The government school that she was trying to get her children admission in here, accepts only children from those families that can’t even afford gas stoves or cycles. “Who doesn’t own all that nowadays,” she asks rhetorically and laughs.
While Selvi doesn’t seem too discontent with her life in Kannagi Nagar, she does give a hint of unenthusiasm from time to time. “There isn’t much demand for land here. If we have to move out, we’ll have to sell the house at whatever rate it can go”, she says matter-of-factly.
Porkudi & friends
Manjal dha varuthu thanni,” (it comes almost yellowish), says Porkudi indignantly.
There’s no pipe line system for Kannagi Nagar yet. The tanker fills water in a main tank near the bus stand, which then routes water to common pumps across the colony. The families collect and keep the water in buckets or bottles. Bu the water provided by the corporation is barely enough for a family.
Somewhat new to Kannagi Nagar, Porkudi and her family moved here on rent when city corporation officials evicted her from her house in Vannarpet around 10 years back. They eventually bought this house for one lakh rupees and settled here. The house has only 2 rooms doubling up as the drawing room and bed rooms, but looks neat and organized albeit filled with stuff. Books adorn one of the bedroom’s wall cupboards which she says belongs to her daughter – who is in her tenth standard now. Her husband works as a watchman and her son, who is the elder of her two children, drives an auto.
Porkudi bears an uncanny resemblance to Manorama, the yesteryear actress who appeared in many Tamil and Malayalam movies in the 80s and 90s. Her friends teasingly call her by that name, making Porkudi break into a smile finally.