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A Decade of Decadence

By Gokul Venkatachalam

The rolling hills of the western Ghats are lined with rows of of tall palm trees, aligned in various directions. Succulent, light-green coconuts droop from the tenuous palm trees, bedazzling the Kerala skyline. In my five-year old innocence, I watch in awe as wild peacocks strut across the dirt road, spreading their feathers and revealing a kaleidoscopic spread of hues ranging from dark green to bright orange. Shepherds dressed in colorful saris and sporting matching bindis strut along the rice fields, following hulking Buffalos surrounded by swarms of buzzing gnats and flies. As I make my daily trek around the village, I wade through the tall rice paddies, I observe women gathering herbs from a local field, muttering mystic Malayalam mantras from the Vedas. Nearing the end of my trek, I start following a trail that leads me up a hill. I’m encompassed by lush greenery: small garden snakes, and ferny touch-me-nots that fold inwards at the disturbance that is human presence. The distant voices of village boys yelling becomes louder as I ascend the hill; the hill begins to level off and reveals a large expanse of open fields, with the a picturesque view of the Ghats mountains in the distance. The boys call out to me to join the cricket match but enamored by my surroundings, I lay on the cool grass. Lemon trees, banana trees-myriads of various fruits and vegetables- grow plentifully. Slowly, I rise and join the village boys to revel in a joyful game of cricket, overlooking the idyllic village of Melarcode.

A decade later, I surreptitiously sneak down the sinuous streets of the village. Tenuous palm trees have been replaced by acres of uniform rubber trees, used to make thousands of tires. Stray dogs with mangled fur litter the ground like landmines, forcing oblivious auto rickshaw drivers to swerve across the dilapidated roads, through crowds of laborers, and in between the slowly moving cows. Herbal vapors and paan-stained papers permeate and emanate through air, sullying the white-cement walls. The suffocating black fumes of auto-rickshaws collude with dust particles to asphyxiate every pedestrian daring to cross the street. A mixture of plastic Pepsi bottles and algae cover the once pristine waters of the village pond. Despondent, I continue my trek towards the final destination: my beloved hill. As I near the hill, a sulfuric, burning smell invades my nostrils. Boys who used to enjoy long games of cricket stand sullenly stand behind me; laborers haul dead bodies on gurneys, ready for cremation at the top of the hill. A thick black fog begins to roll over the village, covering the beloved cricket fields and lemon trees with soot. Daily, the villagers pray to Shiva for prosperity. Perhaps praying daily to the Destroyer has only lead to more destruction itself; a decade of destruction and decadence.

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