It was that age when most of Malabar was still underdeveloped. There was no electricity, telephones, roads or even bridges as we see now. The only high school in the neighbourhood or anywhere near for miles around was the Kambil Mappila High School. Also the only telephone around was at the home of the manager of the school. The nearest other telephone line was across the river at Parassini, and the wire was drawn over the river from there to his home. Also, this guy was the only one who owned a car those days, pretty much more than a status symbol.
There were no roads. Yes, the way was there, but those were not roads. Bullock carts roamed these so called roads, mostly laid with the red mud that is typical of the region. Almost all the time, as in ages before this, the distance was covered by walking. All those who needed to go to Parassini High School, even from far off places, had to walk all the way to the river for miles and use the boat to move across.
There were no bridges too. The Katampally Bridge was yet to take shape even on paper, and whatever travel had to be done on the road to the extreme northern parts of Malabar, was through the old Valapattanam railway bridge constructed by the erstwhile British rulers of the Malabar district.
If somebody wanted to go to Cannanore, the travel had to be made by roaming all the way to Chalode, and then down to Cannanore through the Iritty – Cannanore road. This was more than forty kilometres distance that needed to be covered, and you could guess how much time it could have taken those days. Even when somebody falls sick and needed to be taken to hospital (the nearest one was in the district headquarters), and need to catch a taxi, this had to be hired from the taxi stand near the Cannanore railway station. The phone at the school manager’s house needed to be used to call the taxi stand, and it would be hours before the vehicle arrives. Else, there was a jeep at the Primary Health Centre at Mayyil, which needed to be hired at an expensive fare, but this being a government vehicle was not available most of the time.
The only bus that was running was till Chalode. Some days if they don’t get fuel, they don’t run. There were options too to reach Cannanore other than this. Once was to walk all the way to Katampally, cross the river by boat and board the bus from the other side. Else use the way that most of our ancestors used for trade, that is, sail downstream all the way to Valapattanam, the big city of those days, and catch the bus that ply to Cannanore town.
The Katampally bride was up only in the late 1960’s and it was then that the road to Cannanore got a lot simpler, after the start of bus service. The new Valapattanam Bridge, over which the National Highway runs now, came up much later. The first bus service that directly started from Cannanore was after the Katampally Bridge was opened to the public, and even the price of the ticket used to be a luxury for most.
This was a scene from the late 1960’s that my father narrated to me today, while we were driving down the Mayyil – Chirakkal road towards Kannur. Today, the picture has changed. The roads are lined with electric posts, and there would be no home without electricity. There is telephone and a broadband connection in most houses, not to mention the innumerable towers of mobile companies. Health services have improved, and now nobody needs to go to Kannur for that. The roads are well metalled and wide enough, and even though they crack during monsoons, are good enough. There are buses every five minutes, and the roads are no longer dotted with bullock carts, but with the latest SUV and cars. The boats have stopped, and now there is the Parassini and other bridges too that connect roads. And when it took three to four hours to reach Cannanore, is now covered in thirty minutes.
Life has improved by miles, so has infrastructure. But the whiff of fresh air and calm that would have been around in those days is nowhere around. Alas, time travel is not possible, else it would have been a contentment to go back there and enjoy that sumptuousness.
The Chirakkal – Mayyil road in its present form