Coconut Grove was neither a
recreational area on the beach front nor a decent residential
district but a low-lying shanty area under water during monsoons
and home for people at the bottom of the society such as rickshaw
pullers, coolies, maids, sweepers, professional panhandlers and
petty thieves. The raw sewer from the entire town flows through
Coconut Grove via an open drain that also serves as an open toilet
to the inhabitants of the Coconut Grove.
Coconut trees flourished in abundance
on nutrient rich sewage in open drains in the low-lying area.Thus
the area earned the name "Coconut Grove." However, over the years,
some trees were dead from disease, and fires killed several
more.Thatched-roof mud houses were gradually built on the spaces
left by the dead trees. The area was still known by the name
"Coconut Grove" though very few trees were left in between the
There were no paved roads in Coconut
Grove, only narrow dirt alleys for the pedestrian and rickshaw
traffic. In monsoon season, the narrow lanes turned into small
streams. People used cow dung slurry to plaster their mud houses,
the dung turned into a stiff coating on drying like a paint
albeit-totally of organic in origin. Freshly dried toddy palm
leaves were used to repair leaky roofs. Parked bullock-drawn carts
over loaded with dry palm leaves waiting for a brisk sale were
commons sight on the street near the Coconut Grove.
The odors from the drying cow dung
plaster and deteriorating toddy palm leaves on the roof permeates
the narrow lanes of Coconut Grove. Children from Coconut Grove
would go around the town with a metal bowl on their head to collect
fresh cow dung from the street. Some children walk behind the
roaming cows and fight among themselves to collect fresh dung as
the animals defecate on the streets. Most women at Coconut Grove
would leave their homes early for work as day laborers, maids or
professional panhandlers.Their children left alone at home
entertain themselves on streets playing marbles or running behind
push carts or skillfully maneuvering metal bicycle rims with a
stick at high speeds on the narrow dirt paths.Some kids roam the
nearby streets scouting for funeral processions where few coins
could be collected when coins thrown on the dead body as a part of
ceremonial tradition drops to the ground.
Women cook their meals on wood-burning
mud stoves either indoors or outdoors, and the smoke from burning
firewood covers the area particularly in late evening hours. The
meal, a hot peppery slurry containing few salted fish or a few
shrimps for flavoring and vegetables mixed with mounds of boiled
rice was intended to satisfy hunger more than palate.The aroma of
dried fish and shrimp blended with odors from cow dung and toddy
palm leaves improvise Coconut Grove with a peculiar odor, a lasting
experience to any one visiting Coconut Grove for the first
Among the crowded huts was a small
tiled roof concrete dwelling with a large rectangular shape sign
board that read "Dr. Seshagiri, RMP (Registered Medical
Practitioner)." Dr. Seshagiri practiced medicine from a small
section of the front veranda of his house. He rented the remaining
section to a tailor, a fair skinned immigrant from the North. His
house was one of the few with tiled-roof and concrete walls in
Coconut Grove. Given the economic and social status, Coconut Grove
was an unlikely place for a doctor to set up a practice let alone
live there. But, Dr. Seshigiri chose to live there with his wife
and practice medicine from his front veranda.
The mysterious reason for Dr.
Seshigiri to live in the shanty area of the town was only known to
a small section of the society. In a society where abortion was a
serious taboo and not very many doctors from the main stream want
to indulge in such a practice, Dr. Seshagiri's practice was
exclusively dedicated to performing abortions.A large section of
his clientele were prostitutes who ended up pregnant, an
occupational hazard. Dr. Seshagiri was rumored to have illicit
relations with some of his clients. The frequent visits by pimps
that brought the prostitutes for abortion to Dr. Seshagiri's clinic
earned him the infamous name "Rowdy Doctor."Very few know Dr.
Seshagiri by his real name since everyone called him "Rowdy
Doctor."And he accepted the title.
People from upper caste to the poor
needed the services of Rowdy Doctor. Some women visited Rowdy
Doctor without the knowledge of their families while others were
brought by their relatives. He never asked how or under what
circumstances the women got pregnant or why they wanted an
abortion. His clients visited late at nights in rickshaws. Every
rickshaw puller in town knew the location of Rowdy Doctor's clinic.
He rendered his services for a small fee in cash and demanded no
prior appointment for a visit.
Juggernaut's family was distantly
related to Rowdy Doctor.Rowdy Doctor's wife, a diminutive woman
visited Juggernaut's home unannounced once in a while. Always
wearing a white sari, she appeared fragile and sickly. Juggernaut
first encountered Rowdy Doctor's wife when he was young. He was
playing with his older sister on a small open trailer belong to his
neighbor. A woman hurriedly entered the premises as if someone was
chasing her with incoherent smile on her face. Her looks were
distinctly paranoid almost like a mad woman. Juggernaut jumped from
the trailer screaming for help and ran passed the woman towards his
house. The woman followed him into his house timidly only to be
welcomed by Juggernaut's mother. After exchanging social
formalities and chatting, Juggernaut's mother offered her
buttermilk in a glass. The woman gulped the contents as if she was
really thirsty and placed the glass on the ground.Standing behind
their mother, Juggernaut and his sister observed all this. After
her departure, Juggernaut came to know who the woman was and
realized that she was neither mad nor crazy but a very depressed
woman. From that time onwards, any time she visited, Juggernaut
used to scream that Rowdy Doctor wife was coming.
On a few occasions, Rowdy Doctor's
wife brought along her daughter. The girl, the same age as
Juggernaut, was thin and unusually very fair skinned compared to
brown skin south Indians. With high cheekbones, sharp nose, brown
eyes and hair, she was beautiful and foreign looking.
Juggernaut was very much wished to
play with the girl, but was afraid to ask her, as she always hides
behind her mother.
On one rare occasion when Rowdy
Doctor's wife was chatting with Juggernaut's mother, he asked her
daughter "do you want to play?"
She was too shy even to answer but her
mother said "go and play with him."
The girl's name was Shoba. After
playing for some time she left with her mother without even
saying good bye. Shoba was really shy and unaccustomed to playing
On subsequent visits, Shoba was more
relaxed and playful with Juggernaut. "Where do you live?' asked
"Somewhere out there," she
"What does your father do?"
Shoba thought for a moment and said
"I don't know," she replied.
Juggernaut played hide and seek,
then jumped up and down on the neighbor's trailer with Shoba.
Shoba was so delicate she sought help and attention all the time.
As time passed, Rowdy Doctor's wife visits became sparse and
eventually she stopped coming altogether much to Juggernaut's
Many years went by since Rowdy
Doctor's wife stopped coming to Juggernaut's house. One day, his
mother showed a wedding invitation. It was the wedding of Shoba;
the shy girl who visited years ago with her strange
Apparently, Rowdy Doctor spent too
much time with his clientele and also drinking 'aruk' a cheap
alcoholic drink brewed from toddy palm sap.His wife, ignored and
neglected by her husband went into depression. She found solace in
the company of the Muslim tailor who rented their veranda,
eventually she ran away with him.Neighbors believed that Shoba's
real father was the fair skinned Muslim tailor not the Rowdy
Doctor. Shoba was later given away for adoption to her distant
Juggernaut attended Shoba's wedding
and tried to make an eye contact with her but she did not
appeared to recognize him. She was beautiful in her wedding dress
but appeared mysterious perhaps it was all Juggernaut's
imagination knowing her hidden past.