Saturday, February 18, 2006

ATM’s in Kerala - A Portal to another Dimension

Life in Kerala is a weird paradox. We shun development in its various forms, and are hell-bent against any real progress. All the ‘real’ development here has been forced upon us by the Central Government & Multi-state Corporate Majors – Rubberised National Highways, Cellular Networks & Telecom Boom, and the new revolution in Banking Convenience. The State Bank of India (SBI) has the highest number of ATM’s in India, including 14 ATM’s in Calicut itself.

My college is in a rural setting, 2 hours away from Calicut by road, with one town nearby. The SBI ATM here is at the entrance to this town. So, facing utterly disgusting food at the hostel, I and my friend take a hike to this nearby town to get some grub to eat. I climb into the ATM to get some cash. From the grimy, dusty outdoors with all the garbage spread around, we climb up a small set of stairs and into this fashionable enclosure, with design elements that are completely out of this world. After swiping my card at the door, a beep and a flashing LED certifies my entry into this restricted space. A sudden breeze of cool air coming from the two ceiling mounted split air-conditioners grazes my skin in a soft, cooling caress. I’m suddenly transported to a different, yet familiar place.

Back in Doha, air conditioning was as bare a necessity as Food and Water. With temperatures peaking in at 51 degrees Celsius in the summer, it was essential to keep them running 24/7. Even our school buses back there were air-conditioned. Somehow, living without it for a while made me realize how amazing it can be. Kerala, with its relatively high per-unit charges for electricity, caused by a cash-strapped state electricity board, finds a/c’s an invitation for trouble. Everyone can afford one, but nobody can afford to keep them running.

Meanwhile, I’m still in my ATM vestibule, enjoying the neat interiors, the glossy flooring, and of course the climate control which keeps the interior at a cool 16 degrees. The glass provides a wonderful pseudo-transparent window to the outside world, and all the sounds from outside are muffled by the vestibule. The ATM’s here in Kerala, and especially the ones they deploy on the Highways for the rural areas are truly a portal to another dimension. As I struggle to get my cash from the machine (the machine’s conked out), I give up. I’m not mad at the machine though. It’s a place that provides a unique escape from the madness that is small-town Kerala. A place that is so inviting, and so seductive, it makes me wish that the ATM machine somehow magically morphs into a big, shiny portal that transports me back to the commercial world, one of Fast-Food joints, Shopping Malls, and uninterrupted air-conditioning! On my way back to the college hostel though, the ATM made up for its rude behavior before. Another trip to my portal for a second attempt, I walked out 200 rupees richer!

1 comment:

Ess You Kay i said...

Hey Suhail ..

A wee bit late I know, but Congrats on your new blog anyhow. Happy Blogging!