First published Dec 14, 2008 By Shobhan Bantwal
The author was showcased as Stars of Belgaum earlier on this blog.
As an ex-Belgaum resident, it is both heartening and heartrending to see how my hometown has changed from a sleepy, rural town to a teeming city over the past three decades. When I pay those rare visits from my United States home to Belgaum, I no longer recognize the old Ramdev Galli, Khade Bazar, Tilakwadi, and Bogarves neighborhoods. I do not see some of the beloved old landmarks that were an integral part of my childhood of the 1950s and 60s. Even the old homestead, where I grew up in the Cantonment area, looks rather decrepit. But my deceased parents’ souls still seem to linger there.
The ever-growing businesses and multiplicity of educational institutions and healthcare facilities are no doubt assets to the local economy and the shift towards globalization. Apparently businesses in every sector are booming, providing a healthy income for many. There are posh, eye-popping mansions lining the suburbs that were non-existent back then. All this glory to a former Belgaumite is indeed uplifting. Needless to say I want my hometown to prosper and flourish.
However, the special flavor that was Belgaum seems to be lost forever in the economic and political shuffle. The town used to be an unexpectedly quaint mix of pleasant weather, bucolic vistas, cultural pursuits like music, dance and drama, upscale social venues like Belgaum Club, the golf course, the military party circuits, and unparalleled varieties of dew-fresh produce. Today it looks like any other medium-sized metropolis filled with innumerable commercial ventures, smoke-belching automobiles, schools and colleges, hotels and restaurants, and movie theaters. Even the citizens appear more aloof.
When I was a schoolgirl at St. Josephs School, there was a small circulating library called Oliver’s Library, which lent out books for a monthly membership fee. It disappeared a long time ago. Outside the Military Mahadev Temple, the dhoti-clad man who sold Arlipaakh, a spicy and crunchy combination of churmure, shev, and a secret-recipe lump of spices, was an institution by himself. Is someone carrying on that tradition today? I sincerely hope so.
One of the special delights from my childhood was visiting the neighboring sugarcane farms to drink fresh sugarcane juice and buy a fresh mound of gool – incredibly sweet and bursting with flavor when used in cooking and laddus. I am not sure if that particular simple pleasure is available to Belgaumites anymore.
While I yearn for the pastoral Belgaum of my girlhood, I applaud the Belgaum it has become today. My heart swells with pride when I observe how far it has come and made a place for itself on India’s map. I eagerly envision my next visit to Belgaum and sampling some new pleasures it has to offer even as I reminisce about the old times with my family. No matter what, Belgaum is still my home.
I send them all cyber-blessings and good wishes from my humble home in New Jersey. Long Live Belgaum!
Bio: Shobhan Bantwal was born and raised in Belgaum — a pukka Belgaumite. Marriage in 1973 to a man who lived in the United States took her to New Jersey, where she continues to reside with her family. Shobhan is a published novelist with two novels to date, THE DOWRY BRIDE and THE FORBIDDEN DAUGHTER. Two more novels are slated for publication in 2009. Her primary job is working for the New Jersey State government.
This article was first published on Dec 14, 2008 and hence the name Belgaum. Currently the city has been renamed as Belagavi.