On the spires of the church of the Holy Cross in the fishing village of Purakkad, crows perch for a brief rest, oblivious to the idyllic panorama of Kerala’s southern coastline.
Purakkad’s white sandy beaches huddle the shores of the Arabian Sea. Rice paddies stretch inland, stitched together by an intricate web of murky, backwater canals. Canopies of leafy palm, coconut and areca trees camouflage most signs of civilization. Only the faint roar of an approaching top-heavy bus on National Highway 47 — a two-lane, paved road that runs north-south some 405 miles, much of it along Kerala’s southern coastline — hints at modernity.
Life in Purakkad is serene and simple.
Incense wafts out of the sun-bleached church, built in the early 15th century, accompanied by the muffled sounds of prayerful worship. The parish priest, Father Jose Choolparampil, leads a devout flock, who have packed the church for eucharistic adoration before beginning the Divine Liturgy.
Directly behind the church stands the Little Flower Primary School, run by the Franciscan Clarist Sisters. Children — dressed as angels, ballerinas, Hindu gods, pirates and nuns — sing, dance and rehearse their routines one last time before the school’s upcoming 48th anniversary celebration.
Without breaking stride, a fisherman lugs his day’s catch across the highway to a rickety stand. There, a merchant places the assortment of mackerel, anchovies and shellfish on a bed of ice. As usual, he hopes his not-so-brisk business will pick up in the early evening, when temperatures cool, liturgy ends and rural families come to the village to stock up on provisions. Not long ago, a vibrant fish market animated Purakkad’s small center, but it has since relocated to a neighboring village in the north.
Purakkad boasts a rich history. In the 17th century, Purakkad served as a prominent Dutch trading post. But now, centuries later, even the ghosts from this era have grown old and tired and, like the fish market, have moved on.
Tuk-tuk (taxi) drivers pause at a vending cart to sip hot tea while fishermen play cards in a nearby open-air wooden hut used to dry fish — though no fish have been laid out. None of them pays any heed to the growing sound of the bus approaching the village.
As the bus barrels into plain view, sleepy Purakkad stirs. Clearing the way, a cyclist carrying a rabbit cage darts off the road and into safety on the dirt drive in front of the church. The crows perched on the spires squawk excitedly. Villagers on the side of the road, with heavy sacks at their feet and a few rupees in hand, ready themselves for the pending frenzy and commotion.
For a few moments, Purakkad’s natural harmony is drowned out by sounds straight from modern Kerala’s urban hustle and bustle. The bus’s shrill horn blares as the driver pulls aggressively to the shoulder of the road. Downshifting, the engine growls thunderously. The brakes grind and squeal in pain. Piercing the din, a ticket collector urgently cries, “Hurry up! Hurry up!”
In these few moments, a portal opens wide to an outside world fast encroaching on Purakkad. In the excitement, the ticket collector’s tense voice recalls the lost spirit of Paul Revere on his legendary midnight ride, warning that urbanization — not the British army — is coming. But as fast as a huff and puff of the diesel exhaust can fill the air, the behemoth and its messenger gallop away. The portal closes shut, leaving behind an awkward silence.