by Mathangi Krishamurthy
Sometime this year of 2014, my father will retire, ending thirty odd years of service tending and minding a chemical factory. We will also concurrently end what I consider my foundational era, and will have to stop inhabiting a particular vision of the Indian nation-state.
For years, my answer to that most ubiquitous question, “Where are you from?” used to be a really long sentence. “On the National Highway Number Four from Bombay to Pune”, I would begin, “somewhere between New Bombay and Lonavala”, I would continue, “…it's a two-pony town”, I would cautiously insert before ending with, “Rasayani; I'm sure you haven't heard of it.”
My one important memory of Rasayani – the place named after the word ‘chemical' in Hindi, “Rasayan” – is of snakes. I remember waking up one morning, being called out to excitedly by many voices, one distinctly my mother's. And I cautiously stepped outside, to see a man hurling a snake by its tail into the distance. Some kind of pioneering and slightly mad community we must have seemed in my newly anointed Rasayanic head.
I was four or five and we were a bunch of young families, newly imported to one more example of the nation-building spirit of the pre-1991 Indian nation-state, the industrial township. Or in other words, as literature across the world calls it, the company town.
The sociologists Rex Lucas and Lorne Tepperman in their groundbreaking 1971 study “Minetown, Milltown, Railtown”, define company towns as “closed communities owned and administered by the industrial employer” and as a place where everyone, and ominously, the company, knows everyone. Rasayani is a many-company town harboring competing closed communities. Or as we called them, colonies.