CHENNAI: The drive up to ‘God’s Villa’ in Kizhakkambalam village in Kerala’s Ernakulam is nothing short of breathtaking. The winding road that leads up to the gated community is wide, the whitewashed buildings on either side add to its pristine quality. It is hard to imagine the place as once ghettoised, a hotbed for wayward and deviant behaviour. Twenty20 Kizhakkambalam, a charity outfit floated by the Anna-Kitex Group, tranformed the village. Dia Rekhi traces its journey
Journey to becoming God’s Villa
The Government of Kerala in 1972 had started a scheme called the Laksham Veedu Colony (One-Lakh Housing Scheme) for economically weaker sections of society to be given proper shelter and housing facilities.
Under this scheme, two families shared a single, 240 sq ft house, which was separated by a wall in between. Each family had two rooms with a kitchenette.
However, these clusters of kuccha and semi-pucca houses with pit latrines, common walls and tiled-roof continued to remain in a dilapidated condition, because of lack of maintenance, thereby adding to the woes and misery of those living in these houses.
The Twenty20 Kizhakkambalam, a CSR initiative of Kitex Group, along with the Kizhakkambalam Grama Panchayat, decided to rebuild these colonies with modern facilities. The initiative focused on rebuilding 73 houses in Laksham Veedu colonies, namely Njarallur (37 houses), Velangu (24 houses), Kanamburam (8 houses) and Makkenikkara (4 houses).
The colony is no more a Laksham Veedu Colony but has been rechristened as God’s Villa with contemporary looking 750 sq ft independent houses. All the houses have a kitchen, European toilet, sink, light and water. The houses, constructed in four cents include two bedrooms, a hall, and a car parking facility.
Through the eyes of residents
The 73-year-old’s eyes welled up as she recounted what the colony used to be. Having lived in the area for 40 years, she had experienced it all.
Before the colony became God’s Villa, two families stayed under one roof in a sense as the house was separated by just a wall. She spoke about how she enjoyed the privacy.
“Even if we did not want to eavesdrop on the other family’s conversation, the house set-up itself was such that they knew everything about us and we knew everything about them. There was no privacy. And now we have the whole house to ourselves. It is such a luxury and better than what I ever dreamt. I feel so happy that I have a place that I can call home,” said Annama.
She spends her time in the house for the most part but enjoys sitting in the small veranda that overlooks the ground where children come and play. After the death of her husband, two years back, she often wondered what her life would be, but now with a solid roof over her head, she feels a weight has been lifted off her chest.
Lisa just wanted a place that she could call home where her three children had space to run around and play.
“I don’t have very fancy wishes. I got this house and that is enough. I am so happy that I have a place like this to call my home. It is something I thought would always be a dream and never a reality,” she said.
Lisa’s sewing machine, placed besides the door outside, is her favourite companion. “In the previous house there was not much space so it used to be tough to stitch. Now, I sit outside and stitch whenever I feel like. There is so much space and privacy,” she says, adding that her husband works as a lorry driver.
“People’s mindset towards us has changed. They treat us with respect and regard, ever since the area has been transformed. People living here also have become more conscious of how they should behave,” she shares.
Having lived in the colony for nine years, Lisa had to pinch herself to know that this was their new reality — a clean, safe and beautiful neighbourhood.
This family of three used to dread the rains because they were convinced that something terrible would happen. They even had an instance where a coconut tree fell and cracked a portion of their roof. So every time there was rain, it meant they would have a sleepless night. But not any more.
“The houses were not properly maintained and we could not sleep peacefully at night because we would constantly have to keep buckets everywhere. That is not even a concern now because the house is so well-built and well-equipped,” says Sangeetha.
Having lived in the colony for 38 years, she said that she has been witness to how life has changed for residents.
“The lifestyle and attitudes of people have changed. Earlier, this was considered a low class colony but now there is a lot of aspiration and ambition among the people here. They are taking their education seriously and are looking after their houses and the colony at large. Even small things like the dressing style and upkeep of the area has improved a lot,” she shares.
Her husband, Madhu CG, who runs a welding unit in the locality, says, “There was a toilet but it was in a pathetic condition. It was filthy and one never felt like using it. Now we have our own bathroom facility which is so convenient. We also had only four taps to fetch water for 38 houses. We now get water in our houses.”
When asked about what they felt about the house, their daughters’ grin said it all. They now had more space to play with their neighbours and had a room to themselves.