With a frown, he listened. My family, I explained, had built a home of our own here in the neighborhood of Kodialguttu, just before I left Mangalore in 1991. This was the first time I had come back since then, and I wanted to see that house again. It was a two-floor structure with a slanted roof. I had been searching Kodialguttu for half an hour, but I hadn't found it: in fact, I couldn't recognize the neighborhood at all. I remembered a large paddy field that flooded during the monsoons; that was why our friends had advised us against building a home here. When we finished the house, it was the first completed building in the paddy field, and you could see it from a couple of miles around. Instead of that paddy field, I now saw shopping malls, colleges, apartment blocks and a giant convention center sheathed in glass, that claimed to have Asia's largest auditorium. His house, I said, was the only thing that looked remotely like my old home. Had he bought it from my father?
"I'm sorry," he said. "I built it myself, eight years ago."
My story had excited him. He put on a shirt, and together we went lookingin vainfor my house. I told him how bewildered I was by the way Mangalore had changed, and he agreed. Things had changed so much, and so fast, he said. In the beginning he was proud that Mangalore was becoming a city, but now "even we, who stayed back, get confused," he said. "Even we wonder sometimes, what city this is that we're now living in."
Strange things are happening to towns throughout India. Mangalore is no exception. Over the next few days, walking about the streets of my hometown for the first time in 15 years, I discovered that the disappearance of paddy fields like the one in Kodialguttu was a common occurrence. There were new shopping malls, office high-rises and modern apartment buildings everywhereand most of the construction had taken place in the past five years. Old houses had been uprooted, and old landmarks were gone: the Hotel Woodside, famous for its racy cabaretone of the few sinful pleasures in a conservative townhad just been demolished. There was no shortage, however, of sinful pleasure to replace it. New bars and restaurants were everywhere, and the town's first multiplex cinema was about to open. life is calling announced a giant Smirnoff poster in the center of town. It all went to prove what I had gradually come to realize in my travels around India as a reporter: that to understand how quickly and explosively the economic boom is creating a new country, you have to leave the major cities and visit places that few foreigners have even heard ofplaces like Mangalore.