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Coached to success
For decades, the small town of Thrissur in central Kerala would burst into activity mid-April, just before the Thrissur Pooram festival. With its splendid display of caparisoned elephants, bright parasols, percussion concerts and ear-splitting fireworks displays, the festival attracted both tourists and pilgrims. But once the festival ended, the town went back to its sleepy ways.
Over the last few years, though, Thrissur has transformed into a major town, pulsating with life, almost a satellite city for neighbouring Kochi. Traditional villas have given way to apartment blocks though there are few skyscrapers. Corner shops are being converted into departmental stores and showrooms, and cars crowd its streets.
Curiously, the main driver of this transition is a coaching centre - P C Thomas Classes. The centre, started 30 years ago, attracts engineering and medical aspirants from across Kerala and the Gulf, the US and Europe. Non-residents Indians send their children to Thrissur when they are in Class VIII to continue their studies here and join the coaching centre. "Many non-resident Malayalees are not keen to have their children grow up abroad. So they send their children here to prepare them for professional courses, " says M Muralidharan, former chairman of Thrissur Urban Development Authority.
The need to provide accommodation for these students has also led to a housing boom. Many non-resident Malayalees have bought flats here, and often their wives and children move to Thrissur. This also means more business for those in the transportation, catering and retail businesses.
Thrissur has now grown into an educational hub with three medical colleges, a medical university, an ayurveda college, a law college, a drama school, an agricultural university, colleges for animal sciences, forestry, horticulture and dairy science and numerous engineering colleges. An international university is in the pipeline.
Historically, the town was known as a trade centre, especially a wholesale market for rice. Now the rice trade has shifted to Ankamaly and Manjappra, and Thrissur has become a jewellery hub instead. "Nearly 20 per cent of the gold sales in the country take place in Thrissur, " says M Jayaprakash, leader of the local trade body. Quite a few leading textile trade groups have their presence here and six more are likely to set up shop soon, he adds.
However, Thrissur's industrial base has been considerably eroded. Its light machine industry and diamond polishing units are almost extinct. And the units dealing with tyre moulding machines, packaging and bell metal artefacts are barely managing to survive. Like all growing towns, Thrissur lags behind in infrastructure development. Waste management and drainage are also major challenges for its corporation. "We are trying to evolve a new master plan for Thrissur with a focus on developing five satellite towns. The earlier master plan was prepared in 1985. It could not be implemented fully, and is now outdated, " says mayor I P Paul.
But despite the changes, the city retains a fine balance between tradition and modernity. "Events like the Thrissur Pooram and Pulikkali (the masked 'leopard' dance that is a part of the Onam celebrations) still give the town a rural feel, " says writer and women's activist Rosy Thampi.
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