This post by Silverine, inspired me to write about “kundry mallus”, as she described it. Life in the land of our ancestors, holds special memories in our hearts. The simple unsophisticated way of life, the delicious naadan (traditional) dishes, the fresh air and exposure to nature at its best is something our future generations are missing out on (why do I already sound like an old grandmother?)
My sphere of influence here is limited to a small village called Ramalloor, in a small town named Kothamangalam. There is a typical mallu usage ‘Ethappa Kothamangalam’ coz people weren’t aware of where this place was located, though they used to hear a lot about this place. I was born here and the occasional yearly visits, or rather visits spaced out with time and distance, has left a considerable time for me to observe, compare, analyze and give my views ( Blame this introduction on the research project I had buried myself into for past 2 months, I think my over-exhausted brain is suffering from a hangover).
One of my fondest memories conjures up an image of a little girl, who would pester everyone possible at home, even before her mom unpacked, to take her to the Canal, close to the house. I love those days, when people were not obsessed with hygiene and all that. It was fun to splash into the canal, irritating my aunts and then becoming a drama queen, since, I didn’t know how to swim. I used to hate the part when they said,”Molkku ithonnum parichayam illalo, asukham vannalo?”(You aren’t used to all this, you may fall sick, i.e., playing in cold water). I really disliked it when they treat me like some alien delicate darling. This was the only closest thing and closest place I ever had, to experience nature at its best. The canal was a common factor for the people to bond, since, not everyone had water-supply to their homes.
I used to tag along with my cousins, to draw water from the well in a neighboring house during summer, and insist on having a small kodam (pot) for myself. Finally, my grandmother obliged, by giving me a puttu-kodam (Though I didn’t realize it was actually one, those days).
Thinking about the food at home itself, makes my mouth water. The fresh vegetables grown in the backyard of the houses, the livestock, and the rubber plantations, sharing the delicacies among neighbours etc… When we used to take the ‘city to home eatables’ like cakes and fruits etc, my grandmother always divided it and had them marked for each family in the neighbourhood and those were out of bounds for all of us. One thing I found really amusing was the hens. Going in search of eggs was a major time pass. The intelligent hens would hide their eggs if they escaped from beneath the baskets. So also was the task of ‘ kozhine koottil kettanathu’. How many times, I used to imitate my grandmom, the way she used to feed them making sounds like “ba ba ba”. On special occasions these hens would be caught and killed and feasted on. There was no need to even give second thoughts about, how many days the chicken was kept in the freezer, whether its is cleaned properly or not etc. But, the sight of killing a hen is very disgusting (at least I found so, and didn’t eat chicken for at least six months, after seeing it).
The traditional ‘aduppu’ or choolha was another object of amusement. One had to blow through a cylindrical pipe to set fire to the firewood uniformly. I used to sneak in and start blowing only to find myself choking in the smoke and spreading ashes all over the place and getting screamed at by my grandmother.
There was a small chapel in this village, where Novena used to be held on all Thursdays. This was the occasion where I would meet all the distant relatives and ammachis, perammas, ammayis and give them all a blank expression trying to remember who they were.
There was a school adjacent to the chapel. It was a sight to see… girls clad in white shirts and blue skirts and pink ribbons walking to school, with a handful of books. (I used to envy them for not having to wear those shoes and socks and carry those heavy school-bags). These girls lived a totally different life. Early morning few of them used to take milk to people’s houses, few of them would be seen fetching water, few of them would be cutting grass and many would be helping out with work in the rubber plantations etc.
Talking about churches, life of the people used to revolve around the parish church. People led a very pious and religious life. Just as my envious eyes observed the young girls clad in school uniforms, so did the sight of ammachis on their way for mass daily, delight me. Clad in chattayum-mundum ( The traditional Keralite Christian Women’s attire), with the pressed- pothamundu, adorning their Meykkamothirams (the big bangle-like earrings worn on the upper ear), carrying the kaalan koda (the olden day’s umbrellas), the rosary and the bible, these pretty Ammachis were objects of my curiousity. They had so much of serenity and grace in them and they led an austere life.
For those of you, who have seen such ammachis portrayed ridiculously on screen, all I have to say is, Don’t go by what you’ve seen :P…The conversations amongst them, usually centered on catching up with the latest village gossip, cribbing about their daughters-in-law, bringing in marriage proposals for people of marriageable age in the family circles etc.
Reminiscing the ‘evening prayer session in the family’ when everyone used to assemble in the main drawing room, enlivening the statement “A family that prays together, stays together”… We would follow the custom of ‘sthuthi kodukkal’ (wishing each other in the name of God) after prayer, and this had to be done in seniority order (age-wise). Ammachi, aunties, uncles, chettais and chechis would shower you with their blessings. It used to be very difficult to figure out, who was elder to whom, in a large gathering of all perammas and perappans, chachas and ammayis. Ammachi used to top the list and my cousin 2 years older to me, formed the last person in the list. In between, whoever came, was a random order for me. The elders used to get some sort of pleasure in laughing at me, when I wished people in the incorrect order. Me being youngest of the lot those years, had the maximum number of sthuthis to give and none to receive. After rosary, my mom and her 3 sisters would carry on with their never-ending, typical verbal banter, the “vedim, kushumbhum and paradooshanam session”(read gossip session). My grandmother had to scream her lungs out to get the womenfolk to serve dinner.Conversations would extend from late night until wee hours in the morning. When everyone dispersed, each sub-family would have loads of coconuts, jackfruits, mangoes and tubers to carry back home.
This was life, family and village in the early nineties when, the village was not influenced or rather unadulterated by globalization, modernization or parishkaram, as we’d call it.
Times changed, perceptions changed, locations changed and people changed. Our visits were spaced out with wider gaps. Today, the canal has lost its glory with only a narrow stream of water flowing down. All it does is evoke memories of the past we had, whenever I pass over the bridge. The puttu-kodam is in a dilapidated state, and no one goes to draw water from the well, thanks to the electric water pump and the municipal water supply… The fresh vegetables comprises of only jackfruit, mango and chena (yam) and certain other tubers. No hens, no cattle, no cow’s milk. The choolha is used once in a blue moon.
I haven’t attended Novena in the chapel for ages. Though I meet those distant relatives and now I’ve mastered the art of pretending to know people, though I’m clueless who they are.
Though the school has been upgraded to an English Medium school, there aren’t many students there now. The uniform has also been modernized with shoes and socks (that I detested the most). You can’t find girls walking in groups these days. The horns of school buses and school vans make up for those, once upon a time endless girly chatter and giggles. Today, the younger girls retort back when their mothers ask them to take milk to neighbouring houses, or when asked to help with some work. Most of the parents, don’t want their kids to do such chores. They struggle to send their kids to well-reputed schools in the city. Parents don’t want their kids to be deprived of what they lost out. Most of those chechis I used to see, were sent to nursing colleges, paying hefty amounts as donation. These nurses are currently employed abroad. This is a marketing mantra in the local marriage market. The nurses are the visas for the prospective grooms to go abroad and seek employment. With foreign money flowing in and facilities improving, this place has regenerated.
Lives that revolved around the parish church… Now the church revolves around the lives of the rich, group politics etc. The old generation Ammachis are too old to walk to church, and most of them are now permanently in the vicinity of the church, in eternal rest. The new-generation Ammachis are afflicted by everything from cholesterol to diabetes to blood pressure. Their visits to doctors and hospitals outnumber the number of masses they attended. Most of them, as described by their own children, are waiting for eternal rest. It is a sad state, to see Appachans and Ammachis with home-nurses, suffering in pain and agony in old-age. Meykkamothirams have now become an antiquity.
What used to be friendly chatter and harmless gossip among ladies has now turned into talks filled with spite and vengeance. Even in family circles, you can feel that air of indifference, the growing distances and discomfort in each other’s company. I think the only occasion where these walls break down are when all uncles are sloshed and embark upon their kalaparipaadies.
The evening prayer session has now become a half an hour affair, synchronized with the timings of the weekly power-cuts. Nobody misses out on the serials and the present hype, the reality shows. I have to ridicule or bully my younger cousins to give sthuthi to me. But, it feels nice, when everyone talks about the censored version of how I was so enthusiastic on giving sthuthi to everyone in the family. I hope the kids don’t make me a role model.
Now it’s been ages since all family members gathered together and rest of those occasions, remain sheer memories. I really miss those days and I seriously pity my younger cousins, my only niece and nephews who missed out on those days.
Yes, those were the days…the best of days…
(PS: The part in italics was written by me almost 8 years ago. If you ask me how I remember all those things in the early nineties, blame it on the countless chyavanprash or chavanprasham bottles, I was forced to polish off, to increase my memory power. Or accept the alternate hypothesis that, I was a curious observant and held these memories close to my heart.