April 21, 2024

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My Childhood – Part Two

Every spot in Keralam is a picnic spot. The locale selected by my father for building a house, after years of wandering from place to place, reveals his love of scenic beauty- or it may be just a combination of circumstances- for which generations of Vasudevan uncle should be grateful to him.

The plot is at the bend of the river, the bank is quite steep, the prospect from the summit can be described only by a poet. The house is in the foreground, on the right hand of the river you see in my blog. Vasu uncle constructed a bungalow there, with a terrace roof, something of a wonder at that time. From the terrace, we used to look at the mountains in the East, Western Ghats which acquire a bluish hue in rainy season. In summer, we all used to sleep there, looking at the diamonds scattered all over the sky. One Karkoli nambudiri taught us the names of a few of those wonderful stars, the milky way cutting across the starry sands.In the cities, our children are denied the joy which I experienced seventy years ago.

The carpenters working there made a small canoe and presented it to my elder brother. I am a born waterfriend, perhaps a fish in my last life. Watching the bamboo rafts slowly gliding along the full river, the workers cooking rice at a corner and fishing, I longed to be one among them, when I grew up. Sometimes it would be a huge wooden craft, fitted with thatched roof, something of a house boat. Only in novels I have read about people travelling in boats in the Ganga.

As soon as we shifted to our river side home, my thread ceremony was performed. I became a Brahman, Ovinichunni, as we are called. The front cover of my book depicts the appearance of ovinichunni.

It was also the end of my early childhood. Every day I had to perform various rituals under strict supervision of my father who, one day, was so annoyed that he caught hold of my two hands, lifted me up as one would a bunch of bananas, and smacked me till his rage abated or he became tired, I don’t know which, all because I broke the sacred thread, while playing in the river water. I didn’t cry. But the agony is still fresh in my sensitive mind!

My father commented: you are more difficult to manage than an elephant.

The people in neighbouring homes came to wash and bathe there, because father made a bathing ghat in the river, duly paved with granite steps, and we had always the company of the village boys, for our water sports. I was not aware of the fact that the thread somehow disappeared. It is excusable in a six year old boy. We beat kids, to vent our feelings. Are not children the creations of God? Who authorized us to punish them?

Normally my father is a very peaceful person. He is very slow and takes a lot of time to complete his morning rituals. He never uses the bath towel. Water will slowly evaporate. He was totally bald and had no teeth. In his betel chewing case made of bronze, there was a special crusher to pulverize the mixture of betal leaves, arecanut, lime, tobacco and some erattimadhuram(meaning double sweet-a root). I don’t know what it is. We used to eat it, erattimadhuram which is really very sweet.

At bed time, he would tell us to punch his feet with all our strength. My brother and I would handle each leg. It was fun.

He would discuss many things with brother, including poetry in Samskrutam, which I could not follow. My brother imbibed interest in learning and he is a veritable encyclopaedia. He went to school for some time and does not know English; but he has read all books in Malayalam. He knows our family history and has jotted down many things in a note book. Nobody has seen it. He passed away recently just before crossing eighty.

Kirangatu Mana

One day we went to attend a function in Kirangattu mana. I was in women’s wing. I looked out into the outside men’s wing, and was overjoyed to see KRS(Ramaphan’s son Unniaphan)

He took me around and showed me a wonderful new world.There was even a temple inside the campus. At about 3 pm, I suppose, an old man came into the temple. He seated himself in a tiger skin. KRS sat before him, and repeated whatever was recited by the old man.

After some time, he asked me: do you like to learn othu(Veda)?

I promptly said yes. So he told me to sit by KRS’s side and I too repeated the lines from Veda. I remained at Kirangat mana with KRS for more than a year.

Kirangatu mana

Traditionally, young namboodirs of kk family went to Kirangatu mana. They were our gurus. For Rigvedis there was the math at Trichur and one at Thirunnavaya. None for us Yajurvedis.

So it was not a surprise for our guru. No doubt, my eager face must have attracted his attention. At that time Anujan and Kunjanujan nambudiries were unmarried. There were no children there. Naturally, we were pampered by all. There were many nambudiris, mostly with wives in the Royal palace at Tripunithura, who came there occasionally.

The tusks of Kesavan (elephant, owned by the mana) evoked awe and admiration. Some iron chains reminded the glory of the famous animal whose beauty was only excelled by his cruelty (killed 16 or so mahouts). Only Pozhichur namboodiri, who was just the store keeper and never failed to give something or other to Kesavan to eat, was allowed to hold his tusks. In the presence of this man, Kesavan became docile as a kid!I was never tired of hearing the stories of elephants.

There was a big country boat.The west side of the estate was a lake. I would longingly look at the Chenam island, but never had the good fortune of a boat ride.There were separate bathing facilities for gents and ladies (as in all namboodiri families) and an extra temple tank. Today all are dry. A huge manchadi tree provided dazzling red beads for us to play with. Occasionally,Vasudevan of neighbouring Kannath mana would join us. I can go on writing about those times…