Friday, April 05, 2013

My Malayali-half's anguish.

It is only recently that I got interested in Kerala’s culture and stuff. Not that being called a ‘Madrasi’ in Gujjuland did ever make me 'feel' Madrasi.
However digging back into my family's history, I found a lot of interesting stuff. How my mother’s family originates in a place called Thalassery, a British stronghold, where they probably traded in spices, from where they ran to Ponnani when Hyder Ali attacked it. In Ponnani the family ‘got into the warehouse business’ which as I understand has something to do with constructing warehouses and probably leasing them out to the Company. Anyway Hyder Ali’s atrocities against the Nairs which included forced conversions into Islam and deportation to Kanara forced my ancestors to flee to their present place near Shoranur. I’m told that we had an elephant in the house since it was a sign of affluence. I still have memories from my childhood where the lower castes while talking to my paternal grandmother would not cover their upper body, stand with their arms folded across their chests as a mark of respect and talk in low voices, and move out of the way when we passed them. Of course those customs have vanished since then.
Some old stuff from the ancestral house revealed wooden parasols used to shield the Nair women from being ‘looked at’ by outsiders when they went outside as well as daily-use objects like ‘bhasma-kottas (baskets containing holy ash, hung outside the houses for anyone entering the house) or huge wooden containers used for storing grains or even mud-houses for hens. These things have been replaced by modern appliances and utensils and I often see myself digging into wooden chests or dragging my hands across the walls in long-shut rooms trying to read the stories etched on their surfaces. Waking up to the smell of smoke from burning wood in the kitchens, sleeping to the swish-swish of wooden hand-held fans, while outside the fragrance of jasmine and paarijatam pervaded the night, mixing with that of ripening mangoes and jackfruits. It was easier in those days to believe that all was indeed well with the world and that as long as we cared for Mother Nature, she would take care of us too. Now going back into the long-locked rooms of my memories, I pull and pull at moments spent in bliss, climbing mango trees, chasing hens, riding buffaloes, tagging along with the cowherds that took our cows out to pasture, bare-footed, being bitten by red ants, sitting next to the cows and calves in the cowshed cooing sweet-nothings into their ears, jumping into the stream to cool off on hot afternoons, walking 2 kilometres to the nearest auto or bus stand, luring the pet dogs to hide under the dining table so that the vegetables on my plate would find greedy takers, lying on big rocks in the rubber estate only to be scared by scorpions and other creepy crawlies, trying to milk the cows and get kicked in the process, hunt for snakes in the grass with puffed-up-chests only to run screaming into the hands of the nearest adult on spotting one..….

Yet it is more and more difficult to connect those days with the present. The disconnect is so jarringly obvious that I shut my eyes to stop them from pouring out. And as time passes, these memories get more and more difficult to pull out, refusing to come out from their spider-webbed, dusty long-forgotten corners of the mind. 

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