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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Oh, Keerikkadu

It was sometime during the third week of 2006 June that the opportunity to visit Keerikkadu.– the dream place about which my wife had elaborately talked to me from time to time in the last couple of decades- came on our way. Just to recapitulate, this is the place where her mother hails from and I have heard from her that anyone who visits this place will greatly feel exhilarated about the naturally beautiful scenic settings. This visit took place after we decided to take our retirement from an active work life during June,06.

So, on that bright morning, we embarked upon our visit to Keerikkadu and we drove from Ernakulam. Hareesh, my wife’s nephew, stays in Ernakulam with his parents and he volunteered to drive us to Keerikkadu. Besides his mother, my paternal auntie, who is in her seventies and staying in Ernakulam also accompanied us. Hareesh’s father was away on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala and was expected to return back that day evening only.

Our two-hours drive to Keerikkadu from Ernakulam took us through a few other important places on the way. We passed through Alleppey and Mannarsalai. At Alleppey, we had a darshan at the temple of Mullaikkal Bhagawathi and at Mannarsalai, there was the famous Nagaraja temple. We had our worship and prayers in both these places. The deities in these places were known to be very powerful. The temple and surroundings were extremely beautiful. I must make a special mention about the temple tank at Mannarsalai, which was exquisitely beautiful. You may look at the photograph of this tank.

As we were approaching Keerikkadu, there was some confusion about the actual location of this village town. It appears that even my wife’s cousin had not visited this place for quite long. The house was said to be behind ‘maadharnadai’ (meaning, ‘temple’ in Malayalam). After some enquiries, we were guided to the place. We had to take a road that was going down from the main highway. It was a metal road that you normally find in villages, not asphalted. We had to park our Maruthi 800 just near a small culvert, very close to a steel fencing, just adjacent to their erstwhile house.

By that time, I was ready with my video camera. We walked a small winding narrow path taking us to the house where my wife’s maternal ancestors have stayed during major part of 20th century until it was sold away during early 1970s. We happened to enter the surroundings of the house through a small pathway adjacent to the house without even knowing that there is a regular motorable road the new owners have laid for themselves.
As we entered, I was appalled at the beauty of the place and I could make out, why my wife had always felt excited about her memories of this place.

It was a fairly big land. The whole area was lush green under the canopy of a variety of trees; I could not name all of them. My wife mentioned that there were at least three water ponds in that place, all filled with rain water; one entirely for drinking water purposes and the others for taking bath. We visited at least one pond and the water in the pond was shallow and muddy. The (new) owners seemed to have made a few modifications to the place, the most noteworthy being construction of a palatial house in a location where there was said to be a pond earlier. As we entered the house, the (new) owner – by now he is said to have grown very old – received all of us with great warmth, as though we were his closest relatives and friends – notwithstanding the fact that the land had changed hands completely more than two decades ago now. He was a very kind person. His hospitality made him a great host. He invited us inside the house, made us sit, provided us with lots of fruits that were naturally grown in his land, some very delicious pan cakes and fried savories. He enquired a lot about everyone in the family; he was remembering all though two decades have passed by. Incidentally, his wife and his daughter were away and were expected sometime in the afternoon only. He suggested to us to stay over there for the night, and be their guests. He took us on a tour around the house, showed us the various rooms and explained the modifications he had done since he bought this place. He humility and simplicity stunned me.

Now, I would like to describe the house as it appeared. I have known about the Kerala type houses during my previous other visits to Kerala. With passage of time, things have changed everywhere in Kerala. With the influx of money from Gulf countries on account of remittances from Non Resident Keralites, the outlook has vastly changed. You find the most modern houses in the remotest villages in Kerala. However, strangely, to our pleasant surprise the owner has retained the overall antique appearance of the house.

The outer structure of the house seems to have remained the same. The exterior was a near square, with very spacious verandah in the entire length of the front side of the house. The cement flooring was remarkably smooth on these verandahs. The roofs were all constructed with old type Travancore brick tiles, sloping from the center to either side. The roof was supported with wooden pillars and trusses allover. Inside at the center, there was a small squared well-type area. My wife explained to me that it is where they used to play when it rained, as this area was open to the sky; this arrangement provided lot of air and light ventilation to the entire house, without necessitating the modern day gadgets like fan, electric lights, which were nevertheless not available in that house three decades back. As I said earlier, the roof was sloping in the interior too, towards this well. The idea was, Kerala being rainy area all through the year – you will always find a Malayalee with his or her inseparable umbrellas on the streets during any part of the year - sloping roof made of Travancore tiles was the common building practice those days. Now, I understand that this automatically provided rain seeding for their land around the house and there was never a time when they ran short of water. My auntie told me that today on the contrary, there are water shortages in many places in Kerala. Broad corridors surrounded this well area and kept open. The private rooms were only attachments to these corridors. I noticed my people commenting (or were they lamenting the thought?), “Oh, he has changed all the floorings?” The flooring on the entire corridor was fixed with the modern glazed tiles. I was just silencing them sarcastically that after all, the buyer of the property should have the liberty to change the floor tiles at least. He has placed a few wooden cots with mattresses and he explained that this is where he sleeps at night. When I was hesitating with my camera on hand, he voluntarily suggested to us to take photos as much as we wanted. I could see how the owner still lived with nature with minimum gadgets.

The owner then took us through the individual rooms. The kitchen was very spacious, combining the modern with old. There were two or three private rooms, all partitions made of wood. He showed us the storeroom, which was still kept in the antique style, below the ground level, with a narrow passage and a small stair leading to the storeroom. This store had a very low ceiling, just sufficient for people to enter keeping their heads lowered down. This is where all the agricultural produce of his land- like coconuts, fruits, cereals etc - were getting stored. I could appreciate the grand design that had gone into constructions, those days. Necessities were dovetailed with luxury while deciding the building design of a house during those days before the later discovery of electricity and machines.

I could imagine that this house can accommodate many, not just a couple with two kids alone. I was able to appreciate how such a vast space was needed to suit the joint family system prevailed in earlier times. There was plenty of space to live in and to play around.

In the front, the owner has erected a fiber plastic ceiling as a portico. Probably changing weather conditions and the need to bring in a motor vehicle would have necessitated such an arrangement. The bathrooms and lavatories also have undergone complete changes. I was gently reminded about how arduous it would be in olden days to use the lavatories in the night time, as it used to be located at least several hundred yards away from the house for hygienic reasons, having to carry a lantern on hand; sometimes other elders at home needed to accompany the younger, when they feared the darkness. The sight of snakes was a common feature and my wife explained how one of her uncles was an expert in finishing off a snake to heaven with a small stick.

We then went around the surrounding areas. As I mentioned earlier, the whole area provided plenty of shade from sun with lot of trees around. The place was very cool, green small grass has grown everywhere giving the place a fabulous look. There was a long drainage canal separating two distinct parts of the land. On the other side, as I have earlier narrated, a new modern house had sprung up on a place, which once happened to be a fresh water pond. My people had a disturbed feeling about the conversion of a pond into a house; they could still not recognize and accept the fact that the place is no more theirs. They felt so much attached to this place- all the while my wife and her cousin were recollecting their happy early childhood days spent in this place. They felt so nostalgic about their memories of this place.

Plenty of vegetation was growing everywhere. Towards the end, when we had to reluctantly leave, the owner was so good enough to pluck out plenty of tapioca from the field and stuffed our car dickey. This is a staple food in Kerala even today. Earlier people seemed to have learnt to live on what was grown within their land to a very large extent, requiring minimum bartering around for their daily needs. Coconut, plantain, tapioca, jack fruit, greens, mangoes and a few handful of home grown vegetables were all, that made their daily food

On the whole, our trip to the erstwhile living place of my wife’s ancestors was a very fulfilling trip. I envied the olden day people, especially with regard to their living with nature. They did not possess any of the today’s physical comforts, for they did not need any, other than what nature offered to them..

The trip to Keerikkadu also became another motivating factor to my subsequent decision to settle down in a place like Tenkasi for my retired days. I will sure, write on this too soon.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Photos of First Snowfall in Chicago

I I thought a few pictures of the snowfall could have added some little charm to my write up. So, I am giving above some of the photos we took when the snowfall was there. I hope everyone enjoys the photos.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

First Snowfall in Chicago

I have been visiting USA quite often nowadays in the last several years. My children are working here. However, I have never experienced the snowfall so far in USA and I have been longing for this experience for quite a long time. This year, we decided to travel during winter in USA so that we can experience the snowfall. I have seen snowfall in movies and I have watched them with great interest and fun, everyone playing around when it snows. So, right from the time we landed in Chicago in USA, I was building up my expectations and excitement about having a fun time when it snows here and I was talking about this to everyone. Yes, finally on 30th Nov, 06 the weather forecast predicted considerable snowfall during the later part of the day. I was beginning to be ecstatic and anxiously anticipating the snowfall.

In the morning we had a brisk walk to a nearby market hoping that it could snow when we were out. No, it did not happen that way. We came back disappointed. At home, from time to time, I was looking through the windows to find out whether it was snowing. No, the weather was playing hide and seek game with us throughout the day. I was becoming frustrated and tension was mounting. I know that weather reports in USA cannot falter and generally they are accurate. In fact, one of the first things people do here in the morning is to watch the weather reports in their TV and this is a regular ritual for most in USA. It became dark in the evening – as it approaches winter here, the sunlight fades at around 4 to 4.30 in the evening and it is pretty dark by 5 PM. My excitement was growing and so too my frustration. It was night. No, nothing happened.

But for sure, I was able to smell the snowfall coming through anytime. Anticipation and excitement were growing for me from moment to moment.

At last, at around 12 in the midnight, when I looked through the blinds on the window, I could see snow falling slowly and steadily. I saw snow slowly covering the pavements, the small trees around, the cars parked over there. I immediately took out my video camera, stepped out on the small balcony we had at the house and shot the pictures. The weather outside was not cold. People have told me that when it actually snows, it will not be very cold. I stood outside for sometime. I took lot of cool air and I could feel the cold air traveling down through my nostrils into my lungs and I could feel the air I was exhaling hot. Smoke came out of my nose as I was breathing. I could feel myself totally immersing in the cold wind and the snow that was falling and spraying everywhere. Not wanting to be affected by cold standing outside, I went to bed reluctantly. I did not want to be separated from the snowfall experience.

Soon, I was taken over by sleep only to find that I woke up too soon at around 4.30 in the morning. I rushed to my windows, peeped through, only to find that snowfall was intense now, falling more heavily. I was seeing the snow scattering all over, carried by the cold wind. It was really a very enjoyable and memorable experience.

Not wanting to go back to sleep, I just lied down in the couch in the hall. When my wife woke me up at around 7 am, I again rushed to the windows. By this time, I saw the snowfall has grown to almost one foot on the ground. Even our balcony was covered with two inches snow. I took pictures again. I wanted to step out of the house and wander around, on the snow, excitement further growing.

Even as I was getting prepared, then I was seeing our neighbors, one after another, trying to take out their cars from their parking lots. There was no covered car parking and so, all cars were more or less fully covered by snow. By this time, I noticed that the snow was becoming hard, getting settled on to the ground like a rock. One of the neighbors was using the shovel and was removing the snow so that he can take out the car. I do not know whether he found it funny to be standing out and clearing the snow. Normally, it is the job of the apartment leasing office to arrange for the clearance of the snow on pathways so that minimum movements can be maintained. However, I saw no one doing this that early on this day. Another couple in the neighborhood was unsuccessfully trying to maneuver their car out of their parking lot even as another couple was trying to remove the fallen snow from the exterior of their car with the help of brushes and scrapers. I found a few others, not even wanting to step out of their house and not wanting to take the botherations of removing their vehicles that were irregularly parked due to their failed attempts in taking out their vehicle from their parking lots. I saw another African American successfully driving out his vehicle after his mammoth efforts with shovels in removing the snow.

Now, we were outside our house on the ground below along with our son who was trying to take out his car. I did not find it very cold and it was bearable, though I knew sooner or later, my hands will freeze. My wife too joined me on the snow. We took lots of pictures in our camera. The car gave in initially from the parking lot, only to get stuck after a few yards. The wheels were rolling, but not the vehicle. We borrowed the shovel from the neighbor and worked hard to remove the snow on the pathway. My son was not able to take out his car any further and it was deeply stuck in the snow.

At least my wife and me were enjoying the snow, the cold outside, as this was a play and fun for us. But I could see frustration building up for my son as he was not able to remove the car further and now, in all probability he cannot attend his office unless he decides to call a taxi. You will never know when and if the taxi arrives to take you to the office.

At least, one neighbor took the snowfall casually commenting, 'is it not a nice weather?'

Now at around, 10.30 AM, I see the snow fall still continuing to more than a foot of snow. I see most of the cars in the neighborhood not taken out at all. I was wondering what they would be doing at home.

Sitting by the window, and typing out this experience of witnessing a snow fall alive, and enjoying the scenery outside where everything is amazingly white, peaceful, quiet, calm I was wondering whether everyone feels the same way as I am. I had always like white color.

What was happening outside is the same to everyone around, but how we experience it, could be different for each depending on how we take it. I remembered my daughter's one of her earlier comments, 'Dad, you might be excited about the snow fall as long as it takes place on the movie screen. But when you live here with the snow, you must see the frustration in everyone. The life for many people suddenly slows down and for some at stand still. The day suddenly moves dramatically slowly as though the clock does not want to tick anymore.'

Yes, probably this is the experience of many.

I realized once again that what is a pleasure for me, need not be so for others and there is no universal phenomenon that uniformly brings pleasure or pain to everyone alike.

1st Dec,2006Chicago, USA