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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.

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